Friday, July 31, 2009

Shoemakers' Studio

So here we are, nearly August and not much sign of a summer so far. Is that good or bad?
While I like the heat and feeling the sun on my body, I do not like it if I am working. Which I am for the next 3 weeks because the carréducker bespoke shoemaking course starts on Monday. And it would be a very uncomfortable experience if we get a heat wave. The studio is a lovely space, but we have south and west facing windows and a big skylight, so it bakes in the heat.

Direct sun from 11 till 6 and no air con - this is England after all. I am hoping the weather does not change - is that heretical?

The course was only half full for ages and then, as always, we got a last minute rush and it is full. As a result, we have had a mad, last minute dash to get the uppers made in time (thank you dear closers). A little stressful but it's all in hand, I think.

There is a trend within the handsewn shoemaking fraternity for the master shoemakers to be secretive and not share knowledge, or even exchange it. I always ask them things and am often met with evasions and embarrassed smiles. I do not like this attitude. I think we should share all our knowledge with as many people who care enough to ask. This trade needs support and dissemination far and wide or else it will die out. What do they have to lose? When they die, their knowledge dies, which is a tragedy.
This is why we run the course. To give people a taste of what it takes to make a shoe; to encourage them to take it up; to perpetuate the craft. Lofty ambitions perhaps but we feel passionately about what we do.

So, onwards and upwards for carréducker, self proclaimed guardians of the trade.

PS I apologise for the haphazard photos, but I still struggle with layout, doh!

Friday, July 24, 2009

It All Went Wrong

Hubris. Pride before the fall. The shame!

Let me take you back to the post of 3rd July. Those lovely tan loafers with the cork platform and raised heel.

Having struggled manfully with the first pair and having had to make a new last; endless fittings; numerous adjustments; further adjustments after making the shoes. A litany of trouble. The kind of shoes where you make no profit. But you think to yourself, the next pair will be easier and it will be worth it. Well, the tan loafers are the second pair.

So, I finish making the loafers on a new last, having done a try-on just in case. I was worried that the new last would not be perfect. The try-on was great. I call the client who is keen to get the shoes for his holiday, so I come to the workshop on a Saturday morning, full of confidence and the pleasure of delivering a pair of lovely new bespoke shoes. Happy client tries the shoes on and.... they don't fit. Exactly the same problem as the first time. His heel lifts out. It is utterly inexplicable. It is something about the change from a soft try-on shoe to a rigid finished shoe. Nightmare. I try a few little tricks but it won't work. Client leaves without shoes and it is back to the drawing board.

One of the adjustments we made with the first pair was to split the last in to 3 so we could get it back into the shoe in order to shrink the shoe down. Usually, it is fairly easy to get the last back into a shoe. With these, the shape of the heel was unusually bulbous which made it impossible to get back in. So, we decided to make a new last so that we could cut the old one into 3 , much like a 3 piece boot last. You put the toe piece in first, then the heel piece and then you force the middle section in.

Adjustments to finished shoes are not desirable. Making them larger is easier. Shrinking them is tough. I rasped a whole lot off the heel of the last.

The next part will make you squeamish but be brave. To shrink the shoes you have to get them wet. Usually leather and water are not friends, but needs must. I stood the heel section in warm water and left it for 20 minutes till it was sopping wet (not good!); filled the shoe with French chalk; and forced the 3 piece last back in. To close the gap, I put 2 big sections of tyre inner tube (like wide elastic bands) over the heel to squeeze the leather back onto the last. As the leather dries, it shrinks back to the new shape.

I have let the shoe dry for 5 days and taken out the last. I am left with a shoe full of chalk. Not pretty.

Hopefully this will be enough. I have my doubts. If necessary, I will have to unpick the stitches on the top edge; separate the lining; insert some leather as a filler to shrink the fit even more; and restitch the top edge.

Fingers crossed, dear readers. I will let you know what happens.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Welted Seat

Ho hum, all washed out. Could it rain any harder? I think we had our summer already.

I have had a tiring week. The Other One is in Mallorca, so I am holding the fort. And in true Davey Crockett style, I have given it everything. The bespoke shoemaking course is looming, so I have been getting everything ready for that. I think it is all in hand. Looking forward to it.

Also had our first client from Stowers bespoke - fantastic.

And so to bespoke shoes. Seats. Important to all of us. That transition from sole to heel; needs to look neat.
Usually we make a bevelled waist, and less often a square waist. With both you get to this point where you have welted the shoe.

If you are doing a bevelled waist, you prepare the sole and stick it on; stitch it; and then build the heel; with the split lift glued and nailed on first. The split lift is a narrow piece of leather used to bring the curved surface of the heel area to a flat surface. You start with 2 pieces of leather like a welt but made from the same leather as the heel lifts.

You skive off about half way across down to nothing.

At this point, you cut five notches in to the skived side, to help curve it with the hammer. Bash it with the hammer to compress the leather and create a curve to match the heel shape.

With a square waist, you can follow the same sequence as with a bevelled waist. I think an alternative is to put the split lift on first. It improves the transition to the seat. Skive the split lift to match the skived welt end.

Glue it together and then glue and nail the split lift right round to the other end. Skive again to match the welt and glue it down. The trick is to match the ends well so that it looks like a seamless join. It is hard to see in this shot because I have done it so well, but the join is between the pen marks.

You end up with a similar looking seat as the other method, but I think it looks neater.

The final piece in the essay is the welted seat. This is quite similar to the last method, except that rather than glueing and nailing the split lift, you use a long welt and welt all the way round the seat.

This means that when the heel is built, the seat is stitched, giving a more robust look, suitable for boots or full brogues. It makes for a larger heel too.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dress Welt

Breaking news! We are now in Savile Row - very exciting. We have a presence in Stowers Bespoke, 13 Savile Row. From now on, we will have shoes on display there and will be available to meet clients to do consultations/fittings etc.

We met Ray Stowers a couple of years ago when he had the concession in Liberty. We have been in touch since and now that he has a shop on Savile Row, we have cemented the collaboration.
They are keen to offer a head-to-toe service for their clients, so bespoke shoes and belts are an obvious addition.
We are really thrilled about it.

And now back to the making of bespoke shoes. I have recently made 2 identical pairs for a client who wanted an elegant dressy shoe. So we agreed on a bare 3/16 sole (very thin) and a dress welt. A dress welt is a close welt with stitching between 18 and 20 to the inch. The average is 10, so this is very fine work. If you stitch that many to the inch normally, there is so much thread in the sole that it weakens the leather, so you need an alternative.

There are 2 available, so I tried both to make a comparison. The first is to channel the sole as normal; mark the stitches as normal; and then start stitching. But instead of stitching every mark, you stitch every third mark. Once done, you pass the fudge wheel over the stitches and it puts a line on them, giving the appearance of tiny stitches. It worked pretty well, but on close examination, it was not too tidy. If I did it again, I would use a slightly thinner thread.
The other more traditional method is to channel the sole as normal, and then channel the welt too.

Stitch as normal, then close down both channels.

Finally you pass the fudge wheel over the welt, which marks the stitches. This is very tidy, but you cannot see any thread if you look closely, which is not great. Sorry but I did not take any pics of the final results, oops.
It has left me undecided as to which I prefer. However, the lack of visible thread in the second version leaves me leaning towards the first one, because it looks as if the sole has been cemented rather than stitched. Any views on that?

So there you are, a challenging dilemma to ruminate on. Comments welcomed.

More next week.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Arch Support

Greetings one and all. After 2 weeks of 30 degree heat, I am feeling delirious; blurting out injudicious comments willy nilly. So apologies if I ramble. Is humid and cloudy worse than sunny and hot? Answers on a postcard.

Just in case you missed my midweek post, here is a great piece of press for us from the San Francisco Chronicle.

So, back to those shoes from last week. The insole up in waist. Once the insole had dried, I took it off and prepared the arch support. This involves skiving the flesh side to the shape of the last so that when the upper is lasted, the support does not show. And then I covered the inside part with the same leather as the lining of the shoe.For this piece, I skived the part you can see about 1cm from the edge, but on the other side, the side you see, I just skived the 0.5mm of the edge so that it sits flat and does not rub the foot.

Finally I nailed the cork platform and insole back onto the last and proceeded as normal with the making.

You can see the 0.5cm extra on the right heel, which combined with the 1cm of the cork platform, makes the required 1.5cm. The finished shoes are different, but when the shoes are worn and 6 feet away from the eye, then the difference is minimized. Also, if you are not looking for it, you don't see it. An elegant solution to a serious problem.

So there you are. Let's hope for a large and violent electrical storm before the day is out, like the one last Saturday, where the hailstones were the size of cherries. My Big Elf and I danced hysterically in it, getting soaked in seconds. Excellent!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

SF Chronicle Article

Check this out. It's very exciting.

The lovely Carolyne Zinko came to our trunk show at the Clift and has now published this article in the SF Chronicle. We think it's great. Love the shot of the Winker. The Other One is feeling a bit left out but hey ho. It's hard being the face of the business. It's all good for carréducker anyway.

PS Anyone in San Francisco who has a copy, could you send it to us? Thanks