Friday, August 28, 2009

Back To Making

It's been a good week. Back to some serious making for me. As ever, my hands have softened up and my times are slow, more loose screw than lightening Bolt, unfortunately. I will improve.

I think, after all the course and trade fair stuff, I want to write about making bespoke shoes again. Doing the course always makes me think about the structure of the shoe. It is interesting to see novices looking at things I take for granted with new eyes.

One of the most important parts of the shoes is the insole. The strength of the shoe is centred here because the upper and the welt are sewn onto it, and it is this process which holds the shoe together. To do this, you first have to prepare the insole so that you can attach the welt and upper.

Having blocked the wet insole to the last, you let it dry; take the shape of the sole of the last; and trim it to the feather edge. It is important to follow the contour of the last, flaring the insole out at the toe and pitching it under at the heel.

The only ambiguous area is the inside waist. When trimming, leave this till last. To trim, hold the knife upright and cut straight across.

At this point, you need to draw a waist line with a pen. This is personal aesthetic decision. If it is too wide, the waist will be ugly and possibly uneven. If you are doing a bevelled waist, it needs to be curved in more. A square waist will be a bit wider.

Now cut the line straight down. Do not angle the knife.

You will notice a small lip around the edge. We must cut this off as it may cut into the foot and be uncomfortable. We use the plough or the knife for this.

We are now ready to mark the holdfast. This is a ridge which you stitch through to attach the upper and the welt to the insole. It is also known as the feather, but I think this is a ridiculous name and prefer holdfast. First thing to do is mark your heel point. This is between 2 3/4" and 3" marked back from the heel. The line can be straight across or slightly longer on the outside. Mark the points on the last too. Next, find the joint, which is the widest part of the foot, usually around the big and little toe knuckles. Mark a line 1/2" back from this point on the outside and 3/4" on the inside. Draw a line across the insole and mark on the last.

We now mark the holdfast. Measure 3/16" from the edge and mark the line with a pen. Do not mark the toe area or the inside waist. On the toe mark 1/4" and join up with the first lines. Then draw an appealing line on the inside waist.

We now mark a second line using dividers. Set them to 3/8" and follow the first line, marking a new one on the inside of the first. Go all the way round.

The holdfast is now ready to cut. Will do that next week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Monday

Monday morning, ugh! And so it ends, no more courses till next year. I shall miss it. I had a really good time; very nice group and enjoyable teaching. I think shoemaking attracts the best people. I would say that though, wouldn't I?

As ever we finished in the last hour of the last afternoon, but that is ok. As long as we finish. It's a shame that we have to rush so much during the course, but it is a trade off between having enough time and setting a timetable that is accessible to the general public. 3 weeks is already a lot of time for people to find, so extending that would be counter-productive. Perhaps the answer is to make the days longer - 8 hours instead of 6. But then the price would have to go up and it would be an even more tiring day. It's a tough call.

All the students left with the firm intention of carrying on with shoemaking. This is one of the aspects of the course I really like - spreading the shoemaking word far and wide. I don't want this wonderful old trade to die out. We are it's guardians, and, as such, we have the responsibility to pass it on (cue music, silly cape and underpants over my tights)

Here are some shots of the last day, the students with their finished shoes. A fine collection, I'm sure you will agree. The shoes aren't bad either.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Home Straight

So here we are, the last day. As ever, it is going to be a bit of a mad dash to get everything finished, but I think we will be ok. The students have done very well and we have had some positive feedback. Fortunately, it has not been to hot these last 3 weeks, so we have not suffered with that. The only suffering has been the students hands which are afflicted with nicks,callouses and aches. My message is always the same - toughen up!

I will take pictures of the finished shoes and post them on Monday.

I must congratulate all of them on their dedication and hard work. It's a challenging course and they have all risen to it, as you will see. Images to follow...

Friday, August 14, 2009


Summer madness! Another micro-post this week as I am at home. The Other One is teaching the course this week, so I cannot enlighten and inform you. When I left they were about to start stitching the soles. Progress was good and I fully expect the heels to be underway on their beautiful handsewn bespoke shoes when I get back to class on Monday. I say beautiful because, fortunately, I can see the beauty in all shoes, however unconventional.

It's a very fine balance as to how hard to crack the whip in the first week. Unfortunately, the toughest jobs happen right at the beginning (sharpening knife, skiving, welting). 90 hours is usually just about enough to get the shoes finished, but the last day is very rushed. So I often say that "good enough" is the criterion for moving on. Students naturally want to do every stage perfectly, but this is just not practical. I leave certain things out, like side-linings, and then have to judge as to progress. I have a feeling that some of the students may finish early, but they can be given repeat tasks to practise. The other thing is that some students may sail through the harder sections (in the first week) and then struggle with the seemingly easier stages.

So it's a balancing act. Keeps me on my toes though.

Happy shoemaking!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Summer Course

Sorry folks, but it's going to have to be a micro post today. I have been teaching all week and now my friend Reinold has arrived from Austria.

The course has gone very well. I have sent the students home with their shoes to welt. They looked a little anxious. I have tried to be as supportive as possible, but it's one of the hardest parts. The unfortunate thing is that the most challenging stages all happen in the first week.

Here are a few pics and I will endeavour to post again after the weekend.