Friday, December 18, 2009

Super Natural

You plug away, week after week, trying your hardest, and then it happens. Serendipity, coincidence, happenstance. You see something, hear something and the ideas arrive, germinate and grow.

I think we have a possible signature finish. Most makers leave their mark. Mostly it is a pattern on the heel top piece with the nails. I have a couple of favourites. And I have seen some beautiful examples. But I want something more recognisable.

The finish to the shoe is very important. It's what customers judge a shoe by. You might construct a shoe perfectly, strong and durable, but if it is not finished well, the customer will be disappointed.

A bespoke shoe is never perfect. I have never made a shoe I am totally happy with. It is one of the things that marks a bespoke shoe out, the imperfections and flaws. It's part of the beauty of it, the mark of the artisan. Factory shoes, on the other hand, are perfect, flawless. This might appeal, or not, but it is a fact.

So how can we distinguish our shoes from the rest? Perhaps it is the finish on the sole and edges. Normally we finish high gloss black on a black shoe and brown on a brown shoe. Occasionally we might do a natural finish on a pale shoe. But this is just habit. Why not do a natural finish on every shoe? On brown shoes for sure, but why not on black? I am going to try it. It may look awful, but you have to try.
I love a natural finish, seeing the grain of the leather.

Here is the patented jimmyshoe method of achieving a perfect natural finish. And check out the canvas shoe. I like it. It fits in well with our recent use of tweed and leather. We are going to explore this one.

Ok, you have built your heels; shaped them with a knife; rasped assiduously; and glassed them smooth. You are ready to sand them. The first grade is an 80 grit aluminium oxide paper. Cut a piece and wrap it round a sanding block. Now sand that heel! There is no trick to sanding, just hard and fast. Keep going and then do it some more. The more you do it, the better the finish. You should work up a sweat. Get rid of all those lumps and bumps.

Remember to sand the heel breast too, right up to the sole, making sure you don't damage it. When you have done both, do it again with a 120 grit paper.

At this point I sand the edges too, but more of that another time.
Wet the heels and heel breast with a toothbrush.

Next is the special part. You need to buy a sanding block. One of those foam ones with 2 grades of fine grit abrasive on that you use in decorating. Using the finer grit, sand again, but this time only in one direction; fast hard strokes. Before, you could sand both ways, forward and back. This time, just forward. You will see how the surface turns darker and glassy smooth. Don't forget the breast, same procedure.

The last stage is to polish. You can use neutral or a darker colour, depending on the upper and the tone you wish to achieve. Note that the polish will darken the leather. Put a layer on, buff it off and do it again. Make sure you get into the seat. It should now gleam, but remain natural and beautiful. I like it. No, I love it!

By the way, what do you think about these canvas shoes? I was unconvinced but have been swayed. I think I would have preferred more leather on the upper with the canvas, but it works as a summer shoe.

There will be no post next week as it is Christmas. So have a great one and all the best for 2010.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Best Of Welts, The Worst Of Welts...

Another week, another week closer to Christmas. Yikes! Am I alone in having done no shopping yet? Am I alone in feeling a tad anxious about it? Pull your finger out, Ducker!

The Winkers stride on. They are now in Pickett (32-33 & 41 Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly, W1J 0PZ), makers of handmade leather goods, made in England. From leather luggage to wallets, jewellery to cashmere, Pickett epitomises the qualities of English artisanal tradition - elegance, attention to detail, and craftsmanship. So where better to place the Winkers?
We visited the shop yesterday to find the charming Mr Trevor Pickett in the midst of a Christmas shopping frenzy at his invitation event. The tills were ringing; the sherry flowing; and the cashmere gloves flying out of the door. Bloomin marvelous!

And talking of retail, we have a very exciting new venture starting in February next year in Notting Hill. But more of that later (I am sworn to secrecy).

Now, welts. Very important little strips of leather in the sole of a bespoke shoe. Surprisingly important. You have 2 choices - the nasty bought stuff you buy by the metre, which saves you time and effort; or the skillfully crafted handmade variety favoured by the English bespoke shoe making traditon. Any guesses as to which one I prefer?
Pros and cons. The bought welt is quick and easy, but of an inferior quality, plus, it is glued together to make huge reels, with an inherent weakness. The handmade welt is stronger and of better quality materials, but takes a little longer to make. The other advantage is that if you know how to make a welt, you will always be able to make a shoe and not be reliant on a manufacturer making a product (or not, as the case may be).

This is an example of the bought welt.

So, on to the handmade welt, you soak it and mark it in half lengthways with a pair of dividers.

Then cut it in half along that line.

Place the welt on your cutting board or glass. Next with your dividers set at 5mm, mark a line along the edge on the flesh side.

With the very tip of the knife, score along this line. No more than 1mm deep.

Open this up with a screwdriver. Then do the same with the other welt.

Turn it over and mark the line again with the dividers on the skin side (again set at 5mm).

This time skive to the edge at an angle of 45 degrees, so you end up with a bevelled edge.

Do the same with the other welt and you are ready to roll. It does not take too long, once you have mastered it. Good luck.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's a double hit today - The Other One AND The Master.

As you may have noticed we've been out and about showing off our bespoke shoes and wonderful new Winkers. Last night was no different, so we rocked up to The Dorchester, shoe case in hand, for a very special evening for Savile Row tailor Alexandra Wood, hosted by none other than Rory Bremner.

The Dorchester is a heavenly venue - awash with old and modern style glamour. I have to thank Simon on The Concierge desk and Lee for tracking down our bespoke cases (momentarily lost, but actually efficiently delivered to the Halston Suite). With order and bespoke shoes restored I took a moment to appreciate the beautiful room we were in. Light oak panelling, gilt and understated lighting gave the air of a gentleman's club. Perfect! By 6.30pm the room was awash with well-suited gents and exquisite women and I had a fantastic time chatting about the merits of bespoke (aided by a glass or two of the sparkly stuff)!

Now I don't know about you, but I'm highly critical when it comes to men in suits. I have been known to shout at the TV when a particularly heinous style crime is committed...and there are certain comedic celebs who desperately need tailoring...Dara what's with the baggy strides, for instance?

But Mr Bremner, well he tends to look dapper - safe, but dapper - but (forgive me) his suits haven't always been the best fitting. Not so last night. Since he's been 'bespoked' by Alexandra in a soft grey pinstripe, he's the epitome of modern - lean silhouette, good colour, lightweight cloth and brown accessories (yes, that's brown accessories). Now Mr Bremner, what about those shoes?

Talking of shoes, here's the Master's musings on a 'snappy' pair he's been working on:

Crocodile shoes, very beautiful. Not to everyone's taste, but unquestionably striking. I love them and want a pair, but even getting the making free, I cannot afford them...they are eye-poppingly expensive.
And the king of crocodile shoes, for me, is the wholecut. Why? Because it is effortlessly elegant; and because you need two big skins to make the uppers (big animals cost more because they must be farmed for longer to get them to the right size). And why two? To match the scales. If you are going to do it, do it right.

A beautiful, but very pricey proposition.
But if money is no object, then they are sumptuous, extravagant and sexy! And forget all that stuff about ostentation, they are cool. One more thing, it has to be the high gloss version rather than the matt skins. They are too half-hearted.
This lovely client ordered two pairs. And what do you hear me hum when I write this? La la la la la I'm loving it.