Friday, February 26, 2010

To Tree Or Not To Tree?

Those rather handsome loafers from last week are with our last maker who is making some bespoke shoe trees for them.
Now, when I am talking to clients about their bespoke shoes, I always offer them trees and they often ask me the same question. Why? Why should I have trees?
There are some good reasons. Trees should be of unvarnished wood, the reason being, that when you put your shoes in after wearing them for a day, the perspiration is wicked away by the wood, which has the effect of shrinking the leather back onto the tree, thus preserving the shoes' original shape.
The other main reason is that trees help to prevent creasing across the vamp. This has the advantage of preserving the leather because it is on creases where cracks appear over the years. Creases can also dig into your feet and cause discomfort. Although this is more of a problem in ill fitting shoes. Our beautiful bespoke shoes caress every contour of your feet and crease less (you cannot avoid it completely).
About half our clients opt for trees. Many say they have shop bought ones which will work, but not as well as bespoke ones.

Just received some photos of the Wolf and Badger launch party, and, after an exhausting trawl through them, I have found 2 which are acceptable. As you can see, the shop looks great.

And BTW, I don't normally have 2 drinks on the go, so don't get the wrong idea.

Going back to tools, I have found that new catalogue I mentioned for shoemaking tools. The name of the company is Arford. They seem to have a lot of things, most of what I have covered in fact. I don't know about the quality, but it is quite an exciting find.

Last of the main tools now.

The fudge wheel is used for marking the stitches on the welt, so that when you stitch the sole onto the welt, the stitches are even. There are different sizes, from 6 to the inch up to about 20. The standard is 10, but I use an 8.5 because it is relatively new and the teeth are very sharp, giving a clean deep mark in the leather.

The plough or welt knife has a lot of uses, from cutting the lip off the trimmed insole to cutting off the spare stitch marks on the finished sole edge. While it is very handy, it is possible to use your knife instead. They are available left and right handed.

A seat wheel makes those little lines around the top of the heel. It is purely decorative. However, it does help to finish the seat sharp and the marks can cover a poorly sanded heel (that is not a recommendation!).

Last is the waist iron. Similar to the edge iron, it is used to finish the mythical bevelled waist. It is heated and then it folds the leather up into a smooth, elegant curve. Not essential, as a square waist is always possible.

Until next time, happy shoemaking!

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Crown Jewels

Lovely week - drenched twice with freezing rain; nursing a sick house; and the huge disappointment of the mail on Sunday blowing us out. Outrageous! Plus the galling fact that the Other One was right - again.

Onwards and upwards. Weekend after next, we are both going to the Independent Shoemakers Conference. We have not been before, but are looking forward to it. Especially the workshop on polishing and cleaning. An area where we could improve. I have a problem with polishing shoes and I am not alone. I love the result, but the process? Having finished a pair, it's the last thing I want to do. Maybe it would be better to leave it a few days and approach it as a totally new job.
I have just finished a pair of really handsome dark brown loafers in a wonderful Freudenberg grain calf. Contrast hand stitching on the uppers. Really very lovely shoes. And I am going to follow my own advice - let them 'rest' on the last over the weekend and clean/polish them on Monday

Now, last week we looked at the tools of the trade and we covered the fairly easy ones to source.
There are, however some that are much harder to find which are specific to shoemaking. These are the edge irons, fudge wheels, ploughs etc. Some can be done with other tools, but some are just indispensable.

Edge irons are used at the point when you have glassed and sanded the edges and you are ready to set them. This involves running a warmed iron around the edge which compacts it and hardens it.

You should monitor ebay; look in junk/antique shops; carboot/yard sales. There are some places which do new ones but I have not heard good reports. But, in this case, needs must.
One is Minke in Germany. Barnsley could help (see last week's post). C.S Osborne & Co in the States might help
Edge irons are essential, so be diligent when looking. Very often you find them in a battered, rusty state. You can remove the rust with abrasive paper and it is important that the part between the lips is as smooth as you can make it.
Also, the 2 grooves at the base of the lips needs to be clean and deep. To smarten up an old tool, get a junior hacksaw blade and hammer it flat on a metal surface. Then you can file the grooves to open them up and clean them.
The grooves create a defined line on the top and bottom edges.

More tools next week and another possible link which I can't find at the moment.

Happy shoemaking

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tools In Hand

Well, you win some, you lose some.

I'm afraid the Liberty Open Call was not a success for us. They did not like the Winkers, and, I suppose, that is that. All the other people we know who entered did not progress either, which makes me feel a bit better. I do wonder who won though.

We will be featured in the Mail on Sunday on Sunday (funnily enough), in the business section. The article is about the Crafted programme and the mentoring we have received. What business lessons we have learned etc. The Other One was interviewed, as was our mentor Mark Henderson, and a photographer came to do our portrait, so I think it should go in. The Other One will kill me for announcing this before it is published, but if I hadn't, you would not be able to read it.

More news, we have the opportunity to start selling in Russia. Our colleagues at Stowers Bespoke have started a relationship with a Russian company who want to start doing bespoke suiting and footwear. On their next trip (next week), they are taking a selection of our shoes to test the water with them. If they approve, then we will start to go to Moscow on a regular basis. How exciting.
Again, I am probably jumping the gun, but there you go.

Now, something a bit more practical. All the processes involved in making a pair of handsewn bespoke shoes require an array of hand held tools. We do not use any machines (hardcore craft remember). Some of these tools, hammers, screwdrivers, rasps etc, are easy to find in a hardware store. But most of them are pretty specialist and hard to source. During the shoemaking courses we run, our students often ask about the tools of the bespoke shoe trade.
So I am going to make a list of the ones we know about as a resource for all you budding shoemakers out there.

The most important tool you will use is the knife. This is used for skiving; cutting leather; preparing the insole; preparing the sole; trimming; making the heel. Pretty much every stage.
Some shoemakers use a flat knife for most things and a curved knife for skiving. I use a flat one for both.
My favourite knives are made by Barnsley, a 20 or 21. Another good brand is Tina, which are more widely available. Contact is Colin Barnsley, 00 44 (0)114 272 6060;
You should make a cover for your knife from a thin piece of calf lining. This stops the knife digging in and stops your hands from going black.
A related item here is a strop for sharpening the knife. This you can make at home. Use a piece of 2x2 wood. Glue on a piece of thickish calf skin side up and then sharpening or aluminium oxide paper. Oil the leather and rub on some jewellers rouge (from jewellery suppliers). You use it like a barber sharpens a razor. Very important skill.

Another very important tool are the lasting pliers. These are regular, toothed pliers but with the addition of a foot which is used for pivoting the pliers on the shoe so that you don't lose tension when you are lasting. My favourite ones are German, made by Schein, available form Algeos. Others are avilable, but these are the best.
Here you hav ethe regular ones and the narrow nosed ones for the finer areas of lasting.

Next you will need 2 types of specialist awls, a welting awl and a flat head stitching awl for the sole. There seem to be many names for these and it's probably better to use pictures. The latter is hard to find and we have struggled recently. Again try Barnsley and Algeos.

You will need a regular screwdriver. And a pair of nippers for taking out nails.

Hammers. In the picture are the 3 hammers you will need. The first is a regular hammer which you can use for nails and general hammering.
The second is a specialist hammer used for flattening the heads of nails which stick through the insole in the finished shoe when you have pulled the last.
The third is a French shape hammer, specific for shoemaking. Used for peening the heel (closing up the gaps between lifts) and flattening the leather when lasting. Do not use this hammer with nails so that the head remains smooth because you tap the upper with it.

And lastly for this week is a sleeking bone. Available form Abbeyhorn for a few pounds. This is used for smoothing the welt and closing the channel.

More next week, happy shoemaking.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Good Start

Last night was the launch party for Wolf and Badger. It was a great party so thanks to Zoe and Samir. I had not seen the shop before and I was very pleased with it. It looks different to other boutiques and the product is displayed really well. The character of each designer comes through and the product is king. Met a lot of the other designers. One thing I really liked was that there is a lot of menswear and children's clothes. Very eclectic mix, but lots of things I really liked. I think they have a good eye.
The location is great, Ledbury Rd in Notting Hill, and the concept is fantastic. It's a bit like a concession in a department store. Each designer hires a display area and then the shop takes a small percentage, so it's like retailing for us rather than wholesaling which is much better.
So fingers crossed. Our first London outlet. Yipee!

And the shoes look good too!

Zoe and Samir of Wolf and Badger. Nice Winkers.

Also met Simon Crompton this week who runs Permanent Style blog. Really interesting guy and I was left green with envy. 90,000 hits a month, over 300 followers. I suppose his brief is a lot broader men's style in general, but it goes to show the power of the web.
He seemed very intersted in our courses and even said he would like to do one. I am sure he will come along in the summer to see it in progress.

Tomorrow we are participating in the Liberty Open Call, where young (ahem) British designers get to meet buyers from Liberty to pitch their products and get feedback form the experts. The winners will have their product sold in the shop. How exciting. Wish us luck.

And so to shoemaking. Let's start at the very beginning. It's a very good place to start, like blocking insoles (not do ray me).

The insole is made from oak bark tanned shoulder. This is a full sized cow so is a thick hide. It is rolled and split and roughed (I think) by the tanners. We buy it whole and cut it to size ourselves.
Soak it for at minimum of an hour and then let it dry out till about 50%. Cut it roughly to fit the last and glass the skin side. This is important to stop the insole cracking and squeaking in the future.

Then put on some French chalk or talc. This helps the last come out when the shoes are finished.

Now you place the last on the insole and put in 4 nails along the centre of the last.

Now that it is fixed, you can trim the insole to within 5-7mm from the edge of the last.

Except on the inside waist, here you leave it fuller, especially if you want to make some arch support.

The last thing is to nail the insole to the last along the feather edge. The nails can be placed about 2 - 2.5 cm apart. A bit closer around the toe and heel.

Knock the nails down and than tap along the edge so that the insole takes the shape of the last. Then leave it to dry thoroughly. It's easiest to start preparing the insole when it is 90-95% dry.

Happy shoemaking!