Friday, April 30, 2010

As Good As New

Ah, back at home in our lovely studio, the sun is shining (for about the next hour or so apparently) and all is good in the world.
2 weeks off and it takes a while for the head to get back into gear, but my first week back has been good.
Our carreducker bespoke shoemaking course starts on May 10th and The Other One is off to New York next Friday. How exciting. I am going the week after and am really looking forward to it. Should be fun.

We went to visit the Edward Green factory in Northampton this week. What a fantastic place. Having seen what they do, I can confidently say that they make the finest factory made shoes I have ever seen. Such attention to detail and a wonderful finish on the shoes.
Hilary Freeman, the MD, generously spent time showing us round, and what really impressed us was her willingness to invest in changes to production to achieve the best results without cutting corners. She obviously cares passionately about the quality of her product and does not stint on achieving this. Great to see this attitude (that we share wholeheartedly) in a production shoe.
This ethos really shows in the finished shoe, distinctly English and of a visibly superior quality.

We also appeared on the How to Spend It website this week, in an article about our outlet in Notting Hill, Wolf and badger. If you click through, please be patient as the luxury watch ad loads, it will go through to the page in time, honest! Great write up from the doyenne of luxury, now that's got to be good.

One great thing about bespoke shoes is that, because of the construction, they are completely repairable, so they will last you for years, a lifetime one might say. Just ask Prince Charles.
We recommend that you polish on a regular basis to protect the upper leather. If this dries out and cracks, it can be patched, but this looks a little unsightly. The best policy is to look after it. All the rest of the shoe, heels, soles etc, can be replaced.

We regularly get shoes back to repair, such as the following pair. They were in a bit of a sorry state, but we have brought them back to life, as good as new.

Notice the wear on the toe plates and how the sole has completely worn through - not good! With a resole like this, you must remove the heel; remove the old sole; stitch a new one on; rebuild the heel; set the edges; and finish the shoe again. It is a major repair and is about two thirds of making a new shoe from scratch - a lot of work.

The first thing to do is to put the lasts back into the shoes. Remove the cone and get the toe in as far as you can. At the heel, you will have to insert 3 knives (sharp end up). These act as a an aid to slide the last into the shoe. Hold the knives while hammering the last down. It should slide in, and as it passes the top edge of the shoe, slide the knives out. Then replace the cone. Forgive the blurred pic, but I had my hands full!

With the last in place, it is time to remove the heel. The top piece will be replaced, but the heel lifts are saved and re-used so that you don't have to start from scratch when you rebuild the heel. Gently prise them away, and remove them, being careful not to damage them. Number them and keep them in a safe place.

When you get to the split lift, again, prise it up, being careful not to damage it. Remove the nails except the last 3 at the back. Lift both sides and nail them down at the back to keep them out of the way.

With the heel removed, it's time to remove the sole. Start at the toe and cut the stitches so that it 'peels' back towards the heel. This can be a painful process as it is all your previous good work being destroyed. I think this is why I don't enjoy repairs, the undoing of previous hard work. But it has to be done.

When you get to the heel area, you must cut the sole at an angle so that you can seamlessly splice the new sole onto the old one.

The next stage is preparing the sole, in preparation for stitching it on. I will cover that next week.

So, in the meantime, happy shoemaking.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Nearly Home

Still here in Barcelona! But home tomorrow, thankfully. While it has been very relaxing having some extra holiday, it has also been disruptive. And any of you who are self-employed will know the double whammy of not earning and spending at the same time. But I am not complaining (much).

Curiously, while stuck here, a follower of the blog and fellow shoe nut, Emili Guirao was stuck in Liverpool. He owns a shoe shop here called 2046. He managed to get home via London and Paris, but while he was in St Pancras Station he went to our studio. Unfortunately it was a Sunday and nobody was home. Anyway, he contacted us and I went to see him this week. Lovely shop, well worth a visit.

Now it turns out that he is learning handsewn shoemaking here in Barcelona from an old guy who has made shoes all of his life and still has a shop in the old city. So I went to see them at work which was very interesting.

His name is Josep Cunillera and the shop is at c. Sant Pacia, #3, 08001, Barcelona. Josep is an orthopedic shoemaker, but knows all aspects of the craft. He started at 13 and has done it all his life. He says there is little market now for non orthopedic bespoke shoes here.

His shop and workshop are great, in a medieval building. So much space! Very envious. So we swapped stories, tips and techniques. It is pretty much the same as in England, the main difference being the use of wooden pegs instead of nails.
He told me about all the old makers here who had taught me at the Guild School here.

68 and still going strong. I dont know if that is a good thing or not. Will I have made enough money to retire by then? Somehow I dont think that is how it works. Shoemakers dont retire, their faculties just fail progressively. Ulp!

But it was great to meet a follower of the blog and someone who actually learns from what we write here. So good luck Emili and keep going.

By the way, in the post about making thread wax (Wax Miracle, 09.04.10), there was a video about the final phase of kneading the wax, but it was with a black still so not immediately obvious. So if you didnt see it, take a look because it is quite interesting.

It happens to be St. Georges Day, which has a lovely tradition here. Everyone gives a rose or a book to each other. All the bookshops in the city have stalls outside on the pavement, so the people wander around, perusing books and there is a great atmosphere. The Ramblas are especially busy, so that is where we are off to now for a wander. Life is not so bad really.

So, having confirmed the flight for tomorrow, I will be posting from work next week and normal service will be resumed. Happy making!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nature Bites Back

I am stuck in Barcelona! Lucky you, I hear you say, but it is not all good. Everything is in limbo and uncertain. I have things to do in London!

A timely reminder that we live on a big planet that can dictate to us whether we like it or not. It would not be inconceivable to slip into disaster movie territory. Nobody has died thankfully, but there are massive forces beyond our control. The airport this morning was like a B movie - chaos!
Looked into trains but the French are on strike. And coaches to Paris are fully booked till the weekend.

Still, it is warm and sunny here. I can think of worse places to be stranded.

Wish me luck!

A no-fly zone

Well I'm sitting here wondering whether it's worth getting on a boat now to get to New York in time for our course on May 10. Seriously concerned if the wind doesn't start blowing the ash cloud somewhere else!

Who knew Iceland could cause so much trouble! They may be vikings, but bringing the whole of Europe to a grinding halt is quite an achievement! From a small business point of view, what was originally a rather amazing phenomenon has become a bit of a pain to say the least! Mr. Ducker is 'stuck' in Barcelona (yes I know it doesn't sound too awful to me either), our boxes for New York are stuck at Heathrow and various clients due through London this week are staying put (whether they want to or not). I really feel for everyone stuck after Easter's a nice idea to think that you'll get your holidays extended, but when the reality means no idea of how to get home or several days of travel to get thanks.

It's a sharp reminder of how much we rely on the air and how we have got used to being able to get ourselves and our products to places around the world quickly.

Small boy goes back to nursery school tomorrow - hurray! It's been a lovely Easter, but boy do I need more time in the week to get on with work, so the rest of the week will be a busy one meeting with agents from the Nordic countries and Russia, planning bespoke events later in the year and ordering materials for bespoke clients coming through later in the month. We're also eagerly awaiting new lifestyle photography from Eloise Grey featuring our summer Winkers in her signature organic tweed and some sample tweeds from Harris Tweeds to make new Winkers for the fall.

Sorry there's no making tips from the master this week - I'll post some polishing tips on Friday if he hasn't made it back from Barcelona by then!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wax Miracle

I must be getting old and forgetful. This is a post from April 2010 that I wrote but did not publish for some reason. And it's a corker, with the first video we ever did. Better late than never I suppose. Hope you like it!

A week away from you and I am raring to go. Thank you to the Other One for taking over last week.

Last Friday was a day off, but if you run your own business, that is a bit of a misnomer (unless you are out of the country). So, on my 'day off', I did some very interesting things at home, including, painting, cleaning windows, replanting window boxes, and, most interestingly, made some thread wax (for coating the threads for welting and sole stitching bespoke shoes).

This is a bit of alchemy which takes you back to the old days, where shoemakers had to fashion everything for themselves. We have a small library of books with recipes for various concoctions which have been replaced by modern glues, waxes and polishes. These books are amazing, requiring unknown substances like gum tragacanth, borax, candelilla, moss gum, shellac, the list is endless.

Thread wax is the only thing that, so far, has not been replaced (you can get an industrial version but it is awful). So we have to make it ourselves. We use 2 versions, a black one and a natural one. This recipe is for the natural colour.

Before starting, I made a trip to buy the raw ingredients from one of my favourite shops in London, L Cornelissen and Son. Nominally an art shop, this place is amazing, like a Victorian apothecary, old shelves and drawers full of the ingredients from our ancient recipe book. It has the creakiest floor in Christendom, so people shuffle about, embarrassed, trying to avoid creaks, only to discover even creakier spots. It's very funny.
They do mail order, so you can buy there too.
Their packaging is beautiful, like paper Gladstone bags.

I bought colophony (distilled turpentine), beeswax and tallow.

So here is the recipe.

200g colophony

300g beeswax

a tiny fingernail of tallow

Place all the ingredients into a pan and place on the heat. Continue until all the ingredients are liquid. This gets quite hot and smells a bit, so open a window.

Next pic is about half way, with some melted and some still solid. It looks like liquid honey when finished.

The next stage is the fun bit. I don't know why you have to do this, but you do.
Get a plastic washing up bowl, put it in the sink and fill it with cold water. Leave the tap running.
Pour the liquid wax into the water. It disperses a bit. You have to push it together with your hands. Be careful as the wax is very hot. The water helps stop it burning you. When you have a ball, start kneading and massaging it for about a minute. This makes it mix properly.

Now divide the ball into smaller ones, about 5 for this amount.

Let the balls cool down and you can then use them (after about 5 hours). You should do a test thread to see the consistency. If it is too sticky, repeat the process but add a little colophony. If it is too brittle, add some more beeswax.

If you want to make black thread, substitute the colophony for tar, the stuff they use for the roads. I just ask the workman who is manning the furnace for a lump. After explaining what it is for, they look a bit puzzled but hand some over. last time I asked was 8 years ago and I still have some left, so you don't have to do it very often.

Good luck with this and let me know how you get on.

On holiday next week, in another country no less, back in two. Barcelona here I come!

Friday, April 2, 2010

At last the Easter break and Mr D is actually taking a break from making...and today's post is from me, The Other One.

It's been an exciting week for us, kicking off with a great piece in the Financial Mail!

The article was about the fantastic Crafted programme which we are fortunate to be part of and apart from an age check (big thanks for that) was a great piece on a new initiative that is set to make craft a vital part of Britain's economic future - offering apprenticeships, as employers and as exporters of British luxury goods.

Since Crafted started last year, we have been attending regular workshops and receiving insightful mentoring from some exceptional business people. Workshops doesn't really do the process justice - when so far they have given us the rare opportunity to sit opposite Anda Rowland from Anderson & Sheppard or Bill Amberg and ask them direct questions about their businesses; to pick the brains of some of the UK's leading financial, branding and marketing people; and to receive legal advice from a leading fashion industry law firm!

The impact on us and our business is two-fold: -

Confidence: by putting all of the 'business' elements in place - from trademarks, supplier agreements and design registration to accounts, export and branding - it is giving us the freedom and confidence to concentrate on the things that matter most - our bespoke customers, designing and craftsmanship


Energy: we are both really excited about our bespoke business and how it might look by the end of the year..we are giving it our all!

I visited MICAM for the first time a few weeks back. It is at the Fiera Milano and what a modernist setting.

Purpose built, the approaches to the exhibition spaces feel more like a scene from a sci-fi film than industrial Italy...take note Olympia/Earls Court!!

Since we dipped out toes in at Pitti Uomo last year, we've been talking about going to MICAM to get a better understanding of the wholesale and retailing side of things. The competition is amazing, but so many companies are producing so many similar products and designs! So much of business must be down to relationships and being priced competitively I guess...

It was great to see a few Italian companies showing there who still do some hand work. Had my Italian stretch beyond ordering a glass of wine I would have loved to talk to them about their craft. The International section was also interesting and it was good to see labels like Emma Hope - who launched her business as I was leaving college - standing the test of time.

Strangest of all perhaps was the opportunity to meet with our Winkers manufacturer whilst I was there. All the way to Milan to meet someone whose business is only a 100 miles or so away from our London studio! Anyway, it was a good opportunity to catch up and to meet another of his customers who has a beautiful men's shoe shop, Brogue in Geneva.

The upshot of the impromptu meeting was that Mr Brogue loved the Winkers shoes and came to see them at Wolf & Badger over the weekend.
We've just sent him a selection of tweeds so fingers crossed, we will have our first European retailer on board shortly!

We also took a look at some new tweeds this week - Harris Tweed no less - and are very much hoping to have some new Winkers samples ready to tempt other independent retailers for the autumn. Harris Tweeds really know how to produce a beautiful, but functional cloth - after all it has been the cloth of choice to face the British weather for centuries. Its heritage and the fact that it is hand woven, is just what we are looking for.

Wait until you see the colours we have chosen!

Well, that's it from me - an Easter egg hunt and Kew Gardens await (in the rain).

Happy Easter... the Master will be back next week with more top shoemaking tips.