Monday, February 28, 2011

Cop combo blog

We love the comparison to an 80s cop combo on this blog - but who is Cagney and who is Lacey? And the comparison to a species on the verge of extinction is no exaggeration. That's partly why we do our courses to encourage people to take up shoemaking, whether as a hobby, vocation or career-change. Don't forget the next course is in New York in May and there are just a few places remaining!

Friday, February 25, 2011


First of all some more new shoes, well boots actually. Remember that we designed five styles to inaugurate our collaboration with Gieves and Hawkes? We made the croc loafer with the extra hand stitching on the side - gorgeous.

We then made the Campaign boot with the cavalry twill quarters. Again, lovely and both on display in Gieves' window currently.

Well, we have style number three to present to the world. My current favourite and a boot that I would wear. Blue suede shoes! Inspired by the classic beatle boot with its split seam (we used our Half-cut seam rather than a plain stitched seam) and pitched heel, this pair of beauties has the elastic sides designed to mimic shapes we saw in the G&H military archive. Add in a sky blue military ribbon tug. Include the stitch detailing at the top edge and you have a fantastic Chelsea boot. But add the electric blue suede and it becomes a real dazzler. They leap out at you in our display in the shop. The blue might not be to everyone's taste, but imagine the style in a brown suede or black calf and you have a very wearable boot.

What do you think? Comments please.

The Other One and I are off to the Independent Shoemakers Conference on Saturday and we are looking forward to seeing old friends and new faces on the shoemaking scene. We are also looking forward to some interesting seminars. Should be fun.

Now back to all things shoemaking. One thing we at carr├ęducker insist on is doing fittings for our bespoke shoes, much like you would for a bespoke suit. We measure a client's feet; make their last; make an upper; and then get them to a stage where they can try them on for size. We think this is an essential part of the process as one of the main features of a bespoke shoe is that it fits you correctly and is very comfortable. Obvious really.

This is how we do it. This pair is a mock up because the final shoe is going to be in lizard which is expensive and fragile, so we use a calf mock up. Normally, we just use the final upper from the start.

Block an insole on the last as usual, and when it is dry, trim it to the feather edge as you would normally do. But that is it for now. Do not prepare your holdfast.

Prepare stiffeners and toe puffs as normal. Put them into the uppers all at the same time, toe puffs too. I put a tiny blob of paste on each just to keep them in place, but not to fix them.

You can now last the uppers straight onto the unprepared insole - it's pretty simple unusually! Do the forepart first. Then pull down the heel and continue to last and nail all the way round till you get back to the toe.

Now here is the fun bit. This stage is called bracing the upper and it is the most simple of stitches, the brace stitch. You must remember to leave all the lasting allowance and not trim so that you have leather to brace through.
With the first stitches, starting in the joint, put your welting awl through the lasting allowance, into the insole and out again. Put your bristle through the hole and pull. I always do the same on the other side so that I can use both ends of the thread equally. This way, you keep each end of the thread the same length so that they are reusable for other tasks.
You should now be able to start bracing all the way round.

Repeat the brace stitch half way round with one thread and half way round with the other and meet back where you started. Just remember to take the nails out as you go. It is really important not tot leave any nails in the shoe. You won't be able to get the lasts out.

When you get back to where you started, tie a knot in the threads and cut them.

You now have a braced shoe.

Leave the shoe on the last for 24 hours and then take the last out. You can cut out a rough sole from your insole bend to fit. Glue them on with rubber solution - remember to let the glue dry for 10 minutes. And finally make a temporary heel either from leather or cork. From the inside of the shoe, hammer two nails in to the heel which will attach it firmly.

Last thing is to put your feet or someone else's into the shoes to fix the fake sole in place. Et voila, your shoes are ready for a fitting. They look like hell but reassure your client that it is just the internal dimensions that you are interested in at this stage and that when the shoes are finished, they will look beautiful, which they will.

You let the customer try the shoes on and check the fit. make notes as to what needs to be done. Add leather to the last or rasp away material depending on whether the shoes are too big or too small.

You can repeat this as many times as you need to until the shoes fit perfectly.

Any questions, please ask me.

Until next week, happy shoemaking.

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Shoes

A bit of controversy! Ooh. I have had some mixed feedback on last week's post about imperfections in craft. The comments on the blog were positive.

 "You can always tell apart of the work of a master carpenter and a amateur, an amateur is resigned to accepting his mistakes whilst a master carpenter knows how to hide his." R Beaver

"Agreed. Striving for perfection and/or the impossible makes something beautiful, but perfection itself without the toil can be a bit boring and/or soulless." Anonymous

But I had a face to face disagreement this week with someone who said I was betraying the trade and that I should not advertise the fact that we make mistakes. On the one hand, I can see that from a customer's point of view, having spent upwards of £2000 for a pair of bespoke shoes, they might not like to think that they are not perfect. But on the other hand, they are not just buying a pair of bespoke shoes, they are entering into a process, a dialogue, an exchange with the artisan. And having built up a relationship with your shoemaker, you realise that what matters is not just how they look (though this is very important), but how they fit; where the leather comes from; what adaptations they have made for you; the hand work involved; the fact that you can choose what features the shoes have. In short, all the choices and interactions which go into the bespoke process.

And by the way, as a last point, our bespoke shoes look magnificent and beautiful. We would never deliver them to a customer if they were substandard.  The criteria with which I judge their appearance are much harsher than any punter would ever apply. Just feast your eyes on these beauties!

These are a pair of two tone summer shoes made from roe deer skin and canvas. There is a great back story to the deer skin. In Scotland, they cull the deer every year and they were just burning the carcasses. So the very enterprising folk at our favourite tannery in Scotland decided to rescue the skins and put them to good use. The result being this wonderfully soft leather which has a beautiful grain and texture. The shoes have eyelet perforations in the waists for air circulation. I think the combination of colour and texture is lovely. Love the profile of this shoe.

Next we have a brogued derby boot in golden tan French grain. This has a light square waist which means it goes from a chunky 3/8" sole to a much thinner sole in the waist. This is accentuated by by the sticker sole. Notice the extra brogue detailing on the counter and the Norwegian welt. This is where the upper is folded out to form the welt and the welting stitches are visible on the side of the boots. It makes for a more weatherproof construction. Looks cool too.

Next up our classic Saddle boot in black made for a lady. Only difference is the more shapely last. Nice boots!

Last and, in this case, least, a pair of black calf loafers with a lake in ostrich. Marmite shoes I think. Love 'em or hate 'em. No middle ground. Fortunately, our client loves them, which is all that counts in the long run. Monogrammed band - say no more.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How Can You Tell It's A Bespoke Shoe 2 - Imperfections

Having had a great response to the post about how to tell if it is a bespoke shoe, with particular reference to the bevelled waist, I think it would be good to take it a little further.

While a well executed bevelled waist is a marvel of skill and technique, there are other elements which mark out the bespoke shoe. The principle one being the stitching. We have developed machines which can stitch quickly, evenly, perfectly you might say. The row of stitches sits beautifully straight, each one the exact mirror of the last in terms of size and tension. Our eyes are accustomed to seeing it this way.

But when you stitch by hand, it is impossible to achieve such regularity. Even if you mark your stitches first with a fudge wheel, you still vary, ever so slightly, where the awl goes in, with the result that your row of stitches is not quite perfect. And there's the rub.

While we mortals strive for an impossible perfection (you can get very close with practice), we never fully achieve it. But equally, deep down we all know that, so when we see the near perfect (but slightly flawed) work of a master artisan, we marvel and delight in it. We appreciate the skill and training involved in nearing perfection, but we also feel akin to the humanity of its flaws.

So next time you look at a bespoke shoe, look at the ever slightly crooked stitching; the occasional tiny nick in the upper from the knife (yes, I admit it! The shame!); the off centre toe cap; the asymmetry between the two shoes; the uneven seat; the tiny divot in the heel breast; the wonky welt; the clunky transition from the sole edge to the bevelled waist.

This is turning into a litany of my failings. Should I even be admitting to all these mistakes? It has to be said though, that I have never been 100% satisfied with a pair of shoes I have made. There is always something I could improve on. And when a whole heap of things go wrong in one shoe, I feel wretched. So I suppose it shows that striving for perfection is a trait you need to be a craftsperson.

The other day at Gieves and Hawkes, the CEO left a pair of vintage Fosters shoes with Justin, the shoe shine guy. He showed them to me and we were trying to work out if they were bespoke or not. It was hard to call, but the deciding factor was the tiny indentations the awl makes on the upper when you make the stitches. It is a series of tiny vertical dents in the leather, all in a row. If this happens to you, dear reader, the trick is to rub the marks with your sleeking bone or some similar smoother. It works.

I am currently making a pair of royal blue suede Chelsea/Beatle boots. I have the sole stitched on so I should be able to post them up next week. They are amazing. I want a pair. Pity I can't afford my own shoes!

Enough already. Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Spotlight on the Goldfish Bowl

It has been a busy week at Gieves and unusually for us we have been somewhat in the spotlight!

We are always thrilled for our shoes and the craft to get attention and praise - from press and customers alike...but James and I have both been shy about too much personal attention. We knew that things might change when we moved into the 'goldfish bowl' - (until then, we had only ever made shoes in our workshop here at Cockpit Arts or at trunk shows - remember James in the window at Leffot in New York?) - so making shoes here is helping us to overcome our shyness.

It's to be expected and is certainly welcome. I've always believed that choosing someone involved in creating your style - whether it is your tailor, hairdresser or shoemaker - is as much about a meeting of minds as about the product. So we are quite unusual I guess, in that we are both the business partners and the actual shoe makers - yes, James and I actually do the making. So for customers, the 'goldfish bowl' really is a special opportunity to not only meet the people who actually make your shoes, but to to see them at work and to talk to them about what you are looking for.

Anyway, back to all this you know from James' distracted blogging last week his photo now graces the entrance on Vigo street... but this week, as well as enjoying showing our craft to the owners of Gieves & Hawkes... (and evading the 'paps' hanging around looking for Wills-related shots) we both had our portraits taken (yes you may actually get to see what The Other One looks like), we have our fabulous Snob Loafers in GQ and we celebrated the launch of Crafted YR2 generously hosted by Gieves & Hawkes.

Credit: GQ magazine

The shoes on show in GQ (see above) are one of the series that we are producing especially with Gieves & Hawkes and is the ultimate luxury - a tasseled loafer in sumptuous matte crocodile with a Tyrian (royal) purple lining. It sits proudly in the G&H window on Savile Row alongside our Campaign Boot (in soft English grain and Gieves' military twill). The Snobs truly have arrived on the Row!

Wednesday evening's Crafted Yr 2 launch was a special night for us. We were thrilled to be chosen by Crafted as part of the programme's first year and have really benefited from the mentoring help that we received. Wednesday was a night to say thank yous to so many people - to Gieves & Hawkes, Peter Ting, Cockpit Arts, Crafted, Arts & Business, Walpole, the American Express Foundation, our advisers and of course, our mentor Mark Henderson.

Gieves & Hawkes provided a luxurious showcase for the wonderful work from this year's intake of carefully selected craft entrepreneurs and it was lovely to meet so many of them. With a shared fundamental belief in craftsmanship and an appreciation for objects beautifully made, there was much to talk about.

A great night and a great week, but I'm looking forward to a few days of just shoemaking next week!

Side Linings 2

February already! What happened to January?

I left you all in the middle of something last week. It just goes to show that planning is key, both in bespoke shoes and in life. Last week I planned to write about a Norwegian welt that I am making. I had all the pics sorted and had planned what to say. But then I got the inspiration about how to tell a bespoke shoe from a factory shoe and my life as a model clouded my judgement and I ended up talking about side linings, a short and seemingly impossible subject to mess up. But I did not finish the story, so I will this week.

But first some news.

Last night The Other One and I went to the degree show of this years graduates from London College of Fashion, which was very interesting. We particularly wanted to see the shoes made by our friend Michelle Quick who we have been helping through the year. She has used hand welting and general handsewn making techniques and has also used cow horn pieces on the uppers. The results were great so a congratulations to her.
The stand out collection for me was a series of photos by Nicol Vizioli in Fashion Photography (

The Other One and I have booked ourselves onto the 13th Independent Shoemakers Conference which takes place on the weekend of 25th, 26th and 27th of February at the Kings Court Hotel, Kings Coughton, Alcester, Warwickshire.
This is a meeting of shoemakers from around the country and it is open to everyone, so if any of you out there fancy going, you should sign up. It is very friendly, relaxed, informative and fun. Yes, shoemakers can have fun. And it is a great way to meet other makers and share resources.

More information at, Or on Facebook, Shoemakers Conference or Bespoke Shoemakers.

Let us know if you are going and we will look out for you.

Anyway, back to shoemaking, side linings specifically. Last week I left you with the side linings lasted between the upper and the lining. What I forget to tell you about is what to do with the fore part when you come to put in your toe puff.

Put in your toe puff as normal; let it dry; and shape it as normal. At this stage you need to attach the side linings. Some people do this before they put the toe puff in and that is perfectly legitimate, but I prefer to put them on top because I feel it gives you more control over their finish.

Put contact adhesive/neoprene/bostik on both the toe puff and the side linings and let them dry.

Then stick them down. Make sure you pull them tight lengthways so that they sit tight to the lining along their length. They do not need to be perfectly alike although it is best to make them at least similar lengths. But you will see that they are bulbous and stick out. You will need to address this.

I start with my knife and very carefully skive away the excess. When it is looking close to smooth, I use my rasps to finish the job. A rough one, then a gentler one. So that it looks something like this.

The last trick is to put a piece of newspaper over the joins. It must be torn not cut and glue it with paste. This completely prevents any lines showing through the upper. This is a good trick if your toe puffs show through in general. It helps a lot.

And that, dear readers, is that. So, until next week, happy shoemaking.