Thursday, June 30, 2011

A good 'awl'!

So with Mr Ducker tanned and relaxed and safely back at the shoemaking bench, I have a little more time to show you how to tackle those ever-shrinking waists!

In a recent post, James showed you how to really bring in the scoop of the waist so that you end up with a lovely narrow waist on the sole. But as I mentioned last week, getting a good curve on your welting awl is all-important to stitch the bevel waist at that point.

Here is an example of my usual welting awl and my new small but perfectly curved waist awl. As you can see the lower awl has a much tighter bend on it, which allows me to scoop right in at the waist, especially on the inside waist where the curve of the last is much steeper anyway. How did I do it? A hot flame and some significant breath holding!
Heat your awl blade over your burner until it blackens. Now using a pair of pliers hold a good length of the end of the awl and gently - VERY gently - apply pressure to it to bend it. The rule here is a little at a time. Keep putting it into the flame and as you apply pressure you will see it gradually begin to curve.
Top tips are: don't hold it to close to the end of the awl or it will snap; don't bend it too hard or it will snap; don't bend it when it is cool or it will get the picture a little at a time.

But it is worth the effort because it makes stitching those beautifully curved bevel waists so much easier!

Short and sweet this week. Pictures of a certain someone's holidays from the South of France next week no doubt (yawn yawn) possibly interspersed with a little shoemaking...

until then have a great weekend, happy bending and happy shoemaking!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Blowing our own trumpets

Apologies blog-fans Mr Ducker may be off lounging by a pool in the south of France for a few days - so no there won't be any shoemaking posts this week I am afraid...I've been just too busy getting shoes ready for fittings and finished for customers...

but we are still basking in the glow of our recent Balvenie Masters of Craft award win. You may have spotted a certain Other One in the Life section of the Sunday Telegraph recently?A great day to see British craftsmanship being recognised....

and we wanted to share one of our books with you showing what some of the fuss was about!

Normal service will resume later this week, when you can look forward to a post on tool making. After Mr Ducker's recent posts on creating a beautifully slim and curved waist I'll be giving you some top tips on making an especially curved awl to get into that troublesome inside waist! A necessity for the wedding shoes I welted last week!

Happy shoemaking and try not to think of Mr Ducker in the sun - I am!!

Friday, June 17, 2011

All About My Insoles

Greetings fellow shoemakers of the world. I hope the week has been bountiful. Unfortunately some might say (me), the Other One and I had to work this weekend as we were taking part in the twice yearly Open Studios at Cockpit Arts -  where we have our main workshop and office.

This is a chance for the public to visit, buy and commission work from over 90 designer/maker businesses based here. It was a special one this time as it is Cockpit's 25th birthday, so there were plenty of events going on. Over 3500 people visited, so it was a successful weekend. We sold Winkers and our Limited Edition goodyear welted shoes.

As you can see, we spruced the studio up somewhat, and made it look presentable. And we put out on display all of our considerable recent press.

Winkers On Parade

Limited Edition Shoes

As you can see, it was a busy weekend.

And so on to all things bespoke shoes. I recently had a conversation with a fellow shoemaker about insoles. My conclusion, after much discussion, was that you have to treat the top side which touches the foot differently from the bottom side to which the welt is attached. This has big consequences on the shape of the waist. Treat the two sides as separate entities and you will be ok.

After you have soaked and blocked the insole and it is dry, you are ready to begin. All the first stages are about the top of the insole and its relationship with the foot.

The last has a feather edge which marks the transition between the upper part of the foot and the sole of the foot. This is crucial when preparing your insole. It is sharp and defined, apart from in the inside waist.

After taking out the nails from the dry insole, I trim the edge in line with the feather edge all the way round except for the inside waist. I make sure that the angle of the knife matches the angle at which the last comes down to the feather edge. On the sides it is usually vertical. At the toe it flares out and at the heel, it pitches under. If you do this, the insole will not show through the upper after lasting.

The last part to cut is the inside waist. The insole has to support the foot inside the shoe, and this area of the foot is very mobile and changes as we walk. It is also where the arch of your foot is which curves up off the floor. You may need to incorporate arch support (insole up in waist). As a result, the last is a bit vague here. Sometimes there is a trace of the feather edge and sometimes not. So cutting the line of the inside waist requires judgement. But be generous and look at the starting points of the curve at the front and back of the waist. Draw a line on the insole and match it on the other last so that they are a pair.
When you are happy, cut the line.
At this point, we are still concerned with the insole and its relationship with the foot, giving support and fitting well.
Also, remember to cut off the little lip on the top side with your knife or a plough. Otherwise this can dig into the foot and cause pain.

From this point on, we are going to prepare the under side of the insole and this is now about the shape of the waist and the aesthetics of the shoe and has very little to do with how the foot stands on the insole.
Start by marking your heel points and waist points if you are doing a bevelled waist.

Next mark the 1st line of the holdfast/feather, apart from in the inside waist. I do 3/16" from the edge.

The toe I do more because of the toe puff and angle of the awl. I also straighten the line to give more room to work and a stronger holdfast.
These measures are personal and arrived at through trial and error. They vary from maker to maker and you have to experiment. Some people throw the line out at the joint to stop the welt disappearing, but I prefer not to do that as I like the result better. It's personal choice.

Now, the waists. You can do any curve you like here. It can be really pulled in and dramatic, or lightly curved giving a sturdy look. It can be an even curve or, as I like to do, pulled in more at the joint end than the heel end. I think this gives a pleasing bevelled waist.
You can see that it does NOT follow the line of the insole I have cut for the foot to stand on - the two are not connected.
Draw matching lines on both lasts.
For a square waist, I pull the waist in much less because it makes getting the awl in for stitching the sole much easier. And avoids getting nasty indents on the upper from the awl haft.

I like to pull the outside waist in too because it marries better with the curve on the inside waist. It also means that as the waist transitions to the heel, you get a lovely "in and out" curve which allows you to build a beautifully curved heel top profile, especially on very wide waists. You can end up with ugly triangular shaped heels (when seen from the top), where the widest point of the heel is at the heel breast (very ugly) if you don't curve in the outside waist. Especially true on square waists.

Next I use a pair of dividers set to 3/8" to draw the inside line of the holdfast/feather. I also go around the heel with this line because I stitch the upper to the insole around the heel rather than using nails or pegs - I just think it's an elegant solution. All methods work just fine.

I then cut a groove with my knife. No deeper than half the thickness of the holdfast. I wet it and run a screwdriver through it to open it up.

The inside waist again! This is where it becomes apparent that the two sides have different purposes. I skive the bottom side so that you don't get a line in the finished shoe. See though, that the top side is anaffected. The foot will still be supported by the insole and sit fully on it. However, the bottom side, where the foot doesn't touch is all curved in. This means you can do any shape of inside waist you like.

A word of warning! If you want to pull the waists in for a really dramatic look, make sure you have enough lasting allowance on the upper to achieve this. It is embarrassing to prepare your insole and then find out your upper won't fit.

Use a knife or feathering knife to cut away the leather for the holdfast.

If you have curved in the outside waist, repeat the skive.

Et voilá!

Repeat process for the inside of the holdfast. This time hold the knife at a 45 degree angle towards the outside of the shoe to give extra strength to the holdfast. Wet and open with a screwdriver.

Because of the 45 degree angle, I cut this side with my knife. Cut away!

Finally, make holes with your awl, between3 and 4 to the inch.

And that is a wrap. I hope that all makes sense.

Please feel free to comment and contribute.

Until next week, happy shoemaking

Friday, June 10, 2011

Velvet Slippers 3

So here we are again. Making shoes and in the press. This week it is the conclusion of the creation of the velvet slippers and, to kick things off, a bit of coverage in July's UK Esquire magazine. Great article on Gieves and Hawkes and a lovely half page piece on carreducker within it. Excellent!

This weekend we have our Open Studios here at Cockpit Arts, the public's twice yearly chance to see and buy direct from the over 90 craft based businesses which make up the place. It really is a fantastic visit. This year is extra special because it is our 25th birthday and there are lots of events going on, And it's FREE, so get down here if you can.
It starts tonight from 6-9pm, and then runs Saturday and Sunday from 11-6pm. I am doing Saturday and The Other One is here on Sunday.
We are having a stock sale of our Winkers Resort Shoes at £150 (normal RRP £275). Many sizes and fabrics.

Back to those slippers. Once the sole was on, the really tough bit for me was over. The rest was heel building and finishing, which is pretty much the same as on a normal shoe.
Put the split lift or rand on first with paste and nails. Trim, skive and peen it.

With a slipper, you have a low heel, in this case 7/8", so you need to get the first lift really flat because you might not get another one on depending on your leather's thickness.
Same as before, trim, skive and peen to get a flat surface.

At this point, before putting on the top piece, I draw the line of the seat and cut it. With a brutally sharp knife of course.

Cut it off and trim in a very narrow seat. Shape the heel to fit.

I needed a second lift in this case to reach the desired heel height. You do this by placing the slipper on a glass sheet with the top piece and checking how it sits and its height.

Put in nails and punch them.

With a house shoe, you always do a blind top piece. Traditionally, this was done by banging in a load of nails all over the heel; clipping them off to just less than the thickness of the top piece; putting on a load of paste; and then hammering on the top piece. In fact, this is how I was taught to put on all top pieces, but, because I am a bit radical, I never do this now - I just use contact adhesive. It sticks fantastically well and the argument against it was that it leaves a tiny line of glue on the finished heel edge. But I can't see it myself. So there!

Next comes rasping all round heel and sole edge.

Glass it, sand it and finish it so it is perfectly, glassily smooth. Very important that it looks great at this point.

Now to set the edge with an edge iron, the same one you would use for a bevelled waist, but thinner, 1/8".
I did a natural finish, so it was important to use a very cool iron so as not to mark, mottle or scorch the leather.
Wet it with water, put on some hand soap and iron away. You should create a smooth curved edge.

The finish was with mid tan polish and a very cool iron.

Finally the customer wanted a non slip finish so I simply glassed and sanded the sole and top piece, leaving a peach skin finish. I like how it looks.

And that was the genesis of a shoe from start to finish. Sorry it took so long, but I have been away and teaching. Hope you enjoyed it, and, until next week, happy shoemaking!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Winners of the Balvenie Masters of Craft Awards - Leather

We returned from New York to some amazing news - we are finalists in the Balvenie Masters of Craft Awards!

With Mr Ducker lounging on a beach somewhere in Spain (no really he does take a holiday sometimes) I stepped up last night to receive the Masters of Craft in the Leather category. After a hard day at the workbench preparing shoes for a host of fittings next week, it was off with the dusty jeans and on with the vintage frocks for a night to remember!

Caption: As Nick Hand, craft photographer for the Balvenie noticed, many of us were unrecognisable out of our studios frocked, suited and booted.

The Balvenie Awards are a rare treat in any craftsman's life and we would like to thank them for launching these inspired awards. With the backing of the Sunday Telegraph, they aim to help to raise awareness - and we hope attract much more patronage - for the many highly skilled craftspeople building flourishing businesses across the UK.

And the Awards are a perfect match for Balvenie. Balvenie produce the finest whisky, are family owned, raise their own raw materials, train up their team over decades and as with craftsmen their products improve with age! A 21 year old malt was proof of that!!!

Caption: One of the highlights of the evening, nabbing Balvenie judge Mr Kevin McCloud for a photo! I couldn't help myself. We are such huge Grand Designs fans and his is such a familiar face that I am afraid I did that classic over-familiarity thing and treated him like an old friend...

Fortunately he is as charming, gentlemanly, enthusiastic and engaging in person as on the box and generously posed for a pic. It was good to hear too that he is a fan of Trickers' shoes, a brand close to my heart as their Northampton factory is where I first caught the shoemaking bug many, many moons ago.

Caption: Showing that he hasn't lost his craftsman's touch, Mr McCloud rolled up his sleeves to have a go at cooperage (building a barrel)!

All in all a fantastic night for carreducker and our beautifully crafted award now sits proudly in the studio at Gieves & Hawkes.