Friday, July 29, 2011

Adjusting Lasts After A Fitting

Greetings fellow shoe freaks of the world. I hope this past week has been fruitful and full of shoemaking. It has been a bit of a manic one for me because I was making a pair of our classic Saddle Boots for a wedding and the deadline was Monday. It all turned out fine and the guy is very happy, but I do not like working under pressure. That feeling that if your knife slips, it could all be over - "Sorry Sir, but I sliced up your wedding boots with a clumsy slip of my knife. But there are plenty of shoe shops in the area." Not what you want 2 weeks before your wedding.

Anyway, it was fine and they fit very well. Look pretty good too. He wanted a slightly retro look, so we fiddled with the facings to make them look a bit like spats. Nice huh?

We also featured last night on a programme called "A Nice Pair of Handstitched English Shoes" on BBC Radio 3. We were the experts (ha!) brought in to share our wisdom on all things shoe. It was actually a really interesting ramble through the cultural significance of shoes in global civilisation, well worth a listen.

This week, I have also seen a client who is proving very hard to fit correctly. He has painful feet and oddly shaped ankles. The forepart is fine, just a few lumps and bumps to accommodate, but his heel going forward to the joint is proving to be a nightmare. Luckily he is very patient and wants to get this right, so does not mind coming in for fittings.

Here is the adjustment I made to his last after this week's fitting. We had tried various things to accommodate his painful heel, foam padding being the main one, but it hadn't worked, so we are trying a different approach.

These are his lasts after the fitting. The pen marks are places where I have to take wood off the last, and the circle with the F is where I have to put a fitting. At the back, I want to  off a whole lot to the line.
I like to mark work to be done on the last during he fitting. I take notes too, but I find the last easier to work with. The denser those pen marks, the more wood needs to come off.

One big problem was the fit along the top edge - way too loose and baggy, so I want to scoop away a lot of wood so that the shoe grips tighter.

A lot to take off on the heel.

Small fitting to put here.

Another very small fitting here.

Work starts across the joint on the top of the last. The sides of the lasts were fine, but there was a lot of  excess leather across the top, so this is where it had to come off. If you leave too much leather on the top you get ugly creasing when the person walks and you also risk this creasing digging in to the foot and being painful.

Next I started rasping off the sides. It is not an exact process for me and it is a lot of feel and look, so keep checking what you have done and look at the sawdust on the floor. Use a vice with soft jaws if you have one, but I tend to do it in my lap.
I use a tool like the one in the pics, but also use a surform and rasps.

Rasps, surforms and circular surforms.

I was trying to get a steep scoop on the last.

Then the other side.

Now the back of the heel to that line I drew. Work hard!

Not a good shape here. It has to slant more so that his heel is gripped by the shoe so that it does not slip out of the shoe when he walks. This is very important. If your heel slips in your shoes, then your toes grip to keep your shoes on and it can lead to big problems with your toe joints.

Compare the two. You can see how much I have taken off.

Same process now with the other last.

See those lines made by the tools I use for taking off the wood. You need to sand them away to get a smooth surface on the last. This stops marks on the lining and pulling the lasts.

Fittings. I use toe puff belly generally because it is quite thick and you can put a big bit on and skive it off to your specifications. Cut it out; glass the skin side; skive the edges roughly; and glue it with neoprene/contact adhesive - strong glue anyway.
Let the glue dry for 5 minutes or so and glue it on

Skived edges.

I also use thick calf for thin fittings. This one is for the side of the last on the toes, so one edge is not skived.

Once it is glued on, you can start to shape it with your knife. Always try to make the transitions smooth so that you don't get massive lumps sticking out on the finished shoe. Generally, cut the fitting too big for the lump, so that you can blend it in to the last.

Nice blending, jimmyshoe! Sorry, I go a bit crazy writing this blog sometimes.

When I am done with fittings, I always cover them with a layer of the glue and let it dry for 12 hours. This way, the leather is not so rough; will not mark the lining; or stick when you pull the lasts.

The last little trick I used in this shoe was a cut out on the heel stiffener. This client has a sore lower heel, so cutting away the stiffener allows a bit of softness for this area. You can cut away like  this wherever you have sensitive areas of the heel or toe, for that matter. I quite often shorten the toe puff to avoid sore toes.

And that, as they say is a wrap. Adjusting lasts is fun and requires a bit of intuition. It is hard to be precise about it, and the more you do it, the better you will get.

This took me about an hour and a half all in, but it was quite a lot work. Normally it does not take this long.

Well, dear readers, that is all for this week. I hope you enjoyed the post and I welcome any comments you may have.

Also, if you are a regular reader, I would really appreciate you becoming a Follower. Thanks

Until next time, happy shoemaking!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cutting A Sole To A Specific Thickness 2

This week we recorded a radio programme for BBC Radio 3 called "A Nice Pair of Hand Stitched Shoes". It will be broadcast next Thursday the 28th of July on Radio 3 at 7.50pm until 8.10 during the interval of a classical concert at the Royal Albert Hall. It is a documentary style programme about the history and cultural significance of handmade shoes and they came to us as the experts, which is very gratifying. we recorded a whole lot of stuff. Quite how much of it they use is down to the editor,but it should be interesting.
Great publicity for us too

Our summer handsewn shoemaking course is fast approaching and, this week, I prepared the making packs for the students.

Unfortunately, one of the students has broken her leg and has had to pull out, so if you want to, and can, do a two week intensive shoemaking course starting on the 8 of August, then contact us and we will give you more details (
We have also published dates and prices for the 3 courses we will be running in 2012. Check here for details

Ok, so left you last week with your sole hanging above the void, hammered but not fully skived. Fear not, though, dear readers, here is where you have to go with it.

The sole is hammered and you have an accurate pen line of the outline. Now is the time to cut to this line. It is really important to be precise here, and make sure you hold your knife straight up and down with no angle.

Once you have cut it, place the welt back onto the sole and check the line. You will probably find that the sole flares out somewhat. Holding the sole and welt together, carefully cut away the excess leather from the sole.

Finally, check that the sole is correct all the way round, perpendicular and even. There is no margin for error, as you will see.

Now comes the measuring part to check the sole/welt combined thickness. Before you do it, it is a good idea  to beat the welt again to compress it and I always run my thumb nail around the skin side edge of the sole to flatten it and give you an accurate measure.

Place the two parts together and measure the thickness. Do this at various points around the sole. You can see that my measure is 3/8". I want a 1/4" sole so I need to lose 1/8" (2 of the little bars on my ruler for all you metric people). However, if you remember from last week, at this thickness, the final sole thickness will reduce, so I have to leave half a bar (1/32") extra to allow for this.

So, on my sole, I draw a line which is 3/32" wide. This all seems very precise and it is, which is why I recommend that you only try this is you have made a few pairs of shoes first. The other thing you need to watch out for is the variation in thickness along your edge. This you need to account for when you draw your line

Now your line is drawn and you should be happy with it.

Skive off the excess, bevelling the cut to about 1/2" wide (see below). Be even with your cut. The last thing I do is glass this cut to even out any lumps and bumps you might have left with your knife.
This is the point where it becomes apparent how important cutting the sole EXACT to the welt is. You have skived off some leather here and you have done it on a sloping angle. This means the edge is exactly the thickness you want it. If you now glue it to the welt and stitch it, but after discover that the sole is too wide, you would have to cut it off. This would mean that the exact thickness would change. It would get thicker and you final thickness would be the original 1/4" plus the extra you have trimmed off, ie, not the thickness you (or your client) want. So be accurate and precise!

The last thing is to measure your final thickness. If it is a full 1/4" (in this case), then you are ready to stitch the sole on. If it is not, then continue to skive until it is perfect.

I hope that is clear and I would happily answer any queries you may have.

I hope you all have a fantastic week and, until next Friday, happy shoemaking!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cutting A Sole To A Specific Thickness

Good morning fellow shoe nerds of the world. And what a wonderful morning it is, the sun is out, gentle breeze, a balmy 20 degrees. Perfect for an informative blog post on cutting your sole to a specific thickness. Contain your excitement people and read on!

When we teach students in our handsewn shoemaking class about attaching the sole, we simply give them a welt and a piece of soling leather and, at the critical moment, we get them to cut the sole roughly to size and glue it on with rubber solution prior to stitching it. This method works fine if you are making shoes for yourself or for friends/relatives, but if you are making shoes for a customer, you have to agree a thickness for the sole (a combination of welt and sole). This is what bespoke means, bespoken, spoken about, agreed between craftsman and client.

Now this presents a challenge to the shoemaker. How do you make sure the sole is the same thickness all the way round? Well, here is how you do it.

There are some general points to bear in mind when you are doing this. A critical sole thickness seems to be 3/16" (5mm). This is a thin sole and very rarely do I make a sole any thinner than this (except on ladies shoes) but the principle applies nonetheless. When you stitch a sole, the thickness you skive to before you stitch it can change once the stitching is finished. And, unfortunately, the thickness can increase or decrease, depending on the thickness you aim for. Quite why this happens I am not sure. It definitely has something to do with the thickness of the thread; the density of stitches; the shape of the hole the stitching awl makes; and the way you finish the edges. There is conjecture about this and I welcome comments, but I am more concerned with results than reasons.

This is where the 5mm threshold comes in. If you stitch at 5mm, the sole thickness before and after stitching will remain the same. If you stitch at more than 5mm, the sole will be thinner after you stitch than before. And if you stitch at less than 5mm (not recommended, try cutting a channel in 2.5mm of sole leather!), the sole will be thicker after you stitch than before. This is significant.

People have said to me that you can buy sole leather and welts so that they will be exactly the thickness you need. This is true. However, leather is an organic product and when you buy a sole bend, it might not be the same thickness all the way through, which will affect your edges - there is nothing worse than wobbly edges, after all!
Also, if you use a thicker piece of sole leather and skive it at the edges, you will have a thicker, more long lasting sole at the part where the customer walks. This means the sole will last longer and you will have a happier client. This is especially the case on thinner, dressier soles.

So, enough of theory, here is how to achieve perfect, even edges of a desired thickness.

You have welted your shoe; put in a shank; and put in cork filler on the forepart.

You have also trimmed the welt (evenly with a very sharp knife) and are ready to attach the sole.

The sole must be mellow (soaked in water for at least an hour and then dried to about 80% dry). This way it is easier to work.

Place the shoe on the sole and carefully draw around the welt and the heel. Try to make sure the shoe does not move. It helps if you tilt it at the front and lay it flat for the joint. The inside waist can prove difficult, and sometime I use the tip of an awl to trace the line of the welt and then fill it in with pen after. Especially on shoes with a very pulled in waist.
Give your self plenty of room round the heel, you will cut off all the excess later.

When you have made a final check that the lines are correct, cut to within about 1mm of the line. You can be rough about this at this point.

Now you need an iron to hammer the sole on. I use an old clothes iron with a flat surface. I also use a London hammer which I have ground flat on the grinding machine. This avoids making dents on the sole surface.
hammer the inside part of the sole up to about 1/2" (12mm) from the edge. Hammer all of the heel area. This is an important step because it compresses the sole leather and makes it harder and more durable. If you don't do it, the customer will be back before you know it for a resole. And they won't be happy!

At this stage I like to put the shoe back on the sole to check the line has not changed. Depending on the nature of the sole, the hammering can make it spread out a bit and you may need to remake your pen line.

Unfortunately, fellow shoemakers, time has got the better of me and I must stop here and make my way to Gieves and Hawkes to make some shoes and see a client at 11.

I will continue with this next week, bringing another invaluable photo essay to a conclusion. So, until that time, have a great week, and happy shoemaking!

Friday, July 8, 2011

3 New Shoes

Greetings fellow shoemakers of the world, I hope the week has been fruitful and invigorating. As you know I have been away to the sunny delights of the Cote D'Azure, and finding myself back in a cool and rainy London has obviously addled my brains.
I had prepared a wonderful photo essay on cutting soles to a specific thickness. I uploaded the photos to the computer and now cannot find them. They are on here somewhere, but I have exhausted both my patience and places to look. And being a super brainy shoemaker, I deleted the files on the camera when I uploaded them.

So, in view of this slight misfortune, I am going to show you 3 pairs of recently finished shoes which I like.

Before I start, we had a visit this week from 2 eminent shoemakers from Sweden and the USA. Carina Eneroth of Skomakeri Framat AB and Lisa Sorrell of Sorrell Custom Boots. It is always  a pleasure to meet fellow makers and widen the shoemakers network. Any others of you ever passing through London must come and say hi - we are very friendly.

First up is a pair of rather summery deerskin and canvas Derby shoes which we designed and made as part of our capsule collection for Gieves and Hawkes.
The back story is interesting. The canvas is what the bespoke tailors use for the body canvassing on the jackets and coats. I think it rather lovely in its own right, which is why we decided to use it.
The deerskin is roe deer from Scotland which was being culled every year, but the carcasses were being thrown away. So an enterprising tannery up there decided to tan the skins and the results are very good. The leather is very soft, but it also has subtle colour variations and the odd blemish (insect bites, scratches and scrapes).
Rather handsome!

I really like the three hand stitched stay stitches on the facings.

We used one of their military ribbons as a tug and the stitch detail on the back strap is taken from a military jacket in their archive.

The overlapping tab at the end of the facings was also taken from a detail on a great coat in the military archive (could have been slightly bigger?)

Just a word on proportion - I think the facings are slightly short for such a plain fronted shoe, but there you are. You often only see these things after the shoe is finished.

Next up is a very simple straight cap Oxford in black box calf. Some of the feedback we have received is along the lines of  'really beautiful designs, but do they make work shoes?'. The answer, of course, is that we do - we can make any style a customer could want. It's just that given a free reign, we tend to give our design  aesthetic a lot of space. We enjoy designing and with samples, we try to give customers the idea that the sky is the limit.
But because we listen to feedback, we are developing a new collection (The Mayfair Collection?) of shoes aimed at the work/office/suit market.
We are going to put our spin on the classics, so an Oxford, a Derby, a wholecut and a loafer. We are going to concentrate on simplicity, beautiful last shapes, small design twists, and a kick-ass waist (which seems to be the part of a bespoke shoe which marks it out as such).
So first up is the carreducker Mayfair Oxford in black box calf.

 We have elongated the cap slightly.

 Notice the modern chisel toe and flat toe box.

 Very high military shine on the cap and counters.

And the kick-ass waist - very pulled in; bevelled; and with a fiddle waist. The black finish all over is simple and clean. The only branding is the stamp on the waist and heel top piece. New nail pattern too (not 100% happy with it though).

Last up is an old favourite. Our classic Go-faster Stripe in black lizard with snake piping. A bold choice that will get you noticed. The client said something really interesting about shoes. He is a wealthy man and said that he had tried spending money on cars, watches, etc, but that the only thing that gives him that real excitement when he opens the box is shoes (and clothes, he has a lot of bespoke suits too). I share his sentiment entirely. He loves these shoes.

 We used natural snake and darkened it with polish.

 We also used Tejus lizard which has more variation in the size of the scales. It really shows up on the sides.

And that, as they say is a wrap. 3 beautiful shoes which we are very proud of. More next week, but until then, happy shoemaking!