Friday, March 30, 2012

Gum Tragacanth Results

Here we go again, another week passes in the riveting lives of two shoemakers from London.

Deborah returned from the States and has been processing all the new orders and adjusting the lasts for the fittings she did. We have 3 pairs we can actually make now, which is my favourite part. It's funny, my two favourite parts of the whole process are the beginning, when you meet the customers; listen to what they are looking for and design their uppers, and the last part when we make the shoes. Not that I dislike the bits in the middle, but those are the stages I love most.

I had a revelation this week, if you are running a business, you really have to think about how you want your business to develop, how you see it in 5 years, 10 years, for example. Do you want to grow and grow, make loads of money and (possibly) have a highly stressful, high tempo life? Or do you want to grow it organically, keep control and have everyone in the business poor but happy? This is a bit simplistic and two extreme points on a spectrum, but it's clear to me which end we are opting for.

And so to shoes. We finished a pair of summer slip on shoes this week which I absolutely love. Slashed covered side gussets allow the front to be very plain with no laces. The last shape is very unusual and the grey suede really compliments the shape. The two colours are gorgeous together and the pale natural finish really goes well with the grey - not a combination you would normally imagine, but it works well.

Clean, elegant forepart highlights the last shape

Love the stitched on dog ear on the back seam

Elegant profile with a low top line for the summer

3/16" sole and bevelled waist make a very light shoe

The natural finish compliments the grey suede and we pulled in the waist on both sides  to give  that lovely shape to the waist and heel

Remember a few weeks ago I mixed up some gum tragacanth? Well, here are the results on a natural sole.

Glass and sand the sole as normal, making sure you get rid of all the marks and blemishes.

I wanted to get a very pale finish, and here is a trick to achieve it. Before you use the finest grit sand paper or block, put some talcum powder or French chalk on the sole.

Then sand it in. This has the effect of lightening the colour. The amount of powder determines the shade.

The difference is not huge but it is lighter.

Then comes the gum dragon. Apply it with a cloth in even strokes. Use a soft brush if you prefer.

Allow it to dry completely. This is partially dry, but it goes uniform when it is fully dry.

Once it is dry, use neutral polish to get a gloss finish. Put it on in tiny amounts with a cloth in quick strokes in one direction. This avoids getting smears. Allow the polish to dry for 5 minutes and then buff it off. Apply another coat and do the same.

The finish is very even and much better than when you just use water to prime the sole before adding the polish.

Very pleased to have rediscovered the old gum dragon.

And that, as they say, is that for this week. We hope you have enjoyed the post and that you have a great week.

Until next Friday, happy shoemaking.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

London - Chicago - New York - London


This week we're blogging from the US which, in the world of the www should make no difference, but it does when it means sitting in blazing sunshine in an unseasonal 74 degrees!

When I landed in Chicago on Sunday it was warm and sunny and the weather all week has remained the same...luckily, thanks to a little weather googling I had packed with light layers in mind (Kelly training)! We're showing at the Waldorf Hotel - highly recommended - fantastic service, rooms and views as I hope the pictures show...

It's my first visit to Chicago and I love it - like a well-thought combination of NY and Boston so villagey and high rise all at once. It's a first time for me, meeting some of the customers out here and it has been a pleasure...they are the definitive carreducker client - an interesting mix of age, occupation and personality from a couple of guys in their early 20s to more mature, self-made businessmen.

Customer fittings were a mix of first and seconds which went well and we now have the green light on a couple of the first and all of the second fittings so it's make, make, make when I get back to London.

Blog followers, you'll be interested to hear that the fittings included the pink and cream derby shoes, which James blogged about recently. I have nick-named them the Battenburgs (a popular English cake from the 70s). And as James says, "they are growing on us". I was a little nervous to be honest, because sometimes when a client orders something out of the ordinary it's hard to know if they really have a picture of what they will look like. I was thrilled - he loves them - although we did agree one tiny refinement, which is claret red beading on the top edge and seams, to help to define them more. They will also have a natural finish on the heel and sole so will look very Great Gatsby. Lovely!

We're now in New York where we have fewer fittings scheduled, but we hope to meet new customers through Gieves and Hawkes bespoke appointments. We shall see how the days go in the mean time. Back to normal next week with more shoemaking news, so until then happy shoemaking!

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Unusual Upper

Greetings again from London. We hope the week has proved to be fruitful. We have been getting ready for our trunk shows next week in Chicago and New York. The boxes have been collected for shipping and Deborah is ready to fly out on Sunday. We are very excited and looking forward to seeing current customers for fittings and meeting new ones. More of this next week.

We recently finished an interesting pair of shoes. They were based on the antiqued pigskin Derby shoes we made last year.

But this time, they are a wholecut, the simplest of styles. We have used the same antiqued effect on the leather as before, but have added a whole load of features which really make the shoe stand out. Things which mark them out as handmade and bespoke - spade welt, fiddle waist, jockey heel, and bevelled waist.

Detail Of The Antiqued Finish And Spade Welt

Notice The Spade Welt Here

Fiddle Waist And Jockey Heel

The jockey heel is the straight cut across the heel breast. It was originally made to help the heel sit easily in the stirrups on riding boots, but they are perfectly acceptable on any shoe. The fiddle waist on this pair, because they are for a customer and to be worn, we have used leather to build it. With the spade welt, we had the pointed toe shape, but it was not quite pointed enough to make the welt elongated at the toe, so we threw the welts out at the joint only - slightly unconventional but I think it looks great.

I like the juxtaposition of the simple upper style combined with the array of added bespoke features, making these an exceptional pair of shoes.

And so to the unusual uppers of the title. Well, judge for yourself. Powder pink nubuck and cream calf. Quite a combination. I was doubtful when the customer ordered them, but now they are on the last, well...

We got them ready for a fitting next week in Chicago. Prepared the stiffeners and toe puffs and let them dry out more than normal so they didn't mark the linings.

We also put side linings in them because nubuck has a tendency to balloon out over time along the toes.

We blocked some light weight insole leather and let it dry. Then trimmed it close to the feather edge on the last.

Because this is just a temporary stage, we only use a tiny bit of paste to hole the stiffeners and puffs in place.

By the way, with such a delicate leather, you must be very careful when lasting and using glues. One thing to bear in mind is the nails you use. The steel nails we use have a tendency to make your finger tips black. It is the reaction with the moisture on your skin. This can mark the upper very easily, so I wear latex gloves when lasting delicate leathers like this one.
I remember having to make a pair of white doe skin Wellington boots when I worked for John Lobb. They were an absolute nightmare and I had to keep washing my hands every few minutes to avoid marking the leather. It took forever.

All lasted up.

Braced and ready to pull the lasts. We let them rest on the lasts for a few days and then pull them.

And that is them ready for a fitting. No sock. We add a fake sole with a heel and that is it. We always tell customers that it is the internal dimensions we are interested in at this stage.

Wish us luck in the States and more next week.

Until then, happy shoemaking!

Friday, March 9, 2012

A step into the past

Whilst Mr Ducker has been working miracles creating super-thin soles, I have been out and about flying the flag for handsewn shoemaking and carreducker...and what an interesting time I have had!

We were honoured to be invited to attend the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers Annual Footwear Dinner last week. We have been looking into the historic guilds and bodies that represent shoemakers here in London and had come across both the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers and the Pattenmakers in London and the Honourable Cordwainers Company in the US, but this was our first invitation! 
I had no idea what to expect and it was with some trepidation that I stepped through the hallowed doors of The Stationers Hall in The City. In its hey day, all City companies wanted to own a hall, so when the Great Fire of London tragically destroyed the majority of the City in 1666 the Company of Stationers had a new hall built. Today the Stationers Hall is one of the most beautiful in London and it was to this majestic building that I went on a wet and windy March night to meet the Pattenmakers.

You are probably wondering, "what is a patten?" Their history in a nutshell is as follows: pattens were a wooden platform that resembled a clog or sandal, worn by men and women in the Middle Ages and continued to be worn by women into the 19th century. Over the centuries three types of patten evolved. In the 12th century pattens had a wooden platform sole up to 4" high raised from the ground with wedges or iron stands and in the 14th and 15th centuries flat varieties became popular (when pointed toe poulaines were fashionable) made from either hinged wood or stacked leather. Pattens were worn to protect the thin-soled shoes popular at the time and the wearer from unpaved roads, cold stone floors and streets awash with effluent and rubbish!

From the 17th century onwards, gentlemen replaced their pattens with thicker soled shoes and riding boots, but women continued to wear them to protect their clothes, hence the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers motto - Recipiunt Foeminae Sustneacula Nobis - women Receive Support From Us!

But back to the night in question...after being announced and introduced to a line of gentlemen sporting gleaming gold medals on blue ribbon and a great deal of fur (the Masters of the Company) I entered the main hall - a wonderful room set out for the dinner, wood-panelled and hung with the banners (standards) of the Stationer members - and immediately found myself with a chaperon in the kind and gentlemanly form of Mr. Mark Hancox who introduced me to both Mr Richard Kottler the CEO of the British Footwear Association and past Master of the Company Mr Richard Paice and it was a delight to catch up with a familiar face, Mr Bill Bird, freshly returned from the Independent Shoemakers Conference in Ireland. 

Needless to say, the evening was fascinating. Today the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers is involved in charitable and sociable activities including supporting young managers in the footwear industry, helping the armed forces, orthopaedic footwear, bursaries and grants to universities and schools and support to the Mayor of London and the civic life of the City of London.  I was impressed...and we hope to become Liverymen in the future if they'll have us! 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cutting A Channel In Thin Sole

Greetings again from carr├ęducker. We are busy polishing and making sure all our samples are in top condition for our trunk shows in Chicago and New York in 3 weeks. Deborah will be there doing fittings with existing customers and taking orders with new ones. We are very excited.

Following on from last week's post about the customer always being right, it must also be said that it is our job as experts in shoemaking to advise customers into not taking decisions which will either damage their feet or not suit the shape of their feet.

Very often, a customer will be very keen on a certain style or design detail. Usually this is fine, but we do have to step in occasionally and dissuade them.
For example, if a customer has short wide feet and they ask for a straight toe cap, we will tell them that this will accentuate the width rather than the length of their feet and we will also suggest a design which will flatter.
Similarly, if they want a seam on a place which will hurt their feet, we will explain this and make an alternative suggestion.

So we can say that they get want they want, but only within reason. It is part of our duty as shoemakers to make sure they get shoes which fit them, are good for the health of their feet and look fantastic.

Now, this week I had the unenviable task of making a 3/16" dress welt. This is fairly straightforward except that you must be very careful when you cut the channel.

Here is the shoe in question before the sole is prepared for stitching. Sole glued on with rubber solution and trimmed close.

Before I cut the channel, I run my thumb nail along the edge to create a little mark. This is where I cut the channel, half a millimetre from the edge.

Now to cut the channel.
Make sure the knife is sharp.
Start at the heel mark and cut towards you. With such a thin sole, you have to be very careful not to cut through the whole thickness. If you do, you will have to start again with a new sole. In the waist, you have to follow the contour of the last a little, so concentrate on the angle of your knife.
As it is a close welt, the channel does not have to be very wide.
Try to do the whole channel in one cut.

Once you have done it, open the channel up with a screwdriver.

Next thing is to create a little groove in the channel for the stitches to sit in. I use a broken awl that I have sharpened to a point.

Drag the tool along the channel and make a groove. Be careful it doesn't slip and damage the upper.

There is, of course a specific tool for doing this. But it is certainly not essential. It's the one called CHANNEL OPENER here in the Barnsley catalogue.

Next you fudge the welt with, in this case a 16 fudge wheel. This means 16 stitches to the inch which is a lot of stitches. This is one of the criteria of a dress welt. Close and a lot of stitches. I have done up to 20, but don't recommend it.

Now you are ready to stitch. With so many stitches to the inch, you have the problem of the thread being too thick. With larger stitches it doesn't matter, but when they are so close together, a big thread will squash the stitches around it. For this reason we use a thinner thread on a dress welt.
This is also because the more thread in the substance of the sole, it can affect its final thickness, by making it thicker than you want.

Stitch with patience and some good music.

One thing to remember, because the thread is thinner than normal, push your awl in less to make a smaller hole. In general, make the smallest hole in the leather that you can, or that suits the job in hand. Big holes make stitching easier, but weakens the leather and the wax plug in the hole which pulling the stitch makes.

Make the stitches EVEN. Like this (quite pleased with the result!)

When you have finished, flatten the stitches with a sleeking bone and flatten down the channel, making sure you get rid of all the creases.
Open it up again and put in some contact adhesive. Let it dry and close down the channel.

Hammer the edge and smooth the whole sole with a sole smoother (an old round chair leg which you have sanded smooth).

Et voila! A lovely thin dress welt with 16 stitches to the inch - beautiful.

And that is your lot, I'm afraid.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!