Thursday, October 25, 2012

Teaching an old dog...

We have a break from teaching next week because it is half term, so it has allowed us some time to stop to think about how the first few weeks of our evening class have gone. 

Shoemaking is a constant learning experience, but this term I too became a student again when I began evening classes in life drawing. Being in a classroom environment, the oldest in the room by 20 years, being ‘on the other side of the desk’ and being taught by a 20 year old has been a strange experience...and it made me wonder what it must be like for our students being taught by James and I and learning new things as adults.

The pace of the evening class is certainly much different from the intensive course. Still very  concentrated, it is  more relaxed and steadily paced, without the looming deadline. As I do on a Tuesday and Wednesday evening for my classes, most of our students come straight to class from work often racing to get here by 6pm. It takes a lot of mental dexterity to put thoughts about work on hold and relax into the demands of a new learning experience, but hopefully it is also a very enjoyable break, as like me, our students are learning something that they really want to.

My new learning experience has also made me appreciate that people do evening classes for entirely different reasons. I turned up at class on Monday hoping to relax, rediscover my drawing skills at my own pace and be ‘invisible’ for a couple of hours. It was not to be, unfortunately, as the guy taking the class wanted to teach me. His comments and advice was certainly helpful, but because my mind was in escape mode, I was not as receptive as I could have been. Which made me think about our courses and reminded me that it is important to understand each student’s motivation and to respect  the fact that they might want to relax a little on some evenings more than others…to learn at their pace not at ours. 

So, with a masterclass starting on Monday, from here on in I’m going to try to keep my inner student in my mind when teaching. Happy shoemaking until next week!

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Market

Greetings once again all you lovely shoe freaks and bespoke junkies from around the world. I am back! Refreshed and energised from a week's holiday in Cyprus. Now, I don't want to make you jealous but we had a week of sun and 30 degree heat - just what the doctor ordered.

Here is a selection of how a happy shoemaker enjoys his happy hols.

I don't know what it was but every cat on the island ( and there were many) seemed to want to fall asleep in my lap. Cute!

Fishy foot spa. This was weird but quite pleasurable. I don't know if it made any difference to my feet though.

Now, while we were walking round the old town of Limassol, we found this shop which sells made to measure shoes. Delighted and intrigued we went in.

The interior was as lovely as the shop front.

I got talking to the owners and it turns out to be 3 generations of shoemakers working on 3 floors - the shop, a workshop above and office space above that. We chatted about shoes and shoemaking; methods; leathers etc. It turns out that they make mostly glued shoes and fit up existing lasts from their archive for each customer. They make the patterns, click and close the uppers and make the shoes all on site - fantastic

The younger son had even been to de Montford University in Leicester to study footwear and had studied under our old friend Bill Bird.

They showed us their workshop which I was very glad to see was the typical controlled chaos of the shoemaker's atelier. I felt totally at home.

So this all seemed wonderful - until we started talking prices. They told me that they charge 180 Euro for a pair of shoes. I was shocked. I felt bad for them, felt that their skill and knowledge was undervalued. I know what it takes to make a pair of shoes - from taking the measures and making them fit to sourcing the leather and making the uppers. I asked them how they made a living and they said it was hard, that they did repairs too, a constant struggle (that, at least I understood).
They told me that people come in with shoes to copy and then decide to buy the Prada shoes up the way for 700 Euro instead. Gutting!

But afterwards I got to thinking. If you are making shoes, you have to charge according to the market you are in. On a relatively small island, this is what the market can stand. People will simply not pay more and that is the reality of the situation. We are very lucky here in London. We can target a wealthy demographic with the money and inclination to buy our shoes at a price which reflects their quality. Prices (and quality) vary widely around the world and if you just think about artisan shoemakers like us or Lydias, we have to make shoes which our customers both want and can afford.

There was some criticism recently on an internet forum of a company which makes shoes in a small factory, using local products where possible for a local market. The shoes are glued, then stitched and shaped when wet so that no lasts are necessary. In my opinion they are hideous but perfectly wearable. The criticism seemed to be that they give the world of shoemaking a bad name and threaten all of us who propose to make artisan hand crafted shoes because they promote themselves as artisan made shoemakers (BTW they don't really promote themselves in this way)

This is a tricky one. People make shoes all round the world for very different client bases and for very different prices. But one thing they have in common is that people wear them and pay for them and part of what we shoemakers do must be driven by our customers.

At the end of the day, I applaud anyone who can make a living at making shoes in a more or less handmade way. Given the price competition from mass produced junk shoes, it is a pretty amazing feat.

But it also goes to show that people only go into shoemaking because they love it and have a passion to make shoes, despite it being a constant struggle. It's one of the things I like about shoemakers I have met - we are passionate

Long live shoemaking!

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Making a matching pair

Occasionally not everything goes right in the world of the shoemaker...we had an incident recently where we had finished a pair of low ankle boots for riding. They were looking lovely, but somewhere between them being finished and the trees being made one of the boots was damaged. It was just a few days before the client was due to collect them and we felt terrible having to disappoint her after her patience attending fittings and then waiting for the finished footwear.

We always believe that honesty is the best policy and emailed the client immediately. She did ask about putting a patch on the damage when she saw it, but we really take pride in our work and just couldn't let something leave our workshop that wasn't 100% excellent.

So we knew we had a remake on our hands. Remaking just one boot or shoe is quite difficult because it is imperative that it looks a pair with its partner when finished.

The first stage was to carefully remove the heel and to then cut the sole stitches so that it could be removed - along with the cork and shank - without damaging the insole too much. We then cut off the upper, soaked it and carefully removed the stiffener and toe puff. The patterns were sent off for a new upper to be made immediately and meanwhile we blocked a new insole.

Once the insole had dried we trimmed it as usual. To help to get this new boot as similar to the original as possible we used the original insole as a template. We copied across the heel marks, the holdfast markings and shaped the waist in the same way as before.

Fortunately the upper was turned around in super-quick time and, using the original stiffener and toe puff, we lasted it over to let the leather take the shape of the last making sure that the caps were straight and the same length. We also had to make sure the back height was the same and that the facings matched.

The boot was then welted and the welt trimmed to shape using the good boot as a model for the amount of welt showing and the position of the row of stitches.

Fitting the shank, cork and sole was plain sailing (again making sure the sole thickness was the same, in this case, 1/4"). The next step was getting the heels to match. Again we used the good boot as a guide for heel height and overall shape.

Then we sanded back the original boot heel and edges and refinished both boots together to ensure an exact match. And hey presto! A pair of boots.

 We are really looking forward to sending them off to the client next week...and we hope that the horses don't step on them too soon!

Until next week happy shoemaking!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Colourists

It's a case of while the cats away the mice will play - with Mr Ducker off topping up his tan in sunny climes - I'm hard at it, at the proverbial shoemaking coal face!

It's been a great week ...lots of making, designing, successful first fittings (I love it when the fit is good first time) and confirming stage two of a very creative design project we are involved with!

We are making shoes for a series of advertisements for Tim Page Carpets in Chelsea Harbour for super glossy home interiors magazine, World of Interiors. It is great fun and a creative challenge making shoes from their luxurious, colourful and patterned interiors fabrics, braiding and wallpaper. Here are the first two which are out now - and yes, the boots are handsewn! My personal favourite is the next one to appear...a ladies ribbon-ties platform! If you can, pop down to Tim Page to see the shoes that we have made so far.

Which leads me nicely onto the subject of colour. Men are being much more adventurous with their choice of shoe colours. You'll no doubt have seen more colour coming through in the men's fashion magazines and on the high street - lead by the indubitable Mr Hare who opened his new shop recently in Mayfair.

Our clients are starting to show their true colours too. Take the Battenberg's, for instance? They are well ahead of the fashion curve and, although they may not be to everyone's taste, they really show where we excel in bringing our customer's dream shoes to life.

Just imagine them on a sunny day, with a cream wool jacket and flannels or corduroys. I am certain that they will certainly hold their own in the fashion stakes in San Francisco and get a lot of attention. Our client is wearing them for the first time this week thanks to an 'Indian summer' so I'm looking forward to being sent pictures showing the chosen outfit in all its glory. He'll be the talk of the San Francisco men's style pages (and staying away from red wine)!

He will also be thrilled to hear that he has indeed started an all-pink trend! We had a fitting this week with an elegant black wholecut with a gorgeous pink kid lining. It is also this gentleman's first foray into bespoke shoes - who said guys were scared of colour? And there's more colour to come with brown derby's with citric lime accents and a permanganate lining; brown shrunken calf button boots with permanganate; and grey suede slip-ons coming through.

We've dubbed our bolder tasted customers 'the colourists'  and we're looking forward to seeing many more of them in the future.

Mr Ducker will be back with more things shoemaking next week. Until then happy shoemaking!