Friday, February 22, 2013

The business of orthotics

I don't know if other shoemaker have noticed this, but the use of orthotics seems to be on the increase?

In the last six months I would say that 90% of customers were wearing orthotics. So this week's blog isn't so much about answers but more, questions as to "am I right?", and ," if so, why?". Is it that people have more foot problems; are more aware of them; or that orthotics help manage more complex perambulation problems?

Wth our customers, we first discuss why they wear orthotics and whether we can/and they want us to incorporate the adjustments into their lasts / bespoke shoes.

This could be anything from creating a 'pocket' in the underside of the last for an enlarged big toe joint to  creating a light, up-in-waist to support a flat arch without prohibiting its ability to flex.

If they are in a lot of pain or the situation is complex, we ask the client if we can talk to their podiatrist to seek their expertise and work with them to achieve the best result for the client.

When we measure a client who wears orthotics, for bespoke shoes we
- take their foot measures with and without the orthotics underneath the sole
- we take a foam impression of each foot
- we draw around the outline of the orthotics top and bottom; note their dimensions and depth at certain points .

This gives our lastmakers enough information to create a last that fits and a record of the contours on the underside of the foot to create a suitable insole-up-in-waist if needed.

In many cases, finding shoes that have enough back height for the orthotic is a big problem and that is where bespoke can provide an attractive solution. By creating a last that incorporates room for the orthotic we can create a design that disguises the increased back height.

We hope to learn more about orthotics this weekend - we're meeting shoemaking friends old and new at the annual Independent Shoemaker Conference - as this year's host is Mr Bill Bird whose expertise in perambulation is unsurpassed!

Until next week, happy shoemaking.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Grooving The Channel

A very warm welcome to one and all. Another week goes by and we have been busy! As always with bespoke, we never have a steady flow of work where you take regular orders and they flow through production in an even cycle. It seems to work like London buses - they all come at once. So currently, we are both weighted down with a long line of shoes to make (I'm not complaining). We have made 5 pairs in the last two weeks. This is is great on the one hand, because we both love shoemaking. The reverse is that all the other things we have to do to run the business are delayed. Believe me, running your own business is more than a full time job.

Anyway, on to shoemaking. For those of you who missed it last week, check out this video - it's pretty cool.

And check out these shoes which we have just uploaded to the website. And these. It is a patina service we offer to clients done by our friend Paulus Bolten in Paris - pretty luxurious and beautiful. It's great to be able to offer these extra services to our customers, it adds to the feeling of uniqueness which is part of the bespoke experience.

We recently contacted another patina artist in Brussels (Place du Chatelain) whose work we have admired for a while - Landry Lacour. We will have to send him a pair of shoes to paint. Really love this kind of thing, ways to enhance a pair of shoes.

And so to shoemaking. When you are stitching a sole, one of the things you have to be aware of is the little ridge that the stitches can make under the channel. This looks bad and also makes finishing the sole a bit tricky. This is particularly true on a thin sole because you naturally cut the channel more shallow which makes the stitches sit nearer the surface.

Normally we make a groove with a grooving tool which consists of a broken awl which has been sharpened to a point which we run inside the channel (see this blog post for images).
This method works very well, but sometimes, if you are making a very thin sole like 3/16" or less, it can improve the look of the final sole to cut your groove like this.

3/16" Sole With Channel Cut

You can see the channel is shallow.

Making sure the tip of your knife is both pointed and sharp, score a line inside the channel with the very tip of it. You are not really trying to cut the leather, more just scoring the surface. You need to be very careful and confident of your knife skills. Make sure the line is in the right place. Check this by looking at your welt and estimating where the awl will come through.

This is how it should look.

Then get a small screwdriver and run it in the scored cut. This has a major effect and makes a wider and deeper groove for the stitches to sit in.

Hard to see here, but the stitches sit flush with the surface of the leather and don't stick up.

This stage is very important. Take your bone and rub the stitches really hard and fast to squash them. You should work up a sweat doing this.

Then you can glue down the channel with contact adhesive, hammer the edges, and smooth the whole sole with a smoother (a sanded chair leg or rolling pin will do fine).

You can see here that the sole is smooth and the stitches are not visible.

On a thicker sole, you have much more leather to work with, so you do not need to use this method. Having said that, it does fit in with my personal idea that it is better to learn to work with as few tools as possible because finding specialist shoemaking tools is getting harder and harder. As you can see from the following page from the 1981 Barnsley catalogue, there used to be a tool for cutting the channel; opening the channel; and three different tools for grooving the channel. All lovely and very functional and probably easier to use than just the knife, but you can do all these jobs with the knife, a screwdriver and a bone - simple!

Hope you enjoyed the post. and until next week, happy shoemaking.

PS There are 2 places left on our New York intensive shoemaking course in May if you fancy making a pair of shoes with us - it's fun!

And don't forget our new pattern making course here in London starting on 29th July for a week. All the basics for making shoe patterns for one-off shoemaking projects.

And finally, the August intensive shoemaking course here in London is full. Next one is January!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Less is more

We hope that the lubricating revelations of last week left you with a smile on your face...particularly the illustrative photo!

This week's post continues with a light note...

First the heady subject of inspiration and design...James and I are doing more and more design work for both bespoke and design consultancy clients ...and we really enjoy the challenge of it. Like Mies van der Rohe, we believe in "less is more" and that "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication".

Working together as a team on each design we edit one another's ideas paring back designs and paying close attention to detail. That really is our signature...tiny changes to traditional styles....something that is hard to achieve.

"It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions". Steve Jobs

So whilst we try to bring new material combinations, innovations, colour trends and heel heights / sole depths / toe shapes to bear, to give our men's shoe designs a fresh look, we bring to bear our expertise as West End shoemakers.

Like most designers we are reinterpreting classic styles...
  • Louboutin and YSL's red soles echo the red heels worn by aristocrats during the reign of Louis XIV (I wonder if any of our customers would like to try red heels as a status symbol?)
  • Lightweight slip-ons worn outdoors today are inspired by the gentleman's monogram house slipper 
...And boots are inspired by the galoshes and spats of the early 1900s...

CD button boots
The CD Special
Paul Smith 2013
(Fancy a collaboration Sir Paul?)

Talking of collaborations, what seems a lifetime ago James and I did a bit of 'acting'.

We thought the results would never make it on-screen but one of the actors from the commercial dropped by this week and low and behold here we are on You Tube (I'm sure our contract said  internal use only!!!!!). Anyway, take a look...we'll let you know if Hollywood comes knocking!

And finally, to finish on an even lighter note, below is the best business card I've ever seen...great product; great company; great confidence and humour! (The owners details have been concealed for security).

It's actually been a very very busy week of shoe making, so look out for the results of our hours at the bench in next week's post. Until then happy shoemaking!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shoemakers' Grease

Welcome back, dear shoe people of the world. Another week in the busy life of two shoemakers.

Part of the reason we do the blog is to pass on our knowledge which we acquired over a number of years from a master shoemaker. Now, obviously, most of what he taught us was the mechanics of shoemaking - lasting, welting, heel building, etc. But every now and then he would share the more arcane secrets of the shoemakers' lore. And today, it is your good fortune to have access to a little of this knowledge.

This information will apply to those of you who use bristles when you stitch, either boars bristles (the purists among you) or nylon bristles. However, it could apply to those of you who use needles.

The greatest problem with either way of stitching is attaching the bristle/needle to the thread and keeping it on. As you pull each stitch, there is a great pressure exerted. So you need a good way of attaching it, but you also need to make the passage of the thread through the holes as easy as possible, and this is where the great secret I am about to share with you comes into play - shoemakers' grease.

Some of the products we use are easy to find and others require a bit of searching for. Luckily for you, shoemakers' grease is the easiest product to find. You produce it every day.

Here is how you use it. After attaching your bristles or needles in the normal way, take your bristles or needles and press them into the side of your nose where it meets your cheeks. Give them a good coating. There is a second source of the grease which is just above the eyebrows. Both work very well.

If you are going to use the shoemakers' grease, you need to bear in mind a couple of things. One, don't use your thumb or index finger to put it on because this will make the bristle slippery and difficult to grip. Two, only put the grease on the back end of the bristle, for the same reason - you don't want to get the grease on the bristles/needles themselves near to where you grip them

And there you have it. This may seem a bit gross, but it works and it's free!

Let us know how you get on with it

Until next week, happy shoemaking!