Friday, March 22, 2013

Finished finery

After the excitement of last week's fittings in Chicago, this week has been busy making adjustments to the lasts, so that we can get going and finish the shoes.

Until we get the making under way, this week we are showcasing two very different examples of what we do best - eye-catching designs, created exclusively for each customer, with a strong (but subtle) focus on detail and contrast:

This fine pair of tasselled, fringe-tongued suede loafers will be walking their owner to his wedding tomorrow at Chelsea Town Hall. (We made the tassells in black glace kid to give a little lift to the black suede and to add movement). The final touch to a most dapper wedding suit! Congratulations to Mr and Mrs Small!

And this beautiful pair our now gracing a shoe wardrobe in the US...waiting for the sun to arrive. Who says our American cousins don't have flair? We love the contrast of colour and texture between the warm toffee calf and moss green shrunken calf...delicious!

Sadly our third pair - a stunning pair of acorn and midnight blue calf saddle boots - arrived late and need a polish before we can show them to you. Three more pairs due back from the treemakers next week - so plenty of new shoes to see.

In the mean time, I'm very excited to be talking about carreducker at the Victoria and Albert Museum tomorrow, as part of the Heritage Crafts Association AGM...more on that next week, so until then happy shoemaking!

Friday, March 15, 2013

An Unusual Problem 2

(From Jimmy Shoe) Welcome back fellow shoe people of the world. The country which is tenth on our list of hits this week is Brazil. Fantastic! Come on you Brazilians, get shoemaking.

I find myself in Chicago this week doing a trunk show. We have customers to see for fittings and some for new orders. Very exciting, if a little chilly.

The hotel is the Omni on N Michigan where we have a lovely suite. I'm seeing a client at the airport later this morning - we have had a few clients who have flown in from across the US to see us for fittings - but I still have a few appointments open later this afternoon (Saturday) if any of you would like to come by? 

Just a little word to our numerous American readers, I love being here and feel very welcome everywhere except in the airport. Three hours to get through immigration. It's like they just don't want us here! OK, griping over.

Right, back to the unusual foot from last week. We left it without soles and  heels. I was hoping to finish them this week but we have been very busy and I have been slow! But I did get the soles on and built the heels as you will see.

First is the toe spring from the outside edge. Very high. I can get two fingers in there. The usual rule is the tip of your index finger.

Second you can see the toe spring on the inside. Again, there are two fingers in there.There is also a slight twist on the last so that it can accommodate the fact that his foot strikes on the ball, very much on the inside of his foot. This throws the heel off slightly when there is no foot in the shoe.

Next is a view of the sole. You can see how flat it is compared to the big curve on the last. This will give stability when he walks, but on the inside of the shoe, the insole still has the curve so that he is comfortable.

Last shot is of the sole in relation to the heel. Both flat and fit for walking on.

The only thing left to do is finish the shoes, make the trees and give them to the customer. As with all bespoke shoes, the solutions we come up with for an individual problem are not infallible, so when we give these shoes to the customer, we are fully ready to accept that what we have done may not be the best thing and that we may have to adjust the shoes in some way. With this pair, it would probably mean altering the lasts which would mean remaking the shoes form scratch (we don't want to do that). Usually though, if we need to adjust a finished pair of shoes, there are plenty of tricks and tweaks you can do on the finished shoes because oftentimes, the change that is needed is very small and subtle. It is amazing how a tiny change can alter how a shoe fits.And that is it for this week. We will,let you know how the customer gets on with the shoes in a few weeks.Until next week, wish me luck in Chicago and happy shoemaking!

Friday, March 8, 2013

An Unusual Problem

Good morning, afternoon, evening, whichever time zone you find yourself in. We are feeling the first warmth of Spring after a long, cold Winter which is delightful. The days are getting longer and it is no longer dark when I go home. And as the year goes on, the number of orders goes up. Why is it that people don't like to order shoes in the Winter?

Anyway, take a look at this last. What do you see? Comments? Questions? What kind of shoes will be made on them?

Take a look at the toe spring. Pretty high. You would expect a 2" heel with these.

The rule of thumb we use on toe spring is that you tip the the last up at the toe with your hand and then you put the tip of your index finger under the toe. At that height, look at the heel area and measure from the outside heel point to the ground. The standard we use is 1 and 1/8". If you do this on these, it is over 2".

The tip on this picture is not quite enough, so the heel height shown is too low. Plus it is the inside not the outside. Bad planning on my part, sorry.

Another thing to notice is the extreme curvature on the underside of the last.

Now, why all this, you may be asking yourself?

This customer has unusual feet. When he is standing at rest, his toes stick up about 1" from the floor and he has a large curve on the soles of his feet. As a result (possibly, possibly not), his gait is very bouncy and his feet have a pronounced rock from impact to lift off.

So, after discussion with our last maker, we came to the last pictured above. The rationale is this - we left the huge toe spring so that his toes are not forced down and painful; we left a big curve to fit the actual contours of his feet. This means that the last acts a bit like a rocker sole and will allow his natural gait to continue, rather than forcing him into shoes which contort his feet.

One aspect of the making with this last is the transition of the curve of the sole of the last to the sole which will hit the floor - this has to be flat. So we have to start this transition with the insole. We used a very thick one which, when we prepared the holdfast/feather, we skived the domed middle flat.

The upper side remains dipped in the middle for his feet to sit in comfortably.

But the underside has been skived flat.

The next stage was after the shoes were welted. We welted as normal and put in the shank and cork filler - we used cork here because it is much easier to shape than felt.

The trick here is again to flatten out the middle of the insole by rasping the cork well. Most of the cork in the middle was rasped completely away.

The underside profile of the shoes at this stage is much like a regular shoe because you can't really skive the sole because you want to keep the thickness unchanged so that they last longer.

This is as far as I have got with these shoes, so you can look forward to seeing the finished product next week.

Until then, happy shoemaking

Friday, March 1, 2013

The 2013 Annual Independent Shoemakers' Conference

Welcome back once more, dear readers. We hope you are well and looking forward to some news from the world of bespoke shoes.

Saturday saw a very early start for both of us. I met Deborah at some far flung Tube station in West London and we set off along the M40 for Alcester in Warwickshire and the 15th(?) Annual Independent Shoemakers' Conference.

The information for this organisation is found at - a loose collection of shoemakers from around the UK (and a few from abroad).

The conference is organised each year by a different member and this year it was the turn of Bill Bird Shoes. They did a fantastic job, so a great big thank you to them. It was very interesting and a great opportunity to meet other shoemakers, pattern makers and closers.

It is a combination of lectures and networking, so we started the day with a demonstration of hand stitching techniques for uppers by Dominic Casey of Cleverleys - raised lakes, split stitched seams(?), plait stitch and a bit of thread making - very cool indeed.

Plait Stitch Being Done

The Plait Stitch Which Uses Two Stitching Threads And Two Thicker Plaiting Threads

Dominic Casey In Action

Next up was a demonstration of hand welting techniques by John Cornforth of Yorkshire. We particularly liked his traditional shoemakers bench and lasting post.

Next came lunch where we chatted to a chiropodist from the Isle of Wight who had an affinity with Crocs - obviously not a passion we share.

Mock Croc Crocs Anyone?

We then moved to an area which was a bit of a revelation to us both - how to make shoes for women with problem feet and make them look fabulous. That classic mismatch between how a woman sees her shoes in her mind's eye and the actual shape that her lumpy, painful feet require the shoes to be.
This involves detachable accessories like straps, buckles, clips, bows and flowers. Very clever and creative in fact. The talk was given by Carina Eneroth of Swedish shoemakers Framat, shoemakers to the Swedish Royal Family.

We even had a go at making a bow with varying degrees of success - I think I will stick to the day job.

The penultimate talk of the day was from Bill Bird himself who talked us through the ins and outs of hand carving wooden heels - very interesting and challenging.

And finally, came a technical exploration of the properties of leather, from the raw materials to the finished product. This was by the head of Leather Studies at Northampton University. She went through the structure of leather from different animals and the way they are tanned and coloured. It was very interesting and explained why we use certain leathers for certain jobs - for example, did you know that the reason pig skin is so tear resistant is that the hair follicles and sweat glands go all the way through the thickness of the skin? Whereas in calf, goat and sheep, they are only in the surface layer. Fascinating stuff!

We also had time to chat and catch up with old friends and colleagues and we generally had a great day.

For those of you who live in the UK, this is a thoroughly recommended day out. You will meet other shoemakers who might be able to help and we are a very friendly bunch. So make sure you come next year.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!