Friday, April 26, 2013

Baggy Top Edges and Pattenmakers

Greetings once more, dear shoe folk of the world. Welcome back to our beacon of craft excellence in the swampy mire of shoe mediocrity - here you will find passion, skill and dedication lighting the path to your own shoemaking goals.

Take a look at this. What I call the shoemaking equivalent of a soggy bottom in cake making. You've lasted the stiffener in and the top line is loose. This is very bad because the shoes will gape and not hold the foot correctly. This usually happens with casuals (shoe with no fastenings, like loafers). And with these, it is particularly important to hold the foot tight and get the top line to take the shape of the last.

Reasons can be a slightly ill fitting pattern; very stretchy leather cut with the grain in the wrong direction; poor measurement of the long and short heel; or big adjustment to this part of the last after a fitting.

There is, however, a solution.

But before explaining how to do it, let me take you on a trip to the medieval world of the ancient trade guilds of the City of London (a square mile of the most ancient part of London, now the financial district). There are a hundred odd of these and they are ranked according to size and importance. These days they are mainly charitable organisations which raise money and do good works. But they also function as trade bodies, have annual events which are a great opportunity for networking

So last Friday I went to the annual Pattenmakers dinner at the Vintners Hall. Having never been to a black tie event, I asked for help from the bespoke boys at Gieves and Hawkes, who very kindly lent me a very sharp dinner jacket. Luckily I had a pair of our Half-cuts in black patent

The Vintners Hall is very grand and impressive, with about 250 of us seated in the main hall, we enjoyed an evening of fine food, wine and conversation. I was seated next to Eric Musgrave, writer and journalist who looked after me very well, guiding me through the finer points of the etiquette. He even let me use some of his (superior photos)

The Main Hall

Mr Richard Paice (past Master), Eric Musgrave and shoemaker Bill Bird

Shoemakers Jim McCormack and  Caroline Groves (and daughter)

The main speech was given by Mr Rory McKenzie, an ex-serviceman who lost a leg in Afghanistan and was helped by the Pattenmakers, specifically Bill Bird with a pair of special shoes. His talk detailed his transatlantic rowing trip with other injured servicemen - very inspiring.

I was particularly pleased to meet JimMcCormack, a legendary shoemaker to me. When I was an apprentice at Lobb, he and McNicholl were the shoemakers to watch. Whenever their work was shopped, I was told to look and learn. So I met one of my shoemaking heroes.

And so to baggy top edges. Here is one way to solve the problem. Fairly simple and effective.

You need to do this when the stiffener is still wet, don't wait till it dries or it won't work. Wherever the top edge is baggy, place lasting nails 2mm above the top line. This space is important.

Now you will need bits of the stiffener belly which you skived when you prepared the stiffener. These should be fairly thick, about 2mm is good. This is important because it will protect the uppers from the nails. You don't want marks on the uppers.

Place the piece of leather (still mellow or wet) hard up against the nails. Thick edge up.

Then knock the nails over, compressing the top edge against the last. Be gentle, you want to protect the upper.

Do as many of the edges as you need to.
It helps if the leather is mellow too because it moistens the uppers a little which helps shrink the top edge onto the last.

Leave the shoes overnight to dry thoroughly and in the morning take out the nails and the bits of belly. The stiffener should have dried into the correct position and shrunk the top edge to fit. It should look snug and tight like this.

And there you are! A very workable solution to a tricky problem. There are other ways to do this with inner tubes and bandaging, but we like this one.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Crays launch

Greetings, fellow shoe lovers! Last night we threw caution to the wind, ignored the typical English spring weather - snow, rain, snow, sleet, rain - and launched The Crays, our new resort shoes for summer 2013, at Thornback & Peel.

"If you can't get to the seaside, bring the seaside to you" was the theme of T&P's eye-catching window display at 7 Rugby Street.

A flock of pigeons eye up the 'catch of the day'.... The Crays....

Chatting to lovely lady bloggers...

The Crays are made in limited edition runs in Norfolk, England...and are available to buy from us now by email or telephone (but soon available on our new e-commerce site).

The first run is in sizes 8 - 11, but ladies don't worry. The clamour for The Crays has been so great that we'll be ordering a second run just for you. (Please send us an email or call with your contact details, colour choice and shoe size).

We're sorry that there has been no news from the shoemaking bench this week...but rest assured shoes are being made, so until next week happy shoemaking!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Getting Ready For The New York Intensive Course

Before we launch into all things shoe related, we just wanted to give you a quick pictorial update from last week's big event, to share some of the other highly skilled crafts that we showed alongside and to capture something of the launch night glamour!

Guy Salter of Walpole making the welcome speech

Yours truly and the lovely Laura Hollis-Ryan

Awesome screens

 beautiful porcelain....

beautiful Beckers...

 traditional English crystal

 a collaboration between Ptolemy Mann and Eloise Gray evocative of the 1930s/40s

the intricate enamelling of Vicheron Constantin watches

 Mark Henderson and Catherine Lock of The New Craftsmen

 and Juan-Carlos Torres, CEO of Vicheron Constantin and Guy Salter of Walpole.

And a video about the whole show. Unfortunately, Deborah's interview was cut off by the emptying of a skip outside her window - Still worth a watch though

As many of you know, we have a handsewn shoemaking course starting in New York in May. As part of the preparation, we have to make each student a Making Pack. And here is what goes into it




Heel stiffeners

Toe puffs

Leather shanks

Heel lifts

Split lifts or rands

Top pieces. All this leather we refer to as "rough stuff" and it oak bark tanned cow hide from Bakers of Colyton a traditional pit tanners in Devon, England. It is the hide we use in our shoes so it is great quality.

All in a tidy box along with

Uppers (plain black or brown Derby)

A basic tool kit including lasting pliers, awl handles, awl blades, silver pen, tape measure, flat knife and sleeking bone.

 And lasts on your size.

Next up is to box it all up along with some extra tools, glues, materials etc and get it shipped to Brooklyn

Not long till we start now and we are very excited. We always enjoy our two weeks there. It's hard work but great fun - can't wait.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Makers of the exceptional

It's been as very busy, but exciting week. We are delighted to be part of the Vicheron Constantin and Walpole "Crafted - makers of the exceptional" exhibition at Somerset House and enjoyed a lively evening at the launch party on Wednesday evening...

(This was a rare moment of sunshine)

...followed by an early, but interesting panel discussion the next morning with Gillian De Bono of the FT's How To Spend It;  Tony Chambers, Editor-in-Chief of Wallpaper magazine; Guy Salter from Walpole; Deyan Sudjic Director of The Design Museum and Sasha Wilkins of libertylondongirl. 

It was great to catch up with crafted mentees old and new and to meet so many people interested in craft and design...and the show, expertly curated by Peter Ting and Brian Kennedy, provides plenty of surprises to draw visitors in and gives the work on show ample space to breath.  

On the subject of craft and design we visited the most excellent Battle of Bosworth Heritage Centre at the weekend. (The Battle of Bosworth was Plantageanants vs Tudors and was the beginning of the War of the Roses). It was when I photographed the following that I realised the 'It' bag is not a modern phenomenon! Below is a picture of a pair of boots from the period and a bag.

Just look how plain and simple the boots are in comparison with the already rather 'bling' bag? I love this bag's shape and intend to emulate it somehow.

And, on a final note on craft, the knife below was a 'thank you' gift from the Heritage Craft Association for my little presentation there a week or two ago. What an absolutely perfect gift for tool-obsessed shoemaker. It now sits with pride next to my cherished Laguiole. It is by Trevor Ablett, one of the last of Sheffield's 'little mesters', who makes pocketknives in much the same way as they were made 150 years ago.

A consummate craftsman and the perfect end to a craft focused post! Come and see us at Somerset House if you are in London today or Saturday and, until next week (when jimmyshoe is back from his holidays), happy shoemaking.