Friday, February 28, 2014

Blocking and Boot Patterns - 2014 Independent Shoemakers Conference

We had a great time last weekend catching up with friends old and new at the Independent Shoemakers' Conference at the DeVere Horsley Park... including Carina Eneroth, Bill and Mrs Bird, Sebastian Tarek, Phil Taylor and Dominic Casey - and we finally got to meet Janne Melkersson after all these years! The conference was bigger and better than ever (well done Marsha Hall) and there were some fascinating lectures and demonstrations. 

One in particular caught my attention - blocking and boot patterns. Now the world at carreducker is a very harmonious one, but there is one fundamental thing that divides us...the ankle. I favour footwear over the ankle i.e. boots and James prefers footwear below the ankle i.e. shoes. So I was all ears for Dominic Casey's boot-centric lecture !

Rather than having several blocking boards, Dominic showed us one that he has had for over 20 years (it sadly decided to split the day before the Conference), but which has provided the ideal curvature for him, for most boot vamps and heels (it has a second surface ideal for blocking boot counters). He generously shared the template for this board and so we plan to make a pair of our own shortly. Watch this space for the results!  

Then came the ultimate boot pattern template (above) to create core pattern pieces and to take / calculate the necessary measurements. Along with boot pattern templates for a...

Wellington Boot...

Zipped fabric boot...

Zipped leather boot...

Zipped fabric and leather boot... 

And a pull-on boot.

Now it's a long time since I studied pattern making, so it was interesting to see how Dominic makes a caster pattern. This is the template used to cut out the leather for blocking the vamp. The more accurate it is the less waste there is and , although it's not the method I was originally taught, it certainly made good sense.

The gist of it is to position the standard vamp pattern against a horizontal line with as much of its volume as possible below the line(see above).

The vamp is then flattened off by rotating it forward from the mid point until the toe lies on the horizontal line. This lengthens the top line and shortens the lower line  in equal measures.

The same process is repeated at the quarters seam, but here it is important not to distort the shape or change the it is pivoted from the last point where the pattern sits on the line.  

This makes the castor pattern which is cut out on the fold and used to cut the leather for the vamp for blocking.

Sensibly Dominic used soft pigskin for the demonstration pieces, but it is easy to see how satisfying blocking sturdier boot vamps will be in the future. We'll keep you updated. 

Until next week and part two of our coverage from the Conference, happy shoemaking! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Problem With Lasting Stretchy Counters

Once more unto the breach, dear readers. My regular Friday morning task of writing our blog post for the week.

Before I start, a quick message to any Londoners or those within commuting range. We have a spot left on our Modular Shoemaking Course starting on April 28th and running for 10 weeks until July 14th with one week half term break. It's on a Monday night from 6pm till 9pm. Email us if you are interested - It costs £475 for the term, first come, first served.

This week I have been left all on my own (Deborah is in Lanzarote escaping our diluvian Winter) and I have been very busy at the shop at Gieves and Hawkes. This means that I have been shoemaking all week which makes me very happy.

First off I finished a pair of ladies' shoes I started last week.

They might not look a very beautiful shape bit they are essentially orthopaedic shoes for a lady with very sore feet, so we made every effort to make them look decent. Considering the width of the joint, I think we have done a pretty good job - we've emphasised the length, they're quite dressy but with a sporty edge. Fingers crossed that they fit. They are welted with a construction called blind welt where the sole is folded up to cover the welt.

Then I started a pair of pretty standard brogue Oxfords with a counter. And here was the problem. Very often, it is quite difficult to last the counter without getting lots of tiny creases at the feather edge which look ugly. This is because you are essentially trying to shrink the leather into a smaller space than it wants to (this applies to the counter, the lining and the stiffener). The pattern will account for this with an allowance for the stiffener in the lining. Also, you can make a little dart in the counter and stitch it so that there is a seam on the centre line of the counter which is visible at the bottom, near the heel - like this

But sometimes you can't because you want a clean counter or there is some decoration on it, like punching, as in this case.

Normally, we would last the lining, stiffener and counter all at once without too much trouble. But this is what you can do in cases where this results in creases.

After lasting the fore part as normal, pull down the backs and secure at the correct heel height - very helpful to leave tabs on the lining at the back, also at the sides for lasting.

Then start by lasting the lining, stiffener and quarter, but not the counter. Pull the lining first to get rid of any creases inside the shoe. Leave quite big gaps between the nails.

Continue till the end of the counter and then last the rest of the quarters too.

Then go between the nails and put more nails in. This is where it helps to have a pair of narrow nosed lasting pliers, but the edge of the normal ones will do the job.

Trim off the excess and knock the nails down. You have to make sure there are no creases in the lining, stiffener or the quarters.

Now you can start lasting the counter on its own. Start with one in the middle.

Unusually, now I like to last the ends of the counter and work back towards the first nail, making sure I last pulling towards the fore part of the shoe to spread the excess leather around the curve of the heel. Again, leave gaps between the nails.

Then go in and stretch the gaps between the nails. This is where it can sometimes be hard because as you stretch, creases appear on the first set of nails. You will have to take them out and do it again.

Poor picture I know but these are the narrow nosed lasting pliers.

All done - lots of nails, but no creases. Just keep taking previous ones out and replacing till the creases disappear - it can be quite time consuming.

Et voila, a lovely smooth counter.

There are some micro creases at the feather edge, but remember that the seat of the heel will sit on top of these and cover them up.

Now this got me thinking. When you click the leather pieces for the uppers, you are taught to put the stretch of the leather vertically up and down at the quarters and across the width of the vamps so that when you pull the backs down the upper does not stretch lengthways. This is excellent advice. But, with these counters which are stitched on top of the quarter I reckon it would help to have the stretch going in the "wrong" direction to help with this creasing issue. The fact that the counter is stitched onto the quarters means that it is not going to stretch lengthways and it would stop the counter stretching and fanning out when you last it. You can get into an endless cycle of micro-lasting with the counter stretching a little more each time. If the stretch went the other way, it would definitely help. I will try it on the next pair and see whether it makes any difference.

And that, as they say, is a wrap.

Tomorrow we are going to the annual Independent Shoemakers Conference in Surrey, organised this year by Marsha Hall which should be fun. We will report back as to what we learn next week. Curiously, the ladies shoes above were inspired by a talk at last years conference about making orthopaedic shoes more beautiful by Carina Eneroth.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pattern Making Courses 2014

Welcome back, dear readers, another week in shoe land flies past. I love my job! Shoemaking is amazing and I love it. How many people can say that? I am blessed and lucky. And on the theme of love, hope all of you with a romantic heart have a wonderful St Valentine's Day.

Last week we talked about our Intensive Shoemaking courses for 2014. This week it's the turn of pattern making.

The basis of a good upper is the pattern. Done well, it makes the life of the shoemaker so much easier. Done badly, it makes our life hell! We can fix most problems in the lasting process, but if you can make a good pattern, you are half way there.

Our courses are aimed at those of you who want to make shoes on a small scale - bespoke shoes; shoes for yourself; for friends; people who work on their own in their spare time. It is the kind of pattern making we do because each last we use is specific to each customer, and each pair of shoes we make is also a unique design. We use kraft paper, but thin card can also be used. Our patterns look like this

Patterns For A Pair Of Saddle Oxfords

These courses are not aimed at the industry where slightly different rules apply to pattern making.

We run three courses a year, two in London and one in New York. They are scheduled to run before the corresponding Intensive Shoemaking Course and students can do both in a three week period.

And, if you decide to both, we offer a £250 discount on the total price

The remaining dates for this year are

New York 28 April to 2 May, 5 days from 10am till 5pm, 35 hours class time, £775

London 28 July to 1 August, same timings as above, £775

Our teachers, Fiona Campbell and Jesse Moore are specialists in their field with years of bespoke pattern making between them.

During the course, you will learn the basics of pattern making - edge treatments; seam allowances; designing on the last; making a paper mean form; making a standard from the last; and creating pattern pieces from the standard.
You will make patterns and lining patterns for a court shoe, Oxford and a Derby (gibson).

So if you want to make shoes and are struggling with patterns, this is the course for you.

There is practical information, a course outline and booking forms available on the following link.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us on

Here are a few pictures of how the classes look.

And so farewell for another week. We hope you have a good one and look forward to welcoming you back next week. Until then, happy shoemaking!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Shoemaking And Pattern Making Course Dates 2014

Here we are in February and, as it happens, we have already done our first Intensive Shoemaking Course of the year here in London. We have also started our weekly Modular Course, where you can learn the same skills but for three hours a week over a year and we are busy recruiting students for next term.

Due to the popularity of the intensive courses, we now do them five times during the year, four in London and one in New York. We wanted to remind you of our dates for the year and to encourage those of you who are thinking about it to take the plunge. You will learn a lot.

Our aim is to take you through all the processes of making shoes by hand with the idea that you leave the course with all the skills and resources to continue in your practice, whether that be on your own at home as a hobby or with the aim of pursuing shoemaking as a career. Several of our students have gone on to become shoemakers and have started their own businesses - so it can be done!

We provide you with a pair of lasts in your size, a pair of uppers and all the materials you will need to make the shoes by hand. We also provide you with a basic tool kit which you keep. And at the end of the course, you have a pair of shoes to love, cherish and wear. This could be the start of a lifelong love!

You will cover some basic techniques like sharpening a knife, skiving stiffeners and thread making.
And then hand lasting.


Stitching the soles

Heel building

And finishing

In case you are wondering, there is no design element, no pattern making and no closing on these courses, just the shoemaking (believe me, that is enough to keep you busy for two weeks)

The course is purely practical (there is no theory or written work), so it's lots of hard physical work, big rewards, sore hands and fun. What more could you ask for?

Our next Intensive Shoemaking Course is in New York in May (5 - 17, Monday to Saturday, 9.30am - 5.30pm), it costs £2370 for 12 days in the classroom, 96 hours teaching, a basic tool kit, a pair of shoes, and two teachers with over 30 years shoemaking experience between them - seriously good value for money.

Download the booking form here

Or email us for more details

Next are three courses in London, two in August and one in October. All cost £1930.

August 4 - 16, 9.30am till 5.30pm , Monday to Saturday

August 18 - 30, same timings

October 6 - 18, same timings

Again, you can download a booking form here

Or email here for more details

Places are allocated on a first come first served basis and the courses are usually full (there is a maximum of 7 students per class, so you get lots of 1:1 attention), so don't delay if you are serious about taking part.

Next week we will look at our Pattern Making Courses which take place in New York and London and coincide with the Intensive Shoemaking Courses (and, if you book both at once, you get a 10% discount on the total cost - bargain!)

Until then, happy shoemaking!