Thursday, June 26, 2014

Guest Blog: Blocking / Crimping by Bootmaker, D.W. Frommer

"I was fascinated by the post about the 2014 Independent Shoemakers' Conference in the UK. We have something like it here in the United States, a Trade Guild modelled on, and associated with, the London based Worshipful Company of Cordwainers. Our organization is called the Honourable Cordwainers' Company. Each year we have an Annual General Meeting that hosts lectures and presentations regarding bespoke shoemaking. I think we have been hitting 60-70 plus attendees in recent years, coming from all over the US and Europe.

I was particularly interested in the discussion about blocking. When I made comment on the blog and lamented an inability to post photos, James and Deborah generously invited me to write a "guest" post...and here it is!

My intent is not to gainsay anyone, but to expand upon the whole idea of blocking...perhaps offering some insight into what is possible.

I have been a bootmaker for over 40 years and in the tradition that I work in, blocking is not only common, it is essential. And when I came to try my hand at making high end dress shoes it just seemed natural to incorporate as many blocking techniques as possible. After all, the whole purpose of blocking is to pre-shape the patterns such that they lay on the last easily and without distortion.

This is a kind of blocking:

The mean forme method of creating patterns directly from the last seeks some of the same objectives but struggles to create three dimensional shoe parts from two-dimensional cutting patterns.

In the "school" of bootmaking that I adhere to, mean formes and pattern making such as are described in Golding and Swaysland, etc., are not used much...although I am convinced that most of the methods I was taught have their roots in English or German shoemaking of the 19th century.

With no mean formes we are forced to block our vamps to create pleasant lines and to make lasting and fit easier.

Simple boards are very usable and suffice for most needs, but in our shop we have taken the process a little further, as you will see in the ensuing sequence of photos. The first photo is of the boards we use for a dress Wellington, along with a "crimping" iron that makes the job of blocking easy and predictable.

Using boards such as these (and the patterns that accompany them) we are able to cut the tongues and quarters however we like--narrow, wide, floral. Here is a photo of the vamps being blocked prior to cutting: 

And here is a photo of a blocked alligator vamp used on a pair of boots made for a customer who lives in Brussels: 

This technique can be taken a lot further, however, as the next two photos demonstrate: 

But it doesn't stop there, I block vamps for whole cut Chelseas, Jodhpurs, Chukkas and whole cut Oxfords, as well as Oxford linings.


Ostrich jodhpurs:

Finally, here's a photo of several boards we use in our shop and their usage...from top left: Jodhpur board and Chelsea board; bottom, whole cut Oxford or Oxford lining."

Thanks D.W. for a great insight into blocking from a great bootmaker! Until next week happy shoemaking!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Metal Shanks

Once more we meet, dear shoemaker folk of the world. We hope you have had a wonderful week and that you have managed to get your hands on some tools and leather.

We had a nice start to the week when we found ourselves in the Luxe London Guide

With a listing in the Advanced Shopping section (whatever that is!). It felt great being next to Jimmy Choo and the other illustrious enties - deeply delish!

Being modern shoemakers, we are always keen to examine our practice and explore new ways of working. My feeling is that most of what we are taught as apprentices is the accumulation of generations of shoemaking knowledge and that most things have been tried. This means that what we are taught by our masters is probably the best way of doing something and we change it at our peril with what seems (at the time) a great new way to do something but which, over time, you come to realise that maybe they were right all along.

An area we are currently re-examining is shanks. We were taught as apprentices in a world famous bespoke shomakers in London, that leather shanks are all you need for a gent's shoe. This is generally true with a few provisos - that the shank is thick, that the heel is below an inch and an eighth and that the customer is of average weight.

So we have always used leather shanks. But there are problems - you have to shape the shank to get a nice contour in the waist and the tendency is to make it too thin. And we have had a few pairs back for repairs which have a bit of collapsed shank.

This has led us to fitting metal shanks as standard now in men's shoes much as we would for women's shoes.

And this is how I was taught to do it. It is essentil tha the shank is secure and won't shift around when the shoe is worn.

Once you have welted the shoe and you are ready to put the shank in, you have to shape it to the curve of the last. So place it and give it a few enormous hits with the hammer. This should give it the right curve. If you can remenber, it is a good idea to do this on the last before you even attach the insole.

Then, with contact adhesive, glue both the shank and the waist.

Let the glue dry for 10 minutes and then glue in place.

At the heel, put in a couple of thin clinching tacks/nails which will, when they hit the last, bend over like a fish hook and so won't come out again. It's ok to have nails in the heel area of the insole because you can punch them below the surface or cover them with some foam and a sock.

It's more problematic doing this in the joint because you can't do anyhting with the tips of the nails on the inside of the shoe. So here is what we do.

Make a hole with your welting awl next to the shank on one side.

And then do the same on the other side of the shank.

Then with some spare thread, pass it throught the first hole.

Pass it over the shank and put it through the second hole. Pass it over the shank a second time so you are back at the starting point. Then tie the thread to the first part and you have a secure shank which won't shift around when the shoe is worn.
This gives you a much more rigid shoe, so bear this in mind if you have a customer who asks for a flexible shoe. In this case we would definitely use a leather shank.
We would also use leather if the customer is small and light.

Hope fully this is clear and useful. I'm sure there are other ways to secure the metal shank so we would welcome other contributions to this topic.

But that is all for this week. We hope you have a good one and, until the next time, happy shoemaking.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Our First Full Time Apprentice

Welcome back to the wonderful world of bespoke shoes. Another varied week has seen the first few days of our new full time shoemaking apprentice. It's a very exciting development for us and fulfils our desire to promote the craft and create the next generation of shoemakers.

His name is Alistair and he has got funding from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust to study full time with us for a year. 
A proud Alistair at the QEST reception last week

This should provide him with a great grounding in "West End" bespoke shoemaking. By the end of the year, we are expecting him to be at a standard where he can make shoes for customers but still under our (or another shoemaker's) guidance.

Suited and booted with fellow QEST scholars and alumni
Obviously a year is not enough time to finish an apprenticeship, but it will give him the skills he needs which he can further develop over time. There are two main aspects to an apprenticeship - one to learn the skills to a high standard, and two, to learn how to make shoes fast enough to earn a living. We will teach him the first part this year and the second part he can learn in the following years.

Alistair trimming the welt
He is understandably very excited, as are we. It is really important to us to help create the next generation of shoemakers - which is one of the reasons we do this blog and share all of our knowledge for free with the whole world.

Shoemakers have traditionally been very conservative with their knowledge, probably because in the past, handsewn shoemaking was much more common and more competitive and it paid to keep your cards close to your chest. But times have changed and this is not our philosophy at all. We want this fantastic trade to be discovered and tried by as many people as possible. Hence the apprenticeship and the classes.

His aim is to make 15 pairs of shoes with us over the year and to make other pairs at home in his spare time - so plenty of hard work but a brand new career awaits. Very exciting!

So there you go, proof that it is possible to become a handsewn shoemaker!

The end of May saw me in Istanbul at the GREAT Festival of Creativity organised by the UKTI (a government trade and industry body) and Walpole which promotes British luxury brands. It was a conference to promote British creative industries and I was speaking at a presentation called Walking on Luxury, A Luxury Shoe Masterclass. My fellow speakers were Mark Hare of Mr Hare and Liam Fahy of Liam Fahy Shoes

Marc Hare of Mr Hare

We spoke about our craft, our business development, our inspirations and our ambitions for our businesses. It was moderated by Edward Mason with additional comments by Dylan Jones, editor of GQ.
It was a fantastic event, well attended by both Turkish and British business owners and much networking was done.

Inside the Seed

One of the terraces

The venue, The Seed, was a series of terraces set on the Bosphorus with an endless supply of delicious food and drinks. We were very spoilt.

On the last evening we were treated to a reception given by Her Britannic Majesty's ambassador Mr Richard Moore with a recital by Katherine Jenkins - lovely!

Katherine Jenkins

I had such a great time and really loved the whole event, even the public speaking which I was a little nervous about. The next ones are in Hong Kong and Shanghai - fingers crossed for an invitation!

And then I had a holiday in Spain which you probably don't want to know about. It was lovely BTW.

That's about it for this week. Until the next time, happy shoemaking!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Guest Blog: How To Tape A Last

Pattern making is the link between design and creating the actual shoe. There are several ways of covering a last to capture its 3D proportions. Some people use craft paper, which they crease against the last to make a form; others use masking tape, which can range in size from 15mm to 50mm.

Many people have asked me how I tape a last so I thought you might find the following demonstration useful.  A popular textbook method involves taping the last both horizontally and vertically. However, this is time consuming, uses up a lot of tape and can be bulky so below is the method I use and recommend.

Wooden last

Take your last and a roll of masking tape 18mm wide. In bespoke shoe making, we work with wooden lasts which are made to the specifications of the customers feet but this method can also be used with industrial plastic lasts.

Where to start

Place a strip of tape from the top of the cone to the tip of the toe. Do the same at the rear of the last from the back point to the bottom edge.

Taping technique

Place the edge of the next strip of tape halfway across the first centre strip so that half the tape is a single layer but the other half now has 2 layers of tape. Smooth this down so it sticks to the last and is not bulky.

Covered half

Continue this method across one half of the last until it is completely covered and you have built up the tape so it is strong and will not tear or lose its shape when you remove it from the last.

The other half
Some people only tape the outside of the last and use this form for the inside of the pattern also. However, I prefer to tape both the outside and the inside to get a complete form of the last. When this is done, the next step is to draw the design on the tape.

When you have taped the last and smoothed down the tape with your fingers, cut away the excess along the bottom feather edge. Now you can now draw the design on the last.  The above design is a 5 eyelet ‘wholecut’ with 1mm decorative perforations along the top line and neck.

Hope this is helpful. Happy pattern making!
Guest post by Fiona Campbell MA