Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 21 July 2017

Top Ten Posts

Hello again to one and all. We hope you have had a thoroughly excellent week.

We are on the eve of our annual Pattern Making Course here in London. We have everything pretty much  ready and last thing today we will set the room up, ready for a 10am start on Monday

We will post about it next week to give you a flavour of what the course is like.

This week is another re-post, and this time it is the most popular one we have ever done with a whopping 13,729 all time page views. You guys clearly love your soles.

So here goes...

...Again, we use the oak bark tanned cow hides made in traditional tanning pits by Bakers of Colyton, Devon. The part of the cow used for the soles is called a bend and it comes from the back of the animal. The hide is split down the spine and then the two hardest, strongest parts are used. The belly part is cut off and used for toe puffs and stiffeners.

If you remember, the insole shoulder runs across the top of the cow's shoulder from leg to leg, so the grain runs along its length. But because the sole bend runs along the length of the cows back, from head to tail, you have to bear this in mind when cutting the soles. It means the grain runs across the width of the bend, so you have to cut out the soles in this orientation.

Sole Bend. The Grain Runs From Right To Left Across It

The sole bend has to be the hardest, most long lasting part of the shoe, so it is rolled very dense to compress the fibres. It is rock hard and feels like wood when you tap it. Unlike wood, it is flexible when you bend it.

This is the back surface or flesh side where you can see vein marks.

The front surface or skin side is much smoother and is the part which touches the ground. It should be smooth and uniform in colour, so that you can get an even finish on the finished shoes.

When we buy our bends, we ask the tannery to pre-cut them. This is because it is much easier to store. They have three standard sizes which fit 90% of the shoes we make. When there is a shoe which does not fit onto one of the pre-cut soles, we have a whole bend which we can cut from.

This is what the pre-cut sole looks like.

As for thickness, we usually buy this thickness below. It is measured in irons which I believe are 1/64 of an inch (could be completely wrong there!). But we talk to the tannery and tell them it is for a 1/4" sole or 5/16" etc. The thickness below (about5.5mm) is great for a 1/4" or 5/16" sole. For a 3/16" we have to buy a thinner bend. Likewise, for a thick sole, 3/8" for example, we buy a thicker bend.

The rolling process really helps to even out the thickness, but you have to be aware that this is an organic product and is not always exactly the same thickness.

Good luck if you are planning to buy some sole bend hide. Look for something dense and hard but also flexible. If it feels brittle when you bend it, it is likely to split or crack. And remember, that it is very hard, but when you work it, you soak it in water, so it is much softer and easier to work.

As for brands, we use Bakers because they are fantastic and local, but the other excellent tannery that most bespoke shoemakers use is Rendenbach in Germany. Both excellent quality and highly recommended.

And that, dear readers, is a wrap. Have a fantastic week and, until next Friday, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Top Pieces

Welcome good shoe folk. Today's post is for Emily, who was on our New York shoemaking course in May. 

We promised a post on proper heel top piece building. Although this is a repair...and not quite a complete top piece does come close.

As you can see the heel rubber is worn down at the back where the customer's foot strikes

This is the heel taken apart so you can see the different sections for this particular heel: two leather lifts and a quarter rubber.

Once we had removed the old top piece we roughed up the surface of the heel and the new quarter rubbers and stuck them in place with contact adhesive.

Then we cut out two pieces of heel lift to approximately the right size and shape. The important part here is the straight edge which needs to match the edge of the  rubber.

We wet the flesh surface and then hammered the leather down onto the split lift. 

Creating an indentation where the edge of the rubber. Usually you would use one piece of leather to the correct thickness. You would then cut away the area where the rubber sticks out and skive it to the correct depth creating a 'step' that sits over and against the rubber.

In this case we used two layers. 

So the first layer was cut to sit alongside the rubber 'step'.

As you can see it is deeper than the rubber step so...

we turned it over and marked the correct depth.

Then we skived it to the correct thickness.

And used contact adhesive to secure it in place creating a flat surface for the final layer to sit on.


We again marked the difference in depth.

We skived the excess away, glassed and then scuffed the surface and attached it with contact adhesive...and then nailed it in place.

We then cleaned up the edges and rasped, glassed and sanded the new heels before dyeing them, waxing all of the edges and burnishing them.

A final polish and they were ready to return to the stage!

That's all from us for now. Until next week happy shoemaking!

Friday, 7 July 2017

Throwback Friday - Insoles

Hello once more, dear readers. We hope you have had a lovely week and have been able to enjoy a bit of sunshine.

Occasionally, due to popular demand, we re-post topics from long ago, so here is a cracker from 2011 - everything you need to know about insoles, but never dared to ask. It was fun to read it again and we hope you think so too.

And so on to all things bespoke shoes. I recently had a conversation with a fellow shoemaker about insoles. My conclusion, after much discussion, was that you have to treat the top side which touches the foot differently from the bottom side to which the welt is attached. This has big consequences on the shape of the waist. Treat the two sides as separate entities and you will be ok.

After you have soaked and blocked the insole and it is dry, you are ready to begin. All the first stages are about the top of the insole and its relationship with the foot.

The last has a feather edge which marks the transition between the upper part of the foot and the sole of the foot. This is crucial when preparing your insole. It is sharp and defined, apart from in the inside waist.

After taking out the nails from the dry insole, I trim the edge in line with the feather edge all the way round except for the inside waist. I make sure that the angle of the knife matches the angle at which the last comes down to the feather edge. On the sides it is usually vertical. At the toe it flares out and at the heel, it pitches under. If you do this, the insole will not show through the upper after lasting.

The last part to cut is the inside waist. The insole has to support the foot inside the shoe, and this area of the foot is very mobile and changes as we walk. It is also where the arch of your foot is which curves up off the floor. You may need to incorporate arch support (insole up in waist). As a result, the last is a bit vague here. Sometimes there is a trace of the feather edge and sometimes not. So cutting the line of the inside waist requires judgement. But be generous and look at the starting points of the curve at the front and back of the waist. Draw a line on the insole and match it on the other last so that they are a pair.
When you are happy, cut the line.
At this point, we are still concerned with the insole and its relationship with the foot, giving support and fitting well.
Also, remember to cut off the little lip on the top side with your knife or a plough. Otherwise this can dig into the foot and cause pain.

From this point on, we are going to prepare the under side of the insole and this is now about the shape of the waist and the aesthetics of the shoe and has very little to do with how the foot stands on the insole.
Start by marking your heel points and waist points if you are doing a bevelled waist.

Next mark the 1st line of the holdfast/feather, apart from in the inside waist. I do 3/16" from the edge.

The toe I do more because of the toe puff and angle of the awl. I also straighten the line to give more room to work and a stronger holdfast.
These measures are personal and arrived at through trial and error. They vary from maker to maker and you have to experiment. Some people throw the line out at the joint to stop the welt disappearing, but I prefer not to do that as I like the result better. It's personal choice.

Now, the waists. You can do any curve you like here. It can be really pulled in and dramatic, or lightly curved giving a sturdy look. It can be an even curve or, as I like to do, pulled in more at the joint end than the heel end. I think this gives a pleasing bevelled waist.
You can see that it does NOT follow the line of the insole I have cut for the foot to stand on - the two are not connected.
Draw matching lines on both lasts.
For a square waist, I pull the waist in much less because it makes getting the awl in for stitching the sole much easier. And avoids getting nasty indents on the upper from the awl haft.

I like to pull the outside waist in too because it marries better with the curve on the inside waist. It also means that as the waist transitions to the heel, you get a lovely "in and out" curve which allows you to build a beautifully curved heel top profile, especially on very wide waists. You can end up with ugly triangular shaped heels (when seen from the top), where the widest point of the heel is at the heel breast (very ugly) if you don't curve in the outside waist. Especially true on square waists.

Next I use a pair of dividers set to 3/8" to draw the inside line of the holdfast/feather. I also go around the heel with this line because I stitch the upper to the insole around the heel rather than using nails or pegs - I just think it's an elegant solution. All methods work just fine.

I then cut a groove with my knife. No deeper than half the thickness of the holdfast. I wet it and run a screwdriver through it to open it up.

The inside waist again! This is where it becomes apparent that the two sides have different purposes. I skive the bottom side so that you don't get a line in the finished shoe. See though, that the top side is anaffected. The foot will still be supported by the insole and sit fully on it. However, the bottom side, where the foot doesn't touch is all curved in. This means you can do any shape of inside waist you like.

A word of warning! If you want to pull the waists in for a really dramatic look, make sure you have enough lasting allowance on the upper to achieve this. It is embarrassing to prepare your insole and then find out your upper won't fit.

Use a knife or feathering knife to cut away the leather for the holdfast.

If you have curved in the outside waist, repeat the skive.

Et voilá!

Repeat process for the inside of the holdfast. This time hold the knife at a 45 degree angle towards the outside of the shoe to give extra strength to the holdfast. Wet and open with a screwdriver.

Because of the 45 degree angle, I cut this side with my knife. Cut away!

Finally, make holes with your awl, between 3 and 4 to the inch.

And that is a wrap. I hope that all makes sense.

Please feel free to comment and contribute.

Until next week, happy shoemaking

Friday, 30 June 2017

New Bespoke Shoes

Hello, once more, dear readers. Both old timers and newbies, we salute you!

We have had a busy week making some rather handsome new shoes and boots which will be worn for pursuits carried out in the countryside in all weathers, so they had to be robust, rugged and weather proof. The kind of boots that laugh in the face of rain and mud. If any of you went to Glastonbury last week, prepare to be jealous

First down the runway is a pair shoes which combine gripping performance with rugged good looks

We used a Tempesti Safari veg tanned calf leather which we waterproofed with camel dubbin and then finished with a light lustre of polish. It created a really beautiful depth to the colour. And it will age beautifully too

For performance, we did a Norwegian welt...

And a bellows tongue in olive green kid - quite a challenge with the patterns!

And used a rubber stick on sole and top piece for extra weather proofing and grip.

We are really pleased with them

Next down the track is a pair of stalking boots in a Weinheimer grain calf. We love this leather and we put a few layers of dubbin on the inside of the upper before we lasted them. This sacrifices a bit of breathability for some water resistance which was more important in this case.

Again, we had a specific brief to combat the elements, so we sewed them with a storm welt - a real one cut from some Bakers belly, not the stuff you buy by the metre.

And we put a full bellows tongue in made from goat suede which we have sprayed with waterproof spray. The leather for a bellows tongue needs to be soft so that you can fold it inside the boot, but softer leathers tend to be less weather proof so the spray really helps

Again,we used a stick on commando sole and heel top piece. As well as grip, these raise the boot further off the ground to protect from mud and puddles

We are very happy with them and hope you like them too.

We left the top of the storm welt unfudged which is not the traditional way to do it, but we think it gives a cleaner finish to the boots.

And that is it for this post. We hope you have a great week and until next time, happy shoemaking!