Friday, February 03, 2012

New year, new shoes.

Even though I spend my working days making shoes, I rarely get around to making shoes for myself. (Maybe it's because I spend my working days making shoes...) I also rarely buy shoes, so that leaves me with a few pairs of shoes which I wear in high rotation. This means I end up with a few pairs of rather shabby looking shoes. 

So this year I plan on treating myself to more shoes more often!

I've had this little scrap of paper taped above my Clicking bench for a while. I was doodling around playing with the lines of the classic oxford style and I liked this variation. Oxfords, (especially oxford brogues) are one of my favourite style of shoe. They're classic and elegant, they look great on both men and women and there's endless possibility for variation by just tweaking the lines a little or mixing up colours and/or textures.

I found a last (that's the foot-shaped mould) in my size with a nicely pointed toe, taped it up, and had a bit more of a play with the lines. Sometimes I find it easier to design directly onto the last - it's easier to get the balance right and to see how the lines work in relation to the curves of the last.

I used the 3D masking tape form to make up a 2D pattern...

...which I used to make individual pattern pieces. (Lining pattern pieces are not shown)

I then cut out the upper pieces.

I knew I wanted to use black patent leather for my shoes (surely shiny is the opposite of shabby!) and then I saw the new batch of randing that arrived in the workshop. Randing is a strip of leather with stitching along it that sits between the upper and sole of the shoe. It mimics the look of a welted (or stitched together) sole. The black randing we usually get has black stitching, but I liked this new stuff with its white stitching and decided to make a feature of it by using white lining leather as well as white stitching on the upper.

These are the pieces for one shoe. 
The white lining is some leftover leather from the X-Men boots.

This is the reverse of the patent leather. I have skived the edges in preparation for folding the edges over - folded egdes have a more finished look that raw edges. Skiving is the process of trimming away some of the bulk of the underside of the leather so that it tapers away to nothing. (Not to be confused with 'skiving off' which is British slang for shirking responsibility or slacking off!) Skiving can be done by hand with a skiving knife, or it can be done on a skiving machine like this one...

isn't she a beauty!

Skiving in progress...

Folded edges. No fancy machine for this one, just glue, a pointy tool and patience. The white lines are topline tape, a non-stretch fabric tape that stops the topline of the shoes stretching out. The edges that are skived but not folded are underlay. The folded pieces will be stitched onto them and the skiving reduces bulk at the seams.

Closing in progress. This sewing machine is an industrial Singer post machine - unlike the flatbed you see on domestic sewing machines, the work area (incasing the bobbin etc) is on top of a vertical post. This allows for working around tight curves or along bootlegs. This machine also had a wheel instead of a presser foot. This way the upper is always held securely under the wheel.

All stitched together. Lining to be trimmed along the topline, eyelets to be punched.

Ready for lasting. I have fitted some pre-made insoles to the lasts (this is what we usually use at work) and added some leather 'shovas' to the instep of the lasts to match the lasts to the instep measurement of my feet.

Lasting in progress. Lasting is the process of pulling the upper around the last and attaching it to the insole. I usually do this on a lasting peg - that metal pole attached to the floor. The peg fits into the hole in the top of the last and allows both my hands to be free to work on the shoe at waist height. In this picture, I have lasted the seat area (around the heel) including a heel stiffener between the lining leather and the outer leather. The heel stiffener keeps the back of the shoe rigid and supports the foot. 
It's important when lasting to keep working back and forth from one shoe to the other (as opposed to completing one shoe before working on the other), this allows me to keep checking that the two are matching and symmetrical.

Here I have lasted the forepart lining, trimmimg the lasting allowance (that's the bit that's actually stuck to the insole) nice and flat. On the shoe on the right, you may just be able to make out the toe puff wrapped around the toe.  The toe puff does a similar job to the heel stiffener - it sits between the layers of the upper and keeps the toe of the shoe in its shape. In this case I have used a thermo-forming plastic toe puff, but they can also be made out of leather.

The outer layer is then lasted over the toe puff. Here the lasting allowance is tacked in place before it is glued down flat.

At this stage it's very useful to have a fitting as if there is anything that needs to be changed, it can be done fairly easily. It's much trickier to change things once the sole has gone on. I tried my shoes on and noticed that they were a bit baggy around the topline, especially at the instep. I managed to forget to photograph it though!

To rectify the bagginess, I undid the lasting allowance through the waist of the shoes, removed the leather 'shovas' from the lasts and re-lasted the waist section, pulling it in tight.

Another try on. Much better!

Attaching the randing. That's my glue-smeared apron btw. My clothes are not that shabby!

Leather sole attached and roughly trimmed.

Here I have built stacked leatherboard heels with a hard wearing rubber top piece, pitched them to the correct angle and attached them to the sole. I have ground them back on the grinding wheel to align with the edge of the randing. I have glued the forepart of the sole and am about to attach a thin layer of hard wearing rubber to the sole.

What you can't see here is that I have inked the edge and underside of the sole black - taking care not to get ink on the white stitching. What you can see here is the six nails going through the insole permanently attaching the heel in place (on the left hand shoe) and the heel seat pad that sticks to the insole and provides a bit of padding on the insole for comfort (on the right hand shoe).

All finished!
Sole polished, white leather sock attached to insole, white laces added. Done!

Shiny new shoes for me! I'm pleased with how they have turned out. A few evenings of staying behind in the workshop after hours to work on them has paid off!

EDIT: I have changed my mind. I don't like the white laces any more, they're too much. I have swapped them for black laces which I think puts the emphasis back on the lines and stitching of the upper. 


  1. I just found your blog and am digging through some archives - this is fascinating! I love the white stitching.

  2. Now you learn something every day......I don't know much about shoes but I have had some leather-covered desks resurfaced in the past. The 'posh' way is with a full hide (full thickness) leather but the cheap way is with what is known as a 'SKIVER', which is a hide which has been split in two down the centre to get two desk tops out of one hide. It is obviously much thinner, and nowhere near as nice to work on, and you can spot it immediately because the recess let into the desk top will be for a full thickness, and the 'skiver' is only half thickness. You learn something every day.....even if you don't want to.....


    1. Maybe not wanting to work on the thinner 'skiver' desktop is reason enough to call the inevitable procrastination "skiving off"?!

  3. Fantastic blog. I've been steadily going through your posts and you've just done a great job of making me go green with envy. I look forward to returning regularly to be delighted (and of course envious that I will not be able to make my own boots/shoes).

    1. Thanks very much!
      You make some really beautiful bags! That's something I've been wanting to have a go at for ages. I've been doing a fair bit of decorative hand stitching on some boots for a film at work recently and I really enjoy it. It's making me want to hand stitch a leather tote bag.

  4. This is absolutely fascinating, thank you so much for showing all the stages, it just shows how much skill it takes to make something of such fantastic quality.
    It's also cool to know all the different parts of the shoes, it helps me understand why cheap shoes are so uncomfortable; they're missing 50% of the correct parts!

    Sarah Halford

  5. What a fascinating blog, so glad I discovered it! I make leather character masks but am trying new things. Recently I got an old shoemaker's skiving machine, a little like the one you have. The problem is I can't work out how to use it. It's a cast iron solid thing and the motor works so it must be me doing something wrong.
    I am also in London. Could it be, would it be possible to visit you at Theatrical Shoemakers to see yours in action? It would help me so much! Lara,

    1. Hi Lara,
      I've just sent you an email...

  6. Hello
    I am in France, I have see on your fabulus site, the image of your skiving machine.
    I have a identic skiving machine and i look for replacement part to make it run.
    Have you an adress for replacement part?
    More an more thank you if you have it..Excuse my english language

    1. Hello,
      Unfortunately I don't know where to get replacement parts for this machine. Have you tried googling the model number?
      Sorry I couldn't be more helpful!
      All the best.

  7. i want make a gladiator sandal for mens (me) some help im novice