T-Strap Nouveau Revisited

I don’t usually take clients with a deadline because so many things can happen to delay the making of the final shoes. I don’t feel comfortable putting work out there that I can’t feel proud of, so I’d rather be late than not meet my basic standards for the look and the quality. Nonetheless, I took this job for a client who had a special event because she knew exactly what she wanted and she said she wanted the shoes whether or not I made them in time for her event. I still put a lot of pressure on myself to get them done in time. I encountered an unprecedented number of technical difficulties. Shoemaking is a process of on-going problem solving, but to figure it all out in time was very difficult. I started over completely 3 times. In the end, this pair was a new speed record for me. From first meeting to final shoes in 2 months! (Don’t get any big ideas out there…)

This t-strap features a single seam on the upper which is done with a “feather stitch.” The design itself is a modification of a model I previously made from a design in a book I have called “Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930.” The client who requested this design collects embroidery. Since I first tried this stitch, I’ve wanted to find more ways to use this beautiful embroidery stitch on a structural seam. It seems that machine embroidery these days is almost always ornamental, and good luck finding an industrial machine that will do an structural embroidery stitch with three needle positions on leather!

I tested this out before going sewing on the final leather. When it came time, however, my Bernina would not sew this consistently at all. I tried small test pieces which would go ok, only to have it totally stall, error out and bind up when sewing on the uppers proper. When I first gave up on trying to make this embroidered seam happen, I sewed the whole thing on my straight-stich postbed, but I was really haunted by the fact that these were for an event dedicated to embroidery. (Maybe it would have been better if she had not told me the details of her event.)

In the end, I switched to a slightly lighter weight tumbled Italian leather that I’d never used before. It was the only leather that behaved halfway decently with the embroidered stitching. The tumbling made it wrinkly and kind of matte in appearance, which I did not like for this purpose, but this was before lasting. I knew it would smooth out after lasting, but honestly didn’t know exactly how it would come out. You can still see a bit of the tumbling effect, especially in the cut out sections which were not pulled so significantly.

Like my previous client, she was unable to wear a heel as high as the original design featured, so I made this low heel version just for her. The closure uses a button post (aka a “mini Sam Brown button”). There was no hole in the strap yet when I took this picture because punching the hole is really a one shot deal. Using a button, you can’t make adjustments like you would be able to with laces, or a buckle. To make a perfect fit, you have to check the stretch of the strap and mark it while the client is wearing the shoes.

The upper is Italian vegetable tanned calf, the liner is a combination of rose colored vegetable tanned goat and undyed vegetable tanned cow. The sole is Rendenbach with Vibram heel cap.

Casual low heel boots

Brown derby boot

The client for these boots requested a low heel and something “very casual.” After discovering that the trial shoes I made for him were “too fancy,” I had to learn what his idea of casual meant. The opening between the quarters is a bit wider and there are some substantial eyelets. These boots feature a hard-wearing German upper leather and vegetable tanned cow and calf liner. The quarters and tongue have a softer liner (cow) and the vamp and footbed are lined with a stiff drier vegetable tanned calf. I like the the stiffer veg tan calf because it breaks in very nicely and is quite dry. The veg tan cow is very supple and appropriate to make the boot shaft and tongue more comfortable and flexible from day one.

They are with and English welt and hand stitched to a mid-sole using an ornamental stitch that I’ve become very fond of. At first it was a sort of chain pattern along the as featured on some of my other shoes, but I crossed over the thread one more time (by accident) and found it made a nice “x” which seemed like a natural compliment fo the “o” of the chain pattern. Like a French braid, Gibson tuck or other sorts of ways to braid hair, I’m sure there are a lot more possibilities to make different patterns in the welt stitching.

The boots are soled with a Vibram Gumlite Oxford as the Oxford sole has a low heel, which fits the last and a low tread profile which the client wanted.

Learn to make shoes and all their pieces

This year I am offering instruction on how to make shoes from start to finish. From lasts and feet through design and construction. You can take them all or just the shoemaking workshops that are of interest to you. The first set – Lasts and Sizing, Shoe Design and Pattern and Pattern Making, and Clicking and Closing will be offered twice before the shoemaking construction workshops. This will give you the opportunity to get a last in your size and design shoe uppers to go with before putting it all together. Details are on the workshops page.

Blue Court Shoes

Blue pumpHere is a blue court shoe, otherwise known as a pump. This pair was made with blue Italian vegetable tanned leather with a “waxy pull-up” finish. It gives the lighter accent to the blue in this case. The lining is vegetable tanned calf and the heel is Padouk wood capped with a Vibram heel cap. They were assembled primarily using cement construction (glued), though the heels are set with two stainless screws each drilled through the spring steel shank.

For some time I’ve wanted to make wooden heels. This is the first pair to feature wooden heels of my own making and also with a natural finish.

Often I am asked if I make “women’s” shoes. This is a loaded question. I believe there is not such a hard and fast definition of shoes that can only be worn by women and shoes that can only be worn by men. Some might say these blue court shoes are unmistakeably for a lady. This pair is in fact for a lady, yet it’s important to know that there are still places and occasions for which men are expected to wear pumps (Oxford, for example).

The styles of shoes my clients request often cross over between “men’s” and “women’s” styles. This has nothing to do with “cross dressing” and more to do with the social construction of style. Styles have changed over time and continue to change. What is considered appropriate for men and women to wear on their feet is not fixed and unchanging. The ability to feel comfortable in any style of shoe only opens up more possibilities.

The limitation of “standard” sizes can keep people out of the shoes they want to wear. Despite making up the bulk of the shoe buying public, women are often excluded from buying the shoes they want. For example women are sometimes forced to buy a “men’s” style when they want a “women’s” style or vice versa. Common examples are no size large enough of the women’s style for some women to wear so they are forced into the men’s section and no size small enough of the men’s style for many women to wear, even though they would like to.

For now, I’ll direct you to a nice review of the history of the men’s opera pump, but hopefully before too long you will see one here.

Makerszoon

Last year while I was studying last making, orthopedic shoemaking and pattern techniques at the DHTA, I also had the good fortune to learn René van den Berg’s new shoemaking technique for the shoes he calls Makerszoon.makerszoon lateral top view

At first glance these shoes might seem kind of rough. After 30 years of precision work, however, there’s nothing rough about the design and workmanship of Rene van den Berg. The upper is very precisely drawn, punched and aligned. The embossing on the toe must be done to his exacting standards. The only thing rough about it is the cavalier cutting of the turned upper and sole edge with a knife by hand to give it a “hand finished” look.

The upper is hand sewn and the leather is all vegetable tanned. There is very little waste and hardly any trimmings. The lining is all one piece and the extra is left both for visual appeal and to soften the feel of the shoe around the ankles.

Please see René’s site for details on this fantastic new approach to making shoes.

Part of my travel to study in the Netherlands was made possible by a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission.

All the pieces

wehrli_cover_0I received a copy Kunst, Aufräumen, or “The Art of Cleanup” for my birthday some time ago. Check it out if you haven’t already. It featured all sorts of things “cleaned up” or deconstructed from their otherwise “messy” natural state. For example, organizing from a bowl of alphabet soup a an alphabetized and sorted grid of all the letters and carrot pieces. I really enjoyed the book and all of Ursus Wehrli’s clever images. When I made this pair of oxfords, I wanted to try something similar.

all the pieces 3

It wasn’t until I tried to make an organized image that I understood how much systematic thinking it takes to be as organized as Wehrli. I’ve got a long way to go. The image I made includes all all the parts that went into these shoes. There are at least two of everything. This pair was built using cement construction. These shoes are unlined, so they do not include the quarter, tongue and vamp liners. If they were welted, there would be a few more parts still. The upper is hand dyed top finished vegetable tanned Italian leather. Here’s the parts list from left to right:

  • Wooden pegs (10)
  • Thread
  • Tongue (2)
  • Laces (2)
  • Spring steel shank (2)
  • Vamp (2)
  • Toe cap (2), Toe box (2)
  • Inside Quarter (2), Outside Quarter (2)
  • Backstrap (2), Heel counters (2)
  • Vibram rubber heel cap (2)
  • Heel lifts (4, 2 per shoe)
  • Leather Insole (2), Leather Sole (2)

Clicking and Closing

It takes nice uppers to make nice shoes. Learn how to cut, trim, finish, assemble and sew uppers. This has traditionally been referred to as “clicking and closing.” Come learn how on May 23-24, 2015. Details on the Workshops page.

Italian Style

I will be giving a presentation on Italian leather and teaching a free introduction to shoe design on February 7, the opening day of the Portland Art Museum’s new exhibit “Italian Style.” Look for me downstairs in the “Crafting Fashion” area from 1pm to 5pm.