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.
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.
Here 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.
This deep brown derby boot was made for a client who wanted a hard wearing all weather boot with a very low heel. The upper leather is a German chrome free synthetic tan, with vegetable tanned lining, components, insole and midsole. Brass eyelets. Welted construction and Vibram Oxford Gumlite outsole.
These oxfords were made for a young woman who wanted a no-compromise scholarly classic shoe for all seasons. No hothouse flower, she wanted all the benefits of a full thickness leather sole, but didn’t want to expose it to the elements without some protection. Covering the sole of the forefoot is some thin but tough Vibram composite material. It has good grip and will minimize absorption of water from the street when there’s rain on the pavement. She’s tough on shoes, so I secured the Vibram under the heel to protect it since she is as likely wear loose with the pedals of her bike as scrape it off stepping on a shovel.
There is very little welt extending beyond the profile of the shoe as seen from above and yet it is full welt sewn construction. One small benefit of sewing the welt to the outsole by hand is the ability to place the stitches very close to the upper. Most machines need more clearance, thus the welt tends to be a bit wider when it is actually sewn.
I’m calling this a full brogue even though there are more opportunities to brogue this upper — like along the quarters and the top line. I thought it was enough brogueing already.
The client who requested this design also designs fabric herself. The footbed liner is covered with a fabric that she designed. The design itself came from a model she chose from a book I have called “Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930.” Women’s Shoes in America is really an outstanding resource. I have found it very useful. From the publisher:
In an engaging narrative history, the beautifully illustrated Women’s Shoes in America investigates an aspect of American material culture not previously examined and provides a detailed reference for dating women’s footwear.
In style from 1923-25, the design she chose was a T-Strap from autumn 1923. 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. 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, there is no adjustment like you have with laces, or a buckle. To make a prefect fit, it needs to be marked while she is wearing them. With the strap on the post, it looks like this.
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.
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.
This derby shoe was made for instructional purposes. Plain old black upper leather with a pebble grain, basic lines with English quarters. The construction is welted and hand sewn to a vegetable tanned leather outsole. Natural finish leather heels. Straight outsole stitch on the welt. Depending on what you wear it with and your mood, I think it could be considered casual or formal.
The upper is hand dyed top finished vegetable tanned Italian leather. Blue quarters and tongue, black toe caps, vamps, and backstraps. This pair was built using cement construction. These shoes are unlined with sewn in heel counters and toe boxes. Leather sole and heels, Virbram rubber heel cap. I used this pair for my “All the Pieces” infographic.