I was given a sample cordovan shell from a tannery in Argentina called Lis Royal. The line of cordovan leather is called Rocinante and the color is “Dark Brown.” It is a lovely dark brown. I’ve written about cordovan before, but this sample was my first opportunity to make a pair of cordovan shoes for myself. The representative for the tannery told me that the horses in Argentina are kind of small, so I should expect the cordovan shell to be on the small side as well. Indeed it was a very tight fit to get a complete shoe pattern on a single shell. To do so, I had to forego any skiving allowance on the quarters.
This is on an Alvin 24″x36″ cutting mat. I think you can get the idea that this is not a lot of material. No mistakes in cutting or marking allowed!
The leather arrived with a very glossy classic cordovan finish. This makes it challenging to sew because there is so much glare it’s hard to see. I used a contrasting rust colored thread and vegetable tanned liner embossed with a leaf pattern.
The embossing is quite deep, but the cordovan is also ~2mm thick, so there was no visible trace of the embossing from the outside, as you can see above.
I have heard from others who have worked with it, that cordovan is very stretchy. In lasting you can pull and pull and keep pulling. I did not find this to be the case for this shell. I was actually stressing about the back height as I felt that my pattern came up short in length from the heel seat to the top line. I was hoping to have some stretch there, but it definitely didn’t want to. Ok, to be fair this is the first time I made a pair of shoes on this particular last and the volume of the heel seemed to be a bit bigger than I expected. I’ll take responsibility for a pattern error on that. There was very little lasting allowance. In the end, it fit, but it was a close shave.
I have used cordovan from a few other tanneries and usually the finish goes to matte quite quickly after wetting and lasting. The Rocinante from Lis Royal held its finish pretty well. I have questions about the nature of the finish. The top side of cordovan is in fact the flesh side of the skin. Creating the finished “top grain” means shaving away everything until you get just the callus that is cordovan. Lis Royal did a really good job as it still remained quite smooth when wet and pulled. With a sample size of one, it’s hard to tell what was a property of this particular shell and what was part of their process. In any case, we’re off to a good start! I’m looking forward to seeing how this beautiful material performs in wear testing.
This pair of cordovan derby shoes is sewn with an English welt to a J.R. Rendenbach vegetable tanned leather sole. They have stacked leather heels capped with a Vibram heel lift. The stitching on the welt is dark brown and the welt is dyed dark brown. The welt thread color and dye treatment were not my first choice, but that’s a different story. Note that this last has a bit of a bulldog toe. On the subtle side, but a bulldog toe nonetheless. The bulldog toe shape, which rises and then drops as you look at the profile from the side was very popular in the years 1910 – 1920.
I made these two tone cordovan wingtips for a client who really wanted dress shoes, but he has wider than average feet, and much wider than average heels. He had never found a dress shoe that fit.
The uppers feature quite a bit of broguing. Broguing is often done with a tool that has a combination of punches at fixed distances for consistent hole spacing. Brogue punches have one big hole punch and two or four little hole punches on either side. If you punch it freehand with individual large and small hole punches as I did, you can make whatever combination you want.
I made assembled this pair using welted construction and hand stitched the welt to the leather outsole. The upper is vegetable tanned shell cordovan.
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.
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.
These shoes were for a female client who wanted a woman’s shoe without compromises. She likes knitting and needlepoint so I tried to put something special into the design for her. This derby design with English quarters features an ornamental stitch similar to a wheat ear embroidery stitch on the wing tip toe cap and bottom quarter lines. Welted construction, Italian vegetable tanned dark red leather upper and vegetable tanned leather liner. Vegetable tanned leather insole and outsole. Natural finish leather heels. Braided outsole stitch.
Derby design with French quarters. Welted construction, Italian vegetable tanned brown leather vamp and blue quarters. Leather insole and midsole. Vibram Gumlite outsole for a little extra cushion. Casual or formal? I think it’s right on the edge. The rubber sole and the more rounded curve of the toe suggests it’s more casual than formal.
Classic Derby design with English quarters. Welted construction, brown Italian vegetable tanned leather upper, leather insole and Rendenbach leather outsole. Check out the natural color braided hand stitching on the welt. (Thanks for our friends at A&E for the hand sewing thread) Top line is extra high to allow for orthotic insert.
Upper is green and brown vegetable tanned leather with an iridescent finish. Classic Gibson boot design. Welted construction, leather insole and Rendenbach leather outsole. The making of these boots was featured in Tim Becker’s Life at Large segment for KOIN TV.