Color 8 Cordovan Derby Boots

The client requesting these boots wanted a roomy fit in the front, but also needed room for an orthotic insert that takes a fair amount of room in the back. I really like the quality of this particular orthotic. It is better than most I have seen.

At the last minute, he requested a bit of ornamentation. I’m of two minds on ornamentation. On the one hand, some ornamentation is just fine. On the other, many times the ornamentation, in the form of broguing, degrades the integrity of material on the seams right where the strength is needed most and they must be sewn twice to make up for it. The broguing on this boot is not on any seam. The line of sewing that borders it, however, does sew in the undyed part of the liner. Rather than having a strip underlay the broguing, the quarter facings from the liner seam forward are lined with cordovan as can be seen behind the speed hooks above right.

On the red cordovan boot I made before this pair, I used the color of the liner for contrast, which also matched the stitching. On these “Color 8” cordovan boots, the rust colored stitching serendipitously matches the undyed cross-section of the leather made by the hole punches.

These boots were made using double-stitch construction. The welt is sewn straight into the insole then down to the sole. With the reflection of the bright finish and deep colors, it’s difficult to get a true feel of the color and texture. I’ve included this last photograph on the carpet to help put the color in context.

Red Cordovan Derby Boots

These custom boots, made for winter use, feature a basalt fiber shank which covers the entire heel and arch area, giving very solid support. I have recently started making shanks and reinforcing components using basalt fiber because it’s much safer to work with than carbon fiber.

I assembled this pair using welted construction. The welt is hand stitched the to the leather outsole which is covered by a thin layer of Vibram soling so they could spend more time on wet surfaces. The upper is vegetable tanned shell cordovan.

Lis Royal – Rocinante – Cordovan Derby

cordovan brown derby

cordovan brown derby

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.

 

 

Two tone cordovan wingtips

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.

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.

Reddish Brown Full Brogue

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.

T-Strap Nouveau

sandal-nouveauThe 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.

Blue Black Oxford

all the pieces blue black oxford

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.

Red Derby

Red Derby (womens)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.

Brown Derby

Brown Derby Side View, Click for Top View

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.