I don’t know, it’s a tough thing to get into. I would do a short course to see if you actually like it first. It doesn’t have to be with Lobb or Bemer, just a taste to see if you like putting knife to leather. Then go for it. There are many ways to learn and you may make discoveries off the beaten path that you wouldn’t working from a master. Also, a master shoemaker may not want you to learn everything there is to know for fear of losing you as an employee to become a competitor. That said, more than anything, learn as much as you can from every shoemaker you meet!
Who is your favorite shoe company?
So many! but I especially appreciate Japanese shoemakers. Their attention to detail and respect for the craft is unrivalled. I’m amazed any Japanese customer would travel to Europe to purchase shoes with so much talent at home. That’s branding for you I suppose.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Design for me. Seeing an idea go from a sketch to a functional object.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
I have very few complaints, I’m living my dream. Paying oneself below minimum wage can get a little anxiety provoking. My biggest fear is an injury that would stop me being able to make. I ride a motorcycle which does little to alleviate this.
On a day to day level, hand stitching can be either meditative or strenuous.
I measure people up on the spot once I’ve explained the process and they want to go ahead with it. I take measurements through the joint, waist, instep and short and long heel. Also a couple of ankle measurements for boots. I do this firstly with the person seated and then with them standing. Some customers feet spread significantly with weight applied.
I try to use exclusively veg-tanned leathers as apposed to chrome tanned and stay away from any synthetic materials. I don’t really like elastic or zips for that matter but will use them if it is insisted upon. This is because these are almost always the weakest link in a shoe and the thing that will break first. For this reason I usually use lace and buckle closing mechanisms.
While we are on that, synthetic counters and stiffeners fall into this discussion as they break more easily and aren’t breathable, this goes for synthetic glues and cements too (I believe that holding the lining and upper together with a non breathable paste defeats the purpose of using leather in the first place). However I don’t mind rubber soles. I prefer leather just to be a purest but the practicality of rubber is hard to deny.
I have been using vintage lasts that we have collected over the years and alter them but adding leather to them and mimicking the shape of peoples feet. This is obviously not ideal as it means I have to have a size close enough to begin with and often people wanting bespoke shoes have very unusual feet. That said, there is much you can do with an existing last and even high end European bespoke makers get general blocks made for clients and have to alter them the same as way, so it’s not a vastly inferior method. I have recently worked out a system for bespoke lasts and now offer it as a service but have only had a couple of customers where it’s been necessary so far.
I try and make a different design for every client, unless a customer absolutely insists. This is mostly for my own sanity, I completely agree with Marx’s views on the division on labour etc.
So then I knock up a prototype or fit shoe to check the fit for the client and also check all functional aspects are working correctly and the design lines are all in the right spots. I simply glue on a leather sole for these and don’t welt them together. If the fit only requires a few small adjustments I will go ahead with the pair confidently but if there is are any major issues the process must be repeated. A fit shoe only takes a day to design and make.
I have made many styles of construction, the most general being the regular hand-welted English style but I have also done Norwegian welts, storm welts and decorative chain stitches.
To be continued…