Originally Posted by sugarbutch
DWF, can you say more about the difference in leather quality? Is there a difference in how the hides are processed, the types of animals used?
As I understand it, a lot of it is in the way they are raised. Cattle hides are raised on corn and in unstressed environments these days. Again it comes down to profit margins and "time is money."
June Swann (former curator of the Shoe Collection at the Northamptom Museum) brought the issue of 64 stitches to the inch to the attention of my colleagues, if not the world.
In a discussion on the Crispin Colloquy several members actually tried to duplicate that work. At one point June describes a shoemaker working for several years wearing three (?) pairs of glasses just to see the stitches. No one on the Colloquy could get close. Rees--The Art and Mystery of a Cordwainer, by John F. Rees, London, 1813
--claimed that to do it he had to use an awl so fine that when he slipped and pierced the base of his thumb it neither hurt nor bled and that as a "bristle" (read "needle) he had used a hair from his young daughter's head.
I tried and I think I got something like forty and I had to wear magnifying glasses. And it was rough/crude, I'm here to tell you.
But the only way it could be done was on kangaroo. And June herself said that kangaroo was possibly the only contemporary leather that might hold the stitch...might
. Kangaroo is dense and the strongest leather known to man relative to its thickness. But much of this work was, if I'm not mistaken, done on best quality East India (?) kips.
Processing/tanning has a lot to do with it as well. Baker Leather company is perhaps the only tannery left in the world that leaves hides in the tanning solutions for up to a year. Imagine any modern company deferring profit for that long...regardless of the resulting quality.
Back on point, I've seen shoes that were machine stitched on the vamps that had to be pushing 30 spi. And it was clean work. Tight. No indication of damage to the leather.
Today, with the leathers we have, 20 stitches to the inch risks "postage-stamping", and I suspect most high-end shoemakers are satisfied with 16spi. And perhaps justifiably so, considering the quality of the leather.
Another one of the 19th century "old guys" said that 18 stitches to the inch was "middling work"...and he was referring to outsole/welt stitching! Probably possible with Baker but not with much else.