Originally Posted by DWFII
Sometime back we had a great rush of excitement and speculation on the Crispin Colloquy about how this was done. Several people actually tried it...myself among them. Fellow in New Zealand or Australia actually came the closest, working with veg 'roo. I think he got close to 50 spi...all done by hand.
In my attempts with domestically available veg 'roo, silk thread and bristles made from 5# monofilament fishing line, I got close to 36 spi. But I can tell you it was crude
, as who should...politely, charitably...say.
During this fevered round of experimentation, Ms. Swann wrote Al Saguto and told him that veg kangaroo was probably the only leather in the world today that a person might have a chance to do "64 to the inch" in....which he passed on to all of us in a CC posting.
The story she tells (if I can recall it correctly) ...and like any old man I'm probably repeating myself by relating this...is that in her position as Keeper of the Shoe Collection, she examined a number of pairs of shoes that were stitched at 50-64spi on both uppers and soles. One pair from Philadelphia had been made for an International Trade Exposition (World's Fair) and it had taken the shoemaker several years, wearing three (?) pairs of glasses, to complete. And he had never made another pair again.
Such work was never done for wearing but always for exhibition. But there was a great movement during the latter half of the 19th century to do this kind of "Prize Work" primarily as a defiant gesture to the forces of industrialization. To prove that no machine, no factory could match the quality and refinement of a skilled Tradesman (at that time, the term "Tradesman" was closer in meaning to an idealized version of "craftsman".) . Many Trades from woodworking to weaving to shoemaking shared the opinion that no "wage slave" cared enough...or was committed
enough...to even come close. [BTW, the term "wage slave" is drawn from tracts and even Trade catalogues from that time.]
As for the leather quality dipping...why shouldn't it? How could it not? We can extol the virtues of bringing shoes to the masses (at a considerably lower historical proportion of the common-man's wages) through the good graces of the manufacturing sector. And believe it or not, I would be the last person to gainsay those virtues.
But along with that has come the dumbing down of everything from the quality of the leather to our ability to appreciate the nuances of quality
itself. If, by virtue of expediency or the implacable pursuit of the bottom line, the demand for quality leather dries up, it can come as no surprise that the very existence of quality leather will be forfeit.
Or...as is common, esp. among those who prefer self-congratulation...we can/will just change the definitions of quality to be less rigourous.
And this kind of "slippage" is across the board...not just in the Shoe Trades but, culturally, across the board.
Nevertheless it is worth remembering that at one time there were literally hundreds of tanneries like Baker in existence from England to Europe to North America. At one time there were literally hundreds of grinderies making tools for shoemakers and saddlers and allied trades. At one time there were numerous linen mills producing long staple linen both for shoemakers and of course for lacemakers and fabric in general. Where are they now?
It's not a process that happens where we can see it...it's not a process that happens overnight. So no one takes notice until those leathers, those techniques, those skills--that knowledge, is gone forever.
"Not with a bang but a whimper."