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Shoemaking Techniques and Traditions--"...these foolish things..."

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by DWFII, Aug 23, 2014.

  1. DWFII

    DWFII Well-Known Member

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    That's a good point. But despite my sig, it wasn't part of what I was saying. I agree with you... although I would point out that "best" (as well as "better") is really always only relative to some other level of achievement. The word "best"...the concept itself...has no meaning unless it is compared to something that is not "as good."

    There is no bitter without sweet. And vice versa.

    As for closers connecting with their work...who can say? But if we put it in the context of the "caring" you mention, do they "care" about what the final result will be? If so, one would suppose that they might refuse to work with a bottom man who wasn't "up to snuff," as who should say. Would they turn down a commission from someone new to the Trade?

    And more to the point, how can they "connect" to, or even care about, the final product if they don't? Much less if they don't control or actually do the whole process themselves.

    I don't doubt that some...maybe most...connect and care about the work they do. They wouldn't be in demand if they didn't. But who cares about the gestalt that is the bespoke shoe made for a customer? Cares enough to want to control every aspect, every technique...in one way or the other.

    Maybe that guy is the real shoemaker.

    edited for punctuation and clarity
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2016
  2. shoefan

    shoefan Well-Known Member

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    Like in any pursuit, there are some who care passionately, and others not so much....

    If one believes that the solo craftsman is a superior model due to 'connecting,' then where does one draw the line. Should the shoemaker also make the lasts? What about tanning the leather? Spinning a hemp or linen thread from the fibers? Raising the cattle? Growing the flax or hemp? Is it the case that the more one does, the more connected one is to the final product? And, does that lead to a superior end product?

    Sure, historically, last making was a separate trade from the other steps. But, i would argue, even before the sewing machine there was much specialization within the trade. Furthermore, why was last making separate? Because it was more efficient and led to better results.

    So, I would turn things around and say that what a customer should care about is the worker's/s' commitment to excellence, along with their level of skill. So, for example, I've spent time with 2 'makers' who are considered amongst the very finest in England. They have told me, and I've observed them, doing things meticulously, even where they could have gotten away with less. Why? Because they are personally committed to doing their best work, because that is the standard to which they hold themselves. And, even though they don't do the whole thing, I believe they are connected to the finished product.

    Of course, if there are outworkers, then a firm that hires outworkers needs to find those outworkers who adhere to these standards and philosophy. However, if an end-customer is going to use a one-man shop, then of course that customer must ascertain the maker's adherence to the same philosophy. A customer of a firm using multiple people must ascertain the firm's willingness to adhere to and locate employees or out-workers who also do so. I don't see a lot of difference. Firms have reputations to uphold. If they are successful, they have more to lose than the single craftsman. Look at all the tailors who have opened shop and then disappeared over the last few years (D Beaman, Rory Duffy, Wm Westmancott (sp?), etc); how many customers have been disappointed or even burned by these guys vs. those who give their business to actual tailoring firms?

    There is another benefit to the multi-worker model: the ability to make a wider variety of products for the customer. Can a solo maker do a traditional (pump stitch) evening shoe? Unlikely. Can a multi-maker? Yes, if they know the right fellow in the UK (Scotland, North of England, Wales?). What about a customer who wants Norvegese stitching? Etc. etc.

    If I make a shoe last, or an upper, or 'make the shoe,' and I see the finished product, I would feel connected to that product. If I were a sufficiently good closer, yes I guess I would refuse to work with a firm that I knew was going to send my closed uppers on to a hack to be made.
     
  3. ntempleman

    ntempleman Well-Known Member

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    Speaking with my friends and colleagues, that's the viewpoint of everyone I respect. It's not as simple as just picking a name out from a directory, posting the work off and expecting them to be happy doing work for you, the trust works both ways. A self respecting closer doesn't want to be given a lumpy pair of lasts and be expected to make a silk purse from it, and a self respecting maker doesn't particularly want to have to last some wonky upper over that last and somehow turn it into exhibition work. Good outworkers aren't mercenaries who take on any old crap for the money, even getting a treemaker on board takes time building up a rapport. No one likes nasty surprises and unrealistic expectations.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2016
  4. DWFII

    DWFII Well-Known Member

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    @shoefan Why do we make shoes? Why do you make shoes? Everyone...myself included....agrees that GY welted construction is adequate and more efficient, more profitable, faster and so forth. Why bother? why not just "go with the flow?"

    To my eye / ear, "efficiency" and "profit" seem to be recurring central themes in much of what you and others are saying. I don't question that outworkers can be faster and even more precise. Or even that they can be committed to their work. Which is not to say that they care about the finished shoe and the shoe customer the way a shoemaker does. Maybe yes, maybe no...I am not familiar enough with the outworker system or those who are part of it to say one way or the other, although it seems to fly in the face of human nature and so much else in contemporary industrial society.

    That said...for myself, I want to be able to do pump stitching and goiser and...well, everything. Even at my age, I aspire to know and master those skills. I consider myself "incomplete" in those areas where I have no skill or, at least, familiarity.

    When people tell me or suggest that I'm somehow misguided in that, I just shake my head and again ask "why do we make shoes?"

    It all sounds too much like the excuses you run across from "kitchen-table shoemakers" who resort to a drill press to punch holes rather than learn to use a broguing punch. Or exacto knives rather than learn...and master...the art of sharpening a knife. Etc., etc., virtually ad infinitum. "It's too hard." "It takes too much time." "Someone else can do it better than I can."

    @ntempleman says "all you can aim for is better. If you start thinking something is the best, then what's the point? There's always going to be someone that I think is better than I am, which is why I keep striving to be better. "

    I like, admire and agree with that perspective. But how do we get better if not by doing? How do you get better at gimping and broguing and closing and so forth...or even faster (if that's your aim)...if someone else is doing all that for you?

    Do we make shoes for the same reason some people here spend thousands on clothing without really knowing a thing about what makes their choices worthwhile? Is it only for the iconoclastic cachet of saying "I'm a shoemaker?"

    Or do we do it because we are fascinated by possibilities and the challenges and satisfaction of learning and growing and mastering difficult techniques? Is there some measure of enjoyment, pleasure, satisfaction...and even joy...involved? And if so, why do so many shy away from making a whole-hearted commitment to learning and growing and mastery and excellence and...just incidentally...all the things that give us joy and make us human and not just meat puppets for the machine? Or Machine.

    --
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2016
  5. Nick V.

    Nick V. Well-Known Member

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    Interesting discussion....
    IMO it all boils down to how much pride and integrity does the firm, workers -or- worker have?
    Their reputation will answer that question.
     
  6. ntempleman

    ntempleman Well-Known Member

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    Not necessarily, there are firms with long histories and good reputations who are just as capable of turning out substandard work as anyone else.
     
    2 people like this.
  7. shoefan

    shoefan Well-Known Member

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    I hear you and I respect what you are saying. I imagine, for people who really care about what they are doing, they would like to learn and even master more skills. Both of the 'makers' I spent time with in the UK were practicing 'closing' in their spare time. Likewise, I imagine they have tried other stitches (Goiser, Norvegese, pump) even if they've never been asked to do so. However, that does not necessarily mean they have plans to try 'closing' for paying customers (though they may).

    Moreover, why cannot someone take deep pride and satisfaction from doing a given step to the best on ones ability and continually striving to do better? You've decided not to take on the task of learning last making. Does that make you less 'connected' to the product than I am, if I make a last and then go through the entire process of making a shoe? Perhaps. Does that make your shoes lower quality than mine? Knowing your skill, and mine, most likely not.

    Still, the question remains, from the perspective of the customer, which approach is the superior one. I think the pro's and con's have been laid out correctly. That is a different question than one seen through the eyes of the shoe maker.
     
  8. DWFII

    DWFII Well-Known Member

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    Yes,...I have always contended that many cachet makers are riding the reputations that their grandfathers established using techniques that have long since been abandoned by the grandsons in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. .

    Not only that, but a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of PR campaigns and, often mis-leading, advertising can go a long way toward looking like a good reputation....esp. to those who don't have the experience or knowledge, or who are particularly gullible.

    That's one of the problems with contemporary...esp. Western...society. People buy into urban legend and hype and just plain BS so easily. And our collective social and political memories are no longer than the blink of an eye. If a lie can be put into pretty sounding words, it will be believed regardless of the truth of the matter. That's known as "sophistry." And there's a lot of it going around. Lies and misinformation...esp. on the Internet...are so common that colleges even offer courses nowadays in learning to distinguish deceitful advertising and misdirection from ordinary language.

    Too bad more folks don't take those courses.

    Bottom line is that if you believe the hype, you've been bought.

    edited for punctuation and clarity
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2016
  9. DWFII

    DWFII Well-Known Member

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    It's none of it mutually exclusive. I can take deep and abiding pride...I hope I do...in each individual technique I implement and yet when I look at the overall end product, or if I fail to fit a customer properly, feel a deep sense of disappointment or frustration or dissatisfaction.

    That's me. How much easier is it to simply feel a sense of detachment or disconnect with the end result if you don't do it or don't control it? I contend that's a major flaw in Industrial society. People work and work...and do good work, maybe even exceptional work... and yet have no real sense of accomplishment or satisfaction or feel for how their efforts fit into the final product. No end game. No fulfillment. And no feedback from the customer either. Which almost invariably means little opportunity for growth or learning or innovation.

    Yes, you probably are a better shoemaker because you carve lasts...or at least you have that potential. I didn't choose not to carve lasts, it simply wasn't part of what I learned.That said, I am not convinced that it is, in fact, superior to what I do. But nevertheless I wish I had that knowledge and skill.

    I wish I had learned at Lobbs...I wish I had a million dollars...I wish I were 18 again...

    Still I have done pretty well and one of the main reasons is that I look to the Traditions and I honour them and I don't pretend or make excuses. Or...as above...buy into the hype and even-if-only-implicit, deceit of the "factory mentality."

    And yes, I agree (several posts ago, in fact) that it is a different perspective...that of the shoemaker versus the customer. But not necessarily mutually exclusive.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2016
  10. Nick V.

    Nick V. Well-Known Member

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    I don't agree......
    These days it's pretty simple to find out what a company, individual and/or service, product is all about. It has nothing to do with hype. If you are willing to do some research you'll find out.
    Even on forums such as these.
     
  11. dieworkwear

    dieworkwear Well-Known Member

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    I don't know anything about shoemaking, so have little to add to the discussion above, but as a consumer and guy who writes about men's clothing, I find it's very difficult to find the truth about firms. Most bespoke customers don't participate on forums; those that do don't always share their true experience. For a variety of reasons, a lot of the bad stuff gets hidden. So you have to know people on a one-on-one level and be able to get information through private discussions.

    Even then, what are one or two anecdotes compared to hundreds of orders per year? If you're working with a big firm, your maker may not even be the same person as the one who produced for the person you're talking to.

    It can be a little better if you know some makers at the firm who will talk candidly, but that's very rare. Certainly for a writer; almost impossible for a customer.

    The only way to really know about a firm is to try something yourself (and to have enough experience to have a discerning eye). The information online is often times: 1) recycled information from press releases or superficial books; 2) hype from bloggers; 3) outdated information; or 4) comments from people who have never even tried the brand or maker. That's for the companies you can even find information on. Lots of companies where there's no information at all.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2016
    3 people like this.
  12. DWFII

    DWFII Well-Known Member

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    The thing is that most people don't understand (or don't want to understand)...and particularly as it applies to commercial enterprises, "businessmen," etc....is that "reputation" cannot be bought. It has to be earned. By doing, by experience, by results.

    Yes, people can be bought and, unfortunately, most don't even need to be--they'll buy in of their own accord. Simply because it's so much easier than doing the work themselves and/or verifying for themselves the accuracy of claims made or trumpeted abroad in the land.

    Too often such people think that simply reading what they find on the internet or what so-and-so told them is equivalent to "research." That, as I said, if lipstick is put on a pig, it will somehow be transformed into your dream prom date (good luck on that, BTW). Nothing could be further from the truth. Research has to have some sort of concrete foundation such as actual hands-on work and experience...comparing various techniques, or materials, etc., if nothing else.

    Too often people who are indifferent to truth and reality simply accept it when a company (or many companies, in fact) claims it makes the "finest shoes in England"...no further proof needed. But as has been documented here...repeatedly...if it is objectively, demonstrably untrue, no amount of hands-free "research" can or will make it true. Regardless of the PR budget.

    Will such hype be accepted? Be believed? Unfortunately, that is often dependent on the money a firm wishes to spend on PR and on how often and how ubiquitously it is repeated.

    But no amount of blind allegiance or obdurate repetition will change the fact that is is objectively, demonstrably, untrue.

    edited for punctuation and clarity
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2016
  13. Nick V.

    Nick V. Well-Known Member

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    The thing is that most people don't understand (or don't want to understand)...and particularly as it applies to commercial enterprises, "businessmen," etc....is that "reputation" cannot be bought. It has to be earned. By doing, by experience, by results.

    Exactly and consistency.
     
  14. DWFII

    DWFII Well-Known Member

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    "when a company (or many companies, in fact) claims it makes the 'finest shoes in England'...." "as has been documented here...repeatedly...if it is objectively, demonstrably untrue, no amount of hands-free "research" can or will make it true."
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2016
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  15. Nick V.

    Nick V. Well-Known Member

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    I would agree with that as well. Speaking for myself, I don't pay attention such statements or slogans. It's like asking a waiter how is the soup special?
    What would you expect him to say other than very good?

    IMO it's ultimately up to the consumer (and frankly their responsibility) to find out as much about a product or service before they spend THEIR money.
     
  16. DWFII

    DWFII Well-Known Member

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    Just for clarity, my reference above was not just hypothetical. As @ntempleman pointed out there are many shoemakers who have "good," even "exceptional" reputations (in the eyes of those who don't really want to know--hear no evil, see no evil...) but don't actually deserve it.

    And for those who actually might take the time to read it (some folks apparently didn't the first several times it was presented) [COLOR=FF0000]here[/COLOR] is a link to a previous discussion that bears significantly and directly on the issue of "reputation" and "hype" and so forth:

    http://www.styleforum.net/t/297037/sole-welting/615#post_6878559

    It's an enlightening and educational post for those who care about such things as enlightenment and education and learning, etc....and who, really and truly, value "research" and "their responsibility."

    edited for punctuation and clarity
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2016
  17. Zapasman

    Zapasman Well-Known Member

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    Just wanted to share a video of a shoemaker stitching a Blake construction by hand. It seems this technique has been a traditional one here. I think is much effort for the results but this shoemaker has no machines.

     
  18. DWFII

    DWFII Well-Known Member

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    ^Thing is that's not really a Traditional technique and I personally think that esp. on small shoes and / or oxfords for instance, the method illustrated simply won't work. And on any kind of dress shoe leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the final results. Frankly, it's kind of emblematic of things you find on the Internet and YouTube in particular. It's a bit depressing. IMO.

    Blake stitching by hand (AKA "channel stitching") is one of those old shoemakers' techniques and involves a "cran" (secret) that is somewhat hard to master and no one wants to spend the time developing the skill to do. Why should they? There's a machine that will do it faster albeit with a chain stitch...or more rarely a lock stitch, but never a shoemaker's stitch...and paraffin based wax.

    [COLOR=FF0000]Here[/COLOR] is a photo essay on how it was Traditionally done although I would hasten to stipulate that there are details (minor) here that I had to "reinvent"...if only because although I knew the mechanics, there was no other maker nearby who knew how to do it and who could show me the "tricks of the trade."

    But the fundamentals are very Traditional and the results equally so.

    edited for punctuation and clarity
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2016
  19. Zapasman

    Zapasman Well-Known Member

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    Nice review DW. Now it seems to me that the spanish shoemaker is doing just a rudimentary work.[​IMG]
     
  20. DWFII

    DWFII Well-Known Member

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    Thank you.

    Yes, I think that's right.

    The way it's being done there, sewing down in the toe is going to be extremely difficult and the shoe will almost certainly have to be distorted / bent to gain access. Speaking only for myself...although I suspect it is a rather common POV among better makers...I want the shoe to look new and un-creased when I am done with it. I don't know how far you read in my little essay linked above but if you continue to the bottom of the page you see photos of the shoe being finished...after the channel stitching has been done. Not a wrinkle or crease on it...not even on the facings. And that's lightweight leather.

    Social media is fun and the potential that is embodied in Youtube is great but there are so many amateurs and people trying to draw attention to themselves that it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2016
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