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Leather Quality and Properties

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by VegTan, Jul 8, 2013.

  1. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    It depends...most bespoke makers cut only one pair from one calfskin, considering that to be the limit of truly prime leather in the skin. The rest is relegated to the shoemaker and his family. :cool2:

    Some calf skins are larger than others--the definition for a calf may be somewhat amorphous esp. in different countries or from different tanneries--whose vested interest is to sell "calf" which commands a better price than cow.

    Some of the best calf is only 8 square feet, plus or minus...more than one pair from each skin is nearly impossible.

    Factories cut for maximum use...by definition they are less concerned with quality (or even alignment vis stretch) than price per square inch.
     


  2. ntempleman

    ntempleman Senior Member

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    I wish I could get 2-3 pairs from each skin. More like 1-2. The bigger the skin the less good parts I seem to be able to cut from. I guess some sort of corrected grains would stop you having to cut around the defects, and factories have the luxury of tuning the pattern to fit more economically.
     


  3. wurger

    wurger Distinguished Member

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    Thank you @DWFII and @ntempleman, with alignment vs stretching, I have seen shoes with stretch marks, even in the toe caps, well, I think they are stretch marks, they are faint straight long indent stripes running along the leather.

    are you meant to cut the vamp and toe caps perpendicular to the spine?

    From PS, but I am still quite lost on the directions of the patterns and their relative positions on the hide, even with the photo below....

    "The skin here is 17.5 square feet, slightly above the average of around 15. Generally a smaller skin is better as it means the calf was younger and will have more pliable skin.

    The best part of the calf is the rump. It is less marked generally, stretches less and has an even thickness. So it is used for the most visible part of the shoe – the upper. The two uppers will be cut either side of the backbone, in a mirror image of each other. This is so they are as similar as possible and because each has to be cut ‘tight’ from heel to toe.

    [​IMG]

    The ‘tight’ line runs in an imaginary curve around the belly of the calf, starting at its front leg and finishing at its back. The parts of the shoe must be cut so that this line runs down the shoe, to minimise the chances of the leather stretching (and stretching unevenly). John is demonstrating that curve above.

    Usually three pairs of shoes are cut from each skin, so one set of uppers is cut at the bottom of the rump, one more just above it and a third either side of the first pair, towards the outer edges.

    Then the sides are cut, further up the skin. The outer one of each pair is prioritised, again being slightly more visible than its inner partner. “Though the only person that would probably notice the difference is me.” So two sides either side of the backbone, and two more just above it. Four more, for the other two pairs of shoes, will be cut around it. The outer side is also a slightly different to the inner, having a tab at its end to overlap on the heel."
     


  4. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Lines of stretch are generally perpendicular to the backbone except in areas such as the belly, legs and neck. I was always taught that vamps and toe caps should be cut perpendicular to the backbone as this prevents the shoe from "walking over."

    Lines of tight are generally perpendicular to lines of stretch. The kidney area is the prime area regardless of tannage. Everything else is of decreasing quality the further away from the kidney and/or the backbone. The belly and the neck are considered offal although on heavy veg tannages, many of the Old Breed cut welt, stiffeners and sometimes even insoles from the belly.

    FIG8.png
     


  5. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    PS...lots of times those "stretch marks" are really fat wrinkles and denote an older animal and the practice of cutting critical components in marginal areas of the hide--shoulder in particular. Those illustrations of multiple pairs of shoes cut from one half...or even a whole...calf skin, are prime candidates for fat wrinkles.
     


  6. wurger

    wurger Distinguished Member

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    thank you, DW, what do you mean by "walking over"?

    A lot of things make sense now, :teach:
    - As main forces of lasting are pulling across the upper, the lines of tight are parallel to those forces
    - All of the stretch marks/fat wrinkles I saw are in the direction of toe to heel, this is due to the direction of cutting.

    I often wondered why most GMTOs are set to minimum of 6 pairs, it seems that is the magic number due to the number of pairs a factory can cut from one calfskin.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2018


  7. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    "Walking over" means that when the shoe is worn...and esp. if the insole does is not very closely the same width as the footprint...the foot forces the upper leather out and over the edge of the welt, rather than the foot staying centered in the shoe and over the insole.

    This can happen because of foot or gait anomalies, as well, nevermind the way the vamp is cut. But if the stretch runs across the vamp it is much more likely.

    I might add that in previous conversations with people much more familiar with British shoemaking than I am (not shoemakers), I came away with the impression that a good many bespoke makers over there cut vamps parallel to the backbone--lines of tight running toe to heel. I was told the supposed rationale but I have to admit I saw no sense in it...so I can't remember the whys and wherefores, esp. this early in the morning.
     


  8. bengal-stripe

    bengal-stripe Distinguished Member Dubiously Honored

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    Here is the rationale:

    Owing to the necessary straining of the upper in the process of lasting, the difficulties with regard to “lines of tightness” assume more definite dimensions than in the case of the closing of the upper. The first and most important strain is longitudinal, or in the direction from heel to toe; therefore resistance sufficient to produce the desired tension must be provided. Opinions may differ to the most suitable depth of vamp or length of quarters and cap. It is, however, beyond the clicker’s jurisdiction and in the hands of the designer to decide these important issues, and the latter expects that recognised principles will be strictly adhered to during the process of manufacture…...Should the vamps stretch in opposite directions, the length of caps will vary, and, also, if the cap, although small in length, is cut with stretch in the heel-to-toe direction, uniform tension cannot be obtained.

    E Harrison in FY Golding (editor): 'Boots and Shoes', London 1935 - Volume II, page 106

    Based on the teachings of Robert Knöfel (1834-1884) which is generally practised in Germany, Austria, Hungary (and further east) tightness in the vamp runs lengthwise but runs across in the quarters (to prevent the quarters being pulled out of shape from constantly lacing-up).
     


  9. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    There you go.

    I honestly don't know how many makers last "seats up" over there but I think doing so ameliorates a lot of those problems simply because the toe caps and the vamps themselves are pretty much locked in place at, and forward of, the vamp point prior to any real longitudinal stresses being applied.

    Beyond that, I'm not sure about the vamps "stretch(ing) in opposite directions". I've never seen it...although that might be simply because, as a bespoke maker cutting for quality and not quantity, I cut vamps one at a time and both aligned the same direction.

    I fully agree with the idea of tight running across the quarters, however.

    That said, it begs the question...what does the maker do when a full cut is wanted? If the vamp is cut tight to the toe, the quarters will be cut stretch across. If the vamp is cut tight across...the way I think it should be...then the quarters will also be tight across...the way I think they should be. [shrug]

    Regardless the standard...somebody's gonna get offended.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2018


  10. shoesforever

    shoesforever Senior Member

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    The cuts for bespoke shoes are supposed to be the best parts. Since bespoke makers only use the best parts for all the shoes they do for their customers, there should be a pretty good consistency as to how good the leather is and how it behaves. Do you guys still find that the quality varies a lot from batch to batch or hide to hide? All animals are after all a bit different even if the tanning process is the same. If yes, could this explain why some people find top tier RTW leather to be really great, while some don't see any big difference?

    @DWFII @ntempleman
     


  11. ntempleman

    ntempleman Senior Member

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    Every skin is a little different and when you buy a bundle of them you generally have to take some lower grades along with the higher so the merchant isn’t left with a load of undesirable stock. Not that there’s often much wrong with a grade 2 for bespoke work, there might just be some marks in bad places. Some of the best leather I’ve cut from has been grade 2, just with a big hole in the middle or something. There’s an awful lot of waste in bespoke work, probably 70% of the skin is waste, so you can cut around anything like that and arrange the patterns optimally for as consistent a product as possible. Mass production and waste don’t sit well together though, so when you’re maximising the material and having to cut out 100 pairs a day from the mountain of highly variable leather, you’ll end up with much less consistent pairs of shoes.
     


  12. shoesforever

    shoesforever Senior Member

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  13. VRaivio

    VRaivio Distinguished Member

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    @ntempleman - what do you do with the leftover leather? Sell it onwards, use it for repairs or linings, throw it away, sacrifice it at midnight to the Lords of Shoemaking?
     


  14. clee1982

    clee1982 Stylish Dinosaur

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    Sell it to someone who will make a wallet out of it?
     


  15. ntempleman

    ntempleman Senior Member

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    There’s generally not much good stuff left of any decent size, the patterns aren’t crammed into place so all the in-betweeny bits are too small to be useful. The necky bit is where the biggest expanse of leather is, but it’s normally full of wrinkles, no good for anything apart from fitting shoes, which I keep some stuff for, or the bin, where a lot of it goes after I’ve hung onto it “just in case” for a few years
     


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