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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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    Well, first some background...Traditionally shoemakers have used linen yarn to create the thread that holds the shoe, welt and upper to the insole. Actually the technique was used almost in every instance where stitching was wanted. but let's just focus on the inseam.

    Once upon a time linen or hemp was pretty common for all kinds of work. And it was pretty good stuff. My wife spins and I've seen raw flax that has individual fibers that were 36" long. The longer the "staple" (the fibers) the better the thread that will be made will hold up and the stronger it will be.

    Since WWI probably the quality of linen has fallen with each passing year. About 4-5 years ago, The last of the most famous and reliable Irish linen mills closed down. But before that, linen yarn coming from even the best of those mills was comprised of fibers that were seldom over three inches long. Lots of reason for this but mechanization had a lot to do with it in one way or the other.

    The upshot is that the linen yarn was not strong. Not Tradition strong.

    Shoemakers Traditionally twisted together 8-10 stands of #10 linen yarn to create an inseaming thread. It was waxed with pine pitch and pine tar ameliorated with cod or whale oil and beeswax. Most of these ingredients were widely available during the age of tall ships and, in fact, the last company to produce pine pitch in the US was Rausch Naval Yards in Louisiana.

    The wax was used to not only protect the thread (which is organic after all) from the beasties that live on the foot and in the shoe, but to seal the holes in the insole that the thread passed through--the wax heating up when pulled through the holes and solidifying again as it cooled.. And it was tremendously sticky and once the stitch was tightened it was damn near impossible to pull out.

    Good linen yarn is not readily available anymore. I have boxes of it from before WWII and I hoard it.

    In recent years shoemakers--from the factory to the bespoke maker have had to look for new materials. Dacron has emerged as a relatively viable alternative--it doesn't stretch as much as nylon but it is admittedly not as "tight" (unyielding) as linen or hemp.

    I use dacron thread instead of linen for my inseam. It is available. It is immensely strong. It won't rot.

    I switched about 15 years ago...after an eye-opening series of events with a pair of boots I made for a farrier (horse-shoer). And, as with the split bristle technique, have been instrumental in helping to evolve and promulgate this procedure.

    The drawback is that it doesn't hold the wax near as well as the linen (although some recipes for wax work better than others) but to counter-balance that, it doesn't need the anti-bacterial properties of the wax either. And if a stitch is given a "twist" as it is pulled tight, the locking properties of the wax will be more than sufficient for the purpose.

    So...I tell you all this because, as with the boar's bristle / nylon bristle conundrum, the materials may have changed (out of pure and unadulterated necessity) but the techniques are still valid and unimpeachable.

    Some way had to be devised to preserve the Traditions as much as possible.

    I'll post some photos and another video link later this evening...after I get back from walking the dog.

    --
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2014
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  2. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Linen yarn is loosely twisted and may be unraveled at any point by rolling it on the knee or using the palm of the hand to untwist it. This creates a very fine tapering in that one particular strand which then may be combined with other strands to create a long taper called the "taw."

    This cannot be done with dacron...it comes in rolls of 8 strands twisted into a cord and each strand is comprised of many fibers that are effectively infinitely long.

    As a consequence the taper--the taw--must be created by other means.

    The first step is to unravel the dacron cord:

    [​IMG]

    Each of these stands, in turn, must be "unraveled"

    [​IMG]

    And tapered...

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    All these tapered ends are then re-twisted together and the whole thread is waxed to create a "waxed end."

    [​IMG]

    The split bristle

    [​IMG]

    is then mounted as shown in the following video:

    http://www.bootmaker.coml/pics/styleforum/mounting the split bristle.wmv

    The result is visually identical...and functionally comparable...to the Traditional boar's bristle and linen method. And is undeniably far stronger, as well as impervious to rot.

    Hope this helps.

    --
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2014
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  3. JermynStreet

    JermynStreet Senior member

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    DW-

    I couldn't learn in 100 years what you have learnt in 40. Amazing info. Also, I love the occupational last name information. I used to date a girl and we'd play the game of identifying occupational last names; farrier is one I'll add to the list when I play it again with a new one. Thanks for your contribution.
     
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  4. thelonius

    thelonius Senior member

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    Linen yarn is loosely twisted and may be unraveled at any point by rolling it on the knee or using the palm of the hand to untwist it. ........................................ ......................



    Thanks so much for all this information and having taken the time to put it all down. I will need to take the time to reread thoroughly.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2014
  5. bengal-stripe

    bengal-stripe Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    DW - When making shoes (as opposed to cowboy boots), how do you get around the problem with the limited length of the Dacron threads?

    These threads are designed for inseaming cowboy boots which are traditionally inseamed from ball (of the foot) to ball. Shoes and continental boots (unless they're Saint Crispin) are inseamed breast (of the heel) to breast: they might even (relatively seldom) be welted all the way round. Unless they expanded their production program in recent years, that Dacron stuff doesn't come any longer than 8 feet. which for breast to breast work restricts it to something like up to a size 8 or so.

    Also, do you reduce the number of threads and use it for outsoling?

    Janne Melkersson is quite fond of that Dacron stuff and when I saw him a few years back, a scrounged a few threads to give them to one of the top English makers, who is very conscious about making shoes in the 'English tradition' (no love for DW's 'no iron nails' rule here). He played around with it and I thought he would hate the stuff, but he quite liked it although he complained about it's stretchiness as he never had the feeling of having it pulled tight enough.

    For what it's worth, I believe, all shoemakers using natural fibre have changed over now from linen to hemp.
     
  6. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    Mr Street, what you are describing, I think, is 'nominal determinism', where the name seems to dictate the occupation. I have a colleague called Dr Fish and he is a marine biologist.

    Thelonius, I think you are talking about 'experiential learning' - learning by or from experience. My PhD, some 25 years ago was about this. Arguably, all skills learning is of this sort; skills can't really be learned from a book. Also, it is probably important to 'overlearn' skills - to practice them until they are demonstrated without thinking. However, skills still need to be practiced. I play jazz and blues piano. If I take a week off or if I think about what I am doing at the keyboard, I see a significant drop off in skill level. The high-level demonstration of a particular skill is probably an 'unconscious' activity.

    This seems a bit off topic, but I would imagine that shoe making is all about these forms of learning and practice. I expect that DW's skills as a shoemaker mean that he can work quickly, accurately, and with very considerable artistic ability. I bet those things weren't learnt out of a book.
     
  7. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Simply not true. The threads you have seen or are familiar with...and which are invariably tapered and waxed with paraffin, not a good hand wax...may be limited in that fashion (although I was told, way back when, that they were originally "designed" for stitching moccasin plugs not inseaming).

    But the dacron I use comes on a roll....200 yards? The roll is roughly 4" x 10" on a one inch tube.

    It is not cut into lengths and it is not waxed.

    I cut the dacron in 12'-14' lengths--that's plenty long for a size 14 shoe inseamed all the way around...heel breast to heel breast and stitched through the heelseat with several feet of thread left over--as in the photos I recently posted of the burgundy ostrich jodhpurs.

    [​IMG]


    And yes, I use the same stuff for sewing the outsole but in three cord rather than eight cord.

    I am familiar with what you describe..have a large bundle in my shop and wouldn't use it unless it was an emergency.



    Like any new material, you just need to adapt to the dacron--use a pine rosin based wax and make a lock in the stitch. If the problem was as extreme as all that, you'd see "grinning" in my inseaming work. Not gonna happen. And I'm not surprised Janne likes it but I'm not surprised he's having trouble with it either, esp if he's using the prewaxed stuff. Paraffin is no substitute for hand wax.

    And DW's "no iron nails" rule does not pretend to be English tradition--simply common sense, best practices and providing for longevity against all possibilities. As much as I admire...hell, even worship English Traditions--willingly acknowledging them as the foundation of all my work and techniques...I don't believe that they are the be all end all and I don't think "best practice" means ignoring weaknesses and limitations inherent in any material and or any technique, English or not. All the reasons for using a nail could be addressed by brass nails rather than iron...and the whole, possible, rust / carbonization-of-the-insole issue put to bed. That would be "best (or at least better) practices". Besides pegs may very well pre-date nails...in the English tradition...anyway.


    FWIW, I've seen, purchased, and used hemp yarn. Most of what I got was not real hemp...including some I got from a shoemaker in England...but rather just linen re-labeled as hemp. Lots of confusion about that even among shoemakers.

    And the yarn I knew for certain was hemp, was unusable with traditional hand waxes. It was coarse and more of the fibers ended up embedded in the wax than were left on the thread. I would love to purchase a ball of real, certified ...maybe even wet spun...#10 hemp yarn. Even if I never used it I'd still like to play with it. But who know? I might even switch again if I thought the benefits outweighed the weaknesses.

    In any case, the yarn I got from England, that was touted as "hemp," wasn't any stronger or long fibered than the pre-war Irish linen I have.

    --
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2014
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  8. bengal-stripe

    bengal-stripe Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Yes, that's the stuff I've come across: it's supplied cut, waxed, and comes in colours like natural, tan, dk brown and is tapered at either end, making it look like angel's hair.

    But be honest, that Dacron stuff is hardly environmentally friendly. Fancy in a thousand years, they pull one of those threads out of the ground., like a tape worm in all it's undiminished 12 feet length and say: "That was a shoe in the early 2000s".

    But, to quote Madame de Pompadour: "Après nous le déluge!" :D
     
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  9. thelonius

    thelonius Senior member

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    Dear Munky, thanks for your input. I can't elaborate here, and probably haven't the competence. What your saying sounds fine to me, except that in my own case something else happened. Continual use of certain techniques, and the machines themselves, actually showed me that my premise was wrong. I didn't observe what I was hoping to, but unexpectedly was shown some other truth. It's not just a matter of becoming faster or more efficient, but something deeper relating to understanding of what is being done. I imagine this is still experiential learning however. But, as you say, this is off subject, and I will get back to following the interesting thread............
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2014
  10. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Not as bad as contact cement, or the matrix that binds the granulated cork for bottom filling, nor yet the rubber used in outsoles and heel lifts. But I agree, it's not the most environmentally friendly. When you come to it though, hemp and flax that is processed by machines rather than human hands is neither strong nor particularly environmentally friendly, either.

    As said, if good hemp was available I'd consider switching yet again.

    --
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2014
  11. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Bengal,

    BTW...energized by the discussion --esp. the bit about environmental friendliness--I tracked down a source of #10 (although it's a metric 10), long fibered, wet spun, single ply, 100% natural (not bleached) hemp coming out of Romania. I have spool coming.

    It will be interesting to see how it holds up both in the making and in the wearing.
     
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  12. patrickBOOTH

    patrickBOOTH Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    If you want to make me a test pair for review I'd gladly be the guinea pig. :)
     
  13. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    :bounce2:

    I think, instead of paying all that money for a new pair, you should take a course...build your own. You'd be glad you did.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2014
  14. patrickBOOTH

    patrickBOOTH Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    The Carredrucker people are teaching one right in my neighborhood. I'd have to take a considerable time off work to do so. It is also $4,500, which I have said in the past is well worth it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2014
  15. variancelog

    variancelog Senior member

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    I've been following this thread and wanted to say thank you to everyone for the excellent discussion!

    DW, have you ever tried vectran instead of dacron? It supposedly doesn't stretch, but I don't know if it is available as thread thin enough for the stitching you do.

    I was also wondering if someone can explain the wrinkling in a pair of shoes I have. It seems to be defect in the leather, but I didn't see any examples quite like it in this thread. (Apologies if it was there and I just missed it.). The wrinkling is only on the right foot's monk strap, while the left foot is fine.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  16. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I have not tried vectran...never heard of it, wouldn't know where to get it. Are you "stationed" in the USA?

    What I use is called Teklon, but it's still dacron. So I have a sneaking suspicion...no hard evidence, mind you...that Vectran is just a proprietary "brand name" for dacron--as Teklon is.

    As for the wrinkling...it is my opinion that it is flanky leather--taken from the margins of a hide. Something that ought, in my opinion, have been discarded or used for heel pads.
     
  17. variancelog

    variancelog Senior member

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    Hi DW. I am actually from Canada, but vectran is more readily available in the USA than here (like most things other than snow). It is structurally different than dacron and is, I believe, highly regarded for use in marine/yachting ropes. Stretch is said to be negligible. When I searched online I found examples of braided rope and the thinnest I could find easily is 1.5mm. Here is a link with some information on the practical qualities of vectran: http://www.doylesails.com/design/vectran.html

    I suspected that the wrinkly leather was from a piece not intended for an upper. I didn't know anything about leather quality when I got the shoes, or I would have complained and asked for a different pair. Or bought a better shoe to begin with! Thanks for the insight!
     
  18. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I thank you for taking the time to provide that link. I looked it over and while this may seem contrary I think it is too high tech for me. As mentioned above I would really rather use natural fibers even in preference to dacron, if the resulting yarn is strong.

    For me dacron was / is an act of desperation, as who should say. But it was also a fiber that has been used in the industry for some time, even for inseaming...so it was available as well as available in formats that I could readily adapt.

    I also mentioned that I had run down some long fibered, wet spun hemp. Since hemp is naturally anti-bacterial it sound like just the ticket for me. Looking forward to wreaking havoc with some de-toxed cannabis sativa ;)

    At least until that goes away, too...

    Thanks again, I appreciate the thought.

    --
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2014
  19. variancelog

    variancelog Senior member

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    I can understand wanting to use natural materials, other things being equal. I hope that the hemp you ordered is the ticket and look forward to hearing how it works out!
     
  20. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    I would welcome DWF's and other people's views on this. I presume that there is no 'standard' when it comes to calf leather. Am I right in thinking this and that what passes as calf leather varies, considerably? If this is the case, how do you spot the 'best' as opposed to lesser quality? Are there certain things to look out for in identifying very good quality calf, as opposed to not such good quality? In other words, what are the characteristics of the best calf leather that we need to look out for?
     

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