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shoe construction...behind the veil

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by DWFII, Jul 24, 2010.

  1. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    Part the Second:
    When I hand sew, I’m not trying to emulate a sewing machine (that’s pointless) but, rather, trying to ‘catch up’ to the ‘Old Boys’ as best I can. Back in centuries past you would have taken an apprenticeship at a young age for around 7 years, and spent most of your waking hours, after that, making shoes. I came into this in my late twenties and so I have quite a few years worth of skills to compress :)
    Unlike a sewing machine, in which the needle has to be larger than the eye, the eye larger than the thread that slides through it, and the top thread is hooked around the bobbin thread halfway through the work, leaving relatively large holes, traditional hand sewing requires a very different approach.
    Single ply linen thread (Z twist, for those who want to know) is used, hand laying up the number of plies required. These plies are never cut to length but, instead, unraveled to easily pull apart leaving a long fine taper on each end of each ply. This means that no matter how thick a thread you make, both ends taper to nothing.

    [​IMG] (c)
    This thread is rolled, smoothed and waxed and a coarse or fine (depending on the work) hair (bristle) from a wild pig is twisted and braided onto each end of the thread. This will follow whatever hole you put in the leather, without trying to make it’s own way.

    [​IMG](c) [​IMG](c)


    [​IMG](c) [​IMG](c)


    [​IMG](c)
     
    7 people like this.
  2. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    Part the Third:
    The reason for all this work is that the two ends, with bristles, put together, are finer than the main body of the thread on it’s own.

    [​IMG](c)

    Close-up of an actual thread-bristle transition. The last little bit of the bristle that you can see before it drops out of the bottom right corner of the pic is just bristle.

    [​IMG]

    And closer still at the part where the taper is wound around the bristle. Again, bottom right corner is just bristle on it's own. Top left is where thread and bristle start being braided together.

    [​IMG]


    Therefore the hole you need to put in the leather as you do each stitch only needs to be large enough to let the two bristles, and the start of the thread’s taper, through (from opposite sides of the work). The remainder of the waxed thread may be two or three times that volume, and is forced through the leather making a water tight seam. The wax/resin mix it is dressed with melts as the thread is pulled through the hole, and cools down and ‘glues’ the stitch in place when complete. There should be no visual evidence of the hole’s existence.

    Customer’s shoes after 5 years of frequent wear.
    [​IMG]


    It is also a stitch that cannot ‘run’ as both ends of the thread completely pass each other at each stitch, swopping sides of the work, and will take a lot of punishment without letting go.
    Getting the right sized, and shaped, awls these days is difficult (easy in the 1800’s), and so I have to resort to making my own using high carbon music wire from a model aeroplane shop and a very small lathe. Did I mention I enjoy metal work as well :)

    [​IMG]



    As a side note; if, say, the bristle going through the hole from the inside of the work is sitting in the bottom of the tiny vertical slit the awl has made, and the bristle coming through from the outside is at the top of the slit, then that is the way they must be every time so that the stitches have a neat ‘lay’ to them. If the bristles change their relationship with each other each time you poke them through the holes, the seam will ‘jig about’ and not be a smooth line.
     
    7 people like this.
  3. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    Part the Forth:
    The goal is to make every stitch you do, the best stitch you have ever done :) , at around three stitches per minute on a straight forward seam.
    Some seams that hand sewing can achieve are:
    Butt seams. This is where you join two pieces of leather, edge to edge, without coming through to the other side. The two edges are cut on an angle so that as the stitch is tightened the two halves slide over each other a little. It is particularly satisfying making a near invisible seam in veg. tanned kangaroo leather 1mm, or less, thick.


    [​IMG]


    Miniature 'Balmoral' boot I made in 2001, showing a butt seam above my thumb nail sewn on the inside. Kangaroo hide approx. 0.8mm thick.

    [​IMG]

    Butt seamed heel cover (1999) at 21 stitches per inch. At that time I was only doing around 8spi for sewing soles on. Now its around 12spi. (stitches per inch; IOW 25.4mm for us metrics [​IMG])


    [​IMG]


    Bound edge: My drawing explains it well enough.


    [​IMG](c)





    Sewn heels: This is where the heavy stitches that hold the upper to the insole, around the heel, become anchor points for stitches that you hand sew through the leather lifts that comprise the heel stack. Up to about four lifts is manageable, the rest of the layers (if a higher heel is wanted) being pasted and wooden pegged together (or use solid brass wood screws. Won’t effect the leather like iron). This is, not surprisingly, a very difficult job, but the end result is very satisfying.
    The photos are of several different pairs, the first ones being shoes for our, then, 5 year old.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    Once the sewing is complete, and while the lifts are still damp, the shoemaker’s hammer is used to hammer all around the sides of the heel stack to spread the layers up and cover over the stitching at the base of the heel cup, and blend it into the form of the upper.


    [​IMG]


    A before and after shot.

    [​IMG]


    One of a pair I made in 2001 after my father gave me a shoemaking book from 1896 and I found out about welting and the 'sewn heel'. I had been making medieval inspired/method footwear before this.

    [​IMG]


    And close-up of the blended in heel.

    [​IMG]
     
    7 people like this.
  4. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    Part the Fifth:
    I find it interesting that I am finding a few all hand sewers around the world in the bespoke tailoring trade, Yay, but, so far I’ve only found two or three other shoemakers who are making ‘daily wear’ shoes entirely hand sewn (though, to be honest, leather has the added difficulty of needing to pre-make each hole, as you go, with an awl) . If you know of any, please tell me :)
    As time goes on, I find I’m making finer threads, and using finer stitch counts, for ‘normal’ work, as my skill increases and as I learn about the strength of the seams.

    Miniature Balmoral at 18spi, by eye. By 2001 I had found that I was able to sew inseams and welts consistently at around 8 - 10spi by eye (score a line to sew on but not use a stitch marking wheel), so I was curious as to how fine I could go and be consistent. This was the experiment. I was happy with the result and my stitch-marking wheels have since been unemployed [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    My experience is that hand sewing anything, footwear or clothes, tends to be much stronger, and can be neater, than the equivalent machine seam, but as I said at the beginning, not everyone will cope with the idea of hand doing all those little stitches, and we would loose so much shoemaking talent.

    Please don't take this series as an advertisement for my work. Anyone who has been on the Crispin Colloquy forum or my FB page will know that I enjoy explaining how things are done, and am concerned with the 'de-skilling' of our society. We are capable of so much creativity.
    Hope you are all still awake, and have enjoyed this walk through my ‘obsession’ [​IMG]
    Cheers
    Duncan
     
    9 people like this.
  5. dieworkwear

    dieworkwear Senior member

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    That was great. Thanks for sharing, Duncan.

    When hand sewing, is it possible to use threads that are as fine and thin as what you see in machine-sewn seams, or no?
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2016
  6. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Dieworkwear, (can I just call you dww? [​IMG]),
    If you have good single ply linen thread to build with, then yes. The stuff I'm using is around 40 years old, is quite fine and has a fibre length of about 6 - 8 inches; the modern "Linen single shoe" thread that's sold is very poor. It has a very short fibre length of about 1 - 2 inches, and is relatively uneven. Accounts from the 1800's apparently mention linen thread with fibres up to 2 feet long, and I have found long flax fibre for sale to spinners and weavers, so if I get desperate I'll have to find me a very good spinner and get 'bespoke' thread made [​IMG]. Now that would be a treat to use. Hmm, maybe worth pursuing earlier rather than later.
    Another thing to consider is that hand sewn footwear won't have as many rows of stitches on them due to the time/labour involved, and the inherent strength of hand sewing; one row around each piece/panel will suffice. So, while I personally don't like heavy seams, a-la 'leather craft hobby stitching', a normal hand sewn thread may be about 50% thicker than a machine equivalent (still quite fine), and lends it's own beauty to the finished item. It's a subtle feature, rather than just a means to hold pieces together.
    eg. One of the things you can do with hand sewing is choose which way the stitches 'lay', and indeed swap that lay at appropriate times. In the photo below (not the best I'm afraid, but the customer has them back so I can't take more photos. They were in for a re-treading and heel rubber after 5 years of regular wear) if you look at the two rows of stitches running up the outside of the eyelets, I swopped the way the bristles sat in the holes as I sewed each side, so that the stitches have a diagonal 'lay' that goes outward as you follow each seam upwards, vis.
    \ o o /
    \ o o /
    \ o o /
    \ o o /
    stitch,eyelet,eyelet,stitch. Making any sense? [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Hope this has been helpful.
    Cheers
     
    4 people like this.
  7. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    By the way, DWF, what did you mean my shoes are 'Superficially alarming (said with tongue firmly in cheek)'? [​IMG]
     
  8. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Duncan,

    Well, it was just a little jocular throw-away and I kind of regret saying it...if only because now I've got to explain it.

    As you know, I'm not all that creative, so I stick with Traditional styling and Traditional sensibilities and ...well, "memes."

    You've had a unique approach since we first encountered each other. I have always thought that your shoes would benefit from using a Traditionally shaped and proportioned last (insofar as bespoke would allow) and a Traditional approach to patterning.

    But then they wouldn't reflect your style or your sensibilities. And as stodgy as I am, I've come to appreciate your approach. Like I've said repeatedly and to anyone who would listen "Stylistically, Duncan's work is a little outside the classical mainstream but nevertheless steeped in Traditions and embracing everything that makes shoemaking glorious."

    Or something like that.

    :cool:


    edited for punctuation and clarity
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2016
    2 people like this.
  9. MoneyWellSpent

    MoneyWellSpent Senior member

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    @duncanbootmaker Thanks for those posts! I really enjoyed reading them. Are the illustrations from one of your books, or are those pencil drawings of yours?
     
    1 person likes this.
  10. JubeiSpiegel

    JubeiSpiegel Senior member

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    Very nice drawings Duncan.

    Sometimes words just won't do, and first hand experience is not available. This is where illustrations / pictures add value and much needed context to plenty of situations.

    Thank you for sharing your words and your drawings.
     
    3 people like this.
  11. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    ^Aside from the anatomical accuracy and the shading (which I've never really got a handle on) I like the frames and the calligraphy, as well.
     
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  12. Nick V.

    Nick V. Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Duncan--
    Welcome aboard and thanks for sharing.....
     
    1 person likes this.
  13. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Everyone,

    DW; Quote "Well, it was just a little jocular throw-away and I kind of regret saying it...if only because now I've got to explain it."

    And I was just having a friendly dig back at you [​IMG]

    MWS; Yes they are my drawings, close-ups from the borders of a triptych I drew back in 2003 explaining my methods (some of which I've changed since then, most notably the fact that I now carve and use lasts in my shoemaking). Here's a, fuzzy, photo of them in their entirety. The pics I included in my posts are from the borders of the first and last pictures.

    [​IMG]
    'A picture is worth a thousand words', eh JubeiSpiegel?

    Cheers
    Duncan
     
    3 people like this.
  14. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    ^ They're all so typically you, Duncan. And what both impressed me about your work...and "alarmed me".

    :nodding:
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2016
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  15. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    [​IMG] That was when I was drawing (oops, pun unintended) a lot of inspiration from the 1600-1700's. I've recently found hundreds of full length portrait photos from the Australian gold rush in the 1870's in an online library which, along with contemporary 'house find' shoes in my collection, are providing a lot ideas for me at the present.
     
  16. MoneyWellSpent

    MoneyWellSpent Senior member

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    Well, you are certainly talented to say the least!
     
  17. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    Thanks MWS,
    My mum and dad are both artistic, and mum's sister, and dad's grandmother was, so I've had a pencil in my hand for most of my life and had a lot of family support, all of which is helpful when it comes to designing. And my wonderful wife strongly encouraged me with doing those drawings, as they took a number of weeks to complete. I wouldn't be able to do the shoemaking without her [​IMG]
    Cheers
     
  18. duncanbootmaker

    duncanbootmaker Well-Known Member

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    G'day Dieworkwear,
    Your question about thinness of threads with hand sewing, compared to machine, has had me looking closer at photos of the shoe brands mentioned here, and on another thread for a particular brand and, yes, it can be the case that on RTW the thread may be very fine, but the holes very large. The discrepancy doesn't have to be this great, but this close-up of an English RTW AU$930 shoe, off their home site (so they chose a good one) demonstrates it well.

    [​IMG]

    I find it interesting (and this is not a criticism, Dieworkwear. I'm on a learning curve looking at this forum as I have almost no exposure to this part of society/fashion [​IMG] ) that people might look at the size of thread used in shoes, whereas I tend to notice the size of the holes, or lack of them. Different worlds, different eyes. I suppose DWF and I, and any other hand shoemakers here, are hoping to take those eyes and give them a good pair of 'mental' glasses, so that people can really understand what they're looking at in the shops, and make very informed decisions.
    Cheers
     
    2 people like this.
  19. dieworkwear

    dieworkwear Senior member

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    I think that's shell cordovan? I wonder if the larger holes aren't just a matter of needing thicker needles to punch through a thicker leather.

    I remember looking at my Templemans after reading your posts. The uppers are machine sewn. The holes are larger than your hand sewn seams, but they're not that noticeable, IMO. I'll try to take a photo this weekend or something.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2016
    1 person likes this.
  20. JubeiSpiegel

    JubeiSpiegel Senior member

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    ^ what he said. Maker's website says it's cordovan leather.

    Would such large thread holes affect water tightness on a shoe, cordovan or otherwise?
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2016

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