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

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

  1. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    It tightens the stitch in the same way that you tighten a stitch when you pull from the bottom. Except instead of that pulling action, the prick pushes the thread.

    Personally, I do think the stitch prick tightens the stitch...esp. if, as DAS says, the top (welt-side) stitch is not pulled as tight as the bottom stitch. The prick tends to regularize the stitching on the welt to form "beads" or as I remarked fairly early on--a "string of pearls."

    But more to the point I have always made...even if you see no tightening, why do you need to "automate" such an inconsequential technique. What purpose is it addressing? What question does a fudge wheel answer that is not, at least and maybe better answered by a welt prick?

    Speed? Convenience? If welt pricking has no original purpose then certainly fudging is nothing but spurious ornamentation.

    And in my opinion, FWIW, I think fudging looks plastic and mechanical...industrial even...maybe esp., when it is damn near perfect.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2015
  2. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    And if you regularly substitute tofu for real meat, the poor dog's dinner won't be fit for man nor beast.

    I agree...that's why I never "bash" or criticize other makers. Or tailors, for instance...or any other person or field that I don't know much about. Never try to teach my auld granny to suck eggs.

    But it's hard to justify or admire some techniques. All other things being equal, some techniques almost guarantee...or, at least, increase the likelihood of...problems like ThunderMarch was describing. Simply because at bottom they are mindless and skill-less--I suspect that's why they were invented in the first place and ultimately gain currency.

    And before you dismiss that, consider that you can bring the greatest mental acuity and particularity to digging a hole, but fundamentally anyone can do it without much training or practice.

    That's what fudging is...to me. And that's why you get out-of-sync fudging even among the best makers.

    It's the technique...

    --
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2015
  3. ntempleman

    ntempleman Senior member

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    If it tightens the stitch by pushing it down and over the leather, it must surely loosen the back side of the stitches.

    Absolutely no one in the UK that I know of uses a prick stitch, they might have one in a box somewhere gathering dust. I feel that both fudge and prick are more a matter of decoration rather than trying to improve the mechanics of stitching after the stitches have been laid - and I far prefer the look of a well fudged, and well (double) ironed shoe, personally. Like shoefan, I can't see any mechanical benefit from pricking over fudging, I guess if anyone else in the West End did we'd all be doing it.
     
  4. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    In R.A. Salaman's book The Dictionary of Leather-Working Tools c.1700-1950, first published in Britain by George Allen and Unwin, London, 1986, the entry for "stitch prick" is as follows:

    Hasluck also details several other welt treatments including no treatment at all which he defines as "blind." And the practice of sinking the welt stitches into a channel.

    I came up in the Trade with the Stitch Prick. I have always regarded the fudge wheel as, well "fudging" (fudging as it has been defined for the last four centuries) and a hallmark of expediency and "common" work.

    When I met D.A. Saguto, the Head Shoemaker and Head of the Shoemaking Faculty at CWF, and a protege' of June Swann, Past Keeper of the Shoe Collection at Northampton and one of the foremost shoe historians in the world, I was further confirmed in my opinion.

    Salaman's book, coming years later, only gave words to my beliefs.

    Have it as you will...I was not prepared to hand enter all that text, but having done so, and being secure in both the efficacy of the Stitch Prick and my skills with it, I'll bide.

    --
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2015
  5. shoefan

    shoefan Senior member

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    When you pull the stitches from the bottom, that (other) end of the thread/bristle isn't fixed, i.e. the thread in the area of the stitch gets shorter (and hence the stitch is tightened), but the other half of the stitch doesn't get longer, since you're still stitching. Once the welt has been sewn, the thread is of a fixed length, so the only way to tighten a stitch, without a commensurate loosening, is to lengthen the distance the stitch must travel. Otherwise, as N. Templeman comments below, if one end gets tightened, given a fixed length of thread, the other half/end must get looser.



    I've read Salaman, and I still don't agree that the technique can actually tighten stitches. He is not a shoemaker and is repeating what others have said. It's not like all shoemakers have given all that they do a mechanical/mathematical assessment. Certainly, pricking up can help achieve the 'bead of pearls' effect, and perhaps help even out the appearance of the stitch length a bit, but mechanically/physically/mathematically speaking, it can't tighten the stitches.

    Parenthetically, I will admit, that pair of 1910 boots certainly has a very attractive line of welt stitching.

    If we can agree (which, I understand, we may not be able to do!) that the prick stitch doesn't tighten the stitches, then aren't we really in the realm of aesthetics? If so, then the choice of pricking vs. fudging is a subjective choice, assuming the fudge wheel is not overheated. I think one might also be able to assert that a warm fudge wheel could help melt the hand wax and seal the stitch holes in the welt, and also perchance get a better lock of the stitch in the leather, both of which results can be said to have benefits to the wearer.
     
  6. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    You're right, aside from assiduously interviewing active and retired bespoke shoemakers, and quoting text from books written by the Masters of the Trade--written when most high end shoes were handmade and presumably the Stitch Prick hadn't gone out of vogue, and aside from being one of the foremost authorities in the world on early tools, he doesn't know what he's talking about. He's just repeating.

    [​IMG]


    Yes.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2015
  7. shoefan

    shoefan Senior member

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    OK, so enlighten me as to how, mechanically/mathematically/physically, pricking up the stitch can tighten it? One thing I have always respected about you is your willingness to think through the rationale for a given technique, with an eye towards how/why something works. Notwithstanding Salaman's comments, I just don't see that same philosophy being applied in this situation.
     
  8. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Well, I appreciate the respect...not everybody here likes that aspect of my personality.

    The truth is that I don't know if I can explain it...I'll try but I've always just taken it for granted and never thought it through.

    The best I can come up with...in the absence of several more hand stitching jobs where I am entirely focused on the mechanics and what I see and feel, .is that if you stitch like Al says is historically correct (as far as I understand him)--not cinching the top stitch down tight, there is a very tiny amount of slack in the stitches on the grain surface of the welt. That slack is so minuscule that it is not really even visible and certainly not enough to jeopardize the "seam".

    When you prick up the welt you are compressing the leather between the stitches and in the process you take up that slack (it moves with the leather that is being compressed) and, as well, you drive the thread down just by virtue of the friction of the prick against the waxed thread.

    Is there a loosening of the bottom stitch then? I don't know, I suppose there could be. But as you suggest we are dealing with a technique that is ultimately aesthetic even if there is a putative function involved, and the appearance of the bottom stitch is really not at issue if it's in a channel.

    In this case, tightening the stitch may be as much about adjusting and regulating the height of the stitch...along with the regularity of length and the alignment...in order to create those rounded beads, as trying to snug the stitch down to maximum tightness.

    Make any sense?

    --
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2015
  9. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    The strange thing is that I've often thought that since nearly every manufacturer machine stitches the welt even in a channel, it seems weird that a mechanism for feeding the material that makes the "fudging" in the welt as the welt is being sewn, hasn't been devised. Like a mechanical Stitch Prick that pushes against the welt to fed it. Of course you'd want a dual feed--the mechanical stitch prick and an awl feed for absolute movement.

    The result would kind of be a cross between pricking and fudging...without that horrible corrugated look of the Fudge. Or the possibility of it being out of sync...which is an aesthetic disaster no matter how you look at it.

    Just food for thought...
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2015
  10. shoefan

    shoefan Senior member

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    Yes, I think what you are saying makes sense, but it doesn't really describe a 'tightening' of the stitch. If there is slack somewhere in the stitch, what you are describing is just moving where that slack is located, since: a. the overall length of the thread isn't changed, and b. the distance the stitch is traversing isn't being increased -- in fact, if anything, it is being decreased due to the compression of the leather and the change of the stitch to a more semicircular shape (a circle is the most efficient shape in terms of perimeter/circumference to area, so any making of the welt/outseam more circular will decrease the total length that the stitch has to traverse, and hence introduce more slack into the stitch). I do understand the value in getting those beads consistent, and the aesthetic value of that.

    I myself like the look of the fudge wheel. I also don't think it is so easy to do well -- based on my personal experience of doing it, and 'making babies' around the toe. I think that Marquess example looks great, but each to his own where aesthetics are involved.
     
  11. shoefan

    shoefan Senior member

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    Well, the challenge would be to make sure they stay in sync. Since (IIRC) the stitch length of the Landis, etc. are infinitely variable, and because the tool doing the 'fudging' would have to be either before or after the awl enters the leather and the stitch made, you'd have to have a precise adjustment of that device as the stitch length changed. Otherwise, you would end up with the impression out of sync with the stitch.

    Also, at least where a fudge wheel effect is involved, the actual dimension of each 'triangle, is unique to the specific stitch length. So, even if the tool was in sync with the stitch length, unless the tool was changed and its dimensions exactly corresponded to the stitch length, you'd end up with a flat spot on the welt, unlike the continuous triangular mountains/valleys of the fudge. Perhaps a pseudo-stitch-prick would be better for this reason, but you still have the syncing problem.
     
  12. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I would only say one thing--despite my 40+ years of using a stitch prick, collectively the "old guys" that wrote about it and used it through out their careers, well, collectively they have much more experience and insight into it than I do. And if they say it is "tightening" I am prepared to give that assessment some credence. Certainly more than I would give someone who has never done it (not referring to anyone in particular, just extending respect where respect is due).
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2015
  13. ThunderMarch

    ThunderMarch Senior member

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    I must say the discussion and debate between different shoemakers with regards to welt pricking was certainly an educational read. I guess shoemakers just have a unique and different viewpoint that us outsiders will probably not be able to understand or comprehend fully. But still, I'm learning lots. Thanks guys!
     
  14. ThunderMarch

    ThunderMarch Senior member

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    I have a another couple of questions, @DWFII @shoefan
    I hope you don't find me an annoying leech with all these questions. But thanks in advance.

    1) Pertaining to shanking.
    Are wood and metal the most common materials used for the shank? What are the advantages that one might have over the other? I am also curious, what is the exact role of the shank, is it for the "torsional" stability of the shoe?

    2) Pertaining to linen thread vs dacron.
    DW, you've mentioned previously that the quality of linen yarns had been progressively declining in the post war years, and the individual yarns have been getting shorter thus compromising the tensile strength (I apologise if I have misinterpreted or misquoted this) and thus had led you to use dacron as an alternative for your inseaming threads.
    I was just wondering if this drop in linen "quality" is a global phenomenon?
    I have a friend who had recently spent the better part of the year studying shoemaking in Italy and is now trying to do this as a career. We spoke briefly about the thread he uses and apparently, the shoemaker he learnt from (a fairly well regarded one), and himself, still use linen threads prepared in the same fashion as you'd mentioned, with the beeswax, pine rosin, and a few other components. Is it possible that there is still "good quality" linen available in Italy?
     
  15. bengal-stripe

    bengal-stripe Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Janne Melkersson, a very wise shoemaker (actually, a very wise man) said once: "Ask that same question five shoemakers and you'll get six different answers." Never take the first answer as authoritative.

    John Lobb (London) has a huge showcase of sample shoes going back many years. Some presumably even to the time before WWI, while the majority were produced in either the 1930s or 1950/60s. It might be interesting to check whether the early samples used a stitch-prick, and if so, at what time the change to the fudge wheel did occur.

    Come to think of it, some enterprising chap/esse might even write a PhD in Sociology, correlating the use of stitch prick and fudge wheel to the political, economical and social situation at certain times and in different countries.

    Does recession, war, the Welfare State or "you never had it so good" give rise to one or the other? :D
     

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