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

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

  1. Zapasman

    Zapasman Senior member

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    [​IMG]
     
  2. ecwy

    ecwy Senior member

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    I was exchanging emails with a particular brand and was informed that a certain pair I was interested in is wet lasted by hand. The leather in question is grained and slightly thicker than usual calf (1.6 - 1.8 mm) and thus had to be soaked to soften it prior to hand lasting.

    They also had another model (using the same leather) that was dry lasted but via machine though finished by hand.

    Due to the wet lasting, I was informed that the grain and colour also become less prominent.

    My questions are:
    • What is the difference in dry vs wet lasting (not asking for a hand vs machine lasting comparison)?
    • Is there a "better" technique between the 2? Which is more traditional?
    • Is there a need to wet last if the leather is usual calf leather?

    Thanks!
     
  3. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    It's really dependent on the leather and the patterning. I came up in the Trade (making boots) wet lasting. One of my particular friends is the head shoemaker at Colonial Williamsburg. AFAIK (and he's told me so in plain words) it was Traditional to wet last during the 17th and 18th centuries. Of course the leather he is using is roughly 8-10 ounce and all vegetable tanned.

    However, if the patterns are really good, it's not always necessary to wet last. I often just spritz the lining and the flesh side of the vamp and jump in.

    And having said that, there are some styles of shoe that need to be "blocked." Think "pre-lasting." A jodhpur, for instance will always need to be blocked. And blocking is definitely done wet. So really not much difference in wet lasting and blocking.

    Probably vegetable tannages benefit the most from wet lasting or blocking. And I was always taught that in order for the shoe to hold its shape it needed to be wet lasted and then left to dry and/or cure in that shape for several days if not longer.. That's part of the reason I still spritz.

    Which is better? It often depends on the tannage, the weight of the leather, the patterns and the maker. Someone with a really heavy hand can definitely pull a wet upper out of shape.

    Bottom line, I don't think wet lasting or blocking by itself does any significant harm. The leather does become more stretch-y ...that's why the imprinted texture tends to disappear more when the leather is wet lasted than when done dry. That said, any stretching, wet or dry, is going to level some esp. if the texture is artificial. And except for exotics like elephant almost all textures are "imparted."

    With a 4 ounce (or lighter) calf, wet lasting or blocking is probably a not necessary ...again depending on the patterns and the style of shoe.

    edited for punctuation and clarity
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2015
  4. ecwy

    ecwy Senior member

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    Cheers and thanks for the comprehensive reply!

    Model in question was a wholecut so maybe that explains the wet lasting.
     
  5. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I like to block a whole cut. Some pieced patterns such as oxfords can be "sprung" to make the patterns more or less fall onto the last. But wholecut oxfords cannot be sprung in the same way. I have seen reputable makers have problems with not getting the leather tight to the wood (over the joint) with wholecuts. Whether that's because the pattern is one flat piece...being forced three dimensional...or because the shoe was dry lasted, I don't know.

    edited for punctuation and clarity
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2015
  6. ecwy

    ecwy Senior member

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    I have seen your post on blocking (http://carreducker.blogspot.ca/2014/06/guest-blog-blocking-crimping-by.html) but what does it mean by "sprung" ?

    Is it possible to do wholecut boots without blocking? Lasts don't normally extend vertically much I presume.
     
  7. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I am probably not the best person to explain this ...I have a natural tendency towards blocking in any situation where spring is necessary.

    That said, springing is simply a process of adjusting the way the patterns fit together to create more or less angular discrepancy between pieces. The purpose is to make lasting or pattern cutting easier. To convert three dimensional pattern pieces into two dimensional patterns so that the vamp, for instance. can be cut out of two dimensional leather. Or to create more of an angle between the quarters and the vamp so that the assembled upper will fit the last better and lasting will be easier.

    Blocking is always an extra, somewhat labour intensive step and probably always a bit wasteful of leather...although such waste is really insignificant for a bespoke maker...but, IMO, the results are always better and more predictable.

    I don't know. I would be gobsmacked, but fascinated, to see it. I don't believe it can be done. I've never heard of it being done. Even if a last extended vertically, the patterning and the stresses placed on the leather would be a nightmare. Perhaps I should qualify my answer and say that "all things being equal"--quality leather, best practices and quality results--probably not. Maybe if you deliberately incorporated huge pipes at the throat...as some 19th century Eastern European boots I've seen did...but even then. I don't know how those were done.

    --
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2015
  8. ntempleman

    ntempleman Senior member

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    Making a boot without blocking is like trying to put the canvas in a coat after you've sewn the rest of it together.
     
  9. bdavro23

    bdavro23 Senior member

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  10. shoefan

    shoefan Senior member

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    To build on DWF's reply.

    Shoe patterns are made based on what is called a 'forme', which is a pattern taken from the 3D surface of the last. The forme is used to make the actual pattern for the upper. Because leather is a flat material, the pattern for cutting the upper pieces must be flat as well. Hence, the forme must be a flat shape also, since it is used to make the upper pattern.

    To create the forme, a material is applied to the last, then removed and flattened. The reality is that the process of flattening the material (generally paper, but sometimes a fabric, very occasionally leather) introduces distortions in that material. As such, using the forme 'as is' can lead to distortions in the patterns made therefrom. Consequently, 'springing' in essence helps to undo some of the distortions introduced when the forme is flattened, and thus leads to an upper that better fits the last and has an appearance more in keeping with the design intent. Not springing the forme can make it more difficult to last the upper and to get it tight to the wood of the last.

    Here is a picture of what a flattened forme looks like. I drew a line which would be a vamp/quarter line for an oxford and cut the forme along that line, as one would do when making an unsprung pattern. (The two pattern pieces actually fit tightly together when flat, i.e. they've simply been cut apart along that vamp/quarter line.)

    [​IMG]

    Then, I cut two pieces of leather (the vamp piece matching the vamp section pictured above) and lasted them onto the last; you can see the black line is where the seam would be if I had made a shoe from the unsprung pattern shown above. You can also see that, when the leather is tightly lasted to the wood, as it should be in a finished upper, that seam is not where the seam lies on the lasted leather. As such, making a shoe from the unsprung pattern would be more difficult to last, since the pattern in fact needs a bit more length along the side of the shoe, particularly at the bottom edge. The lasting process would also introduce distortion in the location of the vamp/quarter line, since the leather would have to be stretched/elongated in some areas to actually fit the last.

    [​IMG]

    There are a variety of ways to spring a pattern, but they are all intended to reverse the distortion introduced through the flattening of the forme.
     
  11. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    If you want to get a rough idea of what's involved in blocking, take a piece of paper and fold it in half lengthwise. Then, not unfolding it, try to bend it in the same plane into a folded "L" shape. What happens is that a slew of pipes and "surplus army goods" develops and must be dealt with. This is the problem with nearly any kind of blocking--eliminating excess while achieving a specific shape.

    Going from this (done years and years ago...I don't reinforce the edges anymore)...milled veg tanned side leather

    [​IMG]

    To this...English lining kip:


    [​IMG]

    --
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2015
  12. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I was hoping you would weigh in on this. Really good explanation. :fistbump:


    Makes the case for designing directly off the last rather than with mean formes.

    Whenever I've tried to do that, however, I have always ended up feeling very uncomfortable with the asymmetry of the facings, in particular.

    I started to design a pair of adelaides directly off the last some time ago and the 'lines" looked good...until I cut the pieces free. The facings were so different I couldn't go it. It was an inside cone last and I suspect that was the reason but that asymmetry offended my sense of order, if nothing else. :lol:
     
  13. ThunderMarch

    ThunderMarch Senior member

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    Dear @DWFII ,
    Sorry to bother, but I have another question, this one pertaining to toe spring.
    It seems that in general, little or no toe spring is generally regarded as better? Or at least based on what I've read.
    I'm wondering, apart from the (poor) aesthetic aspects of excessive toe spring, are there specific structural, or perhaps biomechanical issues with having too much toe spring? And also, for the shoemaker, is it generally more difficult, or a sign of greater craftsmanship, to make a pair of shoes with little or no toe spring?
    Thank you in advance.
     
  14. ntempleman

    ntempleman Senior member

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    No toe spring is only really good for shoes that will sit on a shelf to never be worn. When you start walking in the shoes the toe will spring up by itself, unless you walk like Robocop, and if there's no spring to begin with your shoes have more excess leather over the vamp. This excess leather will lead to excess creasing as the sole takes its new profile, which is both unattractive and can cause fit issues from toe nipping.

    The original Germanic version of Goldilocks had a chapter on toe spring - daddy bear's shoes had too much and looked silly, baby bear's had too little and had a lot of creasing, but mummy bear's were just right.

    (There's exceptions of course, fell walking boots need lots of Spring etc)
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2015
  15. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    This has been addressed a number of times...not that it shouldn't be, but the answer is never very popular here....

    Theoretically, and all other things being equal, the lower the heel height the more toe spring is wanted. If only for the reason Nicholas mentioned. And more creasing in the forepart of the shoe inevitably leads to lower life expectancy of the shoe.

    Like a lot of things regarding fashion, and esp. on StyleForum, such considerations are easily dismissed or discounted. And, in fact, the shortened life expectancy may indeed be marginal in the larger scheme of things. But unless people are buying clothing almost entirely for the superficial aspects and the cachet associated with having, and casually/carelessly spending, more money than everyone else around them, the niceties of quality and all that is associated with objective quality--issues pertaining to life expectancy, IOW--are relevant.

    Currently, fashion dictates a lower profile for men's shoes. We've been here before in centuries past...to the point where once upon a time, shoes and boots had virtually no toe spring regardless of heel height. And vice versa--when shoes had more toe spring than is in vogue today. These are all ephemeral, will-o-the-wisp notions and ever changeable. In ten years more toe spring might be the very thing.

    Beyond all that, AFAIK, there is no bio-mechanical reason to prefer more or less toe spring except perhaps initially, during break-in of the shoe--the resistance or lack thereof to easy, comfortable flexion of the foot. This is one of the reasons toe spring is incorporated into high heeled boots--the foot has so little room or ability...already being in a flexed position...to bend and break-in the leather outsoles. Without the toe spring, the rolling, "rocking chair" motion disappears and you get a clumping, slapping gait.

    As a far as structural reasons, just as when a shoe with minimal toe spring will tend to curl up at the toe, so too will a shoe with more toe spring tend to flatten as body weight settles into the shoe. As this happens, my experience is that it draws or creates lines of "pull" from the back of the quarters forward. This tightens the topline and accentuates the ability of the shoe to cup and hold the heel without slipping.

    But, as implied, except for more creases, shortly after the first couple of wears, the shoe that begins life with more toe spring will be virtually indistinguishable from one with less.

    Toe spring is toe spring...it's all in the last and the eye of the beholder. And is probably more important to marketing than to making. For shoemakers...or at least this shoemaker...there is no heightened skill or sense of mastery associated with more or less. The only significance, in that regard, might be simply as an indicator of how closely attuned the maker is to fashion versus sound shoemaking practices.

    --
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2015

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