Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Saturday, 17 March 2018

An industry treasure-trove - the National Leather Collection

Northampton's historic market square

Welcome back good shoe folk, having just thrown the mantle of winter off its due to be back with avengeance this weekend with gallons of snow predicted for the UK. 

Fortunately we snuck in our trip to Northampton at the start of the week...when it was just grey and rainy.... a warm welcome and glimpse of the treasure trove at the National Leather Collection soon cheered us up. Many thanks to Phil and Vicky...

Whitaker Malem 

Leather work courses and activities
As you can see, the main exhibition is a huge space with a fascinating array of leather items from across the centuries on display...but with 10,000 pieces in the collection it is not where the real treasure lies. Make an appointment with Phil or Vicky to spend time in the archives and you never know what you might discover.

The trunk room
Surface decoration

Stitch detail

Strap detail

Doe skin covered case....from the days of travel and exploration in style

Shoe display models

Showing stitch sizes for a customer to choose from

Leather detailing and stud work on a coach
Leather mirror surround

There aren't just amazing objects could get lost for days in the contents of the library....shelves of wonderful resource from books to magazines and old trade catalogues...many still in boxes ready to be sorted and displayed.

The library...

The Collection's survival and potential expansion requires continued support from the industry, the Guilds, the Council and the landlord...a not insurmountable task! It's one which Phil and Vicky are approaching with pragmatism, passion and patience. 

Investment would see the collection curated, archived and housed permanently in the Grade II listed building next door; with an activity and exhibition space in the existing rooms and crafts studios above. 

It's a collection of such size, national and international importance surely it must be preserved and available as a resource...making it a 'must-see' destination for leather professionals, designers, craftspeople and conservators from across the the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto?

If helping with the funding is a stretch I'm sure Phil and Vicky would welcome any volunteers to sort through and help to archive the books. We're certainly going to be heading back soon to do our bit...and obviously lock ourselves away in the archive for a good rummage! 

Until next week and part two of our trip to Northampton, happy shoe making!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Tor boots and new horizons

A touch of snow on the tors...

Welcome back good shoe folk, we are snow free but still chilled here in the south of England. Thanks to some valiant efforts on the part of the William Lennon team, against some impressive weather (see above)...the final few Tor boots from our Kickstarter arrived this week and are being duly dispatched. There are a few re-sizes still to come and some new orders, which is exciting, and the reactions of backers has been amazing!

A much-awaited pair of shearling-lined, bespoke winter boots were finished this week and have gone for trees to be fitted. As you can see, they're going to be great in the snow with a full shearling lining and footbed and grippy rubber tread.

Knee-high, shearling lined bespoke snow boots

We also received some new polish brush samples - rather beautiful don't you think? They're wooden with a horn back and just narrow enough at the tip to get into the welt. A perfect reminder to step up the shoe-care after all the snow, salt, sleet and grit!

The bespoke boots were finished despite the workshop being full of a furry distraction e.g. Arthur He's gradually getting used to his commute in to the workshop and to enjoy a day of local park outings and chewing on the best oak bark tanned leather! 

Listening intently

A rare moment - sitting quietly

Not getting in the way as Jove records finishing tips
With spring in the air and new premises on the horizon (more to come on this next week), we have put our minds to preparing new teaching aids and updating some long-in-the-tooth ones.

Preparing an insole - marking the holdfast

Cutting out the inside edge of the holdfast

Levelling off the outside edge of the holdfast for a clean edge finish

Well-spaced stitching holes

Finally a beautiful gift arrived in the post this week - this wonderful knife. It's spec. is phenomenal - Japanese folded blade and ancient bog wood handle - and we're hoping to do more development work on a shoe making knife in the coming weeks. Exciting times!

Until next week, we wish you happy shoe making!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Independent Shoemakers Conference 2018

Welcome back good shoe making folk of the world. We enjoyed a wonderful trip to the seaside at the weekend - bracing winds, fresh air and plenty of shoe making talk - when we attended the 21st Shoemakers Conference on the south coast in Eastbourne. A huge thank you to Dominic and Steve for a great industry day out!

We caught up with and heard talks by Carreducker Shoe Making School alumni Marika Verploegh Chasse and Tom Murphy; Marika is making beautiful colourful shoes in Brooklyn and teaching at FIT and RISDE (Rhode Island School of Design) and Tom and his wife Fay have launched Chapter2 creating the most desirable, luxury leather soled children's shoes. 

There were generous skill-sharing demonstrations from Daniel and Neus from Gaziano; on geometric pattern cutting techniques from Martin and Hartmut; on Norwegian welting from Mariano; health tips from Marsha Hall; an insight into his business and the role played by social media from Sebastian Tarek; an insight into her design approach from Marika; and the history of SC Hall leathers. The day closed with optimistic talk of apprenticeships from Adele at Trickers and Richard and Jayne of the British Footwear Association. 

Here's a brief photo story from the day...

Welting block

Surprise! Tor boots

Favourites...a boot and shoe selection

Patina tips from Neus


Geometric pattern making

A blustery Eastbourne

Insole examples

Norwegian welting
The Conference also saw the launch of the David Xavier award in honour of a legend in the industry...whose generosity in sharing his knowledge many of the older shoemakers at the conference had experienced. With that in mind, we would like to say how sorry we were to hear of the death of an old shoemaking friend last month, Jean Claude Bidi - former student, lecturer at London College of Fashion and lovely chap. Our thoughts are with his young family.

Looking ahead, the Conference next year is being hosted by Tony Slinger in the beautiful Yorkshire town of Harrogate. There's already a lot of interest so do book soon if you'd like to attend. There's a link on Tony's website.

Until next week, happy shoemaking. 

Friday, 23 February 2018

Shoe makers in the making

Welcome back good shoe folk of the world and we're looking forward to catching up with a whole host of you tomorrow. We've had a full house this week and it's been a joy having four of us shoe making around the work bench during the day - Jove and Frankey are both building heels - and five back in the evening after the half term break...

Jove cleaning up his welt
Soles going on
Heel building

Balancing the heel

Stephen trimming his insole

Eduardo capturing the process step by step

Wednesday evening's shoe making group

Great design by Jan

That's it from us and our 'shoedents'...until next week and news from the Independent Shoemakers Conference, happy shoe making!