Archive for May 2015

As I mentioned in my previous post, you will have to make a test shoe for a new last.

In my opinion, it is much better to make a complete shoe for a test, something you can wear at least for a few days because some problems with the last I made showed up AFTER A FEW DAYS OF WEAR AND NOT INSTANTLY.
I did glue together a few contraptions to check the fit of my last, everything looked fine then. The nasty surprise came later…
Also, you can’t really tell how nice the shape of a last is unless you have a somewhat decent looking upper, with lining and reinforcements.

Since I am a bloody amateur, it takes about 100 hours for me to make a pair of shoes. Craftsmen like Scheer do it in about 60.

Thats a lot of time invested in a test shoe and I am lazy by nature.

Here is the plan.
I will take a pair of old shoes I don’t wear anyways and recycle them. If the test works, voila, a new pair of shoes. If the last still is not perfect, there is not much lost. At least they were good for something.
It will save me a lot of time by not having to make the upper and by using the “Plain Veldtschoen Construction” I don’t have to stitch the upper and welt onto the insole which also saves a lot of time.

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So, here we go.

An old pair of shoes I have worn maybe 3 times. Don’t know what I was thinking when I bought them. They are ugly and uncomfortable. But they do have a nice upper and are made of suede, the most forgiving material in terms of creasing. Kangaroo leather is the worst by the way.

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So I carefully separated the upper from the sole…

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removed the sythetic material and fabric lining on the front part of the shoe and put in some fresh leather lining.

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I simply glued the lining onto the insole. Since I use plenty of material, this will be more than sufficient in terms of durability.

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In the plain Veldtschoen construction, the upper is bent outwards.

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I first glue the upper onto the outer sole, than glue the welt onto the upper.

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Then I stitch on the welt through the upper onto the outsole.

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Of course I cannot resist and make a channel to hide the stitching. Open channels are for suckers.

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And here we are, a finished test shoe.

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Update: The shoes were good enough to be selected by the director of my latest commercial as part of my wardrobe. So I got paid wearing them. Unfortunately they will not be seen in the commercial because they are under the table…

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No two feet are the same.
Not even your own feet are an exact mirror image. We are not symetrical.
Specially when you get older you might develop some irregularities in your feet which make it impossible to find an off the rack shoe which truly fits. Thats why you see lots of old farts wearing sneakers. Because they are comfy. One of the sins in my youth was to wear cowboy boots which resulted in quite some damage in my feet. Don’t know what I was thinking. I’m not a cowboy.

Finding a Ready-To-Wear shoe which has the right fit does require a lot of luck.
Of course you can find shoes which are comfortable and look good on you when you try them on.
But ultimately, what really counts is how the shoe looks like on YOUR feet after you wore them for a few month without giving them special attention.
I find it pretty irrelevant how a shoe looks like brand new on the sales floor or on a glossy picture on the internet. The stunning shape, exquisite material, great construction, famous name and high price are completely useless if the shoe does not have the right fit.

Here is where the last comes into play. The last will determine the shape and fit of your shoes. The last is the foundation of a good shoe.

Without the proper last, your expensive John Lobb shoes look like this:

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So, how do you get your hands on a last which enables you to make a shoe that deserves the label “Made-to-Measure”?

One route might be to start an apprenticeship with a good shoemaker, study for three years and learn how to make one from scratch.

Another route could be to order a pair of shoes from my favourite shoemaker, Rudolf Scheer in Vienna.
This company makes shoes since 1816 and produces only 300 pairs a year to ensure the quality of their shoes.
The current owner, Markus Scheer has studied medicine in order to learn how to make the perfect last, personalized for your feet only. Of course you will have to fly to Vienna twice, wait about a year to get your shoes and then shell out about 5,000 Euros. Then beg him to give you the last.

Well, neither one really works for me.
So I have chosen the crazy amateur route, making one myself.

I got a pair of lasts on ebay, a number or two bigger than my size to have some material to work with. Also I like the hinges in a last. Making one from scratch seemed to be a much to daunting task.
So, I took measurements, footprints, made a cast of my feet as reference and started to chip, rasp and sand away until the shape of the last fit the measurements and looked somewhat pleasing to the eye.

Here is a picture of the relevant measurements. (Not my last, but from one of my favorites, Hiro Yanagimachi)

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Can one ambitious amateur make a great last in a few days and compensate for years of experience ?
Of course not.
The first pair of shoes I made on it were really comfortable and also looked ok in my mind – BUT…
After a few days of wearing them, ugly creases started to develop.
Now, you cannot avoid creasing entirely unless you wear rubber boots, but there is a difference between some shallow creases in the right places and deep ones in the wrong places.
To be fair, I noticed that most of the RTW shoes I own show the same creasing pattern.

So, about 100 hours of work, hand stitching ( I also stitched the upper by hand), welting, wood pegging and finishing produced a shoe I will probably not wear too much.
The lesson I have learned here is that even if your measurements and other parameters are fine, the last still can be less than perfect. This is why, good shoemakers make a “Test shoe” with inexpensive leather first and make adjustments to the last and pattern of the leather.

Well, lesson learned.