By late 2017, I’d made myself many pairs of shoes. My skills had improved massively, and I had acquired some decent tools. It was time to attempt a slightly more formal pair.
Lessons learned from previous pairs
I had already made some “court” shoes: a little black pair (photo below). However, this was only the second pair of welted shoes I’d ever made, so the stitching wasn’t especially neat; also, I felt that the L-shaped “double” welt was a little chunky for truly formal wear. What’s more, I was still at an early stage of learning about leather grain and bias when I made these shoes, which have stretched noticeably in the 15 months since I made them: they now are prone to slipping off, to the extent that I now need to add some kind of strap to keep them attached across the mid foot.
Given this experience, I realized I needed to:
Use a more slimline welt
Have some method of attaching the shoes more tightly at the midfoot, so even if the leather did stretch a little, they wouldn’t slip off.
The end result
Here’s the final shoe I made with these considerations in mind:
I am fairly pleased with this pair, which I’ve worn to a few parties already! They are chunky enough to walk on sidewalk in the rain without getting the feet wet, but don’t look too heavy to wear with formal trousers or a skirt. There is just one lace across the midfoot, but it (together with the scalloped shape of the vamp/counter) helps the foot attach firmly. I figured that I could make the shoe look different by using a different set of laces: maybe pale satin ribbon for some occasions, or severe black (as in the photo above) for others.
The final step was to trim the rubber back to the outsole, 24 hours or more after gluing. For these shoes I experimented with a new type of Vibram sole, the Freestone. It was recommended by one of my favorite repair cobblers, so I thought I would see how it compared to the Newporter, which I had used on several previous pairs, but which I thought would be a bit heavy for court shoes. The Freestone is made of IdroGrip, which is supposed to be good for wet environments (thinking of walking on concrete sidewalks in the rain). It has no built up heel, and it also appeared to have a fairly low side-on profile, which is appropriate for court shoes.
To cut a long story short, I’ve not been too impressed with the Freestone so far. It was much harder to cut with basic tools (scapel, knife, shears) than the Newporter. Therefore, it took considerably longer to trim, and I cut my hands more while trimming it. What’s more, it turned out that the profile isn’t actually too enticing for a court shoe, because there is a big height difference between the bottom of the lugs and the base level of the undersole. So it looks more rugged than I would ideally like. We’ll see how it wears: only if it resists wear better than the Newporter will I bother with it again.
How did the process compare with previous pairs?
This pair of shoes took me considerably less time to make than any of my previous pairs. Except for trimming the rubber undersoles, every stage of the process was faster. Altogether, I spent about 90 hours, of which roughly 5 was sole trimming (I went very cautiously after I cut my hand!). I put this increase in speed entirely down to practice.
The stage of construction that took the longest was welting. Even though I had pre-cut the welt to shape and pre-punched the holes, it took about 4-5 hours per shoe to sew the welt on. I realized part-way through that poor lighting conditions were really slowing me down: I found it difficult to see the holes while putting the needles through. Next time, I will try working under a daylight spectrum task light, because the ambient light in my work room was frustratingly low. As ever, it seems that I need to invest more in getting good equipment to make the process quicker and less error-prone.
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