It has been a year since I made my first pair of shoes by hand. I’ve completed three sessions of the Shoemaking Evening Class at Prescott & Mackay – the two pairs below were made during this period. I’ve gained a lot of confidence on my shoemaking skills via these courses. Some of the students might ask why they can still feel uncomfortable wearing their handmade shoes. Shouldn’t all the handmade shoes be super comfy?
The answer to this question is the shoe last. The lasts are supposed to reflect the shape of human feet, so someone can easily feel uncomfortable if the last of his shoe doens’t duplicate his foot, which is a common case. Before we attend the advanced course, we can control the materials and style of the shoe, such as choosing our own leather, drawing our own design, and assembling the shoes ourselves, but the shoe lasts we use are still the standard ones. They might have thousands of differences with our own feet, not to mention the fact that they mirror each other, while none of us have completely symmetrical feet. Why Salvatore Ferragamo’s shoes were so famous for being comfotable? Of course it was because he tailor-made the lasts for those celebrities.
The second important reason for painful shoes are down to the materials. Except for those sandals which expose the wearers’ toes and back heels, bespoke shoes all use carefully selected vege-tanned leather to make the toe puff, counter stiffener, insoles, soles and heels (People who have taken P&M’s courses will understand what I am talking about! :p). However, non-bespoke shoes use self-adhesive non-woven for toe puffs and counter stiffeners, pressed cellulosic paper board for the insole, resin for the soles and plastic or wood for the heels…How big the differences are!
So I booked onto the Advanced Shoemaking Course at P&M: Made-to-Measure. This is the only sort of ultimate course I can find in the market. The tutor is Sebastian Tarek, who has rich experience in artisan bespoke shoemaking and coming from the 18th generation shoe maker family background. One pair of his bespoke shoes start from £2,000.
The course has two modules with three days in the first module and two days in the second. At the beginning of the first module the tutor taught us how to measure people’s feet. The picture below is the shape of my feet, with the right one slightly bigger than the left one, which is normal.
The next step is to duplicate these measurements onto the shoe lasts. We use cork sheet to do the scuplture. After a half-day’s cutting, rough rasping and sanding, the width and depth of the lasts finally meet my measurements.
Once solving the issue of the lasts, we move to the components of a shoe: the insole, toe puff and counter stiffener (in Module 1). The material for insole is very thick vege-tanned calf skin but relatively soft, whilst the toe puff and counter stiffener use the belly part of the leather, which is much stiffer. Before putting these components onto the last we need to hand-skive the edge, which is the most tiring part for me.
As the focus of this class is made-to-measure instead of designing fancy shoes, I briefly make a pattern of a very simple court shoe, cut a piece of silver leather and complete the closing of upper as soon as possible, then waiting for lasting.
After lasting, the first module of this course is competed. Two weeks later we are going to have the second module of this course, in which we will do the fittings and make the soles and heels with leather. So excited! I have to say lasting the all-leather shoe feels so good, and the shoes there have so much more contents as if they are telling stories, which the artificial shoes have nothing to compare to.