Boots [built for berlin]

Before carrying on with the notes on this particular pair of shoes, boots, please consider the boots made last June – Foot Wares. Foot Wares were the first foray into making a proper leather shoe or boot, and the pair presented here followed. The notes on these new boots are somewhat endless, so please consider Foot Wares as a preface when things get hazy in the text. Like always, some of the procedures used in the making of the old pair worked well enough to repeat again, and some of the procedures were inadequate.

To sum it up, the Foot Wares fell short in their materials, their attachment of lining, their attachment of sole (both the stitched mid-sole with the upper, and the glued sole with the mid-sole), and the way in which the leather was stretched. Why the materials used were not adequate is because the outer was rawhide, which is much too stiff. The stiffness of the material created problems in stitching the shoe, and shaping the shoe. Also, the rawhide has one side that is very rough, thus you have to consider which sides are mated together and whether or not glue will be involved. Gluing the rough side did not work out well (as you will see in the notes of the attachment of the sole), and this roughness can not be sanded smooth which you could do with a vegetable tanned piece of leather. On the inside, the lining was a mix of felt and chrome tanned leather, which simply put, was not ideal. It was only placed in strategic areas instead of lining the entire shoe, and it was not properly integrated with the “welt” of the shoe, thus on the inside it was not a tight finish. There was also problem area’s with the Chrome tanned leather used on the heel cups where it stretched and resulted with a bad match. Lastly the heel cups were lined with a piece of rawhide just behind the heel, which became like a concrete wall, far too stiff for comfortable wearing, vastly prolonging the break-in time. Why the attachment of the sole was insufficient is because the boots used a rawhide piece for the mid-sole (fuzzy side being the side to receive the glue), and low-quality glue, which paired together meant the leather out-sole simply would not adhere properly. As stated before, this was a total oversight, and rawhide was used to cut down on costs, but it is obvious now why rawhide is so problematic in so many areas. And, finally, why the stretching process did not work out is because A) stretching the rawhide was done afterward B) stretching rawhide is not exactly using the materials accordingly, although rawhide has a good amount of elasticity, it is also unpredictable/temperamental in such an exacting application C) no shoe last was used & D) dry time did not contain the proper variables to compensate for the strange combination of materials. Also, because the shoes were stretched at the end of the making process, it meant dunking the entire shoe (this was a horrible and naive decision), which in turn meant the semi-outsole that was a piece of vegetable tanned rawhide (placed between the rawhide insole and the rubber outsole) soaked up a bunch of water with little surface area exposed for it to dry out efficiently (i.e. only the edges of this section of the sole are exposed so the water logged piece was very slow to dry).

While this may sound dismal, there were also a lot of successes, and processes learned, to compensate the pitfalls. And as can be seen on this post, the learning curve was steep and quick. Right from the get-go there were many obvious changes to be made. Where to start with all these alterations is difficult, so please bear with us, and take the order of communication with a grain of salt. The following explanation will hopefully work in a layered and diagrammatic way working from the outer of the shoe down and through the sole.

Beginning with materials. No more rawhide was the first rule. Instead the goal would be to find a purposeful leather, which is softer and easier to work with, and most notably would accomplish one giant task: making a shoe-sans-last, where the activation of the shoe (i.e. with the human foot) would determine & form its shape. The material chosen for the outer was a bonded leather (it looks and feels similar to Nubuck). The fact that it is bonded leather is only a coincidence, what mattered was that it had the right density, and resisted tearing (for now we will bypass the overall aesthetic of the leather chosen). The tearing is for obvious reasons, but also because – logically thinking – the tear factor would have some affect on the acceptance of stitching. The rawhide, when hand-stitched seemed to have trouble healing up around the newly poked stitching holes. Thus these holes had a heavy and undesirable character about them which lead to concern about the structure of the shoe. With the new leather, it seems to rebound from the initial force of the awl and keep the stitching, with the materials, more like a single system (questionable observation albeit). This leather was also preferred because it was not too stiff, and also not too soft, therefore being structurally sound but also soft enough to conform to the foot without having to sustain great aches and pains. Lastly, this leather, since it is actually processed, is quite uniform in it’s grain literally and aesthetically: the rawhide was very inconsistent, which made it difficult to predict where and when there may be issues with uniform stretching/folding/forming. Then we have the lining: unlike our Foot Wares which had two different types of lining, lining which essentially draped into the shoe, these boots would have one type of leather, and it would be fully integrated into the “welt” of the sole with the upper when stitched down. (somewhat) Ironically enough, the leather chosen to line the shoe is probably (next to the sole pieces) the most costly leather used. This is for good reason, and came with great results. What we used was kidskin, this is the skin of a young goat, and presumably vegetable tanned. Why kidskin is used so widely and was a good choice in this application is that it is thin, has a very consistent grain, and is also very stiff for it’s weight. So sewing it in the areas around the heel and tongue pieces is much easier than the stretchy chrome tanned leather used last time around. And lastly, it looks great, is very breathable, and allows the foot to slip into the shoes with ease. After the upper materials were chosen it was time to consult the sole: this called for three separate pieces. The mid-sole which would have the upper (including the kidskin lining) stitched to it, was your average middle weight vegetable tanned leather, just stiff and heavy enough for durability’s sake, but also friendly enough that the hand sewing was not an absolute bear. After this comes a much heavier piece of sole specific vegetable tanned leather. This piece would be glued to the mid-sole, protecting the carefully sutured hand-stitches. And finally a heel piece, made from yet an even heavier piece of leather than the sole, heavy enough that a band saw is used to cut it.

At this point we will switch gears from the materials used to compose the shoes, to the materials used to hold those very materials together. This category basically falls into two places, glue, and thread. Both of which were inadequate the first time around. Starting with the thread: there are two different threads used for this system of construction, one for the upper and one for the attachment of the upper to the sole. For the upper, the stitching used to attach the lining on Foot Wares was Coats&Clark “button and carpet thread”, which for all intents and purposes worked fine (the extra weight of the thread held up to the rawhide with vigor). However the story begins here: when constructing Foot Wares Coats&Clark “button and carpet thread” was also used to stitch the upper to the sole. This did not work. It was fully capable of stitching and creating the seam, but what could not be predicted was it’s inability to create a tight enough stitch in such an extremely worked area. After wearing the Foot Wares for some time, we noticed that the upper would shift independently of the sole. This, as much as we can figure, is due to thread tension and thread weight (both having affect on the other). Although the thread tension on the Brother can and could be set pretty high, the thread which could withstand this pressure will not run through the hook. But, even this is hypothesis. After much consideration it was decided that the only right way to do it would be to hand-stitch the sole with the upper using a much heavier waxed linen thread, one stitch at a time using a leather awl. This is the jump and the leap between the two shoe sets. On the Berlin boots, the upper is pulled to the sole one stitch at a time as tightly as possible, with the waxed cord creating a high level of friction to keep things tight and protect the cord later on from outside elements. And then moving backwards again, the upper is stitched on the machine, however this time using Coats DB-92 polyester thread. Quite honestly this entire post could be written (and still at great length) just discussing the thread by itself. Another note is that (looking into the future) we went back to the Coats&Clark “button and carpet thread” for generations 3 and 4 of this shoe (for the upper only) and it was more difficult to work with than the Coats DB-92 polyester thread. The DB-92 thread seems to slip and pull much more smoothly through the lighter leathers, whereas the “button and carpet thread” was full of friction and created unnecessary randomness. As has been stated in the past, the “button and carpet thread” has it’s own will, which is proven time and again to be quite a thing to test. Moving onto the glues: this time we used two, one of which was good ol’ Elmers white glue with the orange cap. The Elmers was used to make little connections here and there for short hold, and then also to semi-laminate the kidskin lining to the bonded-leather upper (after they were stitched together). This was done to keep them as closely fit together to make sure when the hand-stitching began, they would both end up in the welt. The other glue used was a huge trade up from the PowerPoxy: it was now time to use a much more proven agent, Barge Glue. Barge Glue was highly recommended by some friends and some professionals alike, so the plunge was taken. Barge Glue uses a photochemical process to create a very strong, instant, and lasting bond. It is especially useful for leather, wood, and rubber, thus making it an ideal candidate for shoe construction. For the Berlin Boots, attaching the mid-sole to the sole would no longer be an issue. The upgrade in glues and thread was a huge benefit, it’s hard to say what will replace this method in the future, so expect to hear more about this topic in later posts.

With the materials explained: the next topic will open up the steps taken in the construction of the Berlin Boots. The very first consideration had to do with the shape of the shoe being accomplished without a last. This leads to two thoughts: one is that leather will inherently stretch, so it is possible to make a floppy structure of leather which will become the shape of a shoe/foot with time – and two, this floppy structure should actually be quite taught (not floppy at all when initially on the foot) for the initial fitting. The first step would be to get the pattern figured out, taking as many ideas from the Foot Wares as possible in how to tighten things up to achieve a better fit. Of course, this is a job for some Weathermate – and we begin. Knowing that the Foot Wares were too wide, and round, throughout the shoe meant taking in all aspects of the perimeter of the sole (base, footprint) and then building (up) the upper’s pattern from there. This taking-in was theorized to accomplish more than one thing: obviously the fit needed to be closer to the foot, and after great lengths of thought enacted the realization that because the sole is stitched to the upper, with the upper flanging out onto the sole, we would have to make an exaggerated attempt at reconstruction to curtail this flange to keep the boot more compact. The idea being, once the perimeter of the shoe has been decided, we do not really want to add seam allowance on top of that. The sole should (in the end) be the same circumference as the foot, or close to it. This would keep the foot more secure in the shoe, and even though it sounds like overkill in the opposite direction, that is what is needed for this application. Needless to say the difference in pattern between the elder shoes and the younger ones is vast. The Berlin Boots are shorter, and much narrower throughout. Also there were great leaps made in the techincal aspects of the upper, which there are numerous factors for – all of these in the end – coming together to achieve a common goal. The main alteration of the uppers has to do with this never-going-away idea of building the shoes without a last. Therefore, unlike the Foot Wares where a large channel was cut to allow the tongue of the shoe to bend up easily, thus allowing the foot to enter without trouble: for the Berlin Boots this channel would be reconsidered. Also the shape of the fore parts of the heel-cup (now) have a backwards sweep coming back at the midpoint of the front of the cup. Lastly the pattern is stitched together with the heel-cup wrapping around the toe section, unlike the Foot Wares which employed the opposite placement of the toe-cup wrapping the outside of the heel-cup. With all these changes the overall aesthetic changes drastically, but more importantly the foot is completely covered, and this is all made possible by the change in leather. If this pattern were made with rawhide, the chances of getting your feet into the shoe would be slim. Of course the fit is still tight around the foot, and the new style greatly increases part of this friction – but that is the goal – taking some amount of turbulence and letting the leather with the foot reach it’s own singularity.

With the pattern devised, all cutting (clicking) of materials was completed next, being very careful to not make any mistakes, as leather can and will show just about any glitch (which means starting over). After everything is cut out there are anywhere from 5 – 7 separate pieces per shoe to work with. Generally the perimeter of the mid-sole is part of these pieces cut ahead of time, but in later boots (no posts on these yet) we’ll omit this trimming in favor of a loose trimming to be cut tightly to the proper crop later, the loose trimming acts/gives a bit of extra leather – much like bleed on a printed work – for paper, but for the sole on some shoes. The whole sole (both the mid-sole and the out-sole) however, is (are) always trimmed at the very end so that they (the cut perimeters of the mid and out – soles) can meet up exactly with each other to create the appearance of a seamless-complete-outer-sole. Therefore, not including the sole pieces (combined or separate) four of those cut pieces are for the upper, which consist of the lining and outer of both the heel-cup pieces and the toe pieces (what will become the quarter section and the vamp).

To continue reading about the construction of these boots please move onto the next post highlighting their history and/of construction (this is an attempt at a two part post) or go to > [Boots]

*(out-take) The steps taken to activate it are very simple, brush on the glue to both pieces faces to be met, let dry for about 20 minutes (Barge claims to let it dry between 4 minutes and 4 hours, 20 minutes seems to be just right), and then press together. Because Barge Glue is pressure sensitive you can either hammer the pieces to create a stronger bond, or put them in a vice and clamp them together. However, because these are shoes, clamping them in a vice would be cruel, so the hammer is used to tap the pieces into place, and then the perimeter of the sole is pinched (every inch of the way) all the way around the sole.

Foot Wares

Chukka boots, Desert boots, leather high-tops, earth-wares, platypus (feet).

These foot-wears were completed about three months ago, and have been sitting idly by waiting to have some notes written down. They have been worn about & around, inside, and outside, on a bike, off the bike, etc. The wears have shown their strengths and weaknesses, defections due to craftsmanship, and small perfections averaging out those weaknesses simultaneously. They are made of; stitches – polyester, waxed-linen, and cotton-core polyester, uppers – vegetable tanned leather, rawhide, chrome tanned leather, and felt, sole-ing – custom cut liners for shock absorption, various layers of vegetable tanned leather and rawhide, glue, and Vibram rubber soles.

As always the first step was to begin the pattern. The design is based on your basic Chukka boot parameters. It was to be high enough to cover the ankle, and otherwise simple throughout the foot and over the toe, with the upper to consist of only two pieces. The shoes would naturally reference a Desert boot also because of the way the upper is stitched to the sole pieces: the upper has a flange that turns out and flat against the soles most outer edge, as opposed to the upper turning in and under the insole (between the insole and the upper most layer of exposed sole) of the shoe like a Chukka boot. The main thing to consider is that both Desert boots and Chukka boots are based on having a heel cup, and a toe cup – in both cases the heel cup comes around the outside of the toe cup with no visible space or gaps between the two. Often, other than the way the upper is stitched to the sole (mentioned above), the only other difference between the two is use of materials: Chukka boots often being smooth vegetable tanned leather, and Desert boots usually being suede or some other sort of lighter, rougher leather. As you can see though, after working through the pattern making process and refining the height of the heel cup, and cut of the tongue, the aesthetic of having the toe cup wrap around the heel was decidedly more favorable in this instance – unlike the usual Chukka/Desert boot design format. However, this decision was mainly based on function. As is, the leather would not be pliable enough, or so it was thought, to both make the toe shape (forming over the toe) and then easily transition into the opposite position of the tongues shape. This is for many reasons, but the main culprit was that these shoes were made without any last to form them on. Of course without a proper set of shoe lasts to build shoes on, the process becomes much more experimental, and, temperamental. Extra steps had to be taken in forming the pattern, to ease some of the trial and error. Namely, with the tongue cut more narrowly, this would reduce the amount of material, which would have to bend in the opposite direction to the bending which forms the toe. Imagine having to bend half of a cylindrical tube, into a “U” shape resulting with the half moon opening facing out, instead of into itself: there is a certain amount of material there that either needs to be cut away, or extremely pliant to result in a smooth transition. Although, with a shoe last, this would all be taken care of because instead of bending leather you would be simply (not really simple at all) shaping and stretching it over a form, which when everything was dry, it will have become the new shape. But the narrow tongue by itself would not be enough, and this is why there are the two openings where the heel and toe cups meet. That extra bit of shaping (or lack of shaping) is what makes the shoe fit on the first try. This too is something of a result based on how well things work against themselves, without making these notches, the leather would not shape itself up as it needed to. This section of the shoe would be very tight across the top of the foot if it were not for this trimming. Of course this specialized cut could be negated for the common shape we are used to seeing which would call for simple patience and a long break-in time because now your foot would become the last (and breaking in dry leather is much more time consuming than stretching wet leather, assuming you could even get your foot into the shoes if they were built like that). Finally the completed comp of the shoe would provide our basic pattern, which consists of a simple looking sole (roughly the shape of any other generic shoe), the heel cup (a long rectangular piece with both ends sloping in towards each other at the top of the cup), and the toe piece (which when flat looks somewhat like a spade [spade], or even a bit like a stingray).

After devising the shape and dimensions of the shoe it was time to take a trip to I. Sachs Sons and look at materials. Well, actually, first a good look through what was laying around the Brother DB2-B791-015 took place, to curtail the grocery list. Even after making the deck-mocs, there was still a bit of the chrome tanned dark blue leather, which could be used for the liners on the heel cups: there was plenty of grey felt that would serve well as a little lining on the tongues: and also plenty of the Vibram rubber sole-ing material. Two different types of threads would be needed: the first was the same (brown’ish) waxed linen thread used on the deck-mocs, it would be for a small amount of hand sewing that was done to make a more complete bond between the heel cup and toe piece around the middle of the foot, where (due to this process) the Brother DB2-B791-015 would not be able to reach*. The other thread would be the Coats&Clark “button & carpet” thread. The Coats&Clark would be used to stitch everything else (done on the Brother), from sewing the lining into place, stitching the heel cups reinforcement, sewing the felt lining on the backs of the tongues, and stitching the upper pieces to the midsole. This thread was chosen for obvious reasons, it’s strong, has a good density to it, and ideally would not stretch under most circumstances. The strength of the thread brings us into the leather chosen, which called for this hefty thread. Considering this is an initial foray into shoe making/production, choosing leather was an arbitrary process. Of course some leathers clearly designate themselves for certain tasks, like the soft chrome tanned leather used as lining, but choosing others would prove a bit more challenging. Also, with price as a consideration, not all leathers were immediately available. Lastly, because there was no shoe form used to stretch the leather over (which after the leather had dried and set becomes the shape used), it seemed logical that a very stiff leather would be needed to both maintain a shape, and to keep the shape after use. What it came down to was rawhide, which is not even considered leather. Apparently the difference is that rawhide is a very simply processed hide (skin), with almost no alterations done to it in terms of chemical or implemented treatments (vegetable tanned, chrome tanned, etc.). Whereas leather is hide that has gone through many stages of processing to make it a certain texture, elasticity, color, and structure. Treating the leather alters the hide’s structure so much that it becomes virtually a different material (thus leather is very different from a dried piece of rawhide, it is almost a synthetic form of hide no longer at all related to it’s initial chemical property). How this benefits us, is that leather will perform tasks of stretching, shaping, and shrinking very differently than rawhide, so choosing between the two is very important in regards to your product. In the end, rawhide was chosen for use on the uppers, and the midsole (which in all honesty was primarily an economic decision). Also a layer of vegetable tanned leather would be laminated to the rawhide midsole, to improve the bond of the rubber Vibram sole (gut instinct forewarned that the Vibram sole would stick better to vegetable tanned leather than rawhide). Lastly some vegetable tanned laces were picked out to provide some structural support after the shaping.

With materials at hand, it was time to make the plunge into shoe making (or at least something similar to shoe making). Much of the process has been highlighted already, but let’s go over a few basics to weed things out. The first step was to inspect the rawhide and find which parts of the hide seemed to have the most consistent grain. It can be very easy to match up the pattern and begin cutting away, but with leather or hide, you have to consider that this is an organic material with imperfections that may have unforeseen stretching in them, or places where creasing can easily happen, etc. (this process is much like picking out lumber, you have to inspect the wood you choose to make sure it is straight and without warped areas or bowing). After sizing up the allotted pieces, the pattern was sorted out on the rawhide to make sure there was sufficient material. After tracing and cutting out the pieces of rawhide (cutting was done with a basic box cutter), the chrome tanned leather and felt accompaniments were trimmed out. These were cut after the rawhide to ensure that the sizing of everything was as accurate as possible. With everything done and ready to be stitched, the first pieces to be mated were the heels. Mating the heel liners to the heels was fairly simple, aside from stitching one on the wrong side of the rawhide and having to un-stitch it and start over with new pieces. One thing that did occur which is always a nuisance in sewing, is that the chrome tanned leather lining stretched as it was being sewn in place. There are a few ways to remedy this, or at least reduce this type of reaction from the materials. The first thing to do would be to use a Teflon foot on your machine, Teflon is of course non-stick. The second thing to consider is how you feed the seam through your machine: if the two pieces were stitched together with the chrome tanned leather on the bottom side (against the bed, contacting the feed dog), this would certainly reduce the stretching of the chrome tanned leather because it is not competing with the friction of the presser foot above (the friction from the bed of the machine is negligible because the feed dog is affectively lifting the fabric and pulling it at the same time). The rawhide does not have a problem with this because it is far stiffer and less elastic than the chrome tanned leather. However, having the chrome-tanned leather on the bottom side can be tricky, because then it is difficult to control the folding and alignment that is being done with it. Lastly consider the type of machine you are using, a walking-foot machine would probably be best because there are no parts creating friction like a normal drop-feed machine or needle-feed machine would (in the foot) – a walking-foot machine is going to pick all of it’s feeders and whatnot up, and then press back down while dragging the material through. That said, with the lining in place, two small pieces of rawhide were cut to act as stiffening agents in the heel, these were shaped like a half moon and stitched on center, with the bottom of the reinforcement piece just slightly higher than the heel cup – so that once it was all in place, the stiffener would rest on the in-sole (hopefully holding it’s self up and against any caving that may happen on the heel cup). After the heel cup pieces were ready, it only took a few minutes to stitch the felt liners into place on the backside of the tongues, which were still loose.

At this point the separate top pieces are ready to be stitched into place on the inner most sole (rawhide). This process required some water to dampen the leather for stretching and shaping a small lip along the bottom perimeters of the uppers pieces. After setting up a small tin-can bath, the leather pieces, with liners and all, were soaked for about 30 minutes in the warm water (under running water it would take less time, but we wanted to be sure the leather was saturated to ease the shaping tactics. The inner most sole [cut out of rawhide also] was not soaked {under normal circumstances a shoe’s upper would not be plunged in this manner, but because rawhide is quite a bit thicker and less pliant it requires a longer saturation period}). With the materials soaked, they were blotted dry with an old rag before the machine sewing began. The first part was to attach the heel cups to the back end of the rawhide inner soles. With the parts wet this is not much harder than manipulating a piece of canvas around a curve (the same system has been used for the Zshoes). Also, sewing through the rawhide was much easier on the machine while it was still damp, most likely because the water acts as a natural lubricant. To create the lip, simply use your fingers and bend a little flange up, from the bottom side (stitch side) of the uppers materials. Then stitching can commence, this was surprisingly simple, all that was needed was some attention to position, which even the laziest of eyes should be able to line up. As mentioned earlier, the heel cup was stitched in first, with the bottom edge of the heel cup’s stiffening unit bottoming out on the topside of the inner sole (no tacking back and forth was used to when beginning or ending the seams). Next, the toe pieces were stitched on, these too were simply eyeballed into place, and then carefully stitched. The Brother had no problems with the rawhide, but to make a slightly narrower footprint (from the presser foot) along the top edge of the seam, a zipper foot was used. Using the zipper foot, does two things (in this curious scenario at least), it makes a more narrow path along the top – making it easier to see what you are stitching: and also it makes it possible to place the stitches much closer to the inside of the bend of the flanged material because the zipper foot’s stance is about a third as wide as a regular foot (this helps to leave room for trimming around the edge later on, if there is undesired alignment of the individual layers). Lastly, where the toe piece overlapped the heel cup (about 1-1/2 inches), the stitching could form a strong bond by that minimal, but crucial, amount of stitch-overlap, where earlier there had been no back tacking**.

Construction of the soles began, now that the uppers were mostly complete. This part is more straightforward because there is no stitching taking place, and the pattern is much simpler than the three dimensional forms of the upper. That said, the first pieces to be laminated to the rawhide insoles were shoemakers vegetable tanned mid-sole leather pieces. These pieces were purchased at I. Sachs Sons and are about 3/8 of an inch in thickness, and very stiff. Basically the bottom side of the rawhide insole was scrubbed to clean off any loose hide residue, and the mid-soles were scuffed to create a slightly grittier area for a stronger bond between the two pieces. With the two sides prepped, the glue was very generously applied to both sides. Depending on the glue you choose*** to use, do a few tests to see what works best as they don’t all react the same way – some require that you let the glue dry before pressing the components together, and others ask to press them together while they are still wet or at least a little tacky. After letting the sole set up over night and have a complete 24-hour drying cycle, the excess leather of the lower piece, which stuck out from around the insole was trimmed off. Again, this is done carefully with a sharp knife. Just like the deck-mocs, trimming the excess was accomplished by holding the shoe in the left hand, and cradling it in-between the knees while the knife was being pulled (slowly) toward the body along the in-soles perimeter. After a few touch up spots were addressed by using a carpenter’s file to sand/smooth down any problem areas in the cutting, the sole began to take form, looking evenly cut with nicely adhered layers of rawhide and leather sole. The final step was to glue on the Vibram brand rubber sole. These were executed in the same manner as the mid-soles, scuff leather, glue pieces together, dry 24 hours, and trim excess to match shape.

Here we enter the hour of power. The ensuing step proved to be the most difficult and the most arbitrary in attack. What we are trying to communicate here is the transformation of the shoes from somewhat limp and lifeless pieces of material to full volume ports for feet. We’re still looking at these shoes with un-shaped, un-stretched rawhide/leather and this needed to be remedied****. Without a full-scale wood shop, or adequate rapid prototyping equipment available, a very rudimentary and alternative way of making a shoe form was used. Instead of proper wood, or some kind of resin mold, a series of layered foam pieces were matched up. For those of you familiar with foam core, what was used here was ultra. Ultra is only 1/8 inch thick, while regular foam core is 3/16 of an inch thick, also, ultra is far more stiff, and dense. Layering up many sheets of this would make it possible to make a topographic like form of how the shoe was designated to become in terms of toe shape. Each layer would be trimmed down in certain areas, eventually resembling a shoe shape. The upshot of using ultra, is that it is hard enough that it would not lose it’s shape, even when wet, plus it will not crush under the force of the wet leather while it’s shrinking during the drying process. And even though it is very dense, it can still be shaped with a box cutter without an incessant amount of work. So, multiple layers of ultra foam core are adhered to each other (about five layers equaling just over half an inch), they are loosely shaped like the front of the foot – with sweeping toes, and now they are inserted into the mostly built shoes. This is where things became a test of nature and patience. First of all the forms were wrapped in plastic, and foil, to crudely reduce the amount of water saturation the forms may be challenged to, next the shoes were almost completely submerged in water for an even longer amount of time than normal to make sure everything was totally and completely willing to take on new shape. During this process, there was no truly imaginative way to only soak certain parts (as in, only soaking the toes of the upper, which was the only area being focused on) thus everything sat together soaking – Vibram sole and all. With everything soaked it was time to cram the inserts/forms into the shoes, however, on the first try this step was obviously not going to happen. The forms were outrageously too large and there was no way they were going to fit into these almost shoes. Part of this had to be because the rawhide was simply too thick and stiff (i.e. stubborn), but the other part had to be due to an inaccurate estimate of the size of the form to what the shoe would allow (even though measurements were taken). The forms were unwrapped and quickly taken apart to be re-shaped: this wouldn’t normally have to be done in such a last minute manner, but unfortunately the shoes were already soaked and ready to go. About two of the layers of ultra were taken off, and the form was trimmed down on the sides going towards what would be the instep of the foot. After the frantic shaving and scrambling to make the foam-forms fit they were re-fit into the shoes. This time they fit, although not entirely with ease, but enough to accomplish this very experimental step – ending with the shoes sitting to dry for about 48 hours. Finally with the shoes mostly dry, and the toe cups looking like they could house toes, the forms were taken out to continue on with the finishing touches – hoping they wouldn’t just collapse.

At this point the majority of the shoes are complete. All that needed to be finished were the stitches on the midpoints of the shoes where the heel cups met the toe pieces, and then setting the eyelets for the lacing. The stitching in the middle of the shoes was a small leap further into hand stitching requiring a bit of patience, a couple heavy needles, a few yards of waxed linen thread, and an awl. Basically – using the awl – set little dimples in the leather at the points of your preference along the seams edge (where the two pieces overlapped). There are many ways to decide the pattern, but here we used a basic saddle stitch. The other options change the way the stitching pierces the materials and how it crosses back and forth, whether it spans between the two pieces (across the edges), or only pierces through the leather at certain points (in on the edge, out on a side), etc. Using a saddle stitch coupled with the waxed linen thread creates an extremely strong stitch, that guarantees the two pieces will never separate under force – which suited this application quite well. Unfortunately, because the topic of hand sewing requires such an extraordinary amount of tacit knowing, to write about it anymore is simply futile. Just remember that when you are lacing things together that the depth of the awl’s puncture should be determined by the thickness and stiffness of the leather you have chosen (in this case, after the dimples were marked we went around to each point and thoroughly pierced the overlapping pieces of rawhide making sure the holes were large enough to push both hand-needles through). Also, leather is the type of material, which can essentially heal itself, so no worries should be had if the awl gets a bit out of control. For the lacing/eyelets, it was a matter of a 3/16th inch hollow punch the make the six holes per shoe (three per side) for the 1/4-inch (square) vegetable tanned leather laces. Oh, and of course, after all this hoopla came to an end, a pair of in-soles were cut to slip into the new Foot Wares. These insoles were cut out of a sheet of padding from I. Sachs Sons: it is a large sheet with the name cloud on it (fairly generic), either way this high density foam would create a bit of extra cushion from the ground to the Vibram sole, to the leather and rawhide mid-soles, and then into the quarters of the shoe. Hopefully all of this together will keep the feet comfortable.

As mentioned earlier, it is now some three+ months later, which allows us significant insight into how these shoes, actually fair – as shoes. There are plenty of things to be said about construction quality and the performance of the chosen materials. The thing that stands out the most has to do with the steps involved in wetting the complete shoes and placing the forms within them to make the toe shapes. In hindsight, this step was far too complicated to be done in such a haphazard manner. If this type of process were done again, the issue of forming the toes/shoes shapes would have been much earlier in the making. This is for two reasons, the first being that with all the extra layers of sole, rubber and leather, it impeded the upper’s ability to really stretch out and take form where it needed to: the stiffness of the sole simply out-weighed the ability of the rest of the shoe to grow and move in the directions desired. Also, as it turns out, the bond between the rawhide insole and the vegetable tanned leather mid-sole was not adequate. Although it was glued twice over and thoroughly pressed and clamped it never took hold well, and then when coupled with the soaking from the water (right before the forming) and the ensuing stretching of the top, this took its toll, creating ruptures in the shoe’s foundation. This was a sad moment, but a necessary lesson in making the Foot Wares. Most likely, the biggest problem with the rawhide, is that it shrinks a lot, whereas the vegetable tanned leather is not prone to shrinkage. With the two being bonded together and then wet, it put a tremendous strain on the whole system because the rawhide shrank a fair amount, which whether there was adequate glue or not, was not going to be enough to stop the rawhides shrinking which is what caused it to pull away from the vegetable tanned layer. This is a great example of where and why and how to use leather vs. rawhide – the clear solution would have been to make all of the soles components out of leather, but that simply did not happen. Another issue, which was almost totally un-noticed, is that the Coats&Clark “button & carpet” thread is actually too weak for this application. You can see this when you look very closely around the toes, as you walk. What you will notice is that the upper actually moves (slightly) independently of the sole piece it is sewn to. Fortunately it is not so much that it looks like it may break, but it is interesting, and in the future to remedy this either an addition of glue will be used, or a different system altogether using linen thread and hand sewing will have to take place. When thinking about other shoes, the Zshoes, the reason why this action does not take place (shiftiness) is because the canvas tops/uppers are going to stretch before the thread does, so in this case the stiffness of the rawhide is far stronger than the thread in terms of elasticity, so it becomes the threads job to give as opposed to the rawhide upper of the shoe. Another thought is about the liners used, of course they were used with economy and immediacy in mind, but in the future a better choice would be with something thinner and stiffer at the same time. Aside from the known difficulties of the felt, the dark blue chrome tanned leather used to line the heel cups, as it turns out, is kind of bulky, and because it was so apt to stretch created irregularities that were undesirable. Something thinner and stiffer (still leather) would probably be the best choice because it would be easier to work with, it would mimic the heel cups shape more easily, and gluing the two together would be an incentive not taken advantage of this time. With time too, the lining leather would break in, so there is no need to worry about it not being comfortable. Speaking of which, the heel cups reinforcement piece also needs to be re assessed. From looking around, we see that the more common thing to use is a kind of synthetic, or even cardboard like material, the best part of this would be that these alternative pieces would not be as thick, giving a more complete and refined look. Also, with some friendly persuasion, maybe next time we will omit the rubber Vibram sole, for a more traditional leather sole – this would be easier to cut the excess off (the rubber soleing material doesn’t trim well, or cleanly – at least not as much as we would like). Some of these afterthoughts are more speculative than others, but clearly there was a large learning curve with room to grow further. Next time the focus will be on refining the connections, and more than anything else resolving the sole’s construction, and maybe implementation of the Cordwainers shoe last will take care of strange stretching methods.

*There are two things going against this particular step of the process. The first is that instead of building all of the shoe’s upper, and then stretching it over a form to then tack and sew onto/around/over the insole: we have to sew the heel cup to the mid-sole, and then position the toe piece in relation to that. What that means is that the section where the two layers overlap cannot be stitched by the Brother because the flatbed of it will not allow the materials to get into position under the needle. This is obviously a job for a cylinder-bed machine or post-bed machine, which can reach those tight spots without having to turn too much of the shoe inside out or whatever other contorted way. If, this shoe making process incorporated a proper wood shoe last, then the entire upper would be made at once, completely separate from the soles. This would work because with the upper stretched over the wood form, it can be centered over the sole and then tacked down (if instead the entire upper were sewn together and then stitched to the mid-sole in the fashion that this shoe was made, it would probably shift very slightly in the direction of the feed of the machine, so by the time you had sewn all the way around the circumference, the materials would bunch up – piling into the back end of where the seam started). So, the process is like so – stitch the heel cup in place on the machine, stitch the toe on center in relation to the heel cup, and then by hand stitch the two together where they overlap.

** Back tacking being when you run the machine back and forth three or four times at the beginning or end of a seam to ensure that the stitching does not come loose at the ends.

*** Glue is something of a personal quest. Many kinds are offered in many different degrees of viscosity, strength, and reliance in different weather conditions, etc. You can use water-based glues for some applications, but often more potent glues will be needed (remember to use adequate ventilation when handling such glues). The brand used for these shoes was Power Poxy, but the staple glue of shoemakers and repairers, seems to be Barge glue. Also note, while some glues are meant to contact things after the adhesive is dry, something even more interesting are the glues that are activated by pressure. Pressure sensitive adhesive is a truly mystical beast (which we cannot explain).

**** Bear in mind – no shoe lasts were used in this entire process.

Inclement Weather Shoe Covers2.0

The next generation of inclement weather shoe covers have been completed. This time around the process was both simplified and made more complicated (strangely enough), however this was to their benefit, as the features should now be more efficient, and the fit is better adapted. While the first generation of bootie has been a mostly successful venture, there were a few things that were done differently here. Rather than go through all the motions again, the latest developments will be highlighted only. If there are any questions regarding these issues, please refer to the initial posting at Inclement Weather Shoe Covers.

Starting with the fit. Although this is fairly obvious to some, it was hindsight here. The two panels of the upper bootie needed to be re-proportioned to accommodate a slightly different tolerance between the inside face of the bootie and the outside face. Using an expendable material, three sets of patterns were developed, slowly refining and scaling down the inside face from the outside (conversely – the outside face grew larger, it is hard to say which came first/going which way, the chicken or the egg?). The result is a similar shape between the two, but now the outside face has a longer dimension along the bottom seam, with accommodations made to fit the rest of the proportions into each other’s corresponding alternate edges. What this achieved was a more precise fit around the circumference of the sole, because the outside of the soles edge is longer than the inside edge – when measuring from the center of the toe to the center of the heel. That alteration cured the bunching around the zipper on the first pair, and also kept the heel area nicely compacted around the boot.

On the first pair, the heel area was a slight issue, because the inside face of the bootie had been pushed a little bit towards the front, which caused an excess of material almost exactly where the crank is closest to the heel and therefore rubbing commenced. Now that the heel is properly fitting, the need for the lower position second strap, which held the material tight in that area, is (should be) unnecessary.

The second adjustment to the design was to incorporate a strap along the span of the bootie, which would cross from the inside of the foot to the outside, approximately over the ball of the foot. This, like the heel, was also to cut down on any potential rubbing that occurred at the front inside quarter of the bootie against the crank. In order to keep this as low profile as possible a traditional over and back strap method was used. Essentially there is a small plastic 1″ loop that was sewn into place about an inch and a half up from the sole – on the inside, this created a place for a Velcro strap to come over the top of the toe from the outside and double back on itself to adhere the hook and loop of the Velcro together. This strap can be cinched down accordingly to either keep the bootie in position, or to relieve any rubbing that may occur between the crank and the bootie.

Next, the leather reinforcements on the bottom of the booties were cut slightly different to increase protection from the ground, and the edges were also skived to provide a better transition between the neoprene bootie sole, the glue, & then to the leather. The skiving should prevent any snagging as the profile has been reduced. Also, the leather reinforcement under the toes were stitched on with an “X” instead of around the arbitrary cleat opening*. This will help because instead of making a stitching pattern around the suggested cleat opening, which may just get cut off when opening the hole, to make it easier to “click in”; the “X” stitching will keep stitchesconsistently spread around (in the general area) the opening no matter how much it is scaled up, or down. Imagine cutting a square from a square – out of two sheets of wood stapled together, if the fasteners form an “X” between the two, leading from the corners, then no matter how big a hole you cut, the fasteners will always end up right at the newly cut corners – extending to the outside corners (no?).

As for any other upgrades, which there are a few, they are additions to the current design rather than refinements in the pattern. The first is a more dependable and consistent type of reflective webbing (made by 3M Scotchlite), which was stitched into place on the straps. The new reflective tape is a hardier version than the last, and has increased visibility due to size, and grain structure/properties. This ribbon “guarantees” visibility in low light at 700 feet or more. The tack at the end of the two straps (per boot) was also minimized to cut back on bulk. Lastly, on the very front section of the bootie’s sole (the pads of the “toes”) – where on the last pair we were beginning to see wear from the action of pushing off the ground right before clicking into the pedal to ride – an additional layer of Tough-Tek/Slip-Not Non Slip Fabric was placed to cut down on excess abrasion in that area and activate grip. Finally (?), the upper’s inside layer of nylon has been changed, now it is a 1.9 oz per square yard silicone coated rip-stop nylon (excellently bright blue). The coating in conjunction with the rip-stop prevents the likely hood of both fraying and tearing.

All of these improvements have made a big difference, thus far. The biggest accomplishment has been in the pattern, which by now can hopefully be sized up and down to accommodate other shoe sizes. However that may still be a challenge, as these booties are custom made to fit a very specific winter cycling boot. Probably, the pattern will always have to be made one-off, every-time. That should be for the better, and if anything will always ensure proper fit, scrutinous care in the early phases of production, and even more intense focus during the stitching. If this pattern were simply scaled up, or scaled down, it would not have the same affect size wise. These will always be slowly processed for the added quality. As for the Brother DB2-B791-015 it does very well in this application, even for a flat-bed machine. One thing that will be altered next time is to use a single-sided presser foot for sewing around the heel, this will allow the material to take that round shape more easily and hopefully further reduce any puckering in the pattern.

*The reason for using this “X” pattern when stitching on the leather pad at the cleat area, is mainly due to the Brother being a flat-bed machine. If it were a cylinder-bed, or post-bed, then the leather pad could be stitched around the cleat hole after the entire bootie is built, because the machine could actually get all the way up there towards the toe without the added material getting in the way and restricting this possibility. However, with a flat-bed machine, the pre-planning has to be a little more creative. So while almost any pattern can be stitched between the leather pad and the inner,mid, and outer soles before the sole is stitched to the upper, you can not add stitching later (once it is a complete bootie). The only way to insure that the cleat opening is correctly positioned, is to cut it after the bootie is complete, so that it can be on the boot, where everything is aligned as it will be from then on. Instead of guessing where the hole will be, and then end up cutting it larger later, thus loosing the stitching we put around this opening earlier, we have to devise a way around this. Obviously glueing the leather pad makes a huge difference, but if we want the added benefit of some stiching, a system had to be created that would take place in the early phases of construction that would provide that extra strength whether or not parts of it are cut off at the end. Certainly there are many patterns that would work, working the stiching in back and forth across the shape, moving in a circular motions until you reach the outer dimensions, or even tacking in miscellaneous places; but for simplicity and avoiding an abundance of unnecessary stitching, the thing that made the most sense, was to stitch across the shape from corner to corner. As was discussed earlier, this will distribute the stitching evenly across the plane of the leather pad and increase the potential strength of the left over stitches by them sharing equal amounts of stress. This is a hypothesis at least, these booties being the first pair to implement the test.