Saturday, August 27, 2016

Derby Shoes

I made a pair of derby shoes! I had another 2 pairs of shoes that I was working on in my head deciding which one to make first when I spotted this blue, metallic, laser cut leather and fell in LOVE. So naturally that bumped itself to the top of the queue and I had to make shoes with this leather IMMEDIATELY.

I'm a little off script from my classes on as she offers an Oxford shoes class not a Derby class. I just couldn't bring myself to love Oxfords even though it would have been easier to follow her instructions than make up some of the pattern making and construction steps. Also I'm pretty sure I've been talking about making Oxfords this whole process when really I've been making Derby's. I've always used these terms interchangeably and I now understand they mean something different.

I'm kicking this off with a whole bunch of progress pics and then a bit of a discussion on what went right and what I learnt from these shoes. I could write out all the steps but I'd be sick of repeating the words gluing, skiving, hand stitching (swearing, bleeding...) etc.

Pattern pieces cut out for upper, feature leather and lining.

Glued, skived and hand stitched together.

More glueing before more hand stitching.

Faintly resembling a shoe.

Lasting the leather with nails all over the joint.

Blurry photo, whoops. This is the bottom of the shoes after sanding them all down flat ready for soles.

Sole and heel pieces cut out and ready to wrangle into place.

Soles attached, glued and hammered into place/shape. Starting to shape the heel to make it perfectly level.


I have to say I'm incredibly proud of these shoes! Since taking classes on shoemaking I've seen a huge jump in what I can create but now that I'm getting the hang of some of the skills involved they're starting to come together a little easier. Each part of the process comes with a set of skills and when you first start you're trying to learn them all and be good at them all at the same time. It's nice to repeat each step on each new pair of shoes and feel your knowledge and experience go a little bit deeper each time.

The aim in making these was to have a dressy pair of closed shoes that conversely had a bit of a relaxed feel to them when worn. I mentioned when I made my Ballet Flats that I had hit upon the right amount of structure for my shoes (as compared to the ones I was trying to make pre-shoemaking classes) and while that hasn't changed I wanted to experiment with what my shoes could feel like without a toe puff and heel counter to give it shape and structure. The safest bet for these shoes was to make them from a pretty thick and strong leather to start with so that would create all the structure and shaping I'd need without needing to add to it. As chance would have it this thickness of leather was perfect for what I was going for. They feel a tiny bit lighter and definitely more relaxed than my ballet flats after trying them on. I'm keen to feel how they age and stretch as they get worn.

So I got the leather weight spot on. That was already half the battle. I don't feel like I quite did the right thing wrapping this feature leather around the black leather because it's too thick and sticks out too much at the sides for my liking. But had I thought about my process before getting excited and jumping in I could have skived the black leather pieces down nicely and made it sit closer together on the overlap. It's definitely not the end of the world and if you look at my shoes you'll probably laugh at how much I even care about that detail but at least there's room for improvement.

I feel like I'm getting better at getting a consistent result across the toe. It's one of the scariest parts in shoemaking for me because if they don't sit nice and flush around the toe people will notice every lump and bump. I think this one comes down to practise as well as really understanding how to use my lasting pincers better each time I last.

I'm a bit bummed about the hand stitching on them though. When I was at Birsdall Leather I found some thick waxed thread which looked perfect for hand stitching shoes. I thought it might give the shoes a bit of a different look to a thinner thread. Turns out I hated how thick it was as soon as I started working with it. It's hidden really well because the feature leather is quite busy so it's far from a disaster but I'll know for next time that a thinner thread is actually my preference.

Also we need to talk about that heel. When I made my ballet flats I was a bit overwhelmed learning all of the different skills and just getting through the sheer amount of steps to get from start to finish. I got shoe fatigue (if that's a thing) so I ended up just gluing the sole on and gluing a heel straight over  the top which was cheating. This time I really took the time to rewatch her lessons and set an entire day aside just to do the soles and heels. And it REALLY paid off. My Dremel got the workout of it's life and I was covered head to toe in leather dust but I got that heel dead level. I really think this is the most impressive part of the shoe this time. I mean that feature leather is awesome and all but having a handmade shoe with a heel that looks smooth and level really takes this pair up a notch compared to my last ones.

When you look up close the heel is still quite lumpy and bumpy which comes down to adding a bit more width and length to my heel pieces so I can be sure to sand it off to the same level. I think it would also help if I put a bit of dye on the sides (and maybe the whole sole?) this would make the sole and heel look uniform which could definitely elevate the sole and heel a bit more. I may look into that for my next pair to see how it turns out.

All in all though I'm absolutely stoked to have ended up with something that looked how it did in my head prior to starting. It's not easy to learn a new hobby and see so obviously the gap between your vision and your skill set. I'm closing that gap ever so slowly and having a big vision to work towards will only mean greater looking shoes in the future.

If anybody wants me I'll be walking about staring down at my new shoes hoping not to bump into anything!

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