The making of bespoke hand-sewn leather shoes is a highly skilled art form with over 200 individual steps. What could possibly go wrong! The lasts were obtained from Spring Line (https://springline.net) and came with a card outline of the sole of the last.
Taping the last and marking key design points
Six weeks after ordering, the pair of formal ‘Almond Toe’ lasts arrived from Spring Line and came with a card pattern for the sole. I hadn’t realised how much longer in the toe the formal style lasts were, so I might come to regret not ordering a shorter more rounded design which would probably prove more versatile
The first task was to tape one of the lasts so that key guide points and the upper shoe design could be drawn onto the last. The tape was laid longitudinally, overlapping by 50% on the front section of the last and more vertically at the rear.
The excess tape underneath needs to be removed to get a sharp line to the bottom edge of the pattern once it has been removed from the last.
The best method was to run a rasp or fine file from the outside inwards. This gives a sharp line for the feather edge.
The front and heal centre lines need to be drawn on the lasts. Due to the complex curves, it is much easier to draw a straight line on a flat piece of masking tape. Mark the centre points at the toe and top of the last and apply the masking tape to join the two points. Repeating for the heal.
Front centre line tape applied
Rear centre line marked
One of the key measurements is the Standard Last Length (SSL) – the distance between the heal and toe centre points. This is used to calculate the position of primary design points. For this last the SLL = 303mm. Although it is an important measurement, there is still some scope for discretion as the toe shape can influence the SLL length. For example, for a given shoe size, the SLL for an almond toe like this last is longer than a rounded toe. For my calculations I’m going to use an SLL = 300mm
The Counter Point (CP) is 1/5 of SLL = 60mm up from the heal seat and the Back Point (BP) 10mm above the CP are marked on the heal centre line
There are two methods for identifying the Vamp Point (VP). The mathematical method is the point on the front centre line which is 3/4 of the SLL measurement from the Counter Point (CP) on the heal. In this case 3/4 of 300mm = 225mm. The other method, for bespoke shoe making, is to run a tape from the widest point of the outside feather edge to the widest point on the inside feather edge. Where the tape crosses the centre line is the Vamp Point.
For the design I’ll be using the Vamp Point found by the ‘bespoke’ method, marked VP2. This is 12mm higher than the VP using the mathematical approach. A number of lines are drawn on the last to aid the design process. Firstly two perpendicular lines are drawn: i) from the Vamp Point down to both the outside and inside feather edges and ii) parallel to this from the IP point to the feather edges. Then the Mid Points (M) are marked on the first line (half way from the VP to the feather edge). A line is drawn from the heal BP to M using a tape measure as a guide for the pencil. Finally, if a toe-cap is desired, a perpendicular line is drawn at a point 2/3rd of the toe to VP2. Note: the toe cap line needs to start curving forward as it drops of edges otherwise, due to the curvature of the last, it will look as thought it is actually slanting backwards!
The inside view of the mid-point M and the line from the BP to M drawn.
The final two points are the Under Ankle (U), 1/4 of SLL = 75mm from the heal seat along the outside feather edge and the Ankle (A), 1/5 of SLL = 60mm up from the Under Ankle point. Now the Vamp and quarter lines can start to be drawn. Drawing the design onto the last
The first design feature to add is the Vamp curve. For this, the mid-points from VP2 to the two M points were marked and the mid-points of the M to IP perpendicular line. Then curves drawn between these mid-points as shown above.
I wanted an elongate vamp as I plan to have a brogue style shoe with a curved toe-cap, so marked the point on the feather line 30mm behind the perpendicular IP line. The vamp line was drawn up from this point to curve forward to meet the previously drawn curve
This was repeated on the outside of the shoe. However I felt this made the vamp a bit slab-like so adjusted the vamp curve to drop 2-3mm below the BP-M line.
The inside vamp line should just be visible when looking from above. So it’s best not to drop the inside vamp line too much.
Next was to add the curved toe-cap line as I’d decided not to go with the straight toe-cap line already drawn. Points were marked 20mm either side of the centre line on the straight toe-cap line and another point 10mm up from where the toe-cap line intersects the centre line. These would be used to form the classic outline of a full brogue winged toe-cap. The ends of the toe-cap meeting the feather line 10mm forward from the perpendicular IP line.
The inside toe-cap profile also ending 10mm forward of the perpendicular IP line.
The heal curve was drawn on, starting on the feather edge 25mm back from the edge of the vamp and ending 10mm from the BP point.
Similarly the inside heal curve drawn using the same start and end points.
It was helpful to view both sides of the heal curve from the rear to adjust them until they looked balanced.Th
The outside topline starts to curve upwards fro mthe Ankle point (A) to intersect the perpendicular IP line 12mm from the centre line and then curve down with a 12mm radius to meet the equivalent line on the inside of the shoe.
A similar topline on the inside of the shoe
I chose a lacing line 12mm from the centre line – 10mm is also common. The top and bottom eyelets also being 12mm from the two perpendicular lines. Measuring the distance between the top & bottom eyelets enable the spacign between the 5 eyelet to be calculated. I opted for a ’swan neck’ lacing line where the bottom two eyelets are 2mm & 4mm out further out.
A desIgn feature I’d seen on several shoes was to have a separate pattern piece for the eyelet area which then runs all the way along the topline to the heal. So this was marked in case I decided to go down that route.
The completed design on the last. Although I’m still debating whether to adjust the centre vamp line to be more curved. I’ll sleep on that one!
In the end I decided to make the centre section of the vamp more rounded as well as draw on some broguing to get a better feel of the final look. I think I’ll make the strip along the topline narrower once I get to the pattern making.