Disclaimer: The contents of this post describe my very first attempt at shoemaking. Do not attempt this at home before consulting a professional.
After I decided to start this project on the 14th of september, I spent a few days researching and buying necessary (and some unnecessary) tools and materials. Getting the required stuff is after all the first thing one needs to do – and some of it can be quite hard to source. Some items I could find easily in my own city, but most of them were ordered online from various parts of the world – in my case Sweden, the UK, the US, Germany and Italy. See my List of materials for a guide to what’s needed, more complete than this post.
The research has in large parts consisted of jumping through Andrew Wrigley’s video series, to get a general intellectual idea of what I’m about to do from beginning to end. The knowledge and content is very well organized and hard to come by from other sources. Since it’s a video series, there’s no real ‘overview’ – the ability to search for just the bit needed is a gap I’m hoping to fill at least a little with this blog. There are still parts of the process that I haven’t quite figured out, of course, but I do feel that this should not be an impossible endeavor. The general notion of making a shoe ‘from scratch’ feels like a daunting task (though I won’t tan the leather or kill the calf myself). Yet, each individual step in itself strikes me as a solvable problem – the key being ‘solvable’.
After seven days since ‘the decision’, I have, or have incoming in the post, the vast majority of materials and stuff I need to set up shop. (Alas, most of it is still in the post at the time of writing.) I’ve previously purchased a vintage pair of lasts off ebay to get started, and on this day I ordered new lasts (ref 977, size UK 10F) from Spring Line – the only manufacturer of lasts left in Northampton and the whole of UK. Alas, it will be about a month until I have them in hand after production and shipping.
I also ordered italian leather: aniline black baby calf skins (for uppers), veg tanned shoulder leather (for toe puff and heel counter) and calf lining leather (for lining). Instead of buying thick leather for outsoles, I decided to go for JR Rendenbach soles and JR 1/4 rubber heels that are coming in the post.
After I placed my first leather order with Buyleatheronline, I’ve reconsidered a bit. Now I figure that the 0,5 mm baby calf skin is probably way too thin to make a good shoe. I’ve hence made an additional order of 1st grade veg tanned calf sides, 1,6 mm thick (4 oz?), that I will color myself using Fiebling’s leather dye and use for uppers. (I may make a prototype pair out of the baby calf, though.) My main reason for buying leather from buyleatheronline is that they have a very handy website. I cannot testify to the quality of the leather (yet), and am missing vegetable tanned lining leathers in their selection.
Insoles is still a ‘problem’ – I’m considering using 1-2 layers of shoulder (2 mm per layer) in lack of a thicker leather atm. (Edit: this was a big mistake). For heels, I’ll either use a multitude of shoulder layers (thinking would be kind of cool with that many thin layers), or pre-built heel blocks from Leather & Grindery that are incoming. For future reference, maybe a thicker, 3 mm shoulder leather would be good for insoles and heels, but the price scared me off. (These things sure add up.)
Searching for different leather suppliers has left me weary, and I suspect most of them don’t do search engine optimization… For my next leather order, I’m considering A&A Crack & Sons, partly (mainly?) because they stock brand tanneries like D’annonay, Horween and Weinheimer. Time will tell what’s next, but for now I have incoming leather to make a whole heap of shoes.