Java: Construction

I’ve neither made nor even owned a pair of suede shoes before. People tell me they’re great, so I figured I should make a pair for myself.

I reused the pattern design made for Sherlock, and removed the broguing on everything but the toe cap. For reference, this is the Sherlock design with the broguing still there:

The leather used for uppers is 5 oz reverse bull suede in dark brown. It’s quite thick and sturdy.

I’m going to focus a bit more on the later parts of the process for this pair, so allow me to skip ahead a bit. Here’s Java while prelasted:

Here the toe puff, pre-molded heel stiffener and side stiffeners are attached before lasting the upper. Lasting the lining separately allows me to do this:

When welting, I dye some welting leather to the desired color in advance and let it set for a day or so. Then I soak it in warm water and get to it.

I draw a line with an ink pen around the edge of the shoe, marking where I want the seam to go. Then I penetrate the layers of leather with the welting awl, going from the outside of the welt and in. The conventional method is of course to go from the inside of the holdfast and out, but I find I have more control this way – and it gets the job done.

I have not pre-made any holes in the J&FJ Baker insoles (7-9 iron buffed insole shoulder), but plow them up as I go along.

I use waxed polycord from the Maine Thread Company, and curved upholstery needles to sew – again going from the outside and in.

A couple of times per shoe, it may give me grief to find my way back with the needle. If that happens, there are a few tricks one might apply. One is to dip the needle point in wax. Another is to remove the thread, push the needle in from the outside but with the eye first (possibly aided by needle nosed pliers), and thread the needle while it’s sat halfway through. A third is to go back with the awl and make the hole bigger.

With or without trickery, I find my way back with the needle and guide it through.

I loop the thread on each stitch, as to make a little knot on each one. (I do this in a quick motion while the loop is much bigger – this is just for reference:)

I stretch the welt out when sewing the sides, while compressing the welt at the toe. Once completed, I re-moisten the welt with warm water and hammer it all around.

I then cut away the excess upper and lining separately. Here’s a good look at the thickness of this particularly sturdy suede:

With the excess removed, I re-insert the strip of insole that was cut away while making the holdfast. This makes for a nice and flat surface, enabling the use of tar felt as footbed filler.

A view from the side of the welted shoe:

With shanks inserted and the footbeds filled, I cement on the leather outsoles when the time is ripe. I always like to inspect the curvature of the outsole.

Using the same needles as when welting, and the same brand of polycord but in a thinner size (0,035″ this time), I stitch the outsoles up. It’s very important to mark with a scratch awl where the stitches will go before beginning to stitch.

I find that floorlaying tape works well to protect the upper – even if the upper is suede. (It’s of course important to test if it works on piece of scrap leather first.)

With the heels stacked, I carve them into shape with a knife, taking off as much excess as I can.

With a shoemakers rasp, I take out the roughest of the roughness left by the knife.

Then follows a long finishing process involving numerous steps of glassing and sanding, glassing and sanding (etc). Before getting started with this (and a couple of times along the way), I moisten the edges with warm water.

I use an edge trimmer to tidy up the sides:

And a smaller sized trimmer around the heel:

Then I continue to sand, and sand, and sand some more.

I will return at another time to document the finishing process in more detail. In the meantime…

Continue to the summary of the finished shoes »

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