We were warned that this is the week when our boot making gets serious. We used techniques that would be difficult or impossible outside a workshop.
This week we learned what cobbling is!
A cobbler is someone that repairs shoes. A cordwainer makes the shoe from scratch, as we are doing. The process includes
- Drafting and making a pattern
- Construction of the upper portion by machine (or hand) sewing
- Lating (stretching the leather over the shoe last)
- Cobbling it with cobbling tacks
- Adding the outer sole
This week we did the lasting and the cobbling. With a new set of tools. The red pliers really come into their own as the leather is firmly stretched over the plastic shoe last (the equivalent of a dressmakers dummy). This gives a nice smooth line to the shoe and really makes it look professional. The leather has some stretch and plasticity to it, which is (for me) the beauty of the process.
I am not saying it was easy! It was hard work. The pliers are used as a lever to create the tension. Then you have to grab the leather with your thumbs, having smoothed out the upper. Once you have got the leather in the right position a tack is put in, using the flat, hammer side of the pliers. This holds the leathers in the correct position. Later they are glued and cobbled. The hammer is used for flattening the leather at the point when everything is done.
Apart from our leather uppers and the pig skin lining we now add two other materials; the insole and the stiffening materials. The insole is made of a flexible, woody type material into which the nails are driven. And the stiffener, which is in some ways similar to the interfacings we use in dressmaking, covers the back of the shoe (left) and the toe area (right). As you can easily imagine, and probably are aware of on your own shoes, these two pieces of material give structure and shape to your shoes and boots and stop them collapsing in. After all two layers of leather are still fairly floppy.
Let’s see how the stiffening material is applied. The back, heel piece is pushed up inside the two leather layers at the back of the shoe and the instructor used an interesting machine to achieve the task while we watched. First the shoe is shaped against a hot metal piece – the stiffening which includes plastics softens considerably and allows it to be shaped around a metal last. Then it is put into a second machine where another last is very cold (and had a slight frosting of ice on it) to quickly cool the stiffening and fix the heel shape.
After the heel has been shaped we moved on to the toe. The lining is lasted, pulled over the last tightly, and shaped by hand, and tacked underneath, before being glued. The toe shaper is heated up and once it becomes a little floppy (and pretty warm to the touch) we shaped it over the toe, smoothing and pulling it to fit nicely and stick down. This process was fairly similar to some of the processes we use in tailoring – such as working fullness in, easing, using the bias, shaping a curved area such as a shoulder. It came fairly easily to me. Then a layer of glue is applied over the toe area and the upper layer of leather is brought down over it. Again we went back to lasting the shoe – getting the leather nice and smooth and fully pulled over the last.
So far so good. Having glued them again we left them to dry over the next seven days. Next week we may have soles on our shoes. And heels!