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Shoe Architecture 101: Part II – Shoe Construction

Part II: Shoe Construction

In the first instalment of this series, which you can find here, I showed you the parts that make up your shoe and talked a little bit about broguing.  Today we’re going to talk about how those parts are put together.

There are a multitude of manufacturing processes used to make shoes, but I’m going to focus on the main ones – and even some of these are slightly more at the obscure end of the market.  That being said, what sort of men would we really be if we couldn’t tell a Norwegian Welt from a Blake Stitch. I mean, honestly.

Shoe Architecture 101 - Shoe ConstructionOnce again with the help of my doodles, this week inspired by Goodwin Smith’s Jack Two Tone Tan brogues, I’ll take you through how shoes go from cuts of leather to fantabulous foot furniture.

Construction Method 1 | Cementing

Shoe Architecture 101: Shoe Construction - CementingCheap and dirty, this is the easiest and least labour-intensive method of manufacturing shoes.  It’s also the least hard-wearing.  Over time, you’ll find that the leather upper will begin to separate from the sole, usually at the interface around the ball of your foot where the shoe flexes the most. They’re also not particularly good at keeping water out, either, and you will invariably end up with wet feet, or worse, water marks up on the leather itself as it soaks up.

Shoes made this way have their uppers stretched around and under the last (the ‘mould’ for the shoe).  The material under the last is then glued to the top of the sole.

Construction Method 2 | Blake StitchShoe Architecture 101: Shoe Construction - Blake Stitch

With the advent of sewing machines, the Blake stitch became possible.  It’s not possible to do by hand, as it requires stitches to be made on the inside of the shoe.  The Blake stitch effectively follows exactly the same process as cementing, but fixes the upper to the sole with a stitch.

The benefit of this is that it is far harder-wearing, but retains the flexibility and suppleness of shoes made using the less favourable cementing method.

They’re still not desperately good at keeping water out, however.  You’ll tend to find a lot of Italian shoes are manufactured using this method, and with the weather in Italy being far less rainy that here in Blighty, the water resistance of the shoe is less of an issue.

Construction Method 3 | Goodyear WeltShoe Architecture 101: Shoe Construction - Goodyear Welt

This is one of the most labour-intensive ways of manufacturing a shoe, and requires skilled cobblers to do so.  The shoe is built in two parts, first a welt is fixed to the upper.  The welt and upper are then stitched to the underside of the insole.  Once this is completed, the welt/upper/insole assembly is then stitched to the sole.

Because it is so labour intensive, you will only tend to find Goodyear Welts on shoes at the more expensive end of the spectrum (like my Jeffery-West’s).  Also, because of the addition of the welt around the outer edge of the shoe, they will have a less slim-line appearance than Blake stitched shoes.

They’re very hard wearing, easy to re-sole and good at keeping water out.  A good pair of these will last you a lifetime, provided you look after them.

Construction Method 4 | NorwegianShoe Architecture 101: Shoe Construction - Norwegian

More of a variation on the Goodyear Welt than anything else, the Norwegian uses a larger welt and where in a Goodyear the stitch between upper, welt and insole is hidden on the underside of the shoe, the Norwegian stitches through the outside through (see image).

The other major difference is that rather than wrapping the upper under the insole, the upper is sandwiched between the welt and the sole.  The result is a shoe that is even more impervious to water than a Goodyear.  Shoes made in this way have quite a distinctive look about them, as they effectively have two rows of stitching on the outside.

Despite the name, this method too is favoured by the Italians.

And that’s it for this instalment on shoe contruction. I’ve now shown you the components that make up your shoe, and how it’s all put together.  Next time I’m going to explain the different ‘families’ of shoes, and explain what the difference is between Derby’s, Gibson’s and Monk Straps… to name a few.

As always, would love your comments and feedback.  If you want to know any more, I can always extend the series!

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