The last is one of the most essential tools in shoe making. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the hardest to find. If you don’t have a lot of money or luck or the patience and skill to make your own, getting a pair of lasts in the right size and style is highly unlikely.
So let’s change that. I have more lasts than I can possibly use. I hang on to them for both sentimental and practical reasons, so I’m not interested in selling them. However, I don’t want to see them go unused. There are so many budding shoemakers out there who could put them to loving good use. So, inspired by Oakland’s Tool Lending Library, I’m going to start my own little library. This one will lend lasts.
I’m still working out the details, but here are the basic rules.Take care of the lasts. Don’t do anything to the last that can’t be undone. You can add cork to it, but you can’t remove any of the original material. If it’d too big, get a smaller size. These are my babies after all. Look after them. Return them on time. I know shoemaking takes time, but I can’t let you hog the lasts. Make sure to return the last within 6 weeks. I’ll give you a due date when you check it out. Share your work. This is a community. Let others benefit from what you’ve created. Also, I’m curious. If I’m going to lend you my lasts I should at least be able to see what you created with them. Seems fair, right? Pay for your own postage. I’m not looking to make money (hence, a library) but I also don’t want to lose money doing this. So you’ve got to pay for the postage both ways. (probably about $10-15) Expect things to change. I’m just prototyping this idea. I’m sure there are plenty of complicating factors which I can’t anticipate at this moment, so expect things to change.
How do I sign up?
For now, email me. TOM [ at ] REDCOVERSTUDIOS [ dot ] COM. I’ll make sure you’re not a robot or sketchy and we’ll go from there.
How do I find what lasts you have?
Most of my lasts are up on my Flickr site. Currently, I don’t have a sophisticated system for searching, but I have tagged most of the lasts by size and gender. When you find a last you like, not the image title and send that to me. I’m also in the process of cataloging the rest of my lasts, so there’s more to come.
Happy shoe making!
Skiving is a way of gradually thinning out the leather in order to create a smooth seam when you fold it over. If you are used to sewing cloth, this may be a surprise to you (I know it was for me). The illustration below should give you a sense of why you need to skive. Unlike a clothing hem, the edges of shoes will cause problems (given the snug nature of the fit). Throw in the fact that leather is almost always thicker than cloth, and you’ve got a recipe for blisters. So, skiving comes to the rescue.
Skiving is one of those skills shoe making skills that takes a long time to master. I still screw up all the time.
The good news is that the practice can be therapeutic. Get a piece of scrap leather, a sharp knife and go for it.
I’ve used the traditional style skiving knife as well as well as the “safety knife” (both demonstrated below.)
The safety knife is easier to keep sharp because it has replaceable blades, but it’s easy to overcut, and you end up with a lot of useless blades.
With a traditional knife
With a safety knife
My partner and I are going to be moving soon. Just across the bay, but as I’m sure you know, any move is a hassle. So I’m taking the opportunity to get rid of anything that doesn’t get plenty of use. Along those lines, I thought it was time to part with a mannequin I used during graduate school to model my boots.
I’d love it to go to a good home where someone can use it to model shoes or skirts. (please don’t make it into a lamp!) So, if you are in the Bay Area and can pick it up, let me know. tom [at] redcoverstudios [dot] com.
About the mannequin:
Very lifelike. The legs have lots of realistic detail.
The feet are decent. Not great. Very small feet, probably a size 5 (but I put women’s size 9 on them)
Comes with a sturdy glass base plate.
Adjustable height (range is about 2-5 inches)
Lasts are the DNA of the shoe. You can do all sorts of things to the skin, and you can dress it up however you want, but noting will have more of an impact on your shoe design than the last. So if you want to make your own, it’s great to have guidance. Believe me, I’ve tried doing it on my own and it’s a schlog. But you may have better luck.
I recently heard about the Lastmaking School up in Snohomish, WA. If you are willing to take a trip to a beautiful part of the country, they have a few classes (starting at $595) from Beginning Lastmaking to Advanced, and some other interesting offerings. They have a full list of classes here.
Having struggled so mightily with last making myself, I can certainly see the value in getting taught by folks who seem to know what they are doing.
If anyone has had experience taking a class with them, let me know.
I’ve been busy.
I’ve continued with the experiment for this fanned, venitian, idea.
First of all my foot spins out of this particular model. It doesn’t have anything to do with the fanning, but I’m in the process of experimenting with several other methods to keep the mid-foot in place. And to do so without ruining the effect you get from this.
Also, this particular design is really all about skiving. Without it you’re stuck with a big chunk of leather between the toes. Not good.
Other things I’ve noted. This design casts some interested shadowns on the foot. It’s almost like a veil.
It’s been really helpful for me to be working on several projects at once. Particularly if there’s any glue up involved. It allows you to do something while you are waiting for it to dry. While I’m playing with these, I’m also working on a pair of mules. They are a total wreck, but the sole might yeild something interesting one day.
A few months ago I was fortunate to inherit many of the materials and supplies of Gaza Bowen, a renown shoemaker, teacher, artist and friend. In Gaza’s spirit of teaching, I would like to pass on some of her knowledge to the shoe making community. I came across some of her source lists while I was sorting through some older shoemaking materials. It seemed only natural to pass that on.
This is an incomplete list, but one which I hope will serve as a starting point for amateur shoe makers. Gaza’s understanding of shoes was so deep that I’m sure there are many things which she simply knew intuitively. Whenever possible, I’ll try to clarify her references and offer a little more of an explanation of materials and sources.
I also invite all of you to send me additional sources and resources so that we can continue to spread knowledge about this ancient craft. I should also note that although I’ve used some of these suppliers, there are many that I have not. If you find any of these resources to have dried up, or moved, please let me know.
Kaufman [From Gaza’s notes, not confirmed]
346 Lafayette St.
New York, NY 10012 212-777-1700
fax 212-777-1747 (Bondtex insole material)
J. A. Dawkins
(custom/ expensive) Dalhart Custom Boots
Dalhart, TX 79022
Some Specific Used Plastic Shoe Lasts $15/pr.
Thornapple River Boot Shop
(will mail them, let you make a pair and see if you want them before you buy!)
21 River St.
Fort Plain, NY 13339-1148
3430 N 3500 VV. Vernal, UT 84078
Simple Shoe Making Co.
I haven’t used this site, but they seem to have some lasts.
Leather and Soling materials
O. Baltor & Sons
265 East Harris Ave.
South San Francisco, CA
custom shoe trade; rep for Gotz tools
17th & Folsom San Francisco, CA
(shoe supplies in Oakland at: 510-347-1080)
Charles L. Hardtke, Inc.
11040 Argal Court
El Paso, TX 79935 915-590-0088
(black pig lining & beautiful shoe kangaroo, etc)
Mid-Continent Leather Sales
Tulsa, OK 74159
(also Osborn Tools)
Stevenson Paxton Sales
12 E. Pamaron Way
Ignacio, CA 94949 800-648-1622
pig lining, etc.
Texas Wholesale Leather
2017 A White Settlement Road
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Lyn-Flex West, Inc (New addition!)
405 Red Oak Road
P.O. Box 570
Owensville, MO 65066-0570
Books and Publications
Harness Shop News
Newsletter with classifieds for shoe/bootmaking supplies
The Pattern Cutter’s Handbook
Accrington and Rosendale
Rawtenstall Lancashire BB4 6RA
(available from Shoe Trades)
Available at Amazon (often out of print)
Review: This is a great book with lots of technical knowledge. It’s not always the easiest to understand but it covers how to make patterns for several types of shoes. Highly recommended, but requires some commitment.
Handmade Shoes for Men
László Vass and Magda Molnár
Available at Amazon
Review: This book is absolutely amazing. The photographs are incredible. The detail and craftsmanship is unreal. I must have pored over these pages hundreds of times. The only downside to this book is that it can be intimidating. It’s not so much a book about how to make shoes as much as it is about how a master makes shoes. There’s plenty to learn from it, but they tend to make the process look much easier than I found it.
Crafting Handmade Shoes
Available at Amazon
Review: This was the first book I got when I started making shoes. It’s very approachable and a great starter if you’re not sure that you’ll want to commit to more serious shoe making. This book shows you how to make simple shoes with very basic tools. The downside is that this book only covers the outstitched method. (and some of the shoes in here are a bit goofy. Although I’m sure folks could say the same about mine).
Make Your Own Shoes
Mary Wales Loomis
Available at Amazon
Review: This is a pretty good starter book. The illustration and photographs are very dated, but it does have quite a bit of good, basic information in it. This book only shows how to make women’s slip ons, (flats and heels). That said, some of the basics on simple methods for lastmaking could be worth it even if you want to make other styles of shoes.
Western bootmaking: An American tradition
(fairly hard to find)
Review: Very thorough. Lots of text, not a ton of illustration. The illustration that is there is clear. I’d put this in more of the advanced category.
Last Designing and Making Manual
Available at Walrus Shoes
Review: Great resource (the only one I’ve found) for making lasts. It’s far more detailed than Mary Loomis’ method and will walk you through the process of making a last that is durable. The accompanying DVD is also useful. That said, this process is still quite challenging. I’m not great at following instructions, so I often had to go through the process a couple of times to understand exactly what I should be doing. All in all, well worth the money. There’s plenty of great information in here.
Honourable Cordwainers Company
c/o Al Saguto
111 Indian Summer Lane
Williamsburg, VA 23185
The Crispin Colloquy
excellent website/message board for handmade shoe questions; meeting place for custom boot and shoe makers.
vent fan: Grainger Industrial Supply online: grainger.com
bench belt sander of choice:
Delta model #31 460 (4″ belt / 6″ disc)
Sewing Machine Info
repair books for old machines:
Southeast Sewing Products
2581 Piedmont Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30324
Tools and Supplies
Shoe Repair/Hardware Store
This is one of the most overlooked places to get shoe supplies. And these folks are always good to know if you have a procedure that requires extensive machinery.
Maine Thread Company
550 Lisbon Street
P.O. Box 139
Lewiston, ME 04240
sales [AT] MaineThread [DOT] com
Nice online store.
APEX Foot Health Industries
Inc. 330 Phillips Avenue
South Hackensack, NJ 07606
O.Baltor & Sons (Dave)
265 East Harris Ave.
San Francisco, CA
custom shoe trade; rep for Gotz tools
(German tools) catalog
for local supplier call 800-2-GET-SHU
C.S. Pierce Companies
135 Oak Hill Way
PO Box 3750
Brockton, MA 02404-3750
S & B Sales
6610 Claybourne Ave #11
Search for shoemaking on YouTube. I was surprised by how much of the process shoe makers have posted. There was so much more there than even just a few years ago.
As with YouTube, I’ve seen so many great examples of different types of projects on Flickr. Search for shoemaking and you’ll see some great stuff.
If I post something related to shoe making I’ll add the hashtag #shoemaking. I encourage you to do the same. It’s a great way to keep the community going strong.
This is great. Wow, this guy really knows his stuff and has done a great job of documenting the process. I know I’m petty and jealous, but I hate him a little for being so good. http://handmadeshoes.wordpress.com/
After a very long break from shoe making (work deadlines, vacation, holidays) I was back at it this morning.
Online Source List for Shoes. (It’s coming)
Last summer I inherited all of the shoe making materials from my former teacher, Gaza Bowen. Gaza passed away in the summer of 2005. As I was going through her materials, I came across some wonderful source lists that I’ve never thought to put online. I’m in the process of formatting that right now. Gaza was such a wonderful person and so steeped in the handmade shoe community. I hope some of her intense spirit will live on through folks who make their own shoes. I also hope that by making the sourcing more accessible, more folks will be able to get into it. Until it’s published, I’m happy to send you an unformatted version.
I’d love your feedback here. After some prompting from Carissa at Snowflyzone I decided that I’m going to start a book on shoe making. My hunch is that Chronicle Books would be a great publisher for it. I’m working on the first chapter now which will be about creating a pair of mules. (a term, that I’ve always hated. My challenge, then, will be to create a really cool looking pair.) At any rate, I’d love to know what sorts of things you all would like to see in a book about shoe making.
Building a functional version. Flip Flop
I’m also working on the functional version of the venentian flip flop (needs a better name). The workshop’s a bit busy.
Prototyping is such a discipline. I was so tempted to use leather to try this out. Paper has similar stiffness so it did the trick. When in doubt, don’t buy/make anything.
There might be something here, but since I’m not that steeped in the fashion world, I’m sure this could have been done before. If anyone knows of something similar, please let me know. The idea is that the initial strap holds the foot and the rest are there as decoration. I’m pleased with the architectural aspects of it and I think there could be some interesting things that happen with the light on the different layers. The underside of the leather also has tons of possibility. I’m also curious how it will interact with the shape of the foot. This is going to yield some unusual lines.
How comfortable will it be? How will it perform in action? Will it be playful? Annoying?
The paper was great. Just pinned it to the EVA blank. No glue, no waiting, infinitely modifiable. I need that.
I’m not really sure what I’m doing here. Just playing around trying to find something that is worth pursuing in more detail. Trying to come up up with something new is hard.
I overslept this morning. Woke up at 7:50am but I think I needed it. One of the benefits of working at home is that I was still able to get an hour of shoe making in before I had to start working at 9am.
Another benefit of working at home is that you can wear your prototypes around the house. For the past few days I’ve been wearing the “strut” boot around. And honestly, I think I might be tired of it. Just to see how it felt, I covered it with linen this morning and although there’s some interesting things happening with the ribbing, it just doesn’t have enough visual interest yet.
So I put it aside and started working on anohter concept inspired by the work of Marloes ten Bhömer that I posted yesterday. Seeing your ideas for what they are can often be frustrating. I find that I’m often in a worse mood when my shoe making isn’t going well. But that’s all the more reason that I find the building necessary. I’ve been thinking about a “loose boot” concept for a while now. Maybe almost a year. But it’s just been thinking and drawing. It’s counter intuitive, but getting the thing out in the real world makes it so much easier to let go. So I have. For now.
I’m always thrilled to see folks pushing the boundaries for footwear. Marloes ten Bhömer is doing just that. The shoes are beautiful. I’m such a sucker for simple lines in footwear. I also love the rebelliousness of using vegetable tanned soling leather as the upper as well. The carbon fiber seems a bit of stretch, but I’m grateful for the attempt.