Monday, 2 February 2004

On How to Make Patterns for Shoes

Now it might seem like a hair- brained overly ambitious scheme to most people but I just wanted to have unique and original shoes made to my design when I wanted them. My mind was full of shoes from the V&A from times gone past with fabulous heels and ribbons instead of laces, black uppers with red heels and all manner of things. So I enrolled on a day course in how to make patterns for shoes which claimed would give you insight into how this is done and told you bring along examples of what you would like to make patterns of - so you could be given pointers in how to do it.

I understand the need for precision and planning because we are after all building a three dimensional function object from materials that start off flat. Having done a degree in 3-Dimensional Design I know all about making flat things into three dimensional functioning objects - I studied metals - the ultimate in this kind of magic is the art of raising by which you carefully hammer a flat circle of metal sheet into a perfectly formed bowl shape - see below my 2nd year raising project - not finished in terms of it lacks the finishing touches of patina but certainly all the raising was done.

However the process of making a pattern was laboured out over an 8 hour day. Starting with covering a last (shoe shape that you build shoes on) with masking tape and then marking it up with the hanging points from which you can draw on the design. Then after lunch transferring this masking tape off the three-dimensional last footshape and making it lye flat on a piece of paper. Now it is sometimes the nature of these types of classes - hobbyists, bored house-fraus and pre-degree arty student types but it seems none of them had spent much time wielding the types of equipment used in the art of shoe patterns - namely masking tape and scapels. I really didn't think it needed to take this long, really. We were made to design a court shoe - those types of shoes that lady lawyers wear - very simple rounded front slip-ons cut from one piece of leather. And this is what I ended up with.

Its all very nice - interesting to find out how you make a flat pattern from a three dimensional object but ultimately a totally futile exercise. All lasts are unique - so if I did bother to decide to make the shoe up I couldn't because the pattern I have is for a last that belongs to the course owners. Shoe making is a dying art and very expensive. You must buy lasts from the last makers. If you want an off-the-shelf number they have them in the factory. If you want one made to fit your foot it'll cost you dear (and this is partly why I wanted to do this). But you will need a different last for every different height and toe shape of shoe you want to make and boots are a whole other ball-game. Then you must go to the heel makers for the heels. They are supplied to fit the last. Then you attach the heel onto the sole - go to the sole makers who will make you a knife-thingy to cut as many hundred out as you want even if you only want 2. Then you need inner-soles - to keep the shoe strong - go to the inner-sole factory - they will make you another knife-thingy. Then you can cut the leather for the outer and inner sock and hopefully find someone to sew it all together for you because finding an affordable post-sewing machine is seeming more and more unlikely.

So, by mid-afternoon my ambition had been totally crushed by the reality of it all. I will never make shoes to my own design because it is just a too-expensive and long-winded exercise. And if only they had made that clear in the first instance I would have never bothered. I still have two more days to go - the making up course. Sigh. I hate dashed ambition. Its so disheartening!

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