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Posts Tagged ‘shoe repair’

Cobbled together: transitive verb. 1 chiefly British : to mend or patch coarsely. 2 : repair, make cobble shoes. 3 : to make or put together roughly or hastily —often used with together or up : cobble together an agreement, cobble up a temporary solution.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP

Shoes in need of some cobbling with a difference

My friend Sam absolutely loves these shoes, and she has worn them a lot. As a result, the canvas in the creases on the top of the toes had started to deteriorate, and I loved the repair challenge this posed to me. It’s not a job that I think a cobbler would ever take on, but in general I think that taking your shoes to the cobbler’s is probably one of the few acts of repair that people still do on a regular basis, and probably one of the few things I don’t do myself. It’s also one of the few mainstream shops still geared exclusively towards repairing, alongside mobile phone and computer repair shops.

Electrical Repair Agency, Newcastle

Electrical Repair Agency in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. I happened upon it on a Sunday, so it’s hard to tell whether they were still in business

There used to be many repair shops, such as the one I photographed in Newcastle when I was visiting in 2012, but it seems there are not that many left now. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that Martine Postma founded the Repair Cafe Foundation, and why I volunteer at one. As explained on their website:

We throw away vast amounts of stuff. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair. The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.

The Repair Café changes all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. […] The Repair Café teaches people to see their possessions in a new light. And, once again, to appreciate their value. The Repair Café helps change people’s mindset. This is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society.

But most of all, the Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP closeup

Repair in progress

I definitely find fixing fun, and apart from giving me an opportunity to be creative, I find that when I’m absorbed in the task at hand, my mind frequently starts wandering and I have the freedom to roam wherever my mind wants to take me. Fixing Sam’s shoes made me thinking about cobblers and the meaning of the verb “to cobble together” — as you can see in the definition from Merriam-Webster posted in the opening paragraph of this post, it is mostly used to describe mending or patching in a rough or hasty manner: the complete opposite of the way I approached this repair.

Canvas leather brogues repaired topview

Shoe repair finished. I thought a quick polish wouldn’t go amiss either

For this repair I used some linen thread supplied by Namolio and I “simply” darned the thread in. In principle this is a very simple technique. The threads of the original canvas running from side to side were mostly still intact, so I viewed those as the warp threads, and the repair thread as the weft. I wove in and out of the warp, and extended this into the still sound fabric. Once that was completed, I reinforced the weakest warp threads by darning alongside them. As the damage was right in the middle of a concave surface it was a challenge to get the needle in right where I wanted it, putting my patience to the test. I’m glad I persevered, as I’m very happy with the end result. As is Sam; I hope she’ll walk many more miles in these.

Canvas leather brogues repaired

What a beautiful pair of shoes; as you can see, I did leave some work for an actual cobbler

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I own a pair of shoes that were in dire need of a Visible Mend. They were once very smart, yet comfortable to wear, and clearly made by highly skilled shoe makers. But now they are more than love-worn, as I haven’t always taken care of them as well as I could and I neglected using a shoe horn:

I remember very well the day I bought them. It was in the autumn of 1999 and I was visiting London with a friend. I would normally not have enough money to justify buying something by Vivienne Westwood, but I knew the sales were on and so I dragged my friend to her shop on Conduit Street. I fell in love with these shoes straight-away, but when I tried them on, I could not get my feet in. With a sad face I put them back on the shelf and looked at other things. However, nothing really appealed to me and I was drawn back to the shoes. I tried them on again. And I could not get my feet into them. So with a sad face I put them back on the shelf, again. After another trawl through all the racks and shelves, clearly nothing would do but those shoes. So I tried them on one last time. The helpful shop assistant started chatting to us and said that after nothing much had happened in the shop, I was her “amusement of the day.” And as if by magic, at that moment my feet just slipped in. I laced up, paid up and walked away with the most gorgeous shoes.

But twelve years later, I realised that if I wanted to continue wearing these shoes for another few years, something had to be done. So I bought a box of macarons, and paid a visit to my friend Alex, who runs Laste Shoehop in Brighton:

As you can see, not only were the heels run down, the insoles were also in need of replacement. Note that the box of macarons was still full at this point:

We decided to make a new heel piece, which would line the inside of the heel and a flap that would fold over to cover up the ugly mess. To put this into place and keep the shoes comfortable, we also had to take out the insoles. Or socks, as they are called by shoe makers! They clearly needed replacement, too. There was some shoe maker evidence about the size of the shoes hiding under the sock of the right shoe, if you look closely:

First, we made a pattern out of paper, which had a curved seam in the middle to create the heel shaping. The macarons were proving to be very tasty indeed:

I also traced the socks, so I could use that as a pattern for the new ones. Once we were happy with the pattern pieces, I cut them out from card. In the shoe maker trade, seams are indicated on the pattern by a few cut-outs, instead of cutting the wedge out completely. This makes the pattern more sturdy, as they are usually re-used a lot. One cut-out has a squiggly side, so you can tell left and right side apart. In this picture you can also see the so-called click knife. In shoe making, cutting the leather pieces from the pattern is called clicking – and using scissors is frowned upon at all times!

Alex explained how leather stretches in only one direction (across the belly), and when you click the pattern pieces, this is taken into account, so you can give the shoes stretch where they need it, for example across the foot. Once I had clicked the pattern pieces, it was time to sew the seams. Leather is a wonderful material, as you can use a very small seam allowance, without it ripping it. Alex has an old but sturdy domestic sewing machine for this:

Here are the heel pieces just after sewing up. They somehow remind me of moths in this picture:

In order to keep the seams open, and to make sure they don’t give you blisters by rubbing against your heels, they are flattened out with a hammer. This shoe makers hammer has a special head, one side of which is made from raw hide, which won’t damage the leather when you give it a good bash:

On the inside the heel pieces will fold under the sock, so here is Alex using the naughty scissors, cutting out small wedges to make shaping easier and avoid buckled up leather under your foot. Tut tut tut Alex, scissors!

Next stage is to put contact glue on all surfaces to be glued together. The smell of it made me feel a bit giddy:

Once the glue had dried, it was time to stick the pieces in place. This was a bit tricky to do, as the two glued surfaces should not get in contact with each other where you don’t want to:

When the pieces were in place, I had to let the glue dry properly, so the finishing touch: a nice contrasting seam in bright yellow strong top stitch thread, had to be done at home. It would be difficult to sew through layers of leather with a leather needle and at the same time making sure the stitch lines would be neat and tidy, so I used a little trick. I borrowed Alex’s awl, which is also known as a bradawl (pronounced as |ˈbradɔːl|), to pierce holes through the leather. To keep the holes equidistant, I marked them on the leather with a pair of contractors:

One heel done, one left to go! If you look carefully, you will see I also made a small piece on the right shoe where another seam ripped. I’m a bit obsessed with using yellow as a contrast colour:

I made new socks from this lovely thin blue leather:

I thoroughly enjoyed visibly mending my very favourite pair of shoes. I learnt a lot from Alex about making shoes, and I got to use some great tools:

Clockwise from top left: cup of coffee, bradawl hiding under shoe, left shoe, right shoe, upholstery hammer (there was one pesky nail poking through), contractors, click knive, lighter to burn ends of nylon sewing thread, ballpoint refill with silver ink (this rubs off easily), a rubber made from a piece of crepe sole in the shape of a shoe, heel piece pattern, sock pattern, right sock, left sock.

Although using special tools was nice and made certain things go a bit easier, I truly believe it is possible to do this repair at home with tools you have just lying around; you just need some courage and patience. Thank you Alex, for a wonderful day!

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