Thoughts on cobbling

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Thoughts on cobbling

Postby the_power on Sun Nov 08, 2009 7:35 pm

I've had mixed results with shoe-making. I've no source of lasts (wooden foot moulds), and I'm not good enough at woodcarving to make one for my feet. So, I've to accept that I'll work with 2D templates that roughly suit my feet, and over time, the leather will stretch and pull, and the shoes will sag a little. If you use a 'last', you can wet & stretch the leather before you actually start sewing.

First pair of shoes I made were from soft brown chrome-dyed leather (unauthentic, but looked the part). Simple viking-style turn-shoes. The leather was so soft that turning it was really easy, and the sole leather was really soft too. They got soaked wet the first weekend that I used them, and stretched ridiculously. I cut all the stitching, trimmed the upper leather so it fit again, and took them to the new gig. Same thing happened. This time, I was sure they wouldn't stretch again, so nailed on two more outsoles (to resist the gravel in Ferrycarraig). Yay, I got to make them three times. That said, nine years later, I still wear them. Wow. That said, it turns out veneer tacks are a dumb thing to nail into shoes.

Next pair were 15thC boots, for Tewksbury 2001. I learned many lessons from these, like "use heavy upper leather, maybe 2.2mm or so", and "use proper hard leather from day one", and "Use big wide hob-nails, not tacks". Turned out that heavy leather was a pain in the ass to turn, so I ripped out the stitching, got a new sole, and rather than using my 4-prong 'pricker' to swiftly put holes in leather, I used it to gentle mark the leather, then made up a curved awl that allowed me to put diagonal holes in the leather. As the thread now came out at the corner of the edge and shiny side of the leather, it was much much easier to turn. I put on two outsoles, hobnailed them on, and then glued a light leather insole over the sharp bits of the hob-nails. Ow. Awesome boots.

About six months later, I noticed that I'd forgotten to install the heel-protector on one of them. D'oh. So, one of them collapsed slowly at the back. As they got wet, and the back got wet & nasty, it hardened. Five years later, there was no point trying to wear them anymore. I took the busted one apart, intending to patch it up.

This week, after 3 odd years, I sat down and repaired them. It was really interesting.

After five years of use, a lot of neatsfoot oil, and a few years in a ball in the house, the now-detached leather was a mixture between soft and hard, all over. I rubbed in some light saddlers wax to bring a bit of life to the sheets of leather. I measured the upper to my foot. It seemed to have stretched about 3mm on the instep, and maybe 2mm on the outside. I trimmed the leather, and re-holed it with my pricker. I cut out the 'damaged' leather that was around the heel; from the bottom to 30mm up the heel, it was blackened and hard. Not worth re-using. I cut it out, pricked out holes, and stitched in some new leather. Then remembered that I should really put in a heel protector, and stitched that in too.

I examined the sole; five years of abuse meant it was seriously gross. Three layers of glued and nailed leather, soaked dozens of times and dried out in various conditions (including in a fire in Bannockburn, at one stage, when I learned that hobnails conduct heat!). Hard, inflexible, and impossible to re-sew. So, I cut a new sole, did the old 'tunnel stitch at a diagonal' trick, and stitched the shoe back up. bizarrely, it's now much tighter than it used to be. Which isn't a bad thing.

It's a lot less work than making a shoe from scratch. In many areas of medieval europe, Cobblers and Cordwainers were separate guilds. Cobblers were restricted to working with old leather, Cordwainers worked with new leather (the name comes from Cordoba, where good quality goat-skin was purchased before the Moors were ejected). Repairing an old shoe, no matter how badly damaged means you know the sizing will work for the person, you know the leather won't stretch more. The leather is easier to work, and easier to turn than newer leather. The holes are already there. If the original shoes were not quite perfect, you have an opportunity to make little adjustments to make it fit better.

Very cool, all told. If you do have some old, worn-out shoes...don't bin them. Get them repaired. They'll look great! I'll upload some before & after photos later. It still needs another two outer soles, mind. I'm ... conflicted over hobnails. I've since found out they are either a roman or a tudor thing - not very popular in the medieval period.

John
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Re: Thoughts on cobbling

Postby the_power on Mon Nov 09, 2009 11:05 pm

Yeah, the replicas of the type 1s that I've made were all butt-sewed. Important thing is to get a proper awl for it. Get one hefty diamond-section one, and one for tunnel-stitching, with a curved bottom. Bowstock.co.uk have all you'll need - really good awl blades - which you can ram into wood or antler, as you like. It's great to be able to make shoes at a gig. Alas, the best pair I made I gave to Aislinn, so maybe I can persuade her to take & post photos :) I had made some awls from old needle-gun pins, but the proper ones are so much better.

I'd actually recommend getting a 'pricker'; even-spaced holes are key. If you offset the holes slightly, you cause lateral stress along the seams, which in the long term results in thread stretching (so the seams are loose) and tearing (which is uncool). Check out http://www.bowstock.co.uk/acatalog/Pricking_irons.html for ideas. Also, use harness needles; sharp needles get stuck. A rounded needle head is easier to push through holes. Diamond section needles are great for light leather, but not for heavier stuff. It breaks my heart to see people using the wrong tools. (not aimed specifically at you, but anyone thinking of giving this a go, who has no experience with leather work).

When you say "leather like Clarkes use"...I've found that for type-1 shoes, lighter leather causes it to sag and look shite after a few months. The heavier stuff is nasty to wear initially - you really need socks - but after a few days, or a weekend where they get damp - all is good.

I've had "some" success with putting on a pair of socks, then wrap masking tape all around my feet, and cutting the socks + tape off my feet in the pattern I want to try later. It's about 95% accurate. How about taking an old pair of shoes, dusting them, then pouring plaster-of-paris into them! Hmm...

If anyone is up for making lasts, I'll buy them off them, perhaps even in exchange for a shiny new pair of Lucas type 1s :)
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Re: Thoughts on cobbling

Postby Billy on Tue Nov 10, 2009 11:17 pm

I'm always coming across metal lasts in markets, and on shelves in hokey pubs. Keep the eyes peeled John, and I'll be on the lookout for you too.
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Re: Thoughts on cobbling

Postby Dave Mooney on Tue Nov 10, 2009 11:53 pm

I've not read all the above but aren't the metal ones for repairs to shoes rather that for making them? i.e. you nail the uppers to the wooden last to attach the soles.

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Re: Thoughts on cobbling

Postby the_power on Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:54 am

Oh, I've got a metal one, and matching tack hammer (my grandfather was a cobbler in his spare time). They are just modern ones, for setting hobnails; the metal surface turns any nail-heads that make it through the sole (mostly, my one is ancient, and well used, so full of holes).

The wooden ones allow you to wet the leather and stretch it over the whole shoe - stretch it good, so it'll never stretch again. Then you can tack it in place, and accurately trim the edge of the uppers, knowing that it'll fit perfectly. A plaster last would let you get the shape right, just not trim perfectly.

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Re: Thoughts on cobbling

Postby the_power on Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:57 am

Actually, do any of the WWI/WWII groups do stuff like kit repair/shoe repair etc. at events ? Or do they all wear modern boots ?

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Re: Thoughts on cobbling

Postby brendan on Wed Nov 11, 2009 1:21 am

I have amde a few pairs of shoes and boots and the stretching thing is always a problem. I have thought about making more, particularly later period, but without lasts it is not really possible to make them right
Maybe it is as well that I do not have a last

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Re: Thoughts on cobbling

Postby Andrea L Redden on Wed Mar 24, 2010 11:22 am

the_power wrote:Important thing is to get a proper awl for it. Get one hefty diamond-section one, and one for tunnel-stitching, with a curved bottom. Bowstock.co.uk have all you'll need - really good awl blades
(snip)
I'd actually recommend getting a 'pricker'; even-spaced holes are key.
(snip)
Also, use harness needles; sharp needles get stuck. A rounded needle head is easier to push through holes.

Totally agree with the curved awls from bowstock and the blunt needles. Never used a pricker though, I don't think it would work the way I make them..

To fit I originally used to (early medieval turnshoes) mark & cut out the sole in 4mm harness leather, then wrap heavy vinyl around my foot, pinning it to the sole with map pins, and holding the seams closed with cloth tape. When it all fit the vinyl then became the upper pattern.

Nowdays I use scrunched newspaper and masking tape to make the shoe outline on the foot (usually just the toe profile, but sometimes padding out the ankle hollow at the back if it's very deep, or the front of the ankle if it's narrow). Pull whatever sock I'm intending to wear with it (or a very thin one if none) over the top and wrap the entire foot with cling wrap to above the top of the shoe on the calf. Cover the shoe area with a couple of layers of masking tape, mark the top and seam lines and any other openings & significant points on the shell. Make locating marks across all seam lines 1/2-1" apart. Cut the top of the shell to match the top line of the shoe. Cut down the opening. If you can slide the shell off the foot without it tearing, it fits. If it tears you need to pull the sock off and tape extra newspaper to your foot in either hollow at the back of the heel, or on to of the foot at the ankle and try again.

When you have a shell that fits, cut it apart along any seam lines, flatten it onto a cereal box, snipping any major curves that won't lay flat (many little snips work better than one big one) and trace around it for your cutting pattern. Add 4-6mm (the thickness of your sole leather) along the upper at the sole seam only and for gods sake don't forget to add all the locating marks. When you mark your leather, do it on the INSIDE and again be sure to transfer the locating marks.

Have a bowl of water next to you while you sew and keep wetting down the bit you're sewing on both pieces of leather. This makes them very pliable and the bits where you snipped can then be gathered in to match the adjacent locating mark. Mark the same number of holes on both pieces between each adjacent set of locating marks (a pricker wouldn't work with this method due to the snips making adjacent pieces different lengths) and sew. I sew all upper seams first, then the upper to the sole. I usually awl all the holes in both soles and then prick out pairs of adjacent locating marks and sew them. Then the next couple of marks and sew. That way if I stuff up my count :oops: Iit's easy to correct on the next mark.

That's how I did the last few and they fit like leather socks.

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Re: Thoughts on cobbling

Postby brendan on Thu Mar 25, 2010 10:43 am

I have used something similar - masking tape over cloth, but it has occasionally resulted in something too small. Your idea of 'stuffing' the sock looks like a good next step.
I know what you mean about the pricker, but it is *so* much easier than manually making each hole...and the locating marks would have made life easier!
what interval do you stitch at?
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Re: Thoughts on cobbling

Postby Andrea L Redden on Tue Mar 30, 2010 1:16 am

brendan wrote:I have used something similar - masking tape over cloth, but it has occasionally resulted in something too small. Your idea of 'stuffing' the sock looks like a good next step.
That's where adding the extra millimetres to the upper along the sole seam also comes in, but if I don't pad the hollow at the back of my ankle, and just in front of it, I can't get the primary pattern off without ripping it.
brendan wrote:I know what you mean about the pricker, but it is *so* much easier than manually making each hole...and the locating marks would have made life easier!
what interval do you stitch at?
Not sure. Will count them tonight. Don't have time now. I just ducked home from work to have lunch.

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