Trying a traditional welt… and failing

I set out to learn shoemaking by trial and error and, up to now, I really haven’t experienced too many catastrophic errors. The worst that happened in my first two shoes were things like the tongue not moving quite right or forgetting to cut a groove for the sole stitching. All of these things were salvageable in the end and I could just keep working through them. With this shoe, however, I got a little bit overly ambitious and had to actually abandon ship on my first attempts.

My original idea was to just go ahead and try doing a traditional welt. I figured that I pretty much had everything that I needed and could probably make due with substitutes here and there if need be, so why not?

The first problem was that I’d need an insole to cut a feather (holdfast) from. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what kind of leather I needed for this, all I knew was that it had to be thick. So I used my thick, 12 oz, pit-tanned sole leather.


After I tacked it in and cut it to shape I actually was pretty impressed and thought it looked like I was heading in the right direction. So I marked out the feather and defined it with a channeler. At this point, however, I already realized that it didn’t seem quite right; the insoles that I’d seen in the videos looked a lot less rigid and not quite so smooth. But, figuring that I could just make due, I kept going.


I mean, it kinda looks like a feather. As I started cutting the material out from around it I noticed that it was much harder than I had imagined. My knife kept slipping and it was extremely difficult to cut to a consistent depth. It felt like I was cutting into very dense cardboard rather than leather and again, looked nothing like what I had seen before. In hindsight, this could have been because I hadn’t soaked it before hand. Regardless, eventually this happened:


As I was cutting around the toe area, my knife kept wanting to move towards the last instead of just cutting straight. It only took one slip for me to cut straight through the whole thing and ruin the insole. This catastrophic failure, coupled with the fact that I didn’t have a whole lot of sole leather left and the whole experience of cutting a feather from this type of leather just didn’t seem right, lead me to abandon this effort until I knew more about what I was doing.

So, faced with the fact that I didn’t have the right kind of leather, I resolved to still attempt the traditional welt but try a completely different approach. I wondered it I could make a kind of handwelt / Goodyear hybrid by sewing my own version of a goodyear feather (canvas rib) onto a leather insole and then welt into that. I think the pictures explain it better:


I cut out another insole out of thinner leather (the type that I use for uppers, about 5 oz) and marked out approximately where I wanted my rib to go.



Then I cut out a narrow strip of leather and glued it to the edge so that it rose up into a lip around the area that I’d marked out. I then went back and sewed over the whole thing to reinforce the connection. At first glance it actually looked pretty good. Everything aligned where I wanted it to and seemed pretty sturdy. I was getting kind of excited at the idea of it working but then, as I continued to look it over and manipulate it a bit, it became evident that it was doomed to failure.


The insole that I’d used was much too thin to support the strain of having the upper pull against it. I pulled against the “feather” just a little bit and the top warped inward pretty dramatically. If this had been on a shoe, that edge that you can see in the picture below would no doubt jut out into your toe every time you stepped or put your shoe on. For this and a variety of other reasons I decided to scrap the hybrid Goodyear construction for now.



After these two failures I decided to just go with the regular old stitchdown construction again. At least I knew how do do that one; and even though it seems pretty straight foreword, I’m still so new at this that I figure I’ll still end up learning something every time I try it.

One thought on “Trying a traditional welt… and failing

  1. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now but I’ll tell you anyway. Insole leather is typically heavyweight veg tan shoulder. Shoulder leather has a very loose grain and works best for insoles. Also, wet your leather as you carve. In fact, you should wet the entire insole, tac it on the sole and then hammer it to fit the last better. Then tac around all the sides and fold down the nails outward so that the leather wraps around the bevel of the last. After letting it dry, pull out the outer tacks and trim the insole. Then, wet again and begin carving the holdfast.

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