Shoemaking

Blue Suede Cap-toe Chukka

After failing in the very early stages of trying a traditional welt, I returned to more familiar territory. Even if I can’t try anything terribly new on this shoe it’s still worth it to just keep going to home my skills. The modified plan was now a blue suede stitch-down chukka with a cap toe. I had been wanting to try out the dye that I had and see how it faired on suede; you can buy special dye for suede (which is not what I used) and I was just curious about how much of a difference it could possibly make. Also, I had grown pretty annoyed with the pointy toe shape of my previous shoes and thought that a cap might add some roundness and much needed structure.

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The dye went on without a problem. A little bit darker than I had imagined; almost black when it was still wet.

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After the dye dried, however, I began to see the drawbacks of using non-suede dye on suede. The fibers that give the leather its texture became rigid and felt like they’d been sprayed with hairspray. The leather lost its soft appearance and instead looked a bit more dingy. Regardless, I went on with lasting the vamp. This leather is just a little bit thinner than what I was used to and it lasted much more smoothly for that reason. I had experienced problems with getting all the slack out of the instep with my previous shoes but that wasn’t so much of a problem here.

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After letting the vamp sit on the last for about a day, I removed it and attached the cap and the quarter with contact cement, then sewed everything together.

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My sewing gets a little bit neater every time but still leaves a lot to be desired.

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I’d had problems in the past with pulling the upper down onto the sole in such a way as to eliminate slack and keep the upper from contorting. So I tried a different approach this time. I rolled the bottom of the quarter up over the heel and then continued around the shoe, lifting the material up and away from the sole. Then, instead of covering all the contact surfaces with cement at once, I started with just the heel. Once I’d rolled the heel down and cemented it in place, I pulled the rest down, without glue, applied as much pressure as I could, and stapled them in place around the sole. This allowed me to keep everything in place and concentrate on applying pressure without worrying about other parts of the upper falling down onto the cement before I wanted them to.

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Then, once I knew that I’d gotten all the slack out, I went back and pulled out a few staples at a time and then applied glue to those areas. I continued this process gradually around the shoe until I had replaced all the staples with glue.

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Once it was glued I was able to go back and stitch the whole thing.

Up to this point I had just planned on using a single layer of sole leather like I had in the past, but when I had finished stitching all the way around I had a different idea. I could never quite figure out what to do with the loose ends of thread that were left when I had finished stitching the upper to the sole. They needed to be secured but a know on the bottom would get worn away and a know on the top would look ugly. So I cut three grooves in the sole around the heel area and cemented the threads there, flush with the leather.

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At first I thought I’d just bury them under the heel and be done with it but as I continued to think about it I started to wonder how it might help to bury all of the stitching under another layer of leather (to protect them from being worn through). This would also give me an opportunity to see how well a cemented leather sole would hold up. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this method of burying the sole stitch under a layer of sole material is exactly what Clarks uses with their Desert Boots.

Before 2nd sole:

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After 2nd sole:

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Aesthetically speaking, I think it looks much better and much more substantial than a single layer.

Then it was on to building the heel. As I had experienced before, my heel area was already so flat that there was no need for a rand so I just cut out some lifts and began attaching them.

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I discovered this time that the secret to getting a smooth, even looking heel is lots and lots of sanding. Every time I’d add a later to the heel I brought it over to the sander and smoothed out the edge to match the layer before it and I also added a slight taper to the bottom; the combined effect of doing this on every layer was that the shoe would sit flat on the ground.

I should mention that I don’t actually have a bench mounted sander or a finishing machine. In order to do this I clamped a random orbit sander to a 2×4 which I had clamped to my bench. It actually worked quite well, but made me really wish I had a finishing machine.

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It’s not exactly obvious, but there is a slight difference in texture between the leather in the picture above and the picture below. That’s because the picture below shows what the heel looked like after I started to glass it. That is, to scrape the edge of a piece of glass against the edge of the heel / sole in order to eliminate the rough, textured look imparted by the sander. If you do it long enough the leather takes on a smooth finish reminiscent of a real mens shoe.

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Next, on to nailing. I rigged up a lasting stand on the front of my bench (which is sturdier than it looks). I’m not quite sure how I managed without this in the past.

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Even with the lasting stand, hammering heel nails isn’t as easy as it might seem. The leather is just elastic and soft enough to make the nails bounce back and get driven in sideways if you’re not careful.

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And that was pretty much it. After nailing in the heels, I went around all the edges with shoe polish, which ended up looking really blotchy and unattractive. I’m not entirely sure how to keep this from happening. I mean, it could have something to do with the fact that you’re not supposed to dress the edges with polish but frankly I’m not quite sure what you are supposed to use.

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You can see where I narrowed and smoothed the waist a bit. I’m a big fan of modeled waists and the extra material made available by the second layer of sole really gave me a lot to work with on this one.

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And the sole has an actual “shoe” shape. This was actually one of the more difficult aesthetics to achieve. You’d think that if you just cut around the stitching that it would automatically look shoe like, but it’s not the case. Any little unevenness or errant cut can throw off the entire silhouette and make it look pretty trashy. Compare it to the sole of my first shoe:

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This is a picture from my last project (shoe #2 on the left and shoe #1 on the right) and it gives a pretty good idea of the kind of variation that you can get in terms of sole shape even when using the same last.

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No real signs of improvement in the heel category. I was only recently able to find small enough nails to use for this purpose. The nails on the left shoe (shoe #1) look so small because I had to drive larger nails in and then cut them off, whereas the shoe on the right (shoe #3) has entire nails.

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Here’s sole of #2 (left) and #3 (right) for comparison. As happy as I was with the sole of #2 at the time that I made it, I’ve actually gotta say that when I look at these two side by side I think that #3 looks a little bit nicer.

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The extra thickness makes a huge difference. You can also see the extra shape added by the toe cap. It’s not dramatic by any means but definitely an improvement.

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Last time someone recommended tighter stitching and I decided to go with it. Definitely looks much neater. Although, it is admittedly much more difficult to plot out your stitching on suede, as it’s very difficult to mark. This is why the stitching on #3 looks a little bit crooked.

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Side by side with #1

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Side by side with #2wpid-20140211_162305.jpg

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4 thoughts on “Blue Suede Cap-toe Chukka

    • I’ll have to look into getting a varnish, thanks! I wanted to figure out what to use to finish the edges but I honestly didn’t even know where to begin looking.

  1. Pingback: Boat Shoe / Moc Experiment | lordpoint boot & leather

  2. To finish edges you can buy “edge dressing” from a lot places. Even from Allen Edmonds website. Also, you can melt beeswax into the the edge heel. You can do this by heating up a “heel iron” or any polished metal. Rub the block of beeswax all around the heel and edge then put hammer face over a spirit lamp flame, and work the beeswax into the edge with the face of the hammer by pressing and sliding over the edge back and forth.

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