I had an idea for a boat shoe pattern while driving home from work the other day. The traditional way of doing it involves using one big piece of leather and wrapping it around the entire underside of the last, drawing it up over the toe, and pinching the excess out of the heel in order to make the whole big unruly piece conform to the shape of the last. The thought I had, however, was to use a long strip of leather, wrap it around the circumference of the last, and sew it together at the heel. The pattern would look something like this:
So, I gave it a shot once I got home using some cheap-ish suede that I had lying around. I measured the circumference of the last and then marked out a portion of leather that was the same length, then gave myself a little extra to work with. Then I pretty much just eyeballed where the tabs for the laces should go and started cutting. With the pattern cut, I wrapped it around the last and marked where the heel stitch should go, ran it through the sewing machine and fitted it around the last. It fit pretty snugly… but when I tried to line up the eyelet tabs (so they’d be across from each other and not crooked) I noticed that I had sewn the stitch in the back just a little bit off center. At first this irritated me, but after I looked at it for a minute I kinda didn’t mind it. After all, that stitch in the back can rub against your heel and be a big pain, so having it offset in a place that won’t rub could actually be a good thing. Also, I really didn’t mind the way it looked. Anyways, I then set out to try and figure out how to make the moc toe…
After this point, I had no idea what I was doing. My plan was to mark out a line where I thought the toe stitch should go and then just push a piece of leather up against it and try to run a seam through it. And… strangely enough, it worked out extremely well.
I always thought that making a moc-toe shoe of any kind would be prohibitively difficult and involve a skill that I’d have to practice a dozen times before I was able to produce anything that looked remotely right. But, as it turns out, the stitch kind of naturally evens itself out. Of course, there’s still lots of room for improvement, but I really was blown away at how easy this turned out to be. I honestly just pushed two pieces of leather together and ran a needle through them, just feeling it out as I went. (part of the trick, I discovered, is to run the stitch right between the nails that are holding the leather in place so that when the nails are removed the stitching covers up the holes that they’ve left in the leather. You can see where I did & didn’t do this in the last two pictures above.)
One problem that I did run into, however, was how to attach the sole. In the past, the only method that has really been available to me has been to do a stitchdown (as seen here) because I don’t know how to hand welt yet and I didn’t want to just cement everything together. Unfortunately in this case a stitchdown would have looked incredibly ugly and bulky and would have likely destroyed the look of the shoe. So I thought I’d just try out a cemented construction and see how it went. I remember when I was at George’s boot shop in Pendleton, George once went on and on about how strong cemented shoes can be it you do it right (which involves letting the glue dry completely and then re-activating it in an oven) and I’ve always had a little bit more respect for cemented shoes since then. Of course, I still think that they’re the lowest quality construction method possible, but they can hold up if you do it right.
Above, you can see where I lasted the edges over the sides, glued them to the insole, trimmed the excess so the bottom would be smooth, and then filled in the middle area (the lighter portion in the center) with scraps so the bottom would be uniform thickness. One interesting thing was that there were far fewer wrinkles that needed to be shaved down (as seen at the toe and the heel) because of the way that the leather was stretched around the shoe. Unlike traditional construction, where there are lots of wrinkles that need to be smoothed out or cut away, especially towards the toe, the leather on this shoe seemed to naturally follow the contour of the last. A little added bonus, I suppose.
When it came time for gluing, I was once again in unfamiliar territory. The big issue was where to apply glue to the sole so that the two surfaces would mate cleanly and there wouldn’t be any excess glue on the exposed edges of the sole. The obvious answer would be to lay the shoe on the sole material, trace an outline, and then apply glue to the outlined area but it’s not that simple. First of all, it’s pretty hard to get a perfect outline, and secondly, the sole leather tends to wrap up slightly around the bottom edge of the shoe just a bit and, if you don’t have extra glue in the places where this occurs, then the sole will not look fully attached. The answer that I came up with was to put glue on a much larger area than I thought was necessary and then cut or sand away any that was exposed after everything was done. And again, in keeping with the theme of this project, this shot in the dark actually ended up working out pretty perfectly.
Considering that this was an off-the-cuff experiment that involved almost no measuring or planning, I was very happy with how it turned out. There are plenty of things that I’ll change in the future, for instance I’d like to clean up that back seam a bit and put a cleaner edge around the throat (the opening for the foot) and possibly even add a lining. So, the plan now is to figure out how to make these adjustments and then make a pair with the Horween leather that I’ve been saving for a worthwhile project, which should look MUCH nicer.
After finishing my Horween boat shoe I found myself wishing that I’d done a few things differently, so I went back and tried one of them on this shoe. The result was a cheap, sloppily put together experiment shoe that I actually liked more than the expensive nicer shoe that I spent hours on. Here’s what happened:
I primarily wanted to change the way that I had made the lace tabs/flaps. On the Horween shoe I integrated the lace tabs into the vamp, which didn’t look all that great, so I decided to try doing it the traditional boat shoe way and integrate them into the rolled-over bit that goes around the opening of the shoe. So… I cut off the lace tabs on my suede shoe and went for broke.
It’s hard to explain what’s happening here, but in order to get the “rolled over” look on this part you have to attach the leather at the top on the inside of the shoe and then fold the whole thing over and attach it to the outside. Like this:
I hate to say it but that change to the lace tabs made a HUGE difference, to the point that I like the suede shoe much better than the Horween. Maybe it’s also just the more casual style that suits this style as well. Regardless, very interesting. Next step is to see if I can modify the Horween shoe in the same way… and get myself some proper laces.