Given the surprising success of my impulsive decision to try and make a boat shoe (despite having no idea what I was doing) I thought I’d try to make a more refined version and put some actual thought into it. This time I went with Horween CXL instead of suede scraps and I made a handful of improvements based on what I learned from the first boat shoe.
If you saw the post about my first boat shoe then you’ll probably recognize this pattern, which is identical to the one I’d used before. It’s a band of leather 3″ x 28″ wrapped in a circle with 1″ tall tabs on either side, which is where I’ll place the eyelets and run the laces through. The tabs are intentionally rough cut and I cut them a little bit larger than I thought they’d need to be so that once I had everything in place I could trim them down to fit properly and cut them at an angle that match the curvature of the last (more on that later)
This is the seam at (what will become) the heel. I gave myself a little more than an inch of overlap in the hopes that it would help stiffen the heel, which traditionally has no support in a boat shoe. This very well might make these shoes into blister machines but I figured it was worth a shot just to see if they could be improved with a little support.
Next I cut a strip of leather about 1/5″ wide and long enough to span the entire throat of the shoe, glued it down, and sewed it in place. Most boat shoes use a completely different technique for this part (which involves integrating the tabs for the laces into this strip, which is then sewn to the throat before being rolled over to the outside of the shoe) but I thought I’d just try something a little different and see how it works. Granted, a part of my motivation for this was that the way I did it was much simpler but I also do like the idea of doing something that’s at least a little unique.
A test fit on the last reveals that it’s just the right size and that the collar around the throat does not wrinkle on the inside as I had worried it might.
Next, I maneuvered the whole thing around until I was sure that the lace tabs were even, positioned the heel at the right depth and secured it with a nail, made sure there was enough material on top to make the moc-top, and drove a few nails up top to hold it in place while I lasted it. At this point, when the leather finally starts to take on the rough form of a shoe, it starts to get pretty exciting. Especially when you’re still learning and there’s a 60% chance that you’ll end up making a wrinkled pile of leather and stitches, it’s exciting to see your shoe start to look like a shoe.
Here’s the whole thing lasted on the bottom. You can see that I skipped the heel and that’s because my last has a steel plate at the heel that prevents me from driving any nails in that area. On the plus side, that plate comes in really handy when you’ve got the sole on and you need to nail the heel in place but it does admittedly make lasting the heel a bit of a pain. Unfortunately in this case it was even more of a pain because, if I wanted to secure my heel (which was two layers thick and didn’t exactly like to bend) my only option was to glue it down blindly. I say “blindly” because, by lasting the rest of the shoe, I was able to work out any wrinkles and make sure that it would lay flat before I went back and glued it, however since I couldn’t last the heel, all I could do was glue it down and hope that I was able to fold it over without creating too many wrinkles (you only get one shot with contact cement; once the mating surfaces touch, there’s no going back)
I didn’t take any pictures of this but, surprisingly, it worked out really well and I was able to get the heel relatively flat.
Here’s a before and after picture showing what it looks like when you trim off the extra folds in the leather after its been cemented to the insole. You can see that the wrinkles stop before they reach the edge of the toe, and that’s exactly what you want because if the wrinkles ran over the edge then you’d see them on the toe of the finished shoe.
Now it sits flat and there’re no more nails or wrinkles on the bottom surface. Starting to look more and more like a real shoe.
Next, I had to fill in the empty space in the middle that was left when I lasted & cemented the upper material to the insole. So I took a different piece of leather that was the same thickness as the leather that I’d used for the upper (but a lot softer and cheaper), cut it out in the shape of the recessed area on the bottom, and cemented them together. This makes it so that the bottom of the shoe is all uniform thickness, which helps give the outsole an even surface to rest on and eliminates any unevenness that could result in discomfort when the shoe is actually worn.
Then, once I had an even mating surface, I rough-cut a piece of sole leather and cemented it to the bottom of my shoe. I left it uneven because I want to stitch the sole on before I define the shape of the sole (which involves sanding it and, since the glue doesn’t like to hold very well on this particular kind of leather, I might end up ripping the sole off the shoe if I don’t stitch them together first)
Which brings up something interesting. When I did my first boat shoe, I was so excited to try to sew the moc-top that I just went ahead and did that first (before I lasted it or put the sole on). It wasn’t until after I’d finished that I realized that the boat shoe affords you a unique opportunity to stitch the sole to the shoe if you just wait to do the moc-top last. That is, as you can see in the picture above, if I were to stop here and pull out the nails on top and remove the last, I would have full access to the entire insole from the top of the shoe. This would allow me to sew the sole on and work comfortably from the top and the bottom, which is necessary when you’re sewing by hand. This would leave me with the handmade equivalent of a Blake/Rapid construction without needing to have a $2,000+ Blake stitching machine.
Which is what I did.
I pulled out the top nails and removed the last to give myself full access to the insole, as you can see above. The next, and by far most difficult, step was to go around the entire circumference of the insole with an awl and make holes so that I could go back with the (much lighter duty) sewing awl and stitch the upper to the sole.
My overstitch wheel (a tool used for marking out stitch spacing) didn’t do a very good job marking the suede, so I had to improvise something in order to get my stitch spacing consistent. I cut a small strip of leather and used its width as the standard for the space between stitches. The scratch that you see going across the strip was to mark how far back from the edge to make the holes so that I could keep that distance consistent as well.
Here you can see that the sole is trimmed, shaped, and grooved, which involved an incredibly convoluted process. The long and short of it, however, is that I couldn’t start sewing until I cut a groove for the stitches to recess into (otherwise they’d get worn through after a few steps) but the tool used to cut the groove needs to index off of an edge that is a consistent distance from where the groove will go (I told you it was convoluted). My solution was to take a compass, set it to about 3/4 inch, and go through and make a mark that was exactly the same distance (towards the edge of the sole) from each hole that I’d made with the awl, draw a line connecting all of those marks, and cut along that line with my 5 in 1 (a hand-cranked cutting wheel for cutting thick leather). Once I had that smooth edge, I set my groove cutting tool to 3/4 inch and, indexing off of my new smooth edge, I cut a groove that ran almost perfectly over my awl holes. I’m sure that an experienced shoe maker would laugh, but it was honestly the only solution that I could think of. Have I mentioned that I don’t know what I’m doing?
Since (1) the insole was patterned after the sole of the last and (2) the holes I used for sewing were indexed off of the edge of the insole and (3) the outsole was indexed off of those same holes, I wound up with an outsole that matched the contour of the shoe almost exactly. It took a LONG time but I’m very happy with how it turned out. Getting an even, consistent looking shape on your outsole is surprisingly difficult and most of the shoes I’d made in the past have looked crappy in this regard. So it was very nice to see that this one represents an improvement in that department.
After about an hour or so of sewing the sole by hand, I had the show fully soled and it was time to put the last back in. I re-lasted the upper portion across the top of the last and marked out a line to define the area where the moccasin top would go. This part is a little bit intimidating because you just have to look at the shape of the last and imagine where the line should go.
I then went back and drove nails all along the line that I’d just drawn. I had to do this in such a way as to eliminate the wrinkles and folds in the leather that appeared on the outside of this line, so that the finished shoe wouldn’t come out wrinkly. If you compare this picture to the one above you can see (especially around the toe) how this second ring of nails pretty much moved all the wrinkles up to the inner portion of the shoe, which is where they should be because that part will be cut away after the moccasin top is attached. After that, I removed the inner ring of nails and was left with…
This! Now it’s all ready to have the top sewn on and you can really get a good sense of what the final product will look like. I was happy to see that no wrinkles tried to sneak past my circle of nails after I removed the ones on the inside and the whole thing looks nice and smooth.
Here it is just after I finished sewing the top on. I made sure to give myself plenty of extra material to work with this time around (which is why there’s so much leather sticking up) it helps a lot to have some to grab hold of and also not run the risk of running out.
And here you have the (almost) finished product! I didn’t realize it until now, but the fact that the tabs for the laces aren’t part of the folded over portion that runs around the back half of the shoe really takes away from the “boat shoe” look that I had hoped for. I also wasn’t thrilled with how the top seam ended up looking, which almost gives it a wallabees type look.
Anyways, overall I’m quite happy with it. I could go on about the things that I’d change the next time around, but I honestly can’t complain.
I just made some modifications to my experiment boat shoe in an attempt to hash out some of the issues that I experienced here. The results were very interesting!