So, I’ve never actually worn a pair of shoes that I’ve made until now. Knowing that I’m such a novice, I figured that so much would change from shoe to shoe that any attempt to make a matching pair would result in two wildly different shoes. Furthermore, I didn’t really think that any of them turned out well enough to warrant making a counterpart. But somehow the first boat shoe, with its shoddy simplicity, seemed to deserve a second. So I wound up not only making my first complete pair, but also wearing them for 2 weeks solid. At first I wanted to go easy on them and avoid puddles and crouching, but I quickly changed my mind and decided that it would be better to subject them to all the same abuse that I would any other pair of shoes in order to get a good sense of what I should be doing differently.
And the results were somewhat better than I expected. The soles didn’t fall off, even though they were cemented, and the binding didn’t irritate my heel. But, there were plenty of problems that I hadn’t anticipated.
(1) Cemented Sole – I’ll start with the soles. Like I said, they didn’t fall off. But that doesn’t mean that the cemented construction held up perfectly. The toe started to separate a little bit and it looked like the waist was doing the same. Mind you, I didn’t notice any of this while wearing the shoes, I only saw it when I took them off and started prodding at them in order to take these pictures. However, I don’t imagine it would have taken too much longer before the sole actually did begin to separate at the toe.
(2) Sole & Heel Wear – Another issue that had to do with the sole was how well it held up to being walked on. There weren’t too many variables or unknowns here, so they held up predictably well. However, the heel did wear a little bit aggressively at the back, which I would like to attribute to the fact that I may have made them too short. I took more than a couple of cues for these shoes from my Sperrys, which have extremely small heels, so I felt like it would be a fine idea to just make the smallest heel possible: one layer of bend. BUT, in hindsight, I believe that the shape of my last requires a higher heel and the short heel used here caused the shoe to continually flex as it moved, thereby grinding the heel into the ground with each step. It even made a crunching sound when I walked; a phenomenon that was no doubt exacerbated by the exposed nails in the heel, which I will have to cover up next time.
(3) Heel Stitch – This is something that’s only barely worth mentioning, but my original, hastily-made heel stitch did not hold up for too long before it split open. I never really wondered too much about this and I’ve switched to a much more secure stitch in each future shoe. But it is interesting nonetheless just to see exactly how poor craftsmanship breaks down.
(4) Heel Nails – The only part of the sole that is not held on by glue alone is the heel area, which is attached to the upper by wire clench nails; a special kind of nails used for making shoes, whose ends curl up when they’re driven into the metal plate at the heel of the last. They act almost like a rivet or a staple and they keep the heel extremely secure. At first I thought that the nails would irritate my feet, but after trying it out I found that you don’t even notice that they’re there. In the future, I’ll certainly put an insole insert over them, partially because they don’t look very nice, but it’s interesting to know that you can comfortably walk on them. In fact, the connection that they make is so secure, and they’re so easy to use, that I almost tried to nail the entire sole to the shoe all the way around. But it’s ultimately not a good solution to have lots of exposed nails on the sole, since they grind against the pavement and will rust/deteriorate after a while. I remember taking apart a pair of Johnston & Murphys and finding a bunch of rusted nails in the heel, and they weren’t even exposed to the ground. So apparently nails are tricky in general.
(5) Leather Texture – I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I made each shoe with leather from opposite ends of the hide. The result was two shoes with very different visual textures and varying levels of rigidity. I never gave it a single thought before, but of course it makes sense that you’d want to take the leather for a pair of shoes from roughly the same area of the hide. I remember George telling me that the hide gets thinner and more supple towards the belly, and so it looks like I must have taken the right shoe’s leather from the belly area. This is even evident in the laces, which I cut from the same area as the leather for the shoes that they went with.
This gives me lots of great information to go on going foreword. Some of these outcomes were absolutely predictable (e.g. cementing the sole, sloppy heel stitch) and I really just wanted to see how poorly they would hold up, but others caught me completely off guard (e.g. taking the upper leather from different parts of the hide, and the comfortability of the heel nails). Beyond that, here were plenty more lessons to be learned from these shoes that had nothing to do with how they wore, such as how the plug stitch is not covered by the lace flaps or how the toes were sewn unevenly; all of which made these things a fantastic learning experience.
I’ve got another pair that’s just about done and I’ve tried to take all of these issues into account while making them. I’m actually strangely excited to see what kinds of issues arise from them, however; because they sure won’t be perfect. Discovering these flaws as I progress is actually largely what makes this fun for me; it’s always a surprise.