Almost authentic

I was invited to give a video demonstration at the shoemaker’s conference I try to attend in England in February every year; it will be a virtual conference in 2021. I finished filming the rough draft of my video a little bit ago and then I went for a walk to make it feel authentic. It’s 53° (12° Celcius) and drizzling rain out there.

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Why not today

It’s a good day for a pair of wayward soles to find their destination and purpose.

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Inseaming

It’s hard for me to sit still through long phone calls, or Zoom calls, or Facetime calls; I feel trapped and claustrophobic. Yesterday I was inseaming a pair of boots and I propped up my iPad and did a Zoom call while I was working, and it was the best Zoom call ever! I get fidgety if I don’t have something for my hands to do.
I really need to learn to knit, for all of the times I can’t be inseaming.

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Progress (finally)

Have you ever had a project that glared at you with accusation and judgement every time you walked past? This pair of boots has spent the last three weeks doing their best to make me feel guilty and irresponsible, but we are finally moving forward!

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Sigh of relief…

This is the machine that’s made my life miserable for the past three weeks, and the pair of boots I’ve been trying to side seam for the same amount of time. Prepare for a long post, because I have things to say.See that different-colored plate on the front of the machine? There’s another boot maker in my town–Ray Dorwart. I worked with him at Jay Griffith’s boot shop when I started, he was my first and primary teacher, and we’ve co-existed happily in the same town as boot makers for 30 years. I tried repeatedly to figure out what was wrong with this machine and finally mentioned it to Ray. He looked at me with abject hurt in his eyes and said, “Why didn’t you call me? You KNOW I know about these machines! I can help you!”

Ray’s been at my shop several times working on the machine with me and for me, and today he took the whole front of his personal machine off, brought it here, and put it on mine. As it turns out, my new (to me) machine has a couple of worn-out bearings and they were allowing too much play in the needle bar. I could never have figured this out on my own, especially without a replacement piece to test the theory. This is why I never allow anyone to say the words “your competition” to me about other boot makers. I always immediately correct them with “my peers” or “my fellow boot makers.” We all carry valuable pieces of an endangered trade and it’s so important to share with each other and work together to keep our craft alive. I am incredibly grateful that Ray is in my town and willing to drop his own work to come and help me.

Secondly, I want to stress that there is nothing in the above story that implies I am at all unhappy with the machine that I purchased or the person who sold it to me. These machines are OLD and they’re complex. Even refurbished, they have habits and wear patterns. The person who sold it to me makes a different type of boot than I do and he was using a much heavier needle and awl, heavy enough to overcome the bit of wiggle in the needle bar. I am confident he was completely unaware of the issue. The problems began when I switched to the weight of needle I prefer.

I adore old machines, even with their idiosyncrasies and the headaches they cause. I learned so much during the last three weeks about Straight Needles and how they work, and I value that. But this is why I tell students to buy a Cobra Class 4 from Leather Machine Co. instead of trying to find an old Straight Needle. Unless you’re just really into the joys and the heartaches of old machines, you’re better off buying a new machine that works and that you can get parts for. I’ve found the problem on my machine, but now I have to try and find the replacement parts. And since they’re not made anymore, I’ll be buying parts that are cannibalized from another machine, with the risk of being just as worn (or worse) as the parts I’m replacing.

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Me, playing around

Sneak peek of a project I’m working on for myself until that Straight Needle plate I desperately need is finished. I could have had those side seams done by hand several times over by now if I’d known it was going to take so long.

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Testing looks good!

Test last for the cowboy boot shoes. I’ve always had some sort of innate ability to visualize how pattern pieces should be shaped and how they fit together–until I began making shoes. Shoe linings confound me. I am pleased to say that I may finally be getting better; this is the first shoe I’ve made where I cut the lining correctly the first time, I understood how and why it fit, and I managed not to sew through it while sewing on the vamp.

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Leather Art

This is a demonstration of why a machine cannot duplicate what I do with leather, and why I have little use for a Bell Skiver or a computerized sewing machine. Work this fine can only be done by hand. That may mean that it becomes obsolete, or it may mean it’s recognized as valuable and worth saving. Time will tell, I suppose.

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Something new

The easy part’s over now
And the hard part begins…

Assuming my patterning is OK, because I don’t have much experience with patterning for shoes, this project will be an inlaid/overlaid pair of Oxfords made on a cowboy boot last.

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Amazing

My new printer printed three double-sided color copies of my catalog in a row without eating any paper AND stapled the edges too!

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