The Shoe Snob Blog

April 10, 2012

Written by , Posted in News

Hand-Stitching The Apron: By Enrile

Have you ever wondered why an apron-toe shoe might cost more than its cap-toe or wingtip counterpart? Well, more likely than not, it is because that ‘apron’ (as it is called – the stitching on the toe/vamp area), was put together by someone sewing it by hand. That handwork (as it is called) costs extra money. Now this might be slightly off the subject at hand but I must stress this importance –as I continue to hear incorrect usage of the term ‘handmade’– that this ‘handwork’ does not mean that the shoe was necessarily ‘handmade.’ There is a difference. The reason that I state this, is because not too long ago, I walked into a British designers’ shoe shop, and upon entering (and looking at a pair of shoes), some doorman had the nerve to tell me that the shoes were ‘handmade.’ While I did not say anything in response (as the designer was there as well and I did not feel like having a dispute with my wife around), I was quite appalled by how this guy was just throwing this term around, especially since I have made a pair of shoes by hand. Needless to say, these shoes were not ‘handmade’ and were clearly made by Cheaney, easily recognizable by the insignia inside of the shoe. They don’t make ‘handmade’ shoes (Cheaney), and at best they may do a ‘handgrade’ shoe. This one presented (by Enrile) might well be considered (as this one was welted by machine), for the amount of ‘handwork’ that was put into it.

This one presented (by Enrile) would also be considered ‘handgrade’ (as it was welted by machine), for the amount of ‘handwork’ that was put into it. But don’t be fooled, they can also do a complete handmade shoe, so should desire the client…. Now, while I will say that, in reality, having the sole stitched by hand versus machine, really makes no difference when in comes to practicality. There is only bragging rights that separates the two. In fact, having a machine stitched sole (on the welt), will almost always look a lot cleaner than a hand-stitched one. But, when it comes to the apron, a hand-stitched one will almost always look better than its machine stitched counterpart, so long as the person doing the stitching is experienced. But, doing this is very difficult, as it is easy to mess up, and once you puncture that upper leather, it is very hard to conceal it should you have made a mistake. That being, your stitch marks have to be spot on, without any mistakes. This differs with sole stitching as you can make a mistake and hide it with the fudge wheel (the tool that makes the indented edging on the welt).


Since as I have done this twice (while apprenticing), I will try to explain it as best as I can, as the pictures only give you so much. However, the way that I did it, was a bit more difficult than the way presented here as the leather was not already split, giving an indication of where the apron needed to be. When I did it, I had to last the upper as usual, but only hold it into place as opposed to completely last it over permanently. That’s because, I had to stitch the apron directly onto the leather while fixated to the last, not while it was just floating about. So after lasting the upper and fastening it relatively taut to the last, you have to draw on the apron (as best as you can) directly to the upper with the magic silver pen (that erases off of leather). Once you feel that you have the apron (two lines – outside and inside) drawn to perfection, that is when you start making the punctures with the awl (needle-like tool) and thread the stitches through. But like I said, every step must be dead on or you end up with some dodgy stitches like the few that were on the shoes that I did (unfortunately I don’t have any pictures….sorry). Nevertheless, stitching the apron by hand is one of those details that just really makes the shoe look nicer. Not that it makes a huge difference in whether or not the shoe holds up, but it will always be an added touch of luxury!

http://enrileshoes.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Anonymous

    i just had the same experience but instead i decided to confront the issue. a shop owner who carries “julian boots” was trying to tell me they were handmade when they were clearly not. after i explained they use a goodyear machine and the basic definition of a handmade shoe is a handsewn welt he proceeded to tell me of the “many hand steps” involved. well, of course it takes hands to operate machines, duh! anyway i think these issues should be confronted head on to discourage chumps from marketing falsely, and to keep naive shop owners informed.

  • Thank you very much for showing this work.
    It is very true that great people confuse, the handmade, made-to-measure term. But this happens not only in the trades that they do not know of shoes, the own clients say after explaining to him what is the MTO ” but this is made-to-measure “, I think that the subconscious makes them deceive.

    The goodyear welted like all the works it can be done good or badly, the made good is a great shoe, even a sorrow looks like to me the handmade one for the soles of rubber, I am not in the habit of recommending it.
    I am sorry my terrible English.

    Enrile

  • The world of quality shoemaking is plagued by the constantly confused terminology.

    The real paradox: except for the major industries (tens of thousands of pair PER MONTH) every shoemaker works exclusively by hand, since the machines always require the hands (and talent) of a skilled worker to create the best product.
    The line between “artisanal” and “made by hand” (as in “only with tools that you can keep in your pocket”) today is more than simply blurred.

    Just for laughs: an italian store I saw proudly shows a big sign:
    “Our shoes are made exclusively by hand, stitched with the Blake technique.” 😀

  • I can say to you with regard to the system Blacke, which really can be done to hand if you do not have the machine, though really it is a stupidity.
    Enrile

  • Everything can be done by hand, but only a few things need to.

    The Blake stitch was born to be applied with the eponymous machine: sure, it’s possible to rearrange the method and use only hands, needle and awl, but it would be like cutting a sequoia with an axe. The only real addendum created by using only your hands will be a tremendous amount of labour.

    And I don’t think that a shop that sells thousands of shoes can afford the legions of very skilled craftsmen needed to Blake-stitch everything by hand… 😀

  • Anon – Yes I agree and applaud you for saying something. Most times I come across this, I just don’t have the will to bring it up, as I am so angered by this misuse of the terminology that if someone argued with me I would most likely loose my patience, and therefore refrain altogether…

    Antonio – No worries sir, glad to spread your good work!

    Il Satiro – yes, it has become so bad that millions of people around the world are wearing shit shoes, yet somehow believe that they were ‘handmade.’ I blame the salesmen, who will say anything to get the shoes out the door!

    -Justin

  • Daniel

    Was the shope with the cheaney made shoes Justin Deakin?

  • Julio Torres

    Thanks so much for such a great article… Definitely this help me to understand much better when I invest in a very expensive and one shoes… I was going to purchase a Zegna Shoes vs Bontoni ( which has an apron-stitching detail ) definitely I will purchase Bontoni Prince Shoes..!