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The highly Skilled Art of Shoemaking

At Cheaney, we are dedicated to handcrafting our premium leather shoes to produce the finest footwear in our own distinctive, refined style. It takes around eight weeks and 200 hand, or hand tooled, operations to make a pair of Cheaney shoes, as they pass from one ‘room’ (as the various departments are known) to another.

What does shoemaking mean?

Traditional shoemaking is the process of making footwear from design to finish. Historically, shoes have been handcrafted by skilled shoemakers, before innovative developments in manufacturing resulted in technology taking over from classic handmade techniques. At Cheaney, we pride ourselves on keeping the tradition of British shoemaking alive by handcrafting our footwear collections.

Shoemaker Vs Cobbler

There are key differences between the two trades of shoemakers and cobblers, but they can often be confused as the same activity. Cobblers work to repair and mend shoes, including re-soling the shoe or rethreading stitching. Shoemakers will create footwear from scratch using a specific design and materials such as leather and suede.

How we handcraft our Cheaney leather shoes

The first stage of shoemaking is the cutting out (‘clicking’) of the leather, followed by the stitching of the uppers (‘closing’).

Although some manufacturers outsource these crucial operations, chiefly to the Far East, at Cheaney we still cut and close all uppers in our factory in Northamptonshire, just as we have done since 1886. The clicker matches every pair through the careful cutting of the leather. The name derives from the sound of the cutter’s knife on the brass-bound pattern.

Individual pieces of upper and lining leather are sewn together to make the upper. This is an intricate and complex process that varies according to the style being constructed, and involves a high level of hand-eye coordination from the shoemaker.

Getting the shape of the shoe

After the leather uppers have been cut and stitched, they are prepared for attaching to the insole and pulled or “drafted” over the last.

But, what is a last?

The last is a three dimensional form on which the shoe is constructed. There is a last for every size and width fitting. The whole shape, proportion and fit character of the shoe starts with the last. If you identify a last which particularly suits your foot, any other style made on the same last will enjoy the same fitting characteristics. You may also notice handwritten inside each of our shoes an oblique followed by a letter after the last number, eg 125/F. This indicates the width fitting, which is not measured across the shoe but around the girth which is why the shape of the last is so crucial.

At Cheaney we have several different width fittings:

The welt is a strip of leather with a groove on its reverse, which is sewn through the upper leather to the insole using a chain stitch. This makes the shoe more flexible and easier to remove the welt for repairing without damaging the upper leather. At this stage, the shoe is a fully formed upper with the welt extending around the area where the upper and insole are permanently joined. Any excess upper/welt is trimmed away and the welt is beaten flat. This is to help the sole sit squarely on the bottom of the shoe.

Creating the sole

The cavity inside the rib on the insole is filled with soft cork. This traditional filling material provides underfoot cushioning and allows the impression of the foot to be made in the insole. Reinforcement, known as a “shank”, is also added to this cavity. This is positioned between the forepart, at the front of the shoe, and the area where the heel will sit (the “seat”). This reinforcement provides support to the arch of the foot and prevents distortion of the shoe in wear. (All Cheaney Shanks are wooden).

The more a Goodyear welted shoe is worn, the more comfortable it feels, as the leather insole adapts to the shape of the wearer’s foot.

The sole and welt are stitched together, the stitching passing through the top of the flattened welt, through the sole and comes out into a groove made in the sole. The stitch formed is a “lock stitch”. Two hot waxed threads come together and form a lock buried inside the fibres of the sole. As the surface of the sole takes the main force of wear, the position of this lock is important to the longevity of the shoe.

The final stage of making a pair of Cheaney shoes is carried out in the Shoe Room. Many of our styles feature the specialised bespoke shoemaking technique of hand burnishing. This gives an ‘antiqued’ look to the shoe and is achieved by applying coloured wax to a small mop and working it into specific areas of the leather upper. The friction of the mop on the leather creates the heat that results in this very special effect. It is a highly skilled handcraft, ensuring that every pair is unique for that truly bespoke shoemaking finish.

What is bespoke shoemaking?

This is where the customers feet are measured and the last shapes are made based specifically on the customers foot. The designs of the shoe can also be tailored made. Unfortunately this is not a service that we offer at Cheaney.

We do however offer a semi bespoke service. This is where our customers can choose any of our existing styles in any of our existing leather and colour options with any sole unit (that fits onto the last) The current price for this service is the RRP of the Shoes plus £250 special make up fee.

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