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The skilled art of shoemaking

We pride ourselves on preserving the tradition of British shoemaking by handcrafting our footwear collections. We are a highly skilled team dedicated to making premium leather shoes by hand whilst producing the finest footwear in our distinctive, refined style. Creating Cheaney shoes takes approximately eight weeks and 200 hands or hand-tooled operations. Discover the step-by-step process below to learn more about how our shoes are made.

Stage 1

The Pattern Room

Every Cheaney shoe is developed in our Pattern Room. Our pattern makers consult with our MD’s, regional sales managers and retail managers to ensure a wide collection of ideas is utilised. With such diverse input, the pattern makers can design shoes that build upon our more traditional styles whilst also receiving feedback from our retail teams on what our customers would like to see, ensuring an eclectic amalgamation of modern and traditional pieces.

The pattern is then masked onto a last, and the finer details are carved out. The tape is then removed and flattened, and the mean form of the last is calculated, which is an average of that particular last. The prototype sample is then created and tested until it is agreed that all the measurements are precise, that the materials and design will withstand the production process and that all components merge precisely before a bulk order is put into production.

Although the pattern room deals with each shoe in its infancy, the importance of ensuring that the fundamentals are calculated and constructed meticulously is of paramount importance, as any discrepancies will jeopardise the efficiency and fit of the shoe later on in the production line. As such, our pattern room manager oversees this part of the production with great accuracy and attention.

Stage 2

The Clicking Room

Once the design has been constructed and the raw materials have been chosen, the tickets arrive in the Clicking Room and are distributed to different team members. The ‘clicking’ name derives from the sound of the cutters knife on the brass-bound pattern and is a process which has been used since the factory opened in 1886.

The leather is sorted and organised to issue the right quantity based on the ticket order. The clickers must manage the waste by cutting as many pieces as possible from the same skin. The leather is meticulously checked for growth, wire marks, blemishes and colour inconsistencies, ensuring only the highest quality is selected. An experienced sorter undertakes this process as undetected defects will become largely apparent later, such as when the shoes are burnished. By this point, the shoe cannot be saved and would be rejected.

Although the majority of processes in our Clicking Room are executed by hand, several processes are undertaken by man-operated machines. Our Teseo machine, operated by a skilled machinist, performs more complicated cutting patterns such as gimping, our eponymous Cheaney logo is pressed into the socks, and our Ultra machine will cut the linings. By contrast, the shoe's quarter is handwritten with Made in England and the last and order numbers. This amalgamation of handcraft and machine-operated techniques synchronise to ensure efficiency and accuracy whilst keeping our traditional heritage.

Around 1,500 pairs of shoes a week are cut in the clicking room before heading to the Closing Room.

Stage 3

The Closing Room

Many processes are undertaken in the Closing Room; raw edges are stained, perforated and skived, saddles are stitched, and eyelets are punched. This is a room where the constant whirring of sewing machines floats in the air, ever-present, punctuated by the harsh clamouring of hammers used on the back strap of the leather to thin out the material. The skiving machines hum and skive the linings and are operated by highly skilled skivers.

With over 37 Closing Room operatives, this is one of the factory's busiest and most skilled areas and where our shoes begin to take form. The seams are joined to the various components. They must be durable enough to withstand the strain of lasting and abrasive friction during the manufacturing process and, ultimately, the wear.

It takes 3 weeks from when the leather originally came from the Clicking Room to make its way around the closing factory floor, and with 2 loads a day, our Closing Room is a hive of activity.

Stage 4

The Making Room

Similar to the Closing Room, the basement level of the factory is a hive of activity with talented craftsmen, each performing a highly skilled duty, resulting in shoes that are ready to have the finishing details completed in the Shoe Room. This is the room where our shoes come to life as they begin to take on a more recognisable appearance.

All of our uppers and tickets from the Closing Room start their journey at the beginning of the assembly line. Where necessary, the Muller Room softens the leather, adding a small amount of moisture to ensure it is supple and pliable for subsequent processes. When the shoes arrive at the carousel, they are further conditioned with a small amount of misted heat before being carefully pulled, stretched and formed around the last. The leather is secured to the bottom of the insole, and the shape is retained when the last is removed later in production. The last is a hard, three-dimensional form on which the shoe is constructed, and it is made of nylon fibreglass composition. There is a last for every shape, size and width that Cheaney produce and the whole form, proportion and fit character of our shoes starts with the last. The upper trimming removes the excess from the upper, and the shoes are wrapped in shrink wrap to preserve the material.

Next, the grooves are sewn and lock the stitch in place. If the grooves are not stitched accurately, the sole of the shoe will become perforated, compromising the integrity of the shoe. The staples are taken out of the last, and a shank, which provides arch support to the wearer, is placed in the hot melt.

The Making Room is also the central hub for our Goodyear welting process, but what does this mean? Firstly, Goodyear welted shoes retain their shape and wear longer than other shoes. Due to the application of the welt, the soles and heels can be replaced by the Cheaney Refurbishment Team, giving added longevity to the shoes. The welt around the shoe creates a stable platform on which to stand and gives proper support to the wearer. In addition, the welt brings the shoe together, is about 12mm wide and fits around the edge of the sole.

Once the upper is lasted, the welt is sewn through the upper and into the rib. These two components create a cavity, leaving room for the cork and the shank. The shank provides arch support to the wearer, and the cork is then added to the bottom of the shoe, which will eventually mould gently to the wearer's foot over time, providing a custom fit once the shoes have been broken in. Then the welt gets stitched again, this time sewing the outsole to the welt, and this process is what makes the shoe repairable later.

The sole (dainite, commando, crepe or leather) is cut and set with glue, then nailed to hold the seat, and the excess and staples are removed. The shoes are then paired and finished by eye, soles are hand stained with cream and hand bunked, where a decorative detail is fashioned onto the sole, creating an intricate pattern. Finally, the last is removed, and the soles are stamped with our eponymous Cheaney logo. They then await the final leg of their factory journey; the Shoe Room.

Stage 5

The Shoe Room

To finish our 5 part series on the Cheaney factory, we now arrive at the Shoe Room, the final destination for our product. It will take around 8 weeks from their inception in the Clicking Room to be carefully placed in their final shoe boxes, ready to be shipped to customers and retailers worldwide.

At the beginning of the shoe room, the shoes are socked, cleaned, and dressed, and any stitch marks are taken care of. Our brown shoes are antiqued in a process known as burnishing, and this is done by eye by highly skilled men and women with extensive experience in the delicate process. The shoes are also creamed to showcase a rich depth of colour, and the task is undertaken with care and precision to ensure the cream does not stray into the lining or stitching. They are then polished on a hard mop with a small amount of wax and then onto a soft mop to be buffed.

After the shoes have worked their way around the shoe room, they are passed to the Cheaney final examiners, who meticulously check the shoe's quality and cast a critical eye over the finished product. Our examiners will oversee 300 pairs of shoes each day.

Finally, the shoes are placed in our eponymous fabric shoe bags and boxed, thus ending their journey on our premises before they are shipped to stockists and customers worldwide.