Goodyear Welting or Blake Stitching - Which is Better?
You may or may not know about the two main types of shoe construction: Goodyear Welted and Blake Stitch.
Believe it or not, there is a great deal of confusion and controversy surrounding these methods, mainly due to a host of misconceptions and misinformation. You might even call it “fake news” for the shoe industry. In all seriousness, it is important for you to understand the differences so that you know what to look for when buying shoes, and also know what to expect from them over the long term.
This article will take a look at both methodologies and dispel the myths surrounding them. Interestingly, if you visit shoe factories and talk to industry insiders, the difference really isn’t discussed. That’s because both constructions are widely respected and offer benefits to the wearer. Instead of focusing on the construction method, shoemakers usually discuss the processes and materials.
NOTE: Neither technique should be confused with hand-welting which is completely different, and the highest standard.
What is Goodyear Welting?
Goodyear welting was created by Charles Goodyear, Jr. in 1869 to industrialize shoemaking.
A double-stitching method is employed whereby the welt wraps around the upper of the shoe and serves to hold the different layers together. Two separate stitches are made with the Goodyear welting machine on the outside of the shoe; the first to connect the upper, insole and the welt, the second stitch attaches the outsole to the top layer.
Goodyear welting is known for its robustness and solidness. This type of construction can look heavy and clunky, which should not be mistaken right off for durability and longevity. The welt can also appear to be pronounced which can make the shoe look chunky which some people like. If the welt is kept in good shape, it will maintain the structure and shape of the shoe.
You should know that the term “Goodyear Welted” has also been used as a buzzy marketing term leading the general public to believe the technique is exclusively used in the making of high-quality shoes. Some brands take advantage of this misconception and offer shoes with inferior materials.
That said, a well-made Goodyear welted shoe has several benefits, such as:
- They are highly water-resistant.
- They are easy to resole.
- The cork footbed will mold to your foot’s shape.
- They provide great sturdiness and support.
What is Blake Stitching?
Predating Goodyear welting, Blake stitch construction was Invented in 1856 by Lyman Reed Blake. This technique is done with what is called the “single stitch” method whereby the shoe’s upper is folded underneath the insole, and then stitched into place with a single thread connecting the insole, the upper, and the outsole on the inside of the shoe - as can be seen in the diagram above.
The shoemaker guides all of the components by hand through a special machine, called a McKay machine, which lock-stitches the thread to ensure it won’t come apart.
Benefits of Blake stitching include:
- A more flexible shoe.
- A tapered waist.
- Excellent support.
- Lighter weight.
- A contemporary look.
- Easy resoling.
If you would like more specific details about Blake stitching, and other methods, be sure to read my earlier article “Can You Resole Blake Stitched Shoes?”
Water Seepage and Shoe Soles
For normal wear, like occasional rain or light snow, Goodyear welted leather soled shoes will hold up very well even if the weather gets heavy. Blake stitched leather soled shoes should also perform well under lighter conditions so long as you don’t go jumping around in puddles or climbing snowbanks.
With rubber soles the structure is more flexible and once the hole is punched, the rubber expands to seal the hole which keeps water out.
If you look at tactical boots, or any others where the wearer’s life literally depends on the shoe construction, instead of needle punches there is a tight seal between the outsole and the upper which prevents water from seeping through. These types of footwear are either vulcanized, cemented or direct-injected with thermoplastic rubber.
Things to Consider Before Resoling Shoes
If the sole is already made from a high-quality material, like natural veg-tanned leather bends, and you take care of them, then the sole will last a long time before resoling is needed. That should be a last option. Extend the life of your leather soles by asking your cobbler to attach rubber half-soles and a metal toe tab.
Be sure to monitor the way the heel is wearing. If you’re like me, you might wear through the heel quickly and they must be replaced as soon as you see them starting to wear down.
Things to Consider When Buying Shoes
To see the big picture, and truly determine what works best for you, consider the entire build of a shoe, and not only the construction method.
Just like with Goodyear welting, there are poor quality Blake stitched shoes. Conversely, there are outstanding shoes constructed with either method. This has more to do with the design, the last, the aesthetic, the build, the silhouette and other factors before it gets to the way the sole is attached.
Be sure the upper is made with full-grain leather or water-repellent suede. Many people consider leather thickness as an indication of quality, but it’s really not a factor. More important than the thickness of the leather is how tight the fibers are.
Are the topline edges sealed with French binding? This method of stitching seals the edges and adds comfort around the topline where your ankle sits.
Are the heelstacks all leather, or made with compressed cardboard or synthetic composites? Heels which are made from all leather will be more solid and last a lot longer than those made with other materials.
Is there a steel shank embedded in the midsole for extra support? When a steel shank is embedded in the midsole of shoes and boots, there is greater stability and balance. The shank also helps to relieve tension on your arches, calves, and knees.
In addition to the questions posed above, evaluate these issues when buying shoes:
- Where do the components, like the leather, come from?
- Is it a well-regarded tannery?
- Where is the hardware sourced from?
- Is the entire build made entirely of leather?
- Is the lining wholecut?
- Is the waist tapered?
- Is there arch support?
- Are the finishes done correctly?
- How long is the upper lasted for?
The Shoe Lasting Process
The time the shoe spends on the last is actually more important for many shoemakers than the construction type. Lasting is when the upper of the shoe is stretched over foot-shaped mold to solidify its form. The process starts with humidifying and heating the leather with vapor to achieve the perfect temper and elasticity before its placed on the mold. The drying process can be either natural or artificial, and it will have a direct bearing on how stable your shoes are.
Artificial drying employs a motorized band that alters between hot and cold. The thermal shock dries the upper in seconds. With the natural drying method, the upper is allowed to sit in a controlled temperature for days. The longer, the better because not only is it taking shape, the leather fibers are adjusting and stabilizing. The time range is also seen as a badge of honor which signifies the shoemaker values creating a product which will be very comfortable to wear and literally last for many years.
Before evaluating each type of shoe construction, you should evaluate your preferences, how you walk, the wear and tear you put your shoes through, the way you carry your weight, your gait, your shoe habits, how often you will resole them, and how you will actually use and maintain the shoes.
The construction is just about how the sole is attached to the insole and upper. Making the assumption that durability will only be influenced by this factor alone is oversimplifying a rather complex craft. If a shoe is made to the same standards and the only difference is the way the soles are attached, the longevity will be similar. Of course, there will be variants in the quality of the sole, threads, etc.
You really need to compare the same exact materials, wear them in the same way and for the same amount of time in order to truly understand which one is better for you.
I hope you found this guide helpful. Please send me a comment below and let me know about your experience with Goodyear welting and Blake stitching - or anything else shoe-related.
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