The Importance of Shoe Lasting and Shoe PatterningWritten by Tigre Haller
Do you know what two of the most essential parts of shoemaking are? Something you - and many people - probably never even think of? Yet, without these steps it would be virtually impossible to make your shoes and boots.
In this article we are going to look at what is involved with creating a shoe pattern and shoe lasting, which are considered to be the foundations of shoemaking. Doing both of these things correctly is essential to creating comfortable shoes that fit correctly and won’t harm you.
Note: We are paying special attention to the lasting of dress shoes and boots. Lasting of athletic shoes where shock absorption and other considerations come into play requires a different approach.
To start, let’s begin at the beginning…
How a Shoe Last is Developed
Developing a last is much art as it is science, and similar to creating a wood sculpture. A sculpture of a foot that is. And just like a sculptor, the last maker must possess a good understanding of human anatomy.
Creating a last from scratch is immensely time-consuming and costly, but it is absolutely essential. Before they start the actual carving, the developer takes into consideration over 100 measurements and quantify the muscle, bone and tissue mass of a foot. The creation process also involves podiatrists, pattern makers and shoe makers. Interestingly, lasts for men’s shoes are typically modeled in size 9 as it is believed this size has the most balanced proportions.
It can take several years to get it right as dozens of prototypes are developed, adjusted and fine-tuned until the master last is ready.
When the wooden model is finalized it is scanned with a DigiScan machine which is used exclusively for 3D lastmaking. Then 3D models are printed and any additional adjustments are made manually with sanding if it needs to be thinner, or the addition of an acrylic compound to add volume.
After adjustments are finalized, the last is scaled for any other sizes and 3D prototypes get printed. The next step is to run a small batch of the style which is another time-consuming and expensive effort. The sample shoes are sent to a lab to be analyzed for wearability, the flex point, and to identify any fitting issues. The process is repeated several times until everyone is satisfied that the last is absolutely correct and ready to be used in an actual production. But, one final sample test must be conducted to be absolutely sure.
Upon this final approval, a series of 3D lasts are printed for use in the shoemaking workshop. You should know that this is an extremely condensed explanation of a particularly complicated process which very few shoemakers actually engage in. Rather than expend the resources, many manufacturers opt to buy pre-made, mass-produced lasts which can save on time and money, but results in an inferior, generic shoe.
How Are Shoes Lasted?
A last can literally make or break a pair of shoes, and either ensure comfort or pain for your feet. That is part of the reason why you want to buy shoes from companies that work with - or employ - master last makers and take the time to develop their own lasts.
There are many factors that are determined by the last, such as arch support, stability, how the shoe complements the dimensions of your feet, and the flexing of the vamp.
The overall shape, integrity of the construction and wearability of the leather shoe will also be influenced by how long the shoe’s upper is allowed to sit on the mold and take shape.
Lasting begins when the upper of the shoe is humidified slightly with steam to soften the leather, and make it more pliable. The upper is then stretched over the last, and an extra leather “flap” is pulled tightly with special pliers and tacked to the underside of the last.
Ideally, the shoe will be allowed to air dry and solidify for at least 48-hours. The longer time on the last, the better for the longevity of your shoes because the leather fibers will have more time to adjust, stabilize and bind together.
Artificial drying, however, involves a motorized band that alters between hot and cold. The thermal shock dries the upper in seconds. Shoes lasted artificially won’t hold shape and the leather will most likely warp over time.
How a Shoe Pattern is Developed
Developing precise patterns for the different style of shoes takes years of practice and skill. Like with the lasts, the pattern maker must have a good understanding of human anatomy, and particularly the feet.
They must also know the ins-and-outs of the style they are creating the pattern for. That means the overall shape, the different parts, the shape of the toe box, if it has ornamentation such as broguing or not, if it has laces or is laceless, and many other things.
To create the pattern, the pattern maker will generally lay wide strips of a special type of masking tape over the last. They will then draw a line down the middle and sketch, with pencil, the shoe’s design onto one half of the tape. When the design is completed, the tape is carefully peeled off of the last and the half with the design is stuck to a thin piece of cardboard. Using a special gauge, the pattern maker will factor where the pieces will overlap and draw those sections on the cardboard. After the design is sketched-out, the tape is removed and each of the segments are cut out.
To see all of these steps, and the rest of the patternmaking process, check out this cool video of our patternmaker Giovanni demonstrating the different steps involved.
The Danger of Artificial Comfort
Some shoe manufacturers cut corners and try to make up for rushed lasting and poorly considered patterns by stuffing their shoes with padding and foam. They do this in an attempt to add comfort, volume and shape to an otherwise poorly-constructed shoe.
Most likely made from plastic compounds, these artificial additions cut off air flow and interfere with breathability. They also retain heat, give rise to sweaty feet and create an environment bacteria loves, which leads to smelly feet and athlete’s foot. Over time the padding and foam will shift position, causing deformities in the shoes’ structure and possibly “leak out” as the stitching starts to come loose.
As the shoes or boots deform so will your feet. This can lead to all sorts of problems as I discuss in my article “How Boots Should Fit.”
An expertly prepared pattern and a well-made last eliminates the need for artificial comfort as it will essentially be built into your shoes crafted this way. When shoes and boots are constructed properly you can count on them for decades, not just a couple of years (if that). And, they will age beautifully while conforming to the shape and needs of your feet.
I hope you found this article interesting and helpful. With this knowledge in mind, you will be able to make a more informed decision the next time you are shopping for shoes.
Please let me know your thoughts about lasts and shoe patterning by leaving a comment below.
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