Influenced by classic English styling from the 1850s to early 1900s, contemporary Wildsmith designs are created to reflect this era of gentlemanly elegance, and our modern interpretations always maintain the emphasis on Wildsmith’s famous heritage as one of England’s oldest and most well regarded quality shoemakers. To this day our shoes carry the same quality assurance that English made Wildsmith shoes truly represent, and have been renowned for since 1847.
Detailed here are the seven stages of our shoemaking process, carried out by shoemakers who have spent many years honing their skills in the pursuit of excellence.
The foundation of all shoe construction is the Last, a hardwood form shaped like the foot that is the equivalent of the tailors’ dummy. The shoemaking process begins with the pattern-makers initial sketch being created three dimensionally on a selected last upon which the shoe will be created. The last is covered in paper tape and the sketch is redrawn onto it ensuring the design proportions and the last complement each other. At this stage modifications to the design can be made, and when this is complete the paper tape is cut down the middle and peeled away from the last to give the inside and outside sections of the shoe. From the flattened sections, the design of the shoe upper is cut into individual pattern pieces, including the linings, before allowances are added for the underling sections and the actual lasting process.
The placing of the patterns upon the carefully selected fine quality calf skins requires a great deal of care and specialist knowledge - any flaws, scars or brand marks in the leather must be worked around as quality is always the primary consideration. Due to the stretch properties of calf skins, each section of the upper must be cut in a specific direction known as cutting “tight to toe” in order to maintain the pattern shapes.
These expert craftsmen were historically referred to as ‘Gentlemen Clickers’ by their shoemaking peers because of their practice of working in a starched collar and tie, each clicker shapes his own blades to his personal preference from hacksaw blades ground into a razor sharp curve and will change his blade shape dependant on whether cutting leather or suede. The term 'clicking' derived from the sound of the cutting blade exiting the leather skin and clipping the brass bound side of the pattern.
This is the term used for sewing together the pattern pieces to create the shoe upper and has traditionally been completed by female shoemakers. The punch holes shown on brogue patterns and the eyelet holes for the laces are also added here. Guiding the needle one row of stitching at a time and often spacing two rows of stitching a single millimetre apart, is an intricate and highly skilled operation, which not only forms the shoe upper, but also creates an element of the aesthetics of Wildsmith shoes.
The sewing is carried out on two types of machine: flat and post. Flat machines are used initially until the shape of the upper begins to form, and the shoe is then transferred to post sewing machines which give the closer more manoeuvrability. Once closed, the uppers hang in a high humidity room for a few days, a process known as ‘mulling’, during which moisture is absorbed into the leather to make it less prone to splitting or cracking when stretched over the last.
As the uppers make their way through the closing department other vital preparation work is underway. The soles are being cut from leather hides which have been tanned at a tannery in England. The part of the hide used for the soles is called a 'bend', which comes from the back of the calf. The hide is split down the spine and then the two hardest, strongest parts are used. The insoles are cut from leather shoulders also tanned in England. The soles are soaked in water to make them more pliable during the making process, and the insoles have a woven rib fastened to the underside to allow a strip of leather known as a ‘welt’ to be attached.
Heat, moisture, force and no small amount of skill are used in this operation in order to get the leather upper to conform to the shape of the chosen last. To begin with the insoles are attached to the underside of the last using small nails. The closed upper is then placed over the top of the last. The excess leather added by the design team to the upper pattern, known as the 'lasting margin', allows the shoemakers to drag the upper tight to the last and secure it to the woven rib via small nails and staples. These nails hold the upper in place until the welt is attached to the rib by way of a chain stitch. The welt is a strip of leather that is stitched to the upper and insole of a shoe, as an attach-point for the sole, this construction is known as Goodyear Welted after its inventor Charles Goodyear, Jr.
In the making department a piece of wood known as a shank is added to provide support, much like a chassis on a car. The cavity between welt and insole is then filled with cork, which will mould itself to the foot shape during wear enhancing comfort and fit of the shoe. Moist leather soles are placed over the cork filling and the back of the sole is secured by a horseshoe of nails. The excess of the sole is then cut away in a procedure known as rounding during which a groove is channelled in the sole at an angle to make a bed for the sole stitching. After stitching, the channel is closed by applying pressure onto the sole via a brass wheel, concealing the stitches. The soles are then allowed to dry naturally for a few days, before the heels are built and nailed to the soles when the shoe will then be ready for finishing.
Using hand tools heated on an open flame, decoration is added to the sole before the shoes are passed for cleaning and polishing. Various creams and wax polishes are applied generously to the upper creating an antique patina which moistures the leather before the shoes are then finger polished to create the final lustre. Laces are placed through the eyelets and the Wildsmith sock liner is inserted for comfort before a final inspection. The shoes are then packed in Wildsmith shoe bags and dispatched to their new owners.