Making a Shoe in a factory, 1938

Factory methods, heavily mechanised, greatly changed the shoemaking process. Described here are some of the stages needed in the Goodyear welted shoe process during the 1930s. Anything between 100 and 200 separate operations could be involved, virtually all performed by a different operator

1. Pattern making

The last is made from wood or iron as the model for the construction of the shoe. Paper patterns are designed and cut out. They are then ‘graded’ to make a complete series for all the shoe sizes required. The paper patterns are then made into permanent sheet metal or cardboard versions.

2. Clicking

All the different pieces for the shoe upper are cut out from leather hides. For large quantities, a clicking press is used. The pieces are cut out using specially shaped knives or ‘dies’. The placing of the patterns needs great skill so that the clicker wastes as little leather as possible. For smaller runs, the pieces are cut out by hand.

3. Skiving

The skiving machine reduces the thickness of leather at the edges where they are sewn together.

4. Folding the seam edges

Most of the seams in shoe uppers are made with a folded edge. The turned over edges are then hammered down flat.

5. Perforating

The toe caps of many types of shoe have perforated decorations. The perforating machine punches holes to form the patterns.

6. Closing

Closing Room, Lotus Ltd., Stafford, 1928

The parts which make up the uppers are sewn or cemented together. After being sewn, the seams are smoothed by a seam-rubbing machine or by hammering. Eyelets are inserted for laced shoes before lasting.

7. Sole cutting out

Soles are cut out using a sole cutting press. Special knife forms or cutting dies cut out the shapes. After cutting, the soles are prepared and moulded.

8. Lasting

Lasting Room, Lotus Ltd., Stone, 1920s

In this process, the shoe appers are attached to the soles. Stiffening pieces, known as the ‘counter’ at the heel (made of fibre board) and ‘toe box’ or ‘toe puff’ at the toe (made of fabric stiffened with waxes or celluloid), are inserted between the shoe lining and leather upper. Three machines are used to carry out three operations: drafting, pleating and tucking. The drafting or pulling-over machine pulls the upper tight down over the last. Then the pleated and folded parts of the leather at the sole are finished flat and evenly, a very difficult task.

The next operation is to sew on the welt, using a Goodyear welt-sewing machine. The welt is a strip of leather sewn right round the edge of the insole. A seam trimming machine then trims away any excess leather on the upper, insole lip and welt. The welt-beating and slashing machine ensures the welt is parallel to the insole.

The outsole is then covered with rubber cement and attached to the upper using a sole-laying machine. The sole is stitched to the rest of the shoe using a lockstitch machine, capable of making 1,000 stitches in a minute.

9. Heel attaching

Heels are built up in layers of leather called ‘lifts’. The heel is attached using a machine which drives in nails from the outside.

10. Finishing

Lasting department, Mason & Marson, Stafford, 1906 (Staffordshire Heritage & Arts)

As many as twenty processes are involved in finishing a shoe. The heel is trimmed with a heel trimming machine, and the edge of the sole is also trimmed. The shoe is then inked or stained, waxed, and then heated to set the wax. Finishing ensures that the shoe looks good and the leather is water resistant.

Source: Edwin H. Judd, ‘Shoemaking Methods’, originally published in ‘Wonders of World Engineering’, 1938. It was reprinted in the ‘Journal of the Staffordshire Industrial Archaeology Society, no.19’, 2005.

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