Archive for the ‘My tools’ Category

Upper Making Process: The MEAN Form

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

In my previous post, I provided bullet points of individual aspects of a MEAN Form diagram.  This post outlines exactly how that MEAN form was created.

Upper Making starts with pattern making.  Pattern pieces for shoe upper making come from what is called a “MEAN form”.  Traditionally, an upper maker would receive a “MEAN form” and a “Technical Specifications” drawing.  The MEAN form details all of the lines needed for cutting out pattern pieces, while the Technical Specifications drawing provides the guidance on materials, colors, stitching, and any additional hardware or design elements needed.

Both the MEAN form and the Technical Specifications drawing can be extremely complicated, depending upon the type of shoe being made and/or the complexity in the design.  For this exercise, I will be providing examples of a simple high heel pump that covers manyl of the basics.

In creating a MEAN form, first the designer will tape up the Last that they will be using to make the shoe with (see attached picture).  It is very important to use the exact Last as even small variances in heel height, toe box design, width, etc. can drastically change a pattern.  Once the entire Last has been taped, the center line down the back of the heel and the center line down the vamp are marked.  In men’s shoes, there are many more points that are marked before the designer starts “designing” but for the purposes of this exercise and for this example, only the heel height and vamp position are needed.  For most average women’s sizes, the heel height is marked at 5.5cm up from the feather edge of the marked heel center line.  Men’s is typically 6.5cm, but as with anything there are sometimes exceptions.

It is important to tape the entire Last and not just one side, for some lasts are not symmetrical and therefore your pattern pieces for the lateral and the medial side might be different.  For upper making, only the sides of the Last need to be taped down to the feather edge.  The shape of the sole is not needed for Upper making.  It will be needed later for the actual shoemaking.

As the Last that I am using is considered a symmetrical Last, and this pattern was intended to be symmetrical, the MEAN form for this pattern only has a slight difference in the length between the lateral and medial sides in the center of the MEAN form.

Now the designer can draw their design directly onto the taped Last.  Once the designer is happy with his/her design lines, it is now time to convert this 3D model into the 2D MEAN form.  *It is also helpful to go ahead and draw the medial center seam placement line onto the design while the tape is still on the Last because it gives the designer a better idea of where it might be best hidden from view while wearing the shoe on the foot.

Using the marked center lines cut the tape with a sharp knife, both at the heel and down the center of the vamp.  Slowly pull off both sides separately, starting at the heel.  Trying to preserve the form as much as possible, flatten each side of the tape to a piece of cardstock or poster paper.  The heel line, center vamp line, and design lines are most important to preserve and not wrinkle.  Smooth out with a bone folder, ruler, handle of knife, etc.  The areas outside of the design lines of the shoe are less important, so if there are wrinkles, they should be directed there as they have no bearing on the formation of the patterns.

Mark each side with the Last model name and/or #, the size of the Last, the name of your design if applicable, and the date.  Now cut out both sides that have been flattened on the poster board and mark the medial side with a “^” somewhere along the lasting allowance line.  Never mark a pattern with any tick marks on the design itself.  Indicating which piece is the medial side will be very important later.  Do not cut completely out, but rather cut 5-6cm lengths of the drawn design within the cut out side portion of the 2D taped Last model.  These cut out lines will be used in the creation of the MEAN form and later in the pattern pieces.  Make sure that the 5.5cm heel height and center vamp lines are clearly marked on both pieces.  These two marks will be used as guidance in creating the MEAN form.

Get a clean piece of card stock, slightly bigger than one of the taped last pieces so that you have enough space to include lasting allowance around the bottom and toe area, and to slightly modify the heel lines.  Trace one of the taped last pieces onto the card stock with a pencil, making sure to mark which one is the medial side with the tick mark “^” noted earlier.  In addition, trace all of the cut design lines (use the tip of your lead pencil or any thin and sturdy object – but also dull so as not to cut the cardstock – to open up the cut lines so the lead pencil will fit through the hole and make a mark).  I prefer to use colored pencils at this stage so that it is easy to detect the lateral side lines from the medial side lines.  Once all of the lines have been copied, flip the other taped Last piece over so that the toes are facing the same direction as the piece previously traced, and line up the back heel height point with the center of the vamp center line point and trace all lines like before.

At this point, one must take into consideration the materials chosen for this design before altering the lines.  For example, leather stretches and has some give whereas tape does not.  Therefore, it would not make sense to use the same lines everywhere as we want to use of this stretch to our advantage and not end up with excess material that could cause wrinkles in our final product, nor do we want to end up with excess waste.  However, if a non-stretchy material such as satin was chosen for the upper, then the lines would need to more closely mimic the lines drawn on the tape.

First, create your new heel line.  The standards that I have learned are to divide the heel line from the feather edge up to the marked 5.5cm heel height (not the top of the Last) into thirds.  At the heel height, measure 2mm up and 2mm in.  This is your new top heel point.  The first third line down from the heel height stays the same.  From the 2/3 line, measure 2mm out and mark this measurement.  These are your new heel curve points.  Draw a new heel curve, connecting those new three marked spots and from the 2/3 point down, exaggerate the curve slightly more than the original shape of the Last itself.  Extend the curve a minimum of 14mm to account for the Lasting allowance.

From your new top heel point, draw a straight line at a 90 degree angle from the heel curve and measure 4-5mm in.  [Later, you will use this line to create your new design line.  The purpose of the 90 degree angle is so that the patterns do not come up at a point and the line wraps smoothly around the top of the heel. ]  Also measure 7mm in from your new 2/3 line.  Draw a straight line connecting the two points and then continue the line following the curve of the outside heel, but slightly in.  This is your Liner back heel line.  It is not the same as the Upper heel line due to the orange peel effect and an additional layer between the Upper and the Liner that will be added during the shoemaking process.  [During the shoemaking process, another layer of leather will be put between the upper and the line, known as the heel counter.  The heel counter is used to provide additional support for the shoe.  This is the reason why the measurements between the Liner back heel line and the Upper back heel curve are so different.  One must account for the additional layer of materials.]

Now we must create an axis point at the vamp.  Extend the line out past the toe at one end and into the design line at the other.  This is the reason why women’s high heels need that medial seam.  If we tried to make the pattern as one piece, it would be impossible to cut out the material for the two sides of the pattern overlap at the design line area of where the axis point is created.  Therefore, the medial seam needs to be somewhere inside the axis point line in order for the pattern not to overlap (see picture for example).

Now draw your lasting allowance lines from the feather edge lines.  Lasting allowances should be no less than 14mm at the heel, up to 18-20mm at the center, and back to no less than 12mm at the toe area.  In order to reduce waste, two separate lines are drawn at the center for lasting allowances as the medial side is typically longer than the lateral.

For comfort reasons, the Liner pattern is typically designed to not have a back seam, so as not to irritate the heel when walking.  Therefore, these lines must be incorporated into the MEAN form.  The heel portion of the liner is also typically flesh side out for more grip on the heel area when walking.  The rest is typically grain side up for better ease in slipping your foot into the shoe.  In order to only have two pattern pieces for the Liner, the heel liner design lines need to be inside the vamp axis line previously drawn. [In some instances with men’s shoes, and entirely new axis is created for the Liner pieces as Liner leather tends to have more stretch than Upper leather and therefore can have a deeper axis line].

Finally, you can now redesign the original design lines to be one symmetrical line for each side (as in this example) or keep two sets of lines – one for the lateral side and one for the medial side.  This is needed for the finished shoe to look symmetrical if the Last is not symmetrical.  The Last used in this example is symmetrical so it is ok to use one design line for both sides.

After all of the new lines have been created, make sure to go back and clean up all of the lines that you no longer need.  [This is why the use of a pencil vs. a pen is important].  The feather edge line that was used to create the lasting allowance line is no longer needed.  The only time a feather edge line would be important in pattern making is if there is some design element created alongside the feather edge, which is extremely tricky to do, and therefore not recommended.

Once the old lines have been cleaned up, cut out the form with the bottom edges being your lasting allowance, the top edges being the top design lines, and the new heel curve.  In addition, cut line marks for all of the additional Liner, design, seam, and medial/lateral lines drawn but be careful not to completely cut out the shapes from the main form.  Label this form as the MEAN form and also with the same info marked on the taped pieces from before (Last model name/#, Last size, design name, date) and open the cut line marks so a pencil can fit through.

This is your MEAN form and now you are ready to make your patterns.

A lesson in sketching

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Confession:  I’ve never considered myself a “creative” person.  I’ve always been good at crafty things that require dexterity of the hands, such as bracelet making, hair braiding, crochet, beading, etc. but I was never even mediocre in sketching, drawing, or painting.  I could always look at a sketch of mine and know that it wasn’t right, but had no idea how to correct it.

In June, I went back to Budapest for a Design and Prototyping course.  I was dreading this course more-so than the shoemaking one, as I was so embarrassed of my attempt at sketching.  A requirement of the course was to submit sketches of your prototype that you wanted to be made.  My original sketches looked like this:

During the course, we had homework every night, and the very first night our assignment was 100 sketches of 4 designs.  That’s 400 sketches for 1 assignment!  It sucked – and those first sketches of mine were horrendous – but after a while my lines became better and my eye for correcting my lines became better.

Now my sketches look more like this:

I still obviously have room to grow, but in a few short weeks I was able to make drastic improvements in my sketching simply by repetitive practice.  I am also planning on taking a Photoshop course so that I can digitally sketch my designs, which will help when working with the manufacturers, but hand sketching is still very important in the initial process, I think.

Lesson learned:  Practice does make perfect.


Not your ordinary everyday espadrilles

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Finished Navy/Silver Espadrilles

I’ve had the material for these navy espadrilles for a long time and have wanted to make a pair of wedges since the day I got it.

My first thought was to build up a wedge with veg-tan, but the weight of the multiple layers was heavier than I had envisioned for this shoe.

Then I tried to build up a wedge with some rubber pieces that were left over from an exercise mat that my husband had purchased.  It was much lighter, but the structure was not firm and/or sturdy enough.

I also thought about using cork but in the end decided to experiment a different way.

The interior of the wedge is a standard plastic high heel with the steel rod reinforcement.  I cemented and screwed the plastic heel to the pre-fab inner sole as I normally would with a regular high heel model.  I then molded a thin piece of veg-tan around the heel to create the wedge shape I desired and cemented that piece around a pre-cut sole piece from cork that I designed.  Finally, I wrapped the wedge with the navy espadrille material.

I was originally just going to use a black rubber sole but felt that the design needed a little something more so I wrapped a piece of veg-tan in the metallic silver and then cemented a thin piece of black Vibram rubber to the bottom.

There are definitely some improvements that need to be made to this design, including the choice of the liner (it rubs a little more than expected) and the placements of the straps for a more comfortable fit.  It was also a little tricky getting the braided espadrille layers to fit perfectly without the veg-tan peeking through anywhere and to line up the braids themselves.  My cushioned inner sole piece ended up being slightly bigger than I anticipated after I wrapped the thick gray liner around it so the finished product is slightly too big for me.  Good thing I have enough material for another pair!


No, I’m not a very good shoemaker … yet

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

I went to Budapest in March for an intensive shoemaking course with Marcell Mrsan, master shoemaker.  In that time I made two pairs of mens dress shoes.  The first one was a standard cemented construction and the second one I learned a new technique:  welt stitch construction.

Budapest was amazing; the course and the instructor were intense.  I bled, blistered, and bruised; I laughed, smiled, and yes, I also cried.  But most importantly, I took a giant leap forward in the pursuit of my dreams.

It takes me time to gain confidence and develop a comfort for new tools (especially really sharp knives and machinery of any sort), I rarely learn something well after only one or even a couple of examples – I learn best after I’ve made all the mistakes one could possibly make, I ask a lot of questions, and I’m really slow.  No, I’m not a very good shoemaker … yet.

*click on each of the pictures in the gallery for additional commentary

163 sq ft of endless possibilities

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

I just recently invested in some more materials for a project that I am working on – 163 square feet of materials in 9 different colors/styles/finishes:

New materials

There was so much that it literally took up our entire kitchen table.

Kitchen table of leather

Included are:  Lemon Yellow, Charcoal Gray, Tobacco, Luggage Basket Weave, Metallic Silver, Metallic Bronze, Metallic Champagne, Black/Tan Snake print, & Gray Snake print

Endless possibilities

I have so many ideas with what to do with all of this new material that it is quite overwhelming just making the decision of what to start on first. . .

Skiver, Glorious Leather Skiver

Monday, July 12th, 2010

No, it’s not a Fortuna Leather Skiver but it still gets the job done just the same and is more within my budget!

Close-up of my new skiver

First tool delivered via freight

This was my first tool delivery via freight.  How awesome is that!  It took up my car’s spot in the garage for a couple of days until my fiance could get help moving it into my workshop.  Again, how awesome is that!

First peek through the looking glass

My tools

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I cannot even begin to quantify how important my tools are.  They are the bread to my butter, the cheese to my mac.

I began my journey with just the tools that I acquired through shoe school.  It included many of the basics, but also several very cool specialty tools as well.  Scroll through the pictures below in the gallery to see more of them.

My hand tools and toolbelt

My hand tools and toolbelt

The very first tool that I purchased when I got home from Shoe School were my Lasting Pliers.  I had originally wanted to find some antique ones that have a skinnier neck but those have proven harder to come by.  I must say that now that I have gotten used to them, I’ve grown quite fond of this particular pair.

Lasting Pliers

Lasting Pliers

My wonderful boyfriend built my lasting jack from the specs that were given to me from Shoe School.

My lasting jack

My lasting jack

. . .And built my custom workbench – isn’t he talented. . .

My workbench

My workbench

He also surprised me at Christmas with a stamp of my logo.  I was so thrilled.  It’s the coolest thing ever to be able to put your name right on something you have created.  Right now I pound the stamp with a hammer between leather and a slab of granite to “stamp the leather” with my logo.  Sometimes the stamp bounces and does not make the perfect stamp.  Eventually, I will need to purchase a press to obtain a more perfect stamp.

Leather stamp of my logo

Leather stamp of my logo

My first major tool purchase was my Delta sander.  Did you know that industrial tools do not come pre-assembled?  Nope.  You have to assemble them yourself.

Delta Sander

Delta Sander

My next major purchase was my Singer sewing machine.  Thus far I’ve only used my sewing machine for the heels that I made for my father’s wedding. . .everything else I have hand-stitched.  I do not have any prior experience with sewing machines, so like everything else in this process I am learning it from scratch.  I have several cool attachments that I purchased with the machine that I am excited to learn how to use and incorporate into my shoe designs.

Singer 201

Singer 201

My most recent purchase has saved my poor hands and tons of replacement knife blades.  It’s an Hitachi Scroll Saw and what used to take me several hours to cut now takes mere minutes.

New Hitachi Scroll Saw - close-up

New Hitachi Scroll Saw - close-up

Lasts are by far the most important tool for shoe-making.  You not only need a different last for varying lengths and widths of shoes, but also for varying heights.  A person’s foot changes shape dramatically as the heel height of a shoe increases.  For instance, if you tried to make a pair of ballet flats from a high heel Last, the toes would curl up and the arch would be too high.  See below for my current collection of Lasts.

My current Last collection

My current Last collection

My next major purchase will more than likely be a skiver.  I do have two hand skivers and I know how to use my knife to skive edges but a skiving machine would greatly reduce the time it takes me (not to mention the materials due to accidental cutting of the leather when I only mean to thin it) to make such things as straps for sandals.

Hand skivers

Hand skivers

The gallery below includes other tools not listed above but are equally as important.

Click on the pictures in the gallery for additional descriptions.