Upper Making Process: The MEAN Form

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.

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One Response to “Upper Making Process: The MEAN Form”

  1. Juan says:

    I do not own asymmetrical lasts… mine are symmetrical… I just read the whole article… after my first posting…

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