HAND SEWN UPPERS
Sewing entire uppers by hand has not been seen in the industry for decades. We proudly reintroduced this applied art and additionally implement an unusual two-tone stitch, which we called TWIST (a Registered Community Design by Zonkey Boot). The basic technique is similar to the welt stitching. Stitch by stitch the upper is pricked with an awl and a linen thread is sewn into the hole with two needles from each side. Depending on the model two to three hours are needed to complete an upper.
Hand-welted Goodyear is a commonly used term but actually incorrect. Goodyear implicates the use of a Goodyear welt-stitching machine. We like to have our welts hand stitched, because it enhances rigorously the flexibility of the shoe compared to machine welted Goodyear shoes.
Hand welting is amongst the most difficult hand sewing operations in the leather manufacturing trade. Besides its trickiness, the process is time consuming. There are about 160 stitches to be made on a pair and it takes roughly 40 minutes to do them. The same operation done with a welt-stitching machine takes rather less than a minute for a pair! While our craftsman stitches one pair, the machine worker makes 40 pairs.
The strap or welt is sewn at the edge of the running surface of the lasted shoe, which at that point looks like a shoe without sole and its technical purpose is to fix the upper to the insole and at the same time to provide a flat band around the shoe for the actual sole to be stitched on. So upper, insole and welt are stitched together with one seam.
The Norwegian stitching is a close relative to the hand welting. Instead of sewing a welt to the insole and upper only the upper is stitched to the insole with a braided stitch (Norvegese intrecciato). Later on, the sole is stitched to an excess overlap of the upper leather, which has been folded outwards.
Though Zonkey Boot might be a young company, our lasts have ancestors, which go back to the early ‘90s of the last century when Michael Rollig launched his own bespoke line. His main last was a crossbreed between a probably American last named Vulcano (found at the Paris flea market) which showed extraordinary orthopaedic features and a beautiful Italian mother which was fashioned out of wood and polyester lute under supervision of Signor Loris, a last maker who we work with to date. Thousands of shoes have been made on this early ancestor’s descendants. The toe boxes might have changed, the heels might have become a little higher or lower, but the bone structure is still there, in what we call now the High Street, the Sailor, the Classic and the Traveller lasts.
MOCCASINS SEWN BY HAND ON THE LAST
A moccasin is made, by definition, from two pieces of upper leather. One is wrapped from under the sole up to the up side of the last, and the second one, called apron is sewn to the edges of the under part.
Presently the vast majority of moccasins on the market are slip-lasted. Which means that the last is pushed into a pre-sewn upper like a hand would be pushed into a glove. Accordingly to gloves, slip-lasted moccasins tend to loose their shape faster than the hand lasted ones.
And this is what we do with our hand-sewn moccasins. The under part of the upper is pulled up bit-by-bit with a pincer and temporarily fixed with pegs where later the apron part is stitched in by hand. This hand lasting allows to pull out all pleads before stitching on the apron. Skilled craftsmen need about one and a half hours to last and stitch a pair. This type of moccasin will keep its shape and fit for a long time.
Most so-called hand-dyed shoes are actually stained when they are already made up. The tannery pre-dyes the upper leather and only some waxy colour effects are applied on top with a sponge. We are applying a transparent aniline dye on the cut upper leather pieces before they are sewn together. This thin fluid dye deeply penetrates the grain and generates this particular transparent appearance.
In the tanning process, dressing follows dyeing. So it was a natural step forward for us to start dyeing entire skins and dress them by ourselves. Basically this means that waxes, fat and oils are applied to the half made up leathers and manually worked deep into the skin’s fibre structure. Other leathers which come over compacted from the tanneries need to be de-greased and softened by rinsing in hot water and churning by hand. Dressing leathers is pretty much like cooking. A good source for the ingredients is crucial, the rest is up to the chef’s mood.
We use shoe wax from a tin, water – no Champagne – and a cotton frazzle. Furthermore the finisher is equipped with an old knitting needle to clean the perforation and a toothbrush to get the wax into the gap between sole und upper. It takes an hour for a pair to achieve a high gloss, which lets you look through the surface of the leather deep into the shades of aniline dyed heaven.
Most of our laced-up shoes come with these unique rounded leather laces. The challenge was to get them thin (2.2 mm) and tear proof and smooth. They are made of calf leather – the rest of the story has to be left in the dark.