Showing posts with label Shoe construction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shoe construction. Show all posts

Friday, January 4, 2008

Shoe Construction: Norwegian

For our final installment of posts about shoe construction, we'll discuss Norwegian construction (also called Norvegese). Despite the name, it's a specialty of a relatively small number of Italian shoemakers. It was originally conceived as a way to make shoes more waterproof, but the Italians who specialize it today do it mostly for aesthetics and to illustrate their shoemaking virtuosity.

The diagram above (again from La Botte Chantilly) shows the basics. With Goodyear construction, the leather for the upper runs parallel to the feather (the ridge in the insole); and it, the feather, and the welt are stitched together. With Norwegian construction, the upper is turned outward to sit on top of and parallel to the outsole. Two rows of stitching connect it to the feather of the insole and the outsole, respectively. Although the diagram above shows a welt, most Norwegian-constructed shoes don't have one. Goodyear welted shoes are water resistant because this channel doesn't lead to the inside of the shoe, but Norwegian construction takes this one step further by turning out the upper. Doing that instead of running it parallel to the feather denies a channel for water to get into the shoe at all, not just to get to the inside of the shoe. Technically, only a single row of stitching connecting the upper to the feather is required, but many shoemakers choose to have two or more braided rows of stitching to decorate the shoe.

Sutor Mantellassi is the maker of the mostly widely-distributed Norwegian-constructed shoes in the United States (they use a single row of stitching, not a braided double row), but they're hardly the only one. Santoni, A. Testoni, Lattanzi, and others all produce some Norwegian shoes, many of them simply superlative. If you can find them, Norwegian shoes made by Borgioli represent an excellent value. Beware of Blake-constructed shoes that have the same braided stitching at the base of the uppers -- if the shoe is Blake-constructed, that braiding is completely decorative. It doesn't hurt anything, but manufacturers and retailers often think that its presence justifies a much higher price. If it's not a legitimate Norwegian-constructed shoe, then it doesn't.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Shoe Construction: Bologna

Bologna construction is another Italian specialty; and on initial examination, it may look somewhat similar to Blake construction because of the row of stitching going from the inside of the shoe through to the outsole. However, the two construction methods really are very different. Bologna construction is sometimes called bag construction or tubular construction because the leather forming the upper goes all the way around the shoe, being sewn into a bag or a tube. The upper part of this leather is lined with normal lining leather. The lower part of this leather, where the foot will rest in the finished shoe, is lined with a soft leather insole much less stout than the kind of insole that you would find in a Goodyear or a Blake shoe. The upper lining is connected to the soft insole via a row of stitching on the underside of the both, so that you'll see a trench on the inside of a Bologna shoe. The row of stitching connecting the upper to the outsole is closer to the wall of the upper than it is on a Blake shoe, and its much less likely to come into contact with the wearer's toes.

As with Blake construction, one of the benefits of Bologna construction is that it's possible for the sole to be extremely close-cut, if that's aesthetically important. Bologna construction also makes for an extremely flexible shoe. Blake shoes are usually flexible, but they can't compare to the flexibility of Bologna shoes, all other things being equal, because of the thinness and pliability of the soft insole in Bologna shoes. The principal reason that Bologna construction exists is to produce extremely soft, slipper-comfortable shoes. That, of course, is one of the limitations of the construction method, too. Bologna constructed shoes aren't the most durable, and they don't provide the same degree of support to the foot while walking that Goodyear, Blake, or Blake/Rapid shoes do. Because Bologna construction has that row of stitching going from the inside of the shoe all the way through the outsole, Bologna shoes have the same moisture-wicking problem that Blake shoes do. And, for some reason, the outsoles of Bologna constructed shoes tend to be slightly convex, meaning that they wear more rapidly at the center of the sole than toward the edges.

The two most prominent practitioners of Bologna construction in Italy are A. Testoni and Artioli, although there are many other manufacturers who use it for at least some of their shoes. Gravati and Santoni both make excellent Bologna constructed shoes, and the diagram above was taken from the Santoni USA website.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Shoe Construction: Blake/Rapid

As the name suggests, Blake/Rapid construction is a whole lot like Blake construction. There is a row of Blake stitching along the insole; but instead of attaching the insole to the outsole, it attaches the insole to a midsole. The midsole is attached to the outsole by a row of stitching (that's the Rapid part of the combination) running outside the shoe. Conceptually, it's a bit like a combination of Goodyear welting and Blake construction. Because the row of Blake stitching doesn't go all the way from the interior of the sole to the outsole, it doesn't have the problem with ground moisture that Blake-constructed shoes; but this increased degree of waterproofing comes at a price. The presence of the midsole and the necessity for a row of stitching on the outside of the shoe attaching the midsole to the outsole mean that Blake/Rapid shoes can neither be as flexible nor have soles that are as close-cut as Blake-constructed shoes. In addition, all other things being equal, Blake/Rapid shoes will have a more rugged appearance than equivalent shoes made with Blake construction. This can either be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the look that you're seeking.

Like Blake construction, Blake/Rapid construction is a mainstay for most Italian manufacturers. Most manufacturers who do Blake also do Blake/Rapid and will switch between the two depending on the shoes that they are making. The diagram above is courtesy of Ron Rider, who is the US agent for Romano Martegani, a prominent manufacturer in Tradate in Italy that is something of a Blake/Rapid specialist.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Shoe Construction: Blake

Blake construction is the bread and butter of the Italian shoe industry. Although Italian shoe manufacturers use a dizzying array of construction techniques, probably more good-quality shoes are made using Blake construction than all of the other methods combined.

The diagram above (again lifted from the La Botte Chantilly website) shows what is involved with Blake construction, and it should be immediately clear why it is so popular: it's a lot simpler than Goodyear welting. There is a single row of stitching that attaches the insole to the upper (turned under the insole) and the outsole. Obviously, since the stitching runs inside of the shoe, it's not possible for a Blake-constructed shoe to be stitched together by hand; so this construction technique is a child of the Industrial Revolution. It's named for Lyman Reed Blake, and American inventor who patented the machine to accomplish this in 1856. He later sold the patent to a man named Gordon McKay, and one consequently sees this construction method referred to as McKay construction.

Blake construction has two principal advantages. First, because it requires no stitching on the sole edges outside the shoe, it is possible to get extremely close-cut soles with it, much more closely cut than would ever be possible with a Goodyear-welted shoe. Second, because Blake-constructed shoes have fewer layers in the sole, they tend to be more flexible than Goodyear -welted shoes. The principal disadvantages are all outgrowths of the stitching along the insole. This row of stitching can irritate some feet, especially when it is not covered by a sock liner. More seriously, it can wick moisture from the ground into the inside of the shoe. Unless they have rubber soles, Blake-constructed shoes will always be less waterproof than Goodyear-welted shoes, all other things being equal.

Shoe snobs tend to disparage Blake-constructed shoes, and I think that this tendency is unfortunate. It is true that Italy turns out a lot of cheap, junky Blake-constructed shoes, but I would put a Blake-constructed shoe from an excellent maker like Gravati up against any comparably-priced footwear, regardless of construction. They're better-made and better-finished than any of the English-made Goodyear-welted shoes that I have seen at a similar price point. And, despite what you might hear from salesmen pushing Allen-Edmonds or other Goodyear-welted shoes, Blake shoes can be resoled. The cobbler just needs a Blake soling machine, which are admittedly less common than Goodyear welting machines, at least in the United States.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

On Shanks

A shank is a rigid strip of steel, wood, fiberboard, or plastic that runs longitudinally in a shoe from around the middle of the heel to behind where the ball of the foot sits. The picture to the left is of some Chinese-made steel shanks, and shanks made from other materials will have a similar appearance. Probably no other feature of a men's shoe gets more column inches in marketing material than does the shank. Consider what Alden says about shanks:
Every Alden New England shoe carries a tempered steel shank, precisely contoured and triple ribbed for extra strength. Truly the backbone of a fine welt shoe, the shank provides the proper support and shape so necessary when your day involves much walking and time on your feet.

In other words, the shank makes the shoe more comfortable and provides support for the foot. Contrast this to what Allen-Edmonds writes about their construction, which is shankless:
Unlike most shoes, Allen-Edmonds require no rigid shank for support. Shankless, our shoes move naturally with your feet and feel great the first time you wear them.

They don't put shanks in their shoes, you see, to keep them flexible and comfortable.

Both pieces of marketing are so much hokum. Regardless of the method of construction, shoes shouldn't flex in the area of the waist. Any shoe that does flex in this area while the wearer is walking will quickly be torn apart. The shank helps to provide this rigidity, and it ties the heel of the shoe to parts forward -- there is nothing else to do it if the heel is close-cut or the shoe is Blake- or Blake/Rapid-constructed. Shanks do indeed provide support, but for the shoe, not for the foot wearing the shoe. Allen-Edmonds shoes don't need the rigidity and the stability that shanks provide because they all have 360 degree welts. This welting both ties the heel to the rest of the shoe and supports the shoe's waist. One method is not inherently superior to the other except in the realm of aesthetics: a 360 degree welt is inherently clunky-looking. It's impossible to make a sleek heel or waist on a shoe that has a 360 degree welt. This limitation doesn't necessarily make any difference on, say, a gunboat of a shoe like a long wing; but it certainly does make a difference on something that is supposed to be more refined.