The Construction of a Shoe

Over one hundred operations go into the construction of a shoe. The first and most important of these is the creation of the last. The last is a hand-carved wood or moulded plastic replica of the human foot. The last determines the contour of the arch and how evenly the wearer's weight will be distributed throughout the foot. A different last is required for each shoe style and size to be produced.

Before a shoe can be made, as many as thirty-five measurements are taken from a footprint to show the distribution of the body weight. The maker judges the symmetry of the toes, calibrates the girth of the instep and ball of the foot, and calculates the height of the big toe and the contour of the instep. He or she must also estimate how the foot will move inside the shoe. All of these ratios must be addressed without compromising the architectural beauty of the shoe design.

For a heeled shoe, the maker visualises the heel height, than determines the size of the throat. Next the appropriate height of the shoe's quarter is established. If it is too high it will rub the tendons, and if it is too low, the shoe will fail to grip the foot properly.

Crucial to the fit of a shoe is the measurement of the shank curve, including the ball and instep. This is where the body's weight falls when the foot is in motion.

Using the last as a guide, the pattern maker cuts out the shoe upper and lining. The edges are then bevelled to ensure a good fit and the pieces are then sewn together. Next, a toe box is constructed, the counter is added, and the leather is soaked so it will easily conform to the lines of the last.

The upper is positioned on the last, tautly stretching it before nailing it tightly onto the last. The upper dries on the last for two weeks before the sole and the heel can be attached.

The final steps are to trim the welt, pare the heel, burnish the sole and add the insole lining. Last the shoe is polished and buffed, and it is ready for sale.