jcusey

Senior Moderator<br>Technical Support
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There is frequent mention on the forums about the different methods of shoe construction, but there isn't always a whole lot of explanation about what is actually going on with the different methods and what their benefits and drawbacks are. I thought that I would do a series of posts exploring this. I'm going to break it up into a series of replies to this post for the sake of convenience.
 

jcusey

Senior Moderator<br>Technical Support
2,660
Goodyear



First up is Goodyear welting.

The diagram above (lifted from La Botte Chantilly a French online shoe store) shows the basics of Goodyear welting. With this method, there are four major parts of the shoe: the upper (the portion of the shoe that forms the parts normally observed when a shoe is being worn, including the basic design of the shoe and the lacing), the insole (the piece of leather at the bottom of the shoe that the foot comes into contact with when the shoe is being worn), the outsole (the piece of leather that forms the bottom of the shoe and that comes into contact with the ground while the shoe is being worn), and the welt (a thin strip of leather that runs around the perimeter of the outsole.

The first step in Goodyear welting is to prepare the insole for stitching. This is done by creating a rib perpendicular to the face of the insole through which shoemaker's twine can be stitched. There are three major methods for doing this. First, the rib can be carved out by hand from the face of the insole using specialized shoemaker's cutting tools. To the best of my knowledge, only makers who welt their shoes by hand use this method anymore, and I'm not even sure if it's possible to machine-welt a shoe with a carved insole. Second, a cut can be made into the edge of the insole and the rib turned back and stabilized with linen tape or other mechanisms. I believe that this was the original method for rib creation used in machine-welted shoes; but today, the only manufacturer that I know of that still uses it is JM Weston. Third, a rib made of stiffened linen tape can be glued (gemmed) onto the insole. This sounds like a shoddy procedure unlikely to produce a quality shoe, but this is not the case. When done properly, the gemming is extremely secure and long-lived, and the linen rib can take as many reweltings as a cut-and-turned rib.

The second step is in lasting the shoe. This means that the upper (with its lining) is pulled tightly over the last and secured to it, along with the insole. Lasting can either be done by hand using shoemaker's pliers and elbow grease, or it can be done by a machine. Most ready-made welted shoes use the machine. The third step is the actual welting. Here, shoemaker's twine is sewn through the welt strip, the upper, and the rib of the insole. This is done with a lockstitch, which means that all of the stitching won't unravel if one stitch becomes abraded or comes undone. Finally, another row of lockstitching connects the other side of the welt to the outsole. Both rows of lockstitching can be either done by hand or by machine. The machine is called a Goodyear welting machine and was invented by Charles Goodyear, son of the man who invented the process for vulcanizing rubber, in the 19th Century. His invention revolutionized shoe construction because it made mass manufacturing of shoes possible. Hand welting shoes is time-consuming, back-breaking process that can take more than 20 hours per pair of shoes [edit: shoefan points out below that the actual welting only takes 1 to 2 hours. Attaching the welt to the sole takes more time, of course. I stand by the description of the labor as "back-breaking"]. Operating a Goodyear welting machine takes skill, but a pair of shoes can be welted in minutes.

Today, very few ready-made shoes are still hand-welted (Vass is one of these). Are hand-welted shoes superior to machine-welted ones? Well, it depends on what you mean by superior. It is possible to have a more sculpted, beveled, narrow waist with hand-welting than it is with machine-welting. Waist appearance is important in shoes, but it is only an aesthetic consideration, not functional. It's doubtful that machine-welted shoes are any less durable than hand-welted ones, and it is possible that the converse is true.

I see two principal advantages for Goodyear-welted shoes, both emanating from the same aspect of construction. First, they are relatively water-resistant. Because nothing goes through the face of the insole of the shoe, groundwater doesn't have an easy path into the interior of the shoe. In contrast, with Blake construction, there is a row of stitching through the face of the insole connecting it to the outsole, which allows groundwater to wick into the interior of the shoe. Second, they are relatively comfortable (assuming that the last fits the wearer's foot well) because there isn't a row of stitching on the face of the insole to irritate the bottom of the wearer's foot. In addition, most makers of ready-made shoes put a layer of cork amalgam in the void between the ribs on either side of the insole; and this cork amalgam molds to the bottom of the foot, which sometimes enhances comfort.

Prominent makers of Goodyear-welted shoes include Alden, Allen-Edmonds, Edward Green, Gaziano & Girling, Vass, Grenson, Tricker's, JM Weston, and Alfred Sargent. In addition, many Italian manufacturers can do Goodyear-welted shoes, although they can also use many other construction techniques.
 
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jcusey

Senior Moderator<br>Technical Support
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Blake



Next up is Blake construction.

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.
 

jcusey

Senior Moderator<br>Technical Support
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Blake/Rapid



Next is 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.
 

jcusey

Senior Moderator<br>Technical Support
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Bologna



Now we move on to 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.
 

jcusey

Senior Moderator<br>Technical Support
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Norwegian



Finally, there's Norwegian (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.
 

bengal-stripe

Super Member
1,087
In the former Habsburg empire they call a Nowegian welt “Goiserer” (comes up with Vass shoes and with fritzl’s postings frequently).

“Goiserer” named after the town of Bad Goisern in Austria, is exactly the same thing as Norwegian construction: distinguishing feature is the L-shaped welt stitched on the outside of the shoe and not flat underneath as in standard welt construction.

P.S. I have no idea, who was the first to invent this method , Norway or Austria.
 

Roger

Super Member
1,451
Canada
British Columbia
Vancouver
Great stuff, Jcusey. There is a Dutch clothing and style forum (http://www.stijlforum.nl/SMF/index.php?) that used to have excellent diagrams of all of these construction methods, but it has, alas, disappeared. I hesitate to call up the Norwegian-Norvegese distinction that has been discussed in the past, but perhaps you could provide a little more detail on these and the reasons for not distinguishing between them. As I have understood your earlier posts, you define Norvegese as the Italian cordwainers would--meaning no welt. In fact, I recall your saying that if a shoe has a welt, it is neither Norwegian nor Norvegese (by your definition). A little more clarification here would really be helpful.

Edit: A point or two re Blake-Rapid. You didn't mention that one disadvantage--one that you give for Blake--is the possible foot irritation from the interior stitching. The reduced flexibility, relative to Goodyear welting, comes from the fact that the midsole extends over the entire surface of the sole, rather than only at the edges. Theoretically, therefore, the shoe should be less flexible, and yet a number of people have said that they have noticed no difference in actual wear.
 
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shoefan

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
117
One correction re: hand welting. A good 'maker' can hand-welt a pair of shoes in 1 to 2 hours. 20 hours is more like what it takes a 'maker' to complete the entire making process, including lasting, refining the toe box, welting, sewing the outsole, building the heels, and finishing the sole edges and bottoms.
 

fritzl

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
404
P.S. I have no idea, who was the first to invent this method , Norway or Austria.
Could have happened at the same time. They had no interwebz, back then.



Here is the close up of Goyserer welt on a "summer" shoe - the "Slatin Pasha"(executed in the Maftei workshop, Vienna). So this is(as mentioned by jcusey) purely for aesthetics and an expertise of excellent craftmanship.

The length of the stitches, in general, depends on the purpose of the shoes and is followed, of course, by the aesthetic appeal.

Longer stitches, means more durability. It is used for work boots, hiking boots and the typical footgear of "our" national costume - the Haferlschuh.

 
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