In the old days obtaining finished goods was not as easy as going to a store and picking your favorite of what’s in stock or sitting on your sofa and ordering something online. It was only around the beginning of the 20th century that good quality, pre-made clothing and shoes became common place. Much of the clothing before that had been made at home and yardage of fabric was a much more common store item than was finished clothing.
This went for shoes as well, which was a skilled trade that was difficult to replicate at home. In towns and cities, the cobbler was a staple in the community. Without his services, the alternative would have been to make your own moccasins or slippers from leather and this yielded mixed results. If you could afford it, a pair of shoes by the tradesman was ideal, though not cheap. And, this is because of the many hours it took to make one pair of shoes by hand.
The last or shoe form must be created and then adjustments to the last indicated on the pattern pieces. Different grades and types of leather had to be used for the uppers, linings, and soles. The heels were often created from many layers of leather stacked together and then painstakingly shaved down to the proper shape- all done by hand.
Because it was a fiddly and time-consuming process, mass production of shoes quickly replaced the town cobbler. But, for the upper classes custom shoes were still being made in the 20th century, perfectly formed and styled to meet the needs of fashionable ladies.
Cobblers or “cordwainers” as they are also known (for the burgundy cordovan leather of Spain so commonly used in shoes of the past) have dwindled in number over the years and some of these skills seemed to be lost. But, custom shoemaker, Vicky D’Incecco, is keeping these skills alive and sharing the process on her YouTube channel.
If you’ve ever wondered how shoes, particularly ornate women’s high heels, were made in the old days then you’re in luck. See how D’Incecco creates a gorgeous pair of Edwardian style ladies’ heels -complete with a custom pattern on the bottom- in the charming video below set to classical music.