West End shoemaker Mariano Crespo has recently been carrying out some one-to-one training course with our award-winning apprentice shoemaker George Paish in London.
So far, George (pictured left) has had two seven-hour days with Mariano back to back every two or three weeks. This is the sixth session and instead of George going down to London, Mariano came up to visit Bill Bird Shoes at our workshop in the Cotswolds.
Mariano first began learning the art of shoemaking as a teenager in Spain with his father, who worked as a cobbler. As a young adult, Mariano spent many years travelling and exploring the world, until deciding to return to his roots and focus on developing his skills as a bespoke shoemaker.
After training with a Spanish master in the art of making traditional Spanish hunting boots, Mariano went on to secure an apprenticeship with the world-renowned bootmaker, John Lobb in London’s West End. During his time there, Mariano provided his services to a wide range of clients, including members of the royal family, famous actors, artists and celebrities.
Mariano now continues the centuries-old tradition of creating exquisitely handcrafted bespoke shoes and boots from his London workshop and passing on his skills to the next generation of bespoke shoemakers.
The team at Bill Bird Shoes has just received the most beautiful thank you letter we’ve ever had – and we’ve had some good ones!
Here is Emma trying on her completed boots for the first time, with our bespoke shoemaker Rebecca holding the mirror outside our workshop in Moreton in Marsh.
Here is what she had to say:
“I wanted to take a few weeks to really ‘bed in’ my new boots before writing to you. They really are wonderful to wear, have caused no issues and are just beautiful! It isn’t an understatement to say that I feel so blooming proud and confident when I step out in them. I found myself beaming whilst walking around a supermarket last week and people, randomly, were smiling back at me. It’s been a long 3 years since I held my head high – so thank you so much. You and your wonderful team are the kindest, most professional, passionate and fun people. I genuinely miss driving up for fittings! I understand your jobs can be very emotional but also must be hugely rewarding. I just wanted to say thank you and thank you again. 45 hours of stunning craftmanship has truly changed my life – for that you will always have my gratitude and support.” Emma, Hampshire
Thank you Emma, we really are delighted you are so pleased!
At the age of fourteen Bill Bird had a foot problem that was making walking more and more difficult. The pain and discomfort of this condition not only led him to a career as a top bespoke orthopaedic shoemaker in the UK but to a starring role in a video teaching programme about his work, aimed at a worldwide audience.
Now aged 68 and a leading light in his profession, Bill recently attended the launch of the programme at a special showing to an invited audience of British and international footwear specialists at a gala dinner in London.
Bill’s wide-ranging skills and knowledge were amassed over more than 40 years as a shoemaker and last-maker in London’s West End and through his own thriving small business and workshop near Moreton in Marsh.
The filming was done at his workshop following an idea from Cotswold philanthropist Richard Paice and produced by Herefordshire based filmmakers, Artisan Media.
The series of 23 teaching videos – the result of 250 production hours – are now available worldwide on their own YouTube channel. As Bill’s legacy to all aspiring specialist shoemakers, they are also completely free of charge.
Apprentice shoemaker George Paish has walked away with a prestigious accolade just five months after joining Bill Bird Shoes in Blockley with no previous footwear experience.
The 26-year-old trainee from Moreton in Marsh was named the winner of the 2019 David Xavier Student Bespoke Shoemaking Award at the Independent Shoemakers’ Conference in Harrogate at the weekend (Feb 22-24). This is the second year running that the award has been scooped by a budding shoemaker from Bill Bird Shoes!
Not only were his leather Derby boots with suede and zip detailing the first pair he had ever made but this born and bred Moreton apprentice beat off stiff competition from two international graduates from the prestigious London College of Fashion and two entrants with Master’s Degrees in Footwear Design.
“I am delighted to have won as I really didn’t expect to. I chose the design as I wanted to create something different and eye catching that made people want to pick them up and look more closely,” said George.
“As the boots were made to my measurements I was able to experience the whole shoemaking process from both a client and maker’s perspective, which was a valuable learning experience and gave me an appreciation for the work we do.
“Having worked in a mixture of industries previously, from healthcare to a brief stint in joinery, it’s helped me realise I always wanted to work in an environment that allows me to be creative, practical and problem solving. Luckily I get to do all of these in the workshop every day!”
The award, in memory of Midlands’ shoemaker David Xavier, challenged budding shoemakers to make footwear to accommodate a medical condition. George’s boots accommodated high arches, rear foot equinus (where the upward bending motion of the ankle joint is limited), as well as a wide foot and high sitting toes.
Bill Bird Shoes has taken delivery of 60 pairs of beech spokes from Italy for making our hand carved bespoke orthopaedic lasts. This is the first time we have done this – most of our lasts have been made from beech planks from Germany.
The reason we decided to change is because a spoke is a log split into four. This makes it a much more efficient use of the wood and they are also cut from much younger trees.
“The way the last is cut from the spoke, the bark is parallel to the bottom of the last,” explains Bill Bird.
“There is much less tangential shrinkage along the width of the last than radial shrinkage in the height of the last. This means that the lasts are much more stable in shape and size over long periods of time.
“The final reason we decide to change is that the lasts can be made from one piece of wood, whereas with the planked wood they need to be glued up from two pieces. Again, this makes for a stronger last.”
“I am now walking around 8 miles a day, so it’s no wonder Ben is complaining,” said Victor.
“Previously I’d had some NHS orthotic shoes made but they just weren’t comfortable. I found Bill Bird Shoes in an internet search and I was pleased to find they were only two hours away from us in Corsham, Wiltshire.
“I had my first pair in August and picked up my second pair today (23.1.19). They have had a commando sole fitted to ensure I don’t wear them out!”
Bill Bird said he was delighted to craft the fell boots for Victor that allow him to walk with confidence and in comfort – and hopes he hasn’t upset Ben too much!
Bill Bird Shoes has taken delivery of three machines that will help improve results, achieve greater precision and provide greater safety for our bespoke shoemakers.
The shoemakers in Gloucestershire solve fitting and walking difficulties for people across the UK by handcrafting made-to-measure footwear. The team was offered a state-of-the-art Italian skiving machine for upper leathers free of charge – the only problem was that it was at the German School of Orthopaedic Shoemaking in Dusseldorf!
This did not deter Bill Bird shoemaker Chris and his dad Mick, who drove the 22-hour round trip to pick up the machine and return it to our workshop in the Cotswolds. And very grateful we are too.
Extra safety, greater confidence
The second machine we bought from our dear friend and fellow shoemaker, David Xavier, who died in 2016. It is a German-made combination leather trimmer and skiver that allows us to trim heavy soles, among other things.
A drill press completes the list and this allows us to achieve really accurate drilling, which is especially useful when adding heels or making lasts, the wooden blocks around which shoes are made.
Previously we would have carried out the tasks by hand with hand drills and knives and there was the danger we would cut the leather uppers – or ourselves – if we slipped. These big, heavy, solid machines can be relied upon to steady the work and give even the least experienced of us the confidence to do an excellent job every time.
Buying a pair of handmade shoes or boots is an investment. You can double the life of your made-to-measure footwear by buying a bespoke shoe or boot tree.
Hand crafted by the bespoke orthopaedic shoemakers at Bill Bird Shoes in the Cotswolds, the shoe tree replicates your last – the wooden blocks around which your shoes are made.
The shoe tree is easy to get into and out of your shoes. Every time the shoe tree is placed back into your shoe it reforms it, taking it back to its original shape. This helps avoid creases forming over the vamp, the front of the shoe or boot, keeping them smooth and new-looking.
Shoe trees from Bill Bird Shoes cost between £120 – £140 and boot trees start at £300 and are made from either beech wood or aromatic cedar.
If you would like to find out more about the handmade shoe and boot trees from Bill Bird Shoes in the Midlands, please get in touch. You can email or call us on 01386 700855 and we look forward to hearing from you.
Bill, Russell and Emily have plenty of experience of planning and hosting the much-anticipated annual event and were happy to share their tips. This is the first time Tony and Jane, from T Slinger Footwear, have hosted the event – and they have lots of great ideas up their sleeves!
The conference, taking place on February 22nd – 24th at the Old Swan Hotel, is set to attract shoemakers from across the world, including Lisa Sorrell, America’s finest cowboy bootmaker and Swedish bespoke shoemaker, Carina Eneroth.
The event will include lots of different topics, talks and workshops about shoes and feet and we are very much looking forward to attending.
We are so proud to announce that Chris Thorne of Bill Bird Shoes in Gloucestershire scooped the David Xavier Award at the 20th Independent Shoemakers Conference in Eastbourne recently – with his first ever pair of shoes.
The annual award, in memory of Midlands’ shoemaker and dear friend David Xavier, challenged budding shoemakers to make footwear to accommodate a medical condition.
Chris previously worked as an upholsterer in the vintage car industry for many years before joining Bill Bird Shoes. Although Chris has been making lasts here for a few years now, his winning entry, a pair of dark tan Derby brogues, the first pair of shoes he had ever made by himself.
Chris also produced an eye-catching portfolio describing the process he went through including his many mistakes and learnings along the way. He was presented with a silver trophy, £300 cash and £300 in leather vouchers.
Adele Williamson, an apprentice bespoke shoemaker at Tricker’s of Northampton, was named runner up. Adele’s entry was a pair of very elegant zip up the inside ankle boots to her own design.
Adele graduated with a BA from DMU in Footwear Design and Illustration in 2016 before being taken on by Tricker’s, which has been producing distinctive and carefully crafted shoes and boots since 1829. The contest attracted six entries and was a close run thing between the two of them.
Voting was made by the 80 delegates of the conference rather than by a panel. Each delegate had a little wooden last shape to tuck into a brown envelope next to the contestant’s entry.