The team at Bill Bird Shoes in Gloucestershire make handmade shoes, mainly for people with problem feet. Recently a challenge was set: to make wedding shoes for Bill Bird’s son and daughter-in-law for their wedding in February 2017.
In this blog, Bill talks through the process of making made-to-measure wedding shoes for Henry and Lydia.
When Lydia said, “How many girls get a wedding dress made by their mother and shoes made by their father-in-law?”, I thought, “How many men get to make the shoes that their son and daughter-in-law get married in?” The wedding dress was exquisite by the way and I knew it would be… so what a delightful challenge!
I had already made shoes for Henry several years ago and what better way to fine-tune a bespoke last than to study a well-worn shoe that had been made on it and make adjustments accordingly. Henry’s wedding suit was a dark grey so with a little consideration he chose navy blue, the shade so dark it looks like black unless against a truly black leather. Henry’s handmade shoes, crafted at Bill Bird Shoes’ workshop in the Cotswolds, would be full Oxford brogues with wing-caps and counters.
Choosing the leathers
Lydia’s shoes would be a far greater challenge as they would be going through all the stages that any new client would go through. Lydia and Henry came up from London in October with my daughter Millie, to choose leathers, choose styles and to have Lydia measured. She brought with her a much-loved but after 10 years, totally worn-out pair of Carvelas from Kurt Geiger. We could keep them as a starter for the style and with two tones on the upper plus a third for piping, we were soon going through our extensive range of kid and calf leathers.
We finally came up with a fine, dark tan calf for the vamps, a mid grey suede kid for the quarters, to be trimmed with gold kid rolled-edge piping. They were to be made with 2.5mm oak bark leather soles with 60mm stacked, slightly shaped Cuban heels. I did the sketches and it really was exciting.
Lydia came to Bill Bird Shoes’ London Clinic at Grey Flannel on Chiltern Street one afternoon in November so we could evaluate her lasts with a thermo-plastic shell. She stood in these mock-ups and we took measurements to ensure that the last behaved in the shells the same way that her feet did.
With a few adjustments the lasts were ready. Emily cut the patterns then Russell and I began to take in the complexity of turning a gold kid rolled edge around such tight curves, against a delicate grey suede!
We experimented with a few prototypes before braving the final piece. We got it wrong and changed the design so that the top quarters were of one piece continuous at the back so that the rolled edge could be done as one fine edge from the inside facings all the way around to the outside facings. This worked well and soon the uppers were ready for lasting.
This was my job again and I had a deadline for both Henry’s and Lydia’s shoes to be ready for a fitting on our visit to London over Christmas. We were all excited but I felt the anxiety I always feel at this stage as within a few moments I would find out how good the fit was. Henry’s were an excellent fit of course as this was his second pair.
With Henry banished from the room (a tradition that forbids the groom seeing his bride’s wedding attire until the Big Day) we tried Lydia’s shoes. To my relief they fitted, clasped her heels well despite the low cut and were only slightly too tight on the joints. Back in the workshop, I added to the lasts where necessary and finished off both pairs by mid January so that they could sit on the lasts for a few weeks.
Lydia came up to Chiltern Street early in February to pick up Henry’s shoes and to try on her own. They fitted perfectly and she danced up and down to prove it. My job was now done and all that was left for my wife, Kate, and I was to get to the Bath Guildhall on time!