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John Shepherd

Nationality: Canadian
Course: shoe design and making
Program: Summer Course
Period : May 9,2016-Jun. 3,2016, Jun. 6, 2016-Jun.17,2016

I was born in Vancouver, Canada. Leatherwork and shoemaking has been an interest of mine for a long time. Although I have been making shoes for a number of years, I came to Accademia Riaci to improve my skills in both shoemaking and design. My plan is to learn as much as I can here in Europe before returning to Vancouver to create a label, and start a business making shoes.

Jun. 06, 2016 | Posted in Reports, Shoemaking , | Tags:, Reporter: John Shepherd | Course: Shoemaking

Shoe Making 4-Summer Course 2016

My Fourth Week

The oxford shoes are well underway now. They will be “welted”, or as they say here in Italy, “goodyear stitched.” This method involves sewing the lasted upper to the insole, with a strip of leather, (the welt), sewn in between. Two channels need to be cut around the perimeter (the feather edge) of the insoles. It is very precise work that is only appreciated by shoemakers, because you do not see this work on the finished shoe. By Wednesday, the shoes were about half-way done in the lasting process

Thursday was a national holiday in Italy. It is called Republic Day, similar to Independence Day in the United States, and Canada Day in Canada. The school was closed, so I took a short train trip to the medieval town of Siena. It is located about 70 kilometers from Florence. Although it was raining periodically, the medieval buildings with green rolling hills as a backdrop were rich in texture in the grey, misty light. By late afternoon, the sun burned away the clouds, and the Piazza del Campo, one of the largest squares in Europe, came to life.

As you wander through the medieval streets, keep your eyes peeled for open doors. I entered a large building and walked right into the middle of an opera performance. It was a beautiful hall, with 500 year old frescos on the walls and ceiling. The hall was a hospital in the 14th and 15th centuries, where the sick and the poor were looked after. This afternoon, there were eight young opera singers accompanied only by a pianist. They performed one song each, one after another. The ambience was glorious, and the sound of these young voices was strong and sweet.

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Angelo demonstrating how to make a thread for stitching. Most people do not realize that even the threads for stitching welts and soles are made by hand. Individual strands of hemp or linen are twisted and waxed into a very strong thread. The ends are tapered in order to attach needles at both ends.

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The insole is made of vegetable tanned leather. It is dipped in water and nailed to the bottom of the last, and left to dry. It molds to the shape of the last, giving support to the feet.

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Strolling one evening in Florence, I came across a bronzed Cosimo d’Medici on his horse. The statue is much larger than life. The city is full of reminders of the power and influence of the Medici family.

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The insole is now dry, and the channels are being cut around the perimeter.

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Before the shoe is lasted, an awl is used to pierce the stitching holes through the channel on the insole

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The lasting process begins. The upper must be centered precisely on the last. The seams must line up, and all the access leather stretched under, so the upper fits tight to the last.

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My favorite photo location is the windowsill of the workshop. Here you see the shoe with the heel and the toe lasted. The lasting is about half finished. The toe will have to be lasted one more time with a leather stiffener in-between the lining and the upper.

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There was time left in the day after the lasting was done. I made a pattern for a chukka boot, cut out an upper, and lasted it. Thanks to the lessons over the last two weeks, the process took me about 30 minutes. After seeing the lasted sample, there are a few adjustments I need to do on the pattern.

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n the rain, at Piazza del Campo, in Siena. The large square naturally draws people too it, and it really is a feast for the senses, even in the rain.

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Just one hour after the rain, and the Piazza is filling with people, sunning themselves on the warm bricks.

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The civic museum and city hall are in a massive building dominating the Piazza. On the top floor of the museum, there is a patio overlooking the rooftops and hills of Tuscany. I sat there for almost an hour watching the rain storms roll through, drenching the cobblestones below. The clouds eventually thinned, and the green hills beyond the city walls turned into endless shades of green and grey-blue.

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One of the many frescoes in the museum. A shoe shop from 500 years ago!

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A present-day shop selling handmade shoes on one of the medieval streets in Siena.



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At Accademia Riaci, we are recruiting Course Reporters from our students. The students who are chosen to become Course Reporters are given 10 % of the tuition as their scholarship fee.
The Reporters who have submitted excellent reports will have his or her profile posted on our school website for the next 5 years as an alumnae and will be able to connect with their business chancesafter their graduation.

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