2016 marks the 130th anniversary of Joseph Cheaney and Sons (JC) opening and 120
years in their purpose built factory. On our agenda was a tour of the various ‘rooms’ that make up the shoemaking process.
Leather Room– 85-90 thousand square feet of leather is in the ‘leather’ room at any one time. Leather linings are vegetable dyed. All leather entering the factory has to be checked for faults and also for ‘growth’ (marks where the leather looks like it has been stretched and fine lines have appeared). Any leathers not up to scratch are disgarded early on at the cutting stage. JC visit each tannery they use every year to ensure the quality etc. Suedes have to be lined with a firmer leather as this keeps the shape of the boot more effectively and prevents it being too flimsy. When making Chelsea boots, the leathers are put into water and then onto a machine that rapidly dries the leather, which stiffens it, providing structure. When cloth is used i.e. tweed in brogue shoes, a canvas backing is applied prior to manufacture. Crust leather- Blended out-dyed burnished effect. Can be lightened or antiqued along the edges for effect.
Clicking Room– Patterns are done by hand. All new styles start with a hand drawn design, which then turns into a last and pattern pieces. A plastic pattern piece is cut to specification and then a brass edge is fitted along the entire edge using an old brass crimping/turning machine. The pattern is then digitally copied and enhanced to produce correct sized pattern pieces for each sized shoe. Cloth patterns are made from clear plastic to enable the cutter to see the pattern of the fabric –allowing them to adjust it to match the corresponding shoe.
1) Hand Cutting- Each member of the team makes their own blades, cutting them from a hacksaw blade to suit them best.
2) Digital Cutting Machine- The machine projects an image of a pattern piece (or multiple pieces) onto the leather and it then cuts them following the digital image.
3) Manual Cutting Machine – The cut out pieces of leather are touched with colour to the edges to highlight the corresponding pieces so that when they arrive in the stitching room it is easier to match up. Pieces are then marked up. The inner sock (at the back of the shoe) is then stamped with the brand name.
Stitching Room– The leather edges are thinned at the edges so that when they are stitched together, they lay flat for a better fit. Rough edge finishes are stained to match the leather. Non-rough edge finishes are thinned at the edges and folded over before being glued into place. They are then stitched onto the inners and the inner is cut away at the same time giving it a clean edge. When almost complete they are laced with a rudimental lace to then go to the making room after being inspected. The completed uppers are then hung together waiting for their turn in the Steam Room. The uppers hang in there for a full week. This makes shoe making easier as they are slowly steamed, softening the leathers.
Making Room– Toes are the first thing to be turned over the last and the machine that does this glues it at the same time. The sole is then stapled around the shoe and attached to the welting. The welting is sewn either ¾ around or all the way around in the case of a full welt. The heel (if not welted) is then tacked down. Shoes are then shrink-wrapped to keep them clean throughout the rest of the process. Repairs are done on this line of the factory. The heel is removed by pulling it off layer by layer. The welting is undone and all excess is removed. It is then re soled/repaired using the same process as a new shoe.Repairs always get a new welt. Once stitched, the sole is then put onto a machine that applies pressure via a roller to ensure that the finished effect of the sole is smooth and even. Edges of the soles are cut down to the correct size to suit the shoe and then buffed (leather) to remove any marks. At this point the soles are stamped with the makers name, the heels are added (if not a full welted shoe) and the plastic shrink wrap bags are removed. The shoes then have final burnishing / polishing done. They are then boxed up and are ready to go off to the ‘finishing and packing’ room.
All in all it was a very informative enjoyable trip. We were intrigued at how many of the processes are still being carried out just as they were many years ago and of course the mixture of old and new cutting edge technology. But perhaps the greatest impression left with the team was the feeling of camaraderie we witnessed within each department. The, quiet pride that each member of the Joseph Cheaney team took in their work and their willingness to share that with strangers was fittingly reflected in the fluttering of the flag on top of the building.