Hand made, bespoke, custom designed… call it what you may but there is nothing that lifts the spirits and brings a smile of warmth and nostalgia to our faces when we have the opportunity to touch and processes an artefact that has been lovingly hand-crafted and dedicatedly laboured over.
What could possibly capture the antipathy of todays cold and impersonal mass production technology than these beautiful, hand-crafted vintage wooden Shoe Lasts?
A Shoe Last is a mechanical, three-dimensional mould shaped like a simplified human foot and traditionally made of wood.
Used by shoemakers and cordwainers the world over in the ancient art of manufacturing and repairing shoes, archaeological finds have confirmed that even the ancient Greeks and the Romans used Shoe Lasts to construct their shoes.
Unfortunately, whilst the ancient Greeks and Romans took into account the differences between the left and right feet, shoemakers in the Middle ages only measured one foot and used this measurement to make shoes for both feet.
Naturally, this practice resulted in considerable wearer discomfort and probably gave rise to the popular tales of deformed monsters terrorising the local villagers as they dragged one foot behind them, moaning pitifully. Perhaps it was simply a case of ill fitting shoes!
At the beginning of the 19th century asymmetrical lasts were rediscovered and came into use, as before, to ensure perfect shoe fit.
Quality Shoe Lasts are usually made of wood that is able to withstand high pressure, hammer blows, nails being driven in, humidity, and temperature fluctuations.
The types of wood that meet this criteria include beech wood, maple, oak, elm, and walnut, although the best wood is said to be copper beech and hornbeam.
Cordwainers (bespoke shoemakers) often use Shoe Lasts that are specifically designed to the proportions of an individual customer’s feet. This enables them to precisely shape and tailor to the kind of footwear being made. For example, a boot Last would be designed to hug the instep for a close fit.
Bespoke Shoe Lasts are usually passed down through the generations with each shoemaker lovingly storing the completed Last and reusing it to test out shoe prototypes.
Off course, the industrial revolution significantly changed the art of shoe making with many of the more time consuming processes now becoming automated. Suddenly boots and shoes could be provided in bulk at significant savings and uniformity which had immediate impact on the equipping of the world's military forces.
In fact, many suppliers of boots and shoes to the British Army made a fortune during the Napoleonic and Crimean wars. Fortunes that were then repeated during teh Great War of 1914 - 1918
Today, wooden lasts are generally used only for bespoke shoemaking, particularly in Europe and North America.
Whilst Shoe Last makers once made Lasts exclusively by hand, today many now use so-called ‘timber printers'. The wood is mounted on a lathe in the printer, and a Last template is selected corresponding to the desired shoe type and size. The printer then produces a pair of asymmetrical lasts within five to six minutes.
Modern Shoe Lasts, especially those used by mass production factories in places such as China, are often injection moulded and made from high-density polyethylene plastics.
These bespoke, hand-crafted wooden Shoe Lasts however, are the real thing and just imagine how a beautiful a pair of these would look propped against the corner of a staircase or on a side table in a hallway.
***NOTE - Price is for 1 PAIR of Shoe Lasts
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