Picture special – The difference between Goodyear welted and hand welted
A classic topic of discussion is the difference between Goodyear welted and hand welted shoes, and the function and importance it has. Usually the sustainability in terms of numbers resoles and so on is highlighted as the main difference, and there is of course a difference there, but in most cases there’s nothing that affects the actual life for the owner. There are many other aspects of the difference between the construction types that in my eyes are more interesting, and here I highlight several of these in the form of a series of pictures that compare shoes from Gaziano & Girling and Hiro Yanagimachi.
A canvas rib is glued on the insole to a Gaziano & Girling Deco shoe. It’s in this rib the Goodyear welt seam is then sewn in. The solution is known as gemming.
To note here is the thickness of the insole, which on Goodyear welted shoes tend to be around 3-4 mm approximately. Here you can also see how the canvas rib is relatively high and will make a rather large cavity in the shoe that needs to be filled, the rib is usually about 5-7 mm high.
Here we have an insole on a Made to Order shoe from Hiro Yanagimachi, made to the same standard as their bespoke shoes. The insoles are cut from a larger piece of leather, which is usually the shoulder of cattle, which have good fiber composition to withstand sewing in a lip in it. The thickness of this type of insole is usually about 8-10 mm, which is more than twice as thick as an insole for Goodyear welted shoes.
On a hand welted shoe you cut out a lip of the thick insole, which the welt seam is then sewn in (there are exceptions with soles where the lip are pre-cut which some “factory-made” hand welted shoes use).
Here the welt is attached to the upper leather and the canvas rib with a chain stitch sewn with a Goodyear machine, and you can see here also a heel wreath located as a base for the heel and shank-support and the piece of leather that is to build the fiddle waist.
The large cavity is filled with a mass consisting of cork and glue. It is relatively porous and collapses more and more over time, which means that it often is replaced when the shoe is resoled.
Here are welt is sewn on with a hand seam, which is a kind of “lock stitch” where every stitch can hold separately. Here you can also see that the cavity on shoes with this construction method becomes very small, it is only a few millimeters high.
Hiro Yanagimachi cut out pieces from a thin cork plate that is placed under the forefoot and in the back are a shank and leather pieces to build up the waist. Cork plate also is compressed some with time, but more limited, and it can then remain unchanged throughout the life of the shoe so the footprint is quite persistent, so to say, in both the insole and filling. Pictures: Hiro Yanagimachi
The sole of a finished Gaziano & Girling Deco shoe.
The sole on the finished shoe by Hiro Yanagimachi. Both are excellent, and you can’t see from the outside the quite large differences inside.
Goodyear welting is an excellent method of construction, no doubt about it, but it is produced and adapted for mass production, not to do as good shoes as possible, quite frankly. The thick insole, the compact construction without large voids and so forth on the hand welted shoes are things that are considered “objectively better”. For the sake of making a point I have taken shoes that are similar in price range, Gaziano & Girling’s regular series is about €1 200 for RTW (Deco costs, however, around €2200, then MTO including lasted shoe trees). Hiro Yanagimachi’s hand welted MTO start at about €1 300 in Japan (lasted shoe trees about €230 extra).
The idea is to show reasonably factual differences between the construction types. There are also other aspects that distinguish the two methods, for example that things are more prepared for factory-made shoes, like if you have ready-made welts bought in large rolls and you have pre-built heels, while a workshop likeHiro Yanagimachi cut out the welts themselves from leather hides and build heels layer by layer on each shoe, and although there in many cases is a big difference when it comes to craftmanship the impact on function etc is rather small plus it is not necessarily associated with it Goodyear or hand welting, therefore, I do not mention it closer in this post.
For your information, there will be more pictures from the production of Hiro Yanagimachi’s shoes in a buyer’s guide published soon.
The main difference between the two types which is not mentioned here is the flexibilty aspect. The machine made shoe is more ridged due to the gemming process making the shoe less comfortable.
Rob Major: Yeah know some say this, but I’ve also heard that it’s very little that this affects, and to be honest I’m not sure about what’s true here, so I left that out.
Hi, thanks for posting this. I learned quite a lot. I’d like to clarify something: do goodyear welted shoes always use a canvas rib and hand welted never? And to what extent do you think the differences between goodyear and hand welted in your example lies in the makers only? For instance, could it be the case that some goodyear welted shoes from other makers have a smaller cavity? And on the flip side, could other hand welted shoemakers have larger cavity?
Just saw this blog (followed a link from SF)…
The original GY technique cut two opposing channels in the under-surface of the insole and bent them upward at a 90°angle to form a ridge or ‘holdfast’. But because the fibers of the leather were being bent in opposition to the natural lie of the fibers, they tended to break. And the whole holdfast began to separate from the ‘bed’ of the insole.
When GY makers understood this, they began reinforcing the leather holdfast with linen or canvas cloth and glue. Eventually, it occurred to the makers that the leather holdfast was not needed. And so the machines were redesigned and today, if only because of the way those machines are meant to work, almost every GYW manufacturer in the world uses a ‘gemming’ strip of virtually the same proportions and mounted in an identical fashion. It should be noted that this process results in what is fundamentally a cement construction…in many ways the welt is just for show. There is only one maker in the world still doing it close to the original way…that I know of.
In the original technique, an insole of comparable thickness to what would be used on HW was used. When the makers discovered that gemming would suffice and that they didn’t need to cut into the insole, they switched to a lighter weight insole. Saves money / saves time, everybody wins (except the customer).
And the probable became certain: Insoles got thinner and of poorer quality leather and then leatherboard (ground up leather scraps in a neoprene matrix–think particleboard) insoles were introduced, and then paperboard.
Various makers, from high end to low, make different choices about the quality and thickness of their insoles. but the gemming and the techniques for mounting and filling remain much the same across the spectrum…again, because of the limitations imposed by the design of the machines themselves.
Handwelted work can vary with the individual but the insoles must be at least thick enough to cut the ‘feather’ and the ‘channel’ and admit a relatively large inseaming awl to ‘hole’ the holdfast without tearing. The forepart cavity depends on how tight the maker wants to trim the inseam–some makers trim it so close that virtually no filler is needed (although one is nevertheless mounted to prevent ‘creaking’), other makers trim such that a fairly deep cavity results and they fill accordingly.
Hope that helps.