For those who really want to learn to make shoes, or those who want to learn how shoemaking is done, the best first steps is to read books about shoemaking. Luckily, some of the absolute best such ever produced are available to download from free from the website of The Honourable Cordwainers’ Company, in their The H.C.C. Guild Library.
Sure, to read my articles on shoemaking (like the article series following the making of my bespoke pair at Gaziano & Girling) or to look at YouTube vidoes on shoemaking, gives you a base to start from. But if one want to understand more in-depht, not least if you have aspirations of making shoes yourself, there’s nothing that beats reading in-depth books about shoemaking. Even apprentices or already established shoemakers read books, since they know there’s so much to gather from these.
When I get the question on what books one should read if one want to dig into shoes deeper, I usually ask if they’ve read
This is the document section of The Honourable Cordwainers’ Company, an American organisation established to preserve the shoemaking craft, run by the recently deceased D.W. Frommer II. The library is one of their most important work, where they digitalised and uploaded several of the most important shoemaking books in history, to be available to download for free for anyone. The website is very old now, and will likely not be updated again given Frommer’s passing, but I hope it will continue to stay online.
I’ve read all of the books available here, even if it was a while back now, and the one I recommend to start with is the Textbook of Footwear Manufacture, by J.H. Thornton, published in the 1950’s. It covers basically the whole process of shoemaking, is relatively accessible, and most of it especially when it comes to handmade shoes are still valid today. Then we have three volumes of the legendary eight volume book set Boots and Shoes – Their making, manufacturing and selling, with Frank Yeates Golding as editor, but with sections written by various shoemaking authorities. The volumes included here together cover the complete parts of making shoes, from start to finish, and goes very in-depth.
There’s also a couple of more books, plus an old recipe of how the old Russian leather was tanned (same as used for the famous Metha Catalina Russian reindeer, but all types of hides were tanned this way), which I believe laid the base for J&FJ Baker’s new version of this that they produce since a few year’s back. The library is literally a goldmine for all who are really into shoes.