Pattern cutting can only be described as a discipline, born from a passion for shoes. Requiring a fine balance of creativity, marginal OCD, vast technical understanding and an in-depth knowledge of the shoemaking process that truly rivals the best and most experienced heads in the shoe industry. No mean feat then for our resident Pattern Cutter. Crockett & Jones produces some 100,000+ shoes per year, employs 400+ staff across its production, wholesale and retail businesses and is in its 140th year. Yet today, the company employs just one full-time Pattern Cutter, Mark. Student turned Master.
Mark says “A Pattern Cutter’s job is never complete, it is forever evolving and at Crockett & Jones we are continually moving forward with a lot of technical developments, many unseen but all appreciated. People often mistake pattern cutting for design, but the two are worlds apart.”
There is no department or single skill in the factory that takes as long to master and for this we have Mark (and Roger) to thank. The next time you look down at your feet, take a moment to reflect on this fact: Your shoes started their life in Mark’s Pattern Room.
Across two articles, we will give you a behind the scenes insight into Crockett & Jones’ Pattern Room, which will hopefully bring about an understanding of: Although traditional, Crockett & Jones is a shoe manufacturer at the forefront of development excellence. All for the benefit of you, our trusted customer.
To get started, we thought we would get technical, so we asked Mark a ‘simple’ question. What exactly is Pattern Cutting?
Mark: Pattern Cutting is the first stage of production and if done well will result in beautiful footwear that flows seamlessly through the factory without issue. If the patterns are not right when they leave my office, there will be problem after problem when they are ‘In the Making’.
To begin, you take the model of your chosen last and completely cover it in masking tape, using a lattice technique to give it strength during removal. Although this stage looks relatively simple, it is extremely important to take your time, covering the last with as few creases as possible. Each crease means more tape, which equates to more leather and a form that won’t fit the last. “What’s a form?” I hear you say.
After sketching the style of shoe on the taped last, we remove it by cutting down the centre line. This produces an inside and outside ‘Form’. These two forms are then overlaid each other to provide a ‘Mean Form’, an average of the inside and outside forms. At this stage, we perform a ‘zig-zag’ pull-over test (using leather), which looks a little like a shoe from the middle ages… technically speaking this gives us a very good indication of how these forms fit over the last, particularly whether the vamp-point is sitting down on the last.
“Although traditional, Crockett & Jones is a shoe manufacturer at the forefront of development excellence. All for the benefit of you, our trusted customer.”
The mean form is not the finished article, we now create a ‘Standard’. This becomes the standard of an individual last and features all of the split differences (between the inside and outside forms) with a host of allowances and the inclusion of the Crockett & Jones standardised back-curve added onto it, including the stiffener pocket. A back-curve is something that is unique to each manufacturer and is one of the many shoe manufacturer’s signatures. An important detail for the fitting characteristics of their shoes… another secret of the trade.
Above, Mark mentioned ‘allowances’, this is extra material added to various leather sections of the upper that enables our operatives to undertake specific operations in the factory such as turnover binding or gimping. If allowances were not added where required the upper would potentially end up too small as operatives in the closing room would ‘steel’ material to perform said operation. The ‘stolen’ material would end up coming off the lasting allowance which is crucial so the upper can be pulled over the last accurately, later in the production process.
Mark: Specific measurements are now taken for: Back Height, Facing Point (where your foot will be inserted into the shoe) and the Vamp Point (centre point of the vamp), and although there are textbook measurements, these are important measurements that a Pattern Cutter will get a feel for through experience, as they have a dramatic affect for instep fitting. To a certain extent, these will become standardised for his or her own patterns according to the fitting discussions that are a weekly part of my role. Excellent fitting, visually pleasing footwear should be the goal of a Pattern Cutter if they wish to be successful.
Once finalised, this Last Standard can be used to cut any pattern of almost any category of style for that particular last (Oxford, Derby, Monk… Cap Oxford, Brogue Oxford etc). Loafers (casuals) are handled slightly differently, all aforementioned measurements need amending because the fit is reliant upon the top-line and strap positioning, and they are generally made from a single piece of leather, a whole pattern. With whole patterns, there are no joins across the fore-part like you see on a broken pattern such as a Cap Oxford, so a pattern cutter really and truly comes into their own when handling these whole patterns.
Relying on hands on experience, precise measurements, knowledge of machinery and staffing capabilities, Mark is able to ensure the leather lays down on the lasts as precisely as if he were cutting a full brogue / ‘broken shoe’. Mark says “The textbooks say to add toe spring, thus hinging the vamp-point down towards the last, which worked when outer leather was soft and supple and of a thinner substance. Today, a Pattern Cutter has to think outside the box, relying on experience and knowledge of how his/her patterns will react to the upper leather of today.” Not willing to relinquish his secrets, he says “I take material out here, and add it in there to get the vamp-point down on the last, when all it wants to do it hover above the wood resulting in baggy vamps. The results I get are as good as any ready-to-wear shoes I have seen. That’s why I love working for Crockett & Jones, I am given the freedom to have a notable and positive impact on the end product.”
After a short time with Mark, it became apparent that Pattern Cutting is a complicated and technical area of production that has a daily impact throughout the Goodyear-welted production process, and his dogged determination and high level of skill enables us to produce excellent shoes that represent value for money by minimising issues on the factory floor. Next, we will discover how the pattern room has developed during Marks tenure…