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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 8 (December 1, 1933)

The Life of a Shoe

page 63

The Life of a Shoe

Actual proof of shoes having been worn as footwear was found in the tomb of Childeric, King of the Franks, who died in the year 481; and reference is made in the Old Testament, when Abraham refused to take as much as a shoe-latchet from the King of Sodom. Thus we progress through the ages to the historical moment when the Parliament of England, by Special Act, prohibited long-toed footwear being worn.

Until a few years ago shoe-making depended entirely upon the individual craftsman working in the isolation of his dwelling place, but to-day, we have factories in New Zealand equipped with machinery, which, under the control of hundreds of men and women, produce in one day what would formerly have taken the hand workman ten years to execute.

The average footwear worn by the man of to-day is the black or tan welted shoe. We will follow the shoe in progress from the moment of its birth until it is exposed in its dignity and beauty in the shoe-retailer's window.

The shoe enters upon the threshold of life as skin of the cattle which we see grazing in the fields of the North and South Islands of New-Zealand. These cattle give us the primary materials, such as calfs, yearlings, chromes and sole leather; the first grade New Zealand leathers in these lines being at the present time the finest in the world.

The hides, or skins, having passed through the process of tanning are forwarded to the factories as required.

The upper leather, which for convenience sake we shall call box-calf, upon reaching the factory finds itself in the hands of the clicker, who, with the aid of specially prepared patterns, cuts out the various parts of the tops, i.e., vamps, quarters, toe-caps, tongues, backstraps, etc.

Now let us find out a little more about these special patterns from which the upper parts of the shoe are cut.

Upon the pattern-cutter or designer depends the style, fitting, comfort, and saleable points of the shoe; he must also have complete knowledge as to feet peculiarities so that his designs may overcome tightness or bad fitting, and ensure perfect ease in walking.

We can now return to the vamps, quarters, etc. These parts complete with linings advance to the machine-room, where they are sewn together, eyeleted, punched and stitched according to design, great care and skill having to be exercised by the machinist.

The tops, or uppers, once completed are quickly forwarded to the rough-stuff room, where the soles, insoles and heels are already waiting. These soles enter the factory as bends of leather, but are quickly reduced through the mediums of last-shaped knives, and powerful press machines. The soles and insoles once cut out to the required shapes, are levelled and channelled so as to receive the uppers, welting and final sole stitching. In this room, also, the heel is formed, being thin lifts of leather built to the required height and then riveted together. Uppers and insoles now advance to the lasting, leaving in the meantime the main sole to be solutioned and immersed in water.

In the lasting department the insoles are attached lightly to the lasts, while the uppers, now complete with toe puffs and heelstiffeners, are placed in readiness for the pullover. Like a hungry beast this machine receives its prey—in the form of last and upper—seizes it with iron talons, and in two seconds has drawn the yielding upper over the last, driving in its teeth-like tacks, and then disgorges the captive. This operation, carried out by the hand workman would have taken at least fifteen minutes.

The lasts now clothed with the uppers and insoles, advance rapidly; the uppers are wired to the inside channels of the insole, the heelseats riveted surplus upper leather trimmed off, pounded to remove obstructions, and then forwarded to the welt machine. The strip of welting is then sewn with wax thread to the upper and insole, and upon completion the shoes are fitted with shanks or arch-supports, while the bed of the insole is packed with warm solutioned cork, and then rolled to ensure levelness.

The shoes, now in readiness for the main sole, are clamped into the sole-laying machine; the soles whose solutioned surfaces are by no means impaired by their immersion in water, are laid upon the cork-filled insole, a lever moved, and a quarterton pressure is applied, making the sole immovable and squeak-proof. There is no delay, surplus welting is trimmed off, soles are sewn, uniting the welts, the channels closed, bottoms rolled to ensure levelness, heels are attached, the bottoms and welts scoured to leave a smooth surface to receive the ink dressings. The ink dressings having dried are ironed and buffed, so as to acquire a polished surface.

Last, but not least, is the final cleaning room, where the uppers of the shoes are dressed and polished, all marks and stains deleted; shoes badly stained, marked, or damaged in any way are put aside, whilst their faultless companions are branded and boxed for the delivery room. The boxed shoes are packed to fulfil orders, and quickly despatched by rail to their various destinations.

The people of New Zealand have given ample proof as to their satisfaction with the New Zealand-made shoe, resulting in the case of one of the leading shoe manufacturers to a 400 per cent, increase of output during the past three years. So may the slogan ever remain before us: “New Zealand-made goods for New Zealanders.”

page 64