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Woodcut of shoemakers from 1568. Schuhmacher-1568.png
Woodcut of shoemakers from 1568.

Shoemaking is the process of making footwear.

Originally, shoes were made one at a time by hand, often by groups of shoemakers, or cobblers (also known as cordwainers ). In the 18th century, dozens or even hundreds [1] of masters, journeymen and apprentices (both men and women) would work together in a shop, dividing up the work into individual tasks. A customer could come into a shop, be individually measured, and return to pick up their new shoes in as little as a day. [2] Everyone needed shoes, and the median price for a pair was about one day’s wages for an average journeyman. [1]


The shoemaking trade flourished in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries but began to be affected by industrialization in the later nineteenth century. [2] Traditional handicraft shoemaking has now been largely superseded in volume of shoes produced by industrial mass production of footwear, but not necessarily in quality, attention to detail, or craftsmanship. Today, most shoes are made on a volume basis, rather than a craft basis. [3] A pair of "bespoke" shoes, made in 2020 according to traditional practices, can be sold for thousands of dollars. [4]

Shoemakers may produce a range of footwear items, including shoes, boots, sandals, clogs and moccasins. Such items are generally made of leather, wood, rubber, plastic, jute or other plant material, and often consist of multiple parts for better durability of the sole, stitched to a leather upper part.

Trades that engage in shoemaking have included the cordwainer's and cobbler's trades. The term cobbler was originally used pejoratively to indicate that someone did not know their craft; in the 18th century it became a term for those who repaired shoes but did not know enough to make them. [1]


Traditional methods

A cordwainer making shoes, in Capri, Italy. Capri - 7224.jpg
A cordwainer making shoes, in Capri, Italy.
Roadside cobblers, Rekong Peo, Himachal Pradesh, India. Roadside cobblers. Rekong Peo.jpg
Roadside cobblers, Rekong Peo, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Roadside Lady Cobbler, in front of Kalighat Metro station gate, Kolkata, India. Lady Cobbler.jpg
Roadside Lady Cobbler, in front of Kalighat Metro station gate, Kolkata, India.

For most of history, shoemaking has been a handicraft, limited to time-consuming manufacturing by hand. Traditional shoemakers used more than 15 different techniques for making shoes. Some of these were: pegged construction, English welted (machine-made versions are referred to as "Goodyear welted" after the inventor of the technique), goyser welted, Norwegian, stitchdown, turnout, German sewn, moccasin, bolognese stitched, and blake-stitched.

The most basic foot protection, used since ancient times in the Mediterranean area, was the sandal, which consisted of a protective sole, held to the foot with leather thongs or cords of various materials. Similar footwear worn in the Far East was made from plaited grass or palm fronds. In climates that required a full foot covering, a single piece of untanned hide was laced with a thong, providing full protection for the foot and so made a complete covering. [5]

The production of clogs (wooden shoes) was widespread in medieval Europe. They were made from a single piece of wood roughly cut into shoe form. A variant of this form was a wooden sole to which a leather upper was attached. The sole and heel were made from one piece of maple or ash two-inches thick, and a little longer and broader than the desired size of shoe. The outer side of the sole and heel was fashioned with a long chisel-edged implement, called the clogger’s knife or stock; while a second implement, called the groover, made a groove around the side of the sole. With the use of a 'hollower', the inner sole's contours were adapted to the shape of the foot. The leather uppers were then fitted closely to the groove around the sole. Clogs were of great advantage to workers in muddy and damp conditions, keeping the feet dry and comfortable. [5]

Early shoemaking shop on exhibit at Maine State Museum in Augusta, Maine. Early shoemaking shop, Maine State Museum IMG 2020.JPG
Early shoemaking shop on exhibit at Maine State Museum in Augusta, Maine.

By the 1600s, leather shoes came in two main types. 'Turn shoes' consisted of one thin flexible sole, which was sewed to the upper while outside in and turned over when completed. This type was used for making slippers and similar shoes. The second type united the upper with an insole, which was subsequently attached to an out-sole with a raised heel. This was the main variety, and was used for most footwear, including standard shoes and riding boots. [5]

Romanian traditional shoemaking of opanak shoes, a type of moccasins

The traditional shoemaker would measure the feet and cut out upper leathers according to the required size. These parts were fitted and stitched together. The sole was next assembled, consisting of a pair of inner soles of soft leather, a pair of outer soles of firmer texture, a pair of welts or bands about one inch broad, of flexible leather, and lifts and top-pieces for the heels. The insole was then attached to a last made of wood, which was used to form the shoe. Some lasts were straight, while curved lasts came in pairs: one for left shoes, the other for right shoes. The 'lasting' procedure then secured the leather upper to the sole with tacks. The soles were then hammered into shape; the heel lifts were then attached with wooden pegs and the worn out-sole was nailed down to the lifts. The finishing operation included paring, rasping, scraping, smoothing, blacking, and burnishing the edges of soles and heels, scraping, sand-papering, and burnishing the soles, withdrawing the lasts, and cleaning out any pegs which may have pierced through the inner sole. [5]

Other types of ancient and traditionally made shoes included furs wrapped around feet, and sandals wrapped over them (used by Romans fighting in northern Europe), and moccasins - simple shoes without the durability of joined shoes.

The patron saint of shoemakers is Saint Crispin.

Industrial era

A shoemaker in the Georgian era, from The Book of English Trades, 1821. Shoemaker 1821.jpg
A shoemaker in the Georgian era, from The Book of English Trades, 1821.

Shoemaking became more commercialized in the mid-18th century, as it expanded as a cottage industry. Large warehouses began to stock footwear in warehouses, made by many small manufacturers from the area.

Until the 19th century, shoemaking was a traditional handicraft, but by the century's end, the process had been almost completely mechanized, with production occurring in large factories. Despite the obvious economic gains of mass-production, the factory system produced shoes without the individual differentiation that the traditional shoemaker was able to provide.

The first steps towards mechanisation were taken during the Napoleonic Wars by the engineer, Marc Brunel. He developed machinery for the mass-production of boots for the soldiers of the British Army. In 1812 he devised a scheme for making nailed-boot-making machinery that automatically fastened soles to uppers by means of metallic pins or nails. [6] With the support of the Duke of York, the shoes were manufactured, and, due to their strength, cheapness, and durability, were introduced for the use of the army. In the same year, the use of screws and staples was patented by Richard Woodman. Brunel's system was described by Sir Richard Phillips as a visitor to his factory in Battersea as follows:

By the late 19th century, the shoemaking industry had migrated to the factory and was increasingly mechanized. Pictured, the bottoming room of the B. F. Spinney & Co. factory in Lynn, Massachusetts, 1872. Bottoming room.jpeg
By the late 19th century, the shoemaking industry had migrated to the factory and was increasingly mechanized. Pictured, the bottoming room of the B. F. Spinney & Co. factory in Lynn, Massachusetts, 1872.
"In another building I was shown his manufactory of shoes, which, like the other, is full of ingenuity, and, in regard to subdivision of labour, brings this fabric on a level with the oft-admired manufactory of pins. Every step in it is effected by the most elegant and precise machinery; while, as each operation is performed by one hand, so each shoe passes through twenty-five hands, who complete from the hide, as supplied by the currier, a hundred pairs of strong and well-finished shoes per day. All the details are performed by the ingenious application of the mechanic powers; and all the parts are characterised by precision, uniformity, and accuracy. As each man performs but one step in the process, which implies no knowledge of what is done by those who go before or follow him, so the persons employed are not shoemakers, but wounded soldiers, who are able to learn their respective duties in a few hours. The contract at which these shoes are delivered to Government is 6s. 6d. per pair, being at least 2s. less than what was paid previously for an unequal and cobbled article." [7]

However, when the war ended in 1815, manual labour became much cheaper, and the demand for military equipment subsided. As a consequence, Brunel's system was no longer profitable and it soon ceased business. [6]

Traditional shoemakers still exist today, shoemaker in Karachi Karachi - Pakistan retouched.jpg
Traditional shoemakers still exist today, shoemaker in Karachi

Similar exigencies at the time of the Crimean War stimulated a renewed interest in methods of mechanization and mass-production, which proved longer-lasting. [6] A shoemaker in Leicester, Tomas Crick, patented the design for a riveting machine in 1853. His machine used an iron plate to push iron rivets into the sole. The process greatly increased the speed and efficiency of production. He also introduced the use of steam-powered rolling-machines for hardening leather and cutting-machines, in the mid-1850s. [8]

The sewing machine was introduced in 1846, and provided an alternative method for the mechanization of shoemaking. By the late 1850s, the industry was beginning to shift towards the modern factory, mainly in the US and areas of England. A shoe stitching machine was invented by the American Lyman Blake in 1856 and perfected by 1864. Entering into partnership with McKay, his device became known as the McKay stitching machine and was quickly adopted by manufacturers throughout New England. [9] As bottlenecks opened up in the production line due to these innovations, more and more of the manufacturing stages, such as pegging and finishing, became automated. By the 1890s, the process of mechanisation was largely complete.

A process for manufacturing stitchless, that is, glued, shoes—AGO—was developed in 1910.

Shoemaker and repairer in McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India Shoe Doctor. McLeod Ganj, H.P., India. 2010.jpg
Shoemaker and repairer in McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

Traditional shoemakers still exist today, especially in poorer parts of the world, and create custom shoes. Current crafters, in developing regions or supply constrained areas may use surplus car or truck tire tread sections as an inexpensive and plentiful material resource with which to make strong soles for shoes or sandals. Generally, the modern machinery used includes die cutting tools to cut the shapes and grommet machines to punch holes for lacing. Early 21st century has seen a resurgence in the shoemaking profession, particularly in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. This has been driven in large part by broader societal preferences in favour of leather restoration rather than replacement and extends to not only shoes but also handbags and other leather fashion accessories. Meanwhile, organizations within the industry have begun leveraging e-commerce and modern logistical networks to offer consumers greater convenience through the offering of services by mail. [10] [11]

Sewing machine for shoemaking, shoe repair, and bag and heavy fabric repair work. This machine is manually operated with a hand crank. The foot can be turned in any direction which changes the direction of the material feed. Sewing machine for shoes 01.jpg
Sewing machine for shoemaking, shoe repair, and bag and heavy fabric repair work. This machine is manually operated with a hand crank. The foot can be turned in any direction which changes the direction of the material feed.

Well-known shoemakers

People well-known as shoe makers:

Shoe store

A shoe store or shoe shop is a type of retailer that specializes in selling shoes. From slippers to athletic shoes to boots, the store could also sell shoe accessories, including insoles, shoelaces, shoe horns, shoe polish, etc. In addition, shoe stores may provide clothing and fashion accessories, such as handbags, sunglasses, backpacks, socks, and hosiery.

A shoe repair shop is a type of business establishment that fixes and remodels shoes and boots. Besides a shoe repair shop, a shoe repairer could work in department stores or shoe stores.

See also

Related Research Articles

Shoe Durable type of footwear worn in most cultures

A shoe is an item of footwear intended to protect and comfort the human foot. Shoes are also used as an item of decoration and fashion. The design of shoes has varied enormously through time and from culture to culture, with appearance originally being tied to function. Though the human foot is adapted to varied terrain and climate conditions, it is still vulnerable to environmental hazards such as sharp rocks and temperature extremes, which shoes protect against. Some shoes are worn as safety equipment, such as steel-soled boots which are required on construction sites.

Footwear Garments worn on feet

Footwear refers to garments worn on the feet, which typically serves the purpose of protection against adversities of the environment such as ground textures and temperature. Footwear in the manner of shoes therefore primarily serves the purpose to ease locomotion and prevent injuries. Footwear can also be used for fashion and adornment as well as to indicate the status or rank of the person within a social structure. Socks and other hosiery are typically worn additionally between the feet and other footwear for further comfort and relief. Cultures have different customs regarding footwear. These include not using any in some situations, usually bearing a symbolic meaning. This can however also be imposed on specific individuals to place them at a practical disadvantage against shod people, if they are excluded from having footwear available or are prohibited from using any. This usually takes place in situations of captivity, such as imprisonment or slavery, where the groups are among other things distinctly divided by whether or whether not footwear is being worn. In these cases the use of footwear categorically indicates the exercise of power as against being devoid of footwear, evidently indicating inferiority.

Boot Type of footwear extending above the ankle joint

A boot, plural boots, is a type of specific footwear. Most boots mainly cover the foot and the ankle, while some also cover some part of the lower calf. Some boots extend up the leg, sometimes as far as the knee or even the hip. Most boots have a heel that is clearly distinguishable from the rest of the sole, even if the two are made of one piece. Traditionally made of leather or rubber, modern boots are made from a variety of materials. Boots are worn both for their functionality – protecting the foot and leg from water, extreme cold, mud or hazards or providing additional ankle support for strenuous activities with added traction requirements, or may have hobnails on their undersides to protect against wear and to get better grip; and for reasons of style and fashion.

Wellington boot Type of footwear

The Wellington boot was originally a type of leather boot adapted from Hessian boots, a style of military riding boot. They were worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. The "Wellington" boot became a staple of practical foot wear for the British aristocracy and middle class in the early 19th century. The name was subsequently given to waterproof boots made of rubber and they are no longer associated with a particular class. They are now commonly used for a range of agricultural and outdoors pursuits.

Dr. Martens Footwear brand

Dr. Martens, also commonly known as Doc Martens, Docs or DMs, is a British footwear and clothing brand, headquartered in Wollaston in the Wellingborough district of Northamptonshire, England. While famous for their footwear, they also make a range of accessories – such as shoe care products, clothing, and bags. Their footwear is distinguished by its air-cushioned sole, upper shape, welted construction and yellow stitching. Dr Martens' design studio is in Camden Town, London; the manufacturing is in the UK, China, and Thailand. The company is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.

Clog Footwear made in part or completely of wood

Clogs are a type of footwear made in part or completely from wood. Clogs are used worldwide and although the form may vary by culture, within a culture the form often remained unchanged for centuries.


Slippers are light footwear that are easy to put on and off and are intended to be worn indoors, particularly at home. They provide comfort and protection for the feet when walking indoors.

<i>Zōri</i> Flat Japanese sandal very similar to the flip-flop

Zōri are thonged Japanese sandals made of rice straw, cloth, lacquered wood, leather, rubber, or—most commonly and informally—synthetic materials. They are a slip-on descendant of the tied-on waraji sandal.

<i>Geta</i> (footwear) Traditional Japanese open-topped wooden shoes

Geta (下駄) are a form of traditional Japanese footwear resembling flip-flops. They are a kind of sandal with a flat wooden base elevated with up to three "teeth", held on the foot with a fabric thong, which keeps the foot above the ground.

Cordwainer Person who makes shoes

A cordwainer is a shoemaker who makes new shoes from new leather. The cordwainer's trade can be contrasted with the cobbler's trade, according to a tradition in Britain that restricted cobblers to repairing shoes. This usage distinction is not universally observed, as the word cobbler is widely used for tradespersons who make or repair shoes.

Platform shoe

Platform shoes are shoes, boots, or sandals with an obvious thick sole, usually in the range of 3–10 cm (1–4 in). Platform shoes may also be high heels, in which case the heel is raised significantly higher than the ball of the foot. Extreme heights, of both the sole and heel, can be found in fetish footwear such as ballet boots, where the sole may be up to 20 cm (8 in) high and the heels up to 40 cm (16 in) or more. The sole of a platform shoe can have a continuous uniform thickness, have a wedge, a separate block or a stiletto heel. Raising the ankle increases the risk of a sprained ankle.

Sandal Type of footwear with an open upper

Sandals are an open type of footwear, consisting of a sole held to the wearer's foot by straps going over the instep and around the ankle. Sandals can also have a heel. While the distinction between sandals and other types of footwear can sometimes be blurry, the common understanding is that a sandal leaves all or most of the foot exposed. People may choose to wear sandals for several reasons, among them comfort in warm weather, economy, and as a fashion choice.


A last is a mechanical form shaped like a human foot. It is used by shoemakers and cordwainers in the manufacture and repair of shoes. Lasts typically come in pairs and have been made from various materials, including hardwoods, cast iron, and high-density plastics.


Opanci are traditional peasant shoes worn in Southeastern Europe. The attributes of the opanci are a construction of leather, lack of laces, durable, and various endings on toes. In Serbia, the design of the horn-like ending on toes indicates the region of origin, though this specific design is not exclusive to Serbia. The opanci are also considered as the traditional peasant footwear for people in the Balkan region. In Bulgaria they are referred to as "tsarvuli."

Court shoe

A court shoe, or pump, is a shoe with a low-cut front, or vamp, with either a shoe buckle or a black bow as ostensible fastening. Derivating from the 17th and 18th century dress shoes with shoe buckles, the vamped pump shape emerged in the late 18th century. By the turn of the 19th century, shoe buckles were increasingly replaced by black bows, which has remained the contemporary style for men's formal wear, leather or patent leather evening pumps ever since. This latter style is sometimes also called a opera pump or opera slipper.

Cleat (shoe)

Cleats or studs are protrusions on the sole of a shoe or on an external attachment to a shoe that provide additional traction on a soft or slippery surface. They can be conical or blade-like in shape and can be made of plastic, rubber or metal. The type worn depends on the environment of play: grass, ice, artificial turf, or other grounds.

Chukka boot

Chukka boots are ankle-high leather boots with suede or leather uppers, leather or rubber soles, and open lacing with two or three pairs of eyelets. The name chukka possibly comes from the game of polo, where a chukka is a period of play.

Clog (British)

A British clog is a wooden-soled clog from Great Britain. The uppers are typically leather, and many variations exist in style and fastening.


Loake is a British shoemaker, founded in 1880, family-owned and still located in Kettering, Northamptonshire.


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