From their factory in Earls Barton Northamptonshire, the home of British made shoes, the journey of each pair of Barker shoes begins. Explore the different stages of their shoe making process as we go through the traditional techniques and exquisite craftsmanship that go into each and every pair of Barker shoes.
Design / Pattern
Barker pride themselves on the art of masking a last and drawing directly onto the tape. This is to ensure the proportions are perfect for each and every design. This traditional technique is rarely used in modern day shoe design. Once the pattern is agreed and complete it is then passed onto the pattern development department where the pattern is graded to ensure the proportions of the design are consistent across the size range.
Clicking / Closing
The 'Clicker' is an incredibly skilled craftsperson who's primary responsibility is to examine the leather for any imperfections. Barkers leather expert Phil Purcell has been with Barker for over 50 years and he casts his eye over the leather for defects which can be found in the form of scars, growth marks or veins. Once satisfied with the quality of the leather, the uppers and linings can be cut. The name ‘clicker’ derives from the ‘clicking’ sound made when the blade is removed from the leather after cutting around the pattern. The next process of production is the closing room, where our highly skilled operatives create the delicate detail that makes each style individual. This includes punching holes to create brogues, stitching together cut components to form the upper and riveting the lace eyelets.
Once the upper is complete, it is hung awaiting to be transferred to the ‘Muller’ - a warm damp room which allows the upper to remain soft and supple. This helps the leather conform to the shape of the last before the Lasting Room. In Bottom Stock all the components for the bottom of the shoe are prepared; insole, soles and ribbing. All leather soles and insoles are cut with press knives and produced in their Earls Barton factory so they can control the quality from start to finish. The canvas ply rib is then attached to the insole by skilled operatives where the welt will be attached later in the production process.
Here the last finally meets the upper. The insole is temporarily stapled to the bottom of the last and then the lasting process can begin. The upper is firstly moulded on the heel of the last, followed by toe lasting where the upper is pulled over the last by the lasting machine. Each shoe is then side lasted by hand which allows the upper to be accurately lasted to give the finished shoe its true shape.
An important process in this department is ‘Welt Sewing’ where the highly skilled ‘Welt Stitcher’ sews the welt to the rib that has been attached to the insoles. The welt is the key element in the Goodyear Welted process. The bottoms of the shoes are filled with cork and wooden shanks to provide breath-ability, insulation and support beneath the insoles. The soles are then stitched to the welt which allows for the soles to be removed for repair without affecting the uppers. After the soles have been attached the shoes undergo a process called ‘Bottom Levelling’ which rounds the soles to the shape of the last.
A pair of Barker shoes typically requires over 200 operations during the production process and here the final touches are completed. The edges of the sole are smoothed for a refined aesthetic before wax is applied to create a rich shine on the sole. We take as much care with the sole as the upper and a hot wheel is used during the ‘bunking’ process to give each sole it’s unique detailing. The final stage in the Finishing Room is the all-important burnishing, where a mop wheel with ‘cutting wax’ effectively burns the leather to create the depth of colour and character.
Before each pair of Barker shoes is ready for our customers, the shoes must pass through the Shoe Room. Here they are ‘antiqued’ with antique creams to provide a rich patina and ‘mopped’ for a beautiful shine. Final checks are conducted to ensure the shoe passes strict quality controls which have been in place since 1880. Only once approval has been given by the Master Inspector may the Barker and Goodyear Welted stamps be applied. Laces are threaded through the eyelets before the shoes are given one final inspection and placed into their Barker boxes ready for delivery.
To view the range of quality English shoes made by Barker click below.