Tools of the Shoe Trade: Tight Sole Stitch

Gruberhof Shoemaking

The process of traditional shoemaking involves a whole host of specialist tools and techniques. We’re making it our mission to introduce you to some of them. In this post we’re introducing you to a vital technique every shoemaker needs in their arsenal: tight sole stitch.

Shoes would not be shoes as we know them without the use of a sole stitch. This is an extremely important step in the shoemaking process, as it’s this that attaches the upper shoe to the outer sole.

These stitches are usually made with the assistance of half a dozen strands of flax that are tightly twisted together then carefully waxed to keep them in place. These are then attached to a needle or a strong bristle.

Tight sole stitches can be done in various colours. Usually shoemakers choose a thread in the same colour as the sole, but there are some notable exceptions to this. Some styles of shoe feature contrast sole stitches in order to make a fashion statement. The best example of this are all Doc Marten shoes that feature iconic bright yellow visible stitches.

Look closely at a pair of well made shoes and you will see how tight sole stitch gets its name. These stitches are very small, very neat and very intricate. They are generally measured in SPI, or stitches per inch.

Usually hand stitched shoes are between six and ten stitches per inch. Higher than this is possible by hand, but is rare in contemporary shoemaking simply because it is extremely difficult to do. Tight sole stitching that has been done on a machine can achieve a higher SPI.

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