The art of shoe making

Here at Aquila we take great pride in creating quality men’s shoes, often using traditional Italian artisan techniques. Take it from us – there’s a lot more work goes into making a pair of shoes than you might think. Let’s step through the sole-full Art of Shoe Making.

The Design

From the catwalks to the high street, the design of a shoe is the main reason we either like it or we don’t. But as trends come and go with the seasons, some designs have remained unchanged for decades. These are the classics like brogues, Chelsea boots and loafers, and they’re essentials for any man’s wardrobe. These shoe designs will never go out of fashion.

The challenge for men’s shoe designers is to dream up fresh ways of styling these timeless classics. With inspiration drawn from the big fashion house collections to small boutique shoemakers to sub-culture street trends, shoe design influence is everywhere. At Aquila, our focus is firmly on the latest design and style trends coming out of Europe, which we absorb and give our own twist.

The Pattern

Making one perfect pair of shoes is a good start, but if you want to repeat the process you’ll need a pattern. And as the entire design of the shoe and its construction are determined by the pattern, attention to detail is key.

Shoe patterns are created in three-dimensions to fit a specific shape, called a last. Usually a white taped-together last is drawn on in pencil to determine the individual pieces. These are then cut apart and arranged flat to form the basis of the pattern.

Often the shape of the separate pieces and the way in which they are joined is an integral and defining feature of the shoe’s design. That’s why creating a pattern takes time, trial and error – a reliable and resolved set of working patterns is the pride of any shoemaker’s toolbox.

Shoe making


Traditionally done by hand, the cutting of the leather or material shoe sections is now often done by machine to meet the higher volumes a modern market demands.

During the cutting stage the shoemaker can position the pattern to use the best section of the leather, or ensure that any textures, embossing detail or grain are aligned correctly for the way the shoe will be constructed. Cutting can add further character to a shoe through panel shapes and detailed edge finishes like a crimped edge or scalloped cut.

shoe design

Sewing and Assembly

Time to stitch all those pieces together, and the stitching detail is another integral element of the shoe’s design. It can add texture and colour through the use of contrasting thread and piping.

Shoes are constructed by assembling the individual pieces together to create the upper, adding the shoe lining in the process. Once stitched together a toe puff and heel counter are added between the upper and the lining.

Now the upper is ready to be lasted – it’s wrapped around the last it was designed for, which helps create the three-dimensional shoe shape. The last can radically change the character of a shoe and determines how the shoe maintains its shape and features, including whether or not it has a square or rounded toe.

For every shoe there’s a last on which to build it, from a sandal to a boat shoe to a Chelsea boot – they all get their distinctive shape from the last they’re constructed on. Lasts were traditionally carved from wood to match the shape of an individual’s feet. Today they are often styled from high-density plastics that have greater staying power for repeated usage.

footwear design

Heeling and Finishing

Almost there. The formed ‘upper’ now needs its sole and heel. These are usually added using a combination of glues and stitching. Rubber, leather or a combination of both is used to form the sole and build up the heel.

Take a closer look at many Aquila shoes and you’ll see we like to use the traditional Blake stitched sole, with the stitching going all the way through from the underside of the sole through to the upper. This results in a much thinner and elegant sole profile, and a whole lot more flexibility underfoot.

Finally, leather shoes are cleaned and then hand finished with various creams and polishes to re-nourish the leather after the production process. This also helps to bring out all the subtle highs and lows in the leather’s coloring. Suede shoes are carefully brushed to leave a perfectly smooth nap on the surface.

So there it is – the finished shoe. To withstand the tough wearing most shoes are subjected to, they have to be built well enough to take some punishment. Yet we still demand they be stylish and on-trend. Achieving both of these is the skill in the Art of Shoe Making.