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Welting 101

What’s To Know About Welting?

Here at HELM Boots, we take our welting processes seriously. We believe in creating durable boots made of the highest quality leathers and materials, and we know a good welt can make all the difference between a pair of boots that last just a few years and a pair that will last you a decade.

You may be wondering, what is a welt? A welt is the piece of leather that runs along the outsole of the shoe and serves to attach the upper to the sole of the shoe. Welt type is a primary way to identify well-made, high quality shoes. From a Goodyear welted shoe to a Blake stitched shoe, each welt seam type features unique stitching, outsole benefits, and design aesthetics.

There are varying methods of welting and shoe construction—the Goodyear welt construction and the Blake Stitch method, also referred to as the Blake Rapid Stitch construction, are two primary methods found in boot making. At HELM, we exclusively use a Blake Rapid Stitch welt construction.

Vetting which type of welted shoe is best for your lifestyle is an integral part toward predicting the life and longevity of your footwear. As passionate boot makers, we select our welt seam and shoe construction techniques methodically and mindfully. Our commitment as a small company is always to create products that are unmatched in look, feel and longevity. All HELM boots and dress shoes are resoleable, with a shoe construction and welt seam selected to be easily restored, renewed, and sustained by your local cobbler. Here we’ll touch on the top welting methods, including the two methods mentioned above. Keep reading to explore the world of welted shoes a little deeper!

Goodyear Welting

Charles Goodyear Jr. first created the Goodyear Welting method in 1869. Still today, it’s one of the more common construction methods used for designing high quality shoes. The design garnered a sterling reputation for a construction method that produces a durable, long lasting shoe. 

Though the shoemaking industry was in full swing at the time, most factories were still producing shoes entirely by hand. That’s why Goodyear’s method was—and still is— considered groundbreaking. It was the first method that used a sewing machine in lieu of traditional handmade methods.

James Hanan, a shoemaker in New York at the time, first introduced Goodyear to this machine. It was referred to as Elais Howe’s Sewing machine. The device made it possible to sew a shoe’s upper with the insole without using the same stitching to attach the undersole. Understanding the opportunity he’d been presented, Goodyear quickly patented the machine.

Charles Goodyear, Jr., is the son of Charles Goodyear, most notably known for his work with rubber. He is credited with discovering the vulcanization process. In other words, where natural rubber is heated with sulfur to create a “completely cured rubber.” Needless to say, an inventive mindset ran in the family.

There are three distinct steps involved when using Goodyear welting. The first step requires preparing the insole for stitching. This is done by creating what’s called a “rib” that runs perpendicularly across the insole. While some do so by shaping the insole accordingly, others use additional materials.

The second step involves stretching the upper over a last, then bringing it together with the insole, mid-sole, and welt. The third and final step is welting. This is done by sewing through the welt, the upper, and the insole rib; a separate stitch then attaches the welt to the outsole. It’s important to note this method can be completed by hand or machine. Shoes made by this design hold the title of handcrafted. To learn more about the differences between handcrafted and handmade shoes, head over to our blog piece on the subject here.

One of the most notable advantages of designing a shoe with a Goodyear welt is its ability to be resoled time and time again without damaging the rest of the shoe’s design. Another benefit of Goodyear welted shoes is that they’re water resistant and known for their durability.

The Storm welt is another design, and it’s incredibly similar to the Goodyear welt. Its design consists of just a few modifications, but the main difference is that it’s slightly wider than its counterpart. The extra width is considered to provide a bit more water resistance as well.

Blake Stitch, or Blake Rapid Stitch

The Blake Rapid Stitch method is the second of two primary shoe construction methods. It’s also the simpler, more common option in the industry. Invented in 1856 by Lyman Reed Blake, the method simply joins the sole directly with the upper.

Blake’s exposure to shoemaking began at a young age. After completing his formal education at age sixteen, he began working for his older brother, Samuel, who was a local shoemaker in his hometown of South Abington, Massachusetts. In later years, Blake worked for Isaac M. Singer’s company. There, he learned how to arrange and set up machines in shoe factories. While his skills and interests in the industry deepened during this time, it wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that he constructed his first machine in an effort to streamline and simplify the shoemaking process. He was looking to produce a sleeker, more elegantly crafted shoe.

After designing a sample shoe and working model using his techniques, Blake sold his patent to Gordon McKay in 1859, where he worked until his retirement in 1874, selling and installing his machines in factories throughout the New England area of the country. Today, Italian shoemakers prefer this method.

There are a few key differences between the Blake Rapid Stitch and the Goodyear welting method, though. One of the main differences between the two is the use of machinery. Because the Blake Rapid method stitches on the inside of the shoe, its construction requires the use of machinery, which enables shoemakers to get extremely close-cut soles. For this reason, the aesthetic of a Blake stitch welt is widely associated with fine Italian footwear. The Blake method uses just two stitches, compared to the multiple stitches required to complete a Goodyear welt. The result is a more streamlined welt seam, that bears the appearance of a nearly flush seam against the outsole.

While the Blake Rapid’s simple design offers benefits like flexibility and comfort, these shoes are less water-sealed than a Goodyear welt construction. The good news is, all HELM boots and shoes are water-resistant. We typically recommend a layer of protective boot wax to the outsole if inclement weather or extended water exposure is a concern. All HELM styles are able to be resoled, although doing so does require specific machinery. Our materials are generally easy to source and any reputable cobbler in your area should be up to the task! We also have an ongoing partnership with online cobbler NuShoe. NuShoe stocks all HELM outsole materials and guarantees their work. To learn more about the resole program, check out our site.

Additional Methods To Know

Though the Goodyear welting and Blake Rapid Stitch methods are the two more prominent ways to construct a shoe, they aren’t the only processes shoemakers use. There are a few other methods to consider as well.

Moccasin shoe construction is another common method for shoe production and it dates back before the Goodyear welt was created. Using softer leathers, these designs typically boast a more casual style, like the Italian loafer, for example. In this method, a large, single piece of leather is used to form the sides and insole of the shoe. Next, the leather uppers are folded upwards in a tubular construction. Finally, a new piece of leather covers the shoe and forms the tongue. This method is also referred to as the Bologna method. 

Cementing is another common shoe construction method. Cementing is a cheap, quick, and common way to attach a sole of a shoe. This method is commonly used for casual shoes with rubbery soles, like sneakers, chukkas, or bucks. Instead of welting, soles are attached to the upper—after it’s completed around the last—with an adhesive. Because of this, cemented shoes are often much more affordable than the Blake Stitch or Goodyear welted shoes. While this shoe can be made quickly and inexpensively, these shoes cannot be resoled and as a result don’t last as long.

In designing our premiere line of HELM sneakers, shoe construction remained at the forefront of our brand ethos. HELM sneakers use sidewall stitch construction in lieu of cementing, meaning our rubber outsoles feature stitching instead of glue. The seam of a HELM sneaker is built more in line with traditional boot making than sneaker construction. Why do things differently? We’re of the mind if you’re going to buy a sneaker made by a boot company, it should outlast and outperform your athleticwear. Simply put, HELM sneakers last as long and are built as well as HELM boots.

A Shoemaker’s Preference

There are a number of shoemakers in the United States that favor one method over the other. For example, American-made Allen Edmonds uses exclusively the Goodyear welt method. While the company recognizes that this method is both labor intensive and more expensive than other shoemaking techniques available, the company says the “durability of a Goodyear welted shoe is unmatched and provides the opportunity to re-craft the shoe down the line.”

On the other hand, Rancourt & Co. prefers the simplicity of a Blake Stitch welt. The Maine-based shoemaking factory further attributes the added flexibility, comfort and longevity a Blake Stitch lends for their decision. According to the company, “perfecting the Blake [Stitch] Construction has enabled us to develop more sophisticated footwear.” The simple construction and enhanced flexibility fuel this shoemaking company’s decision to use the Blake Stitch method over others.

At HELM, one of our chief design concerns has always been a commitment toward building shoes and boots that can take you through your day easily and in premium comfort. HELM boots and shoes are handcrafted to be transitional and timeless in style. We make classic styles that pair beautifully with any garment or ensembles, from the boardroom to the bar. It’s our hope your HELM boots and shoes remain just as relevant and stylish twenty years down the line as they were the day you bought them. With that goal in mind, renewable construction with a tailored and precise seam aesthetic and increased flexibility was an easy choice. 

The Last Word

Each shoe construction method has its own merits. Knowing this, it’s still important to realize that no one method in particular that is notably superior than another. Each welt produces a shoe with different qualities and characteristics. The final decision of what welt is right for you rests firmly on the wearer’s individual preference. Just as the production processes differ, the wearer’s foot does as well.

Our line of handcrafted styles is designed using the Blake Stitch method. If you’re curious to know more about which HELM boot style is right for you, you can reach out at any time and we would be happy to answer any questions and point you in the right direction. For more information on how to size, ways to style, or to explore our full lineup check out more from the HELM blog.

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