The 'last' or 'forme' used for shoe making is arguably the most important part of any footwear, but is a part of the shoe never seen by the wearer. Lasts are used to manufacture almost every kind of footwear from sandals to riding boots. The last determines the size, style, toe-shape and heel height of the shoe. Even if you were to draw a shoe, you already denoting the last shape as soon as you sketch the toe shape. As a designer, the process of making a pattern cannot start in earnest before the shape of the last has been produced.
Historically, the process of last making has been a slow and painful one- a blank of wood is carved, rasped and sanded to create an exact shape, then this process repeated for the opposite foot. More recently 'repeating machines' have been used to trace the last shape and carve a new one.
Materials have changed through the years from wood such as hornbeam and beech to high density plastics, even to cast metals for heavy-duty factory operations.
As a shoemaker I make one off bespoke footwear, I tailor each last for the client and am then obliged to keep this last archived for them. This work is done by hand, requires a vast amount of labour, repeated processes and will often result in inconsistencies. I have been thinking for some time about how this process could use new manufacturing techniques to improve the accuracy and speed of last manufacture.
In this Instructable I will go through some of the methods that I have been experimenting with during my research.
As you can see from the first image, there are many different toe shapes you can choose from even within the 'round-toe' category of lasts. There are many infinite variations on a round, almond, triangular, square or pointed toe- that goes for all aspects of the last too.
Toe shape affects style but also the way the shoe will perform- for example boot lasts tend to have a larger volume toe box plus a taller profile around the ankle, whereas a dress shoe will often have a sleeker and more pointed profile.
A great place to start your journey as a last maker is probably to get hold of a second hand pair of lasts in your size and to start making adjustments to the toe shape using a rasp or grinding wheel. This is a part of the last which has most licence for alteration without affecting the fit too greatly. If you start adjusting the instep or arch support you may find you start affecting the comfort of the last.
This is how I began my first last- I turned a regular shoe last into a sandal last by making the toe shape very asymmetrical and also decreasing its depth.