Blake Stitch: The Slim, Affordable Option
People often use the term “Goodyear Welt” to describe all high-end footwear. However, that’s like describing all cars as having a gasoline engine. Sure, many of them do. But some have diesel, some are electric, some are hydrogen, and some are a combination of several motors. Shoes are similar. This is the first in a series looking at the pros and cons of the various types of construction. We’ll start off with Blake Stitch Construction.
Other than cemented construction, the Blake method is the simplest way to construct a shoe. Originally invented in 1856 by Lyman Reed Blake, Blake stitching required the use of machines and would not have been possible in a time when shoes were all made by hand.
While very similar in name, Blake Rapid will be handled in a different post. The benefits and drawbacks are so different that it doesn’t make sense to combine them here.
How Are They Made
Blake construction involves taking the lasted shoe, placing it upside down, layering the insole over the outsole and then stitching through the outsole, insole, and upper. In other words, the same thread that is seen on the outsole is seen on the insole. The stitching will be much further in from the edge of the sole compared to other styles. It needs to be further set in to hit all the correct layers.
Generally, but not always, only the front of the shoe will be stitched. On the rear they will use nails or cement to stick the back of the outsole down. The heel nailed or cemented onto that.
In many cases, the interior stitching will remain exposed inside of the shoe beyond the heel pad. Rancourt is probably the most famous for this. This ensures the fewest layers between your foot and the ground and results in the easiest break in. That being said, it can be uncomfortable to some. Others will use a full-length insole, which is very effective at hiding the stitching both visually and by feel.
Sometimes, particularly on shoes found in retail locations, you’ll find what looks like a welt on an otherwise Blake constructed shoe. It’s fairly common for brands to add a fake welt for design purposes. The easiest way to tell a fake welt is to see if the stitching on the outsole lines up with the stitching along the welt. If it doesn’t, it’s almost certainly a decorative addition.
Benefits of Blake Stitch Construction
Often looked down on as the “lesser” way to build shoes, Blake stitching doesn’t signal poor quality.
With no need for a welt, Blake stitched shoes can have their soles cut extremely close to the upper. Sometimes even having the upper extend beyond the sole. Many classic European designs simply are not possible with other forms of stitched construction
Easy Break In
With the entirety of an outsole being just a single piece of leather, Blake constructed shoes allow for faster than other forms of stitched construction.
Blake construction requires less materials and less time to make, meaning that companies can assemble the shoes for less that other forms of construction. This allows a shoe brand that focuses on offering value to their customers to reinvest that money elsewhere, such as in nicer materials or better customer service.
Drawbacks of Blake Stitch Construction
Of course, there is a reason that even though Blake stitching is the most affordable many brands opt for other choices.
Lack of weather resistance
While brands will often take steps to try and mitigate this problem with waxes and oils, the fact remains that Blake stitching means that the stitching that touches wet or dirty ground runs directly into the inside of the shoe. This will often lead to water entering the shoe much quicker than other forms of construction – even with a rubber sole.
Harder to resole
It’s true that Blake stitching is easier to construct initially, resoling requires a specific machine, something many local cobblers don’t have. If a location does have one, they are going to want to recoup their investment, and will often charge more than a Goodyear-welt resole.
Cost can Attract Brands Looking to Make a Quick Buck
As mentioned above, Blake shoes are not inherently lower quality. Unfortunately, their lower cost can attract brands looking to cut corners elsewhere. You should be evaluate any shoe before making a several-hundred-dollar investment, but poor-quality Blake stitched shoes are much more common than others.
Companies that use Blake Stitch
While it doesn’t get the fame that Goodyear welt gets, brands that use Blake construction are probably the most common – even if the total number of shoes is less overall. There are likely hundreds of brands that utilize this construction method; however, a few notable examples include:
- Quoddy (non-wrap models)
- Rancourt (handsewn models)
- Oak Street Bootmakers (handsewn models)
- Jay Butler
- Jack Erwin
- Beckett Simonon
When Should You Pick a Blake Stitched Shoe?
Blake constructed shoes generally fall into two different categories.
First, the construction lends itself well to slim oxfords and bluchers. In the same way an American style Sack Suit calls for a gunboat, a slimmer cut style doesn’t look right without a slim shoe to go with it. Blake is pretty much the only way to achieve this look.
Second, casual handsewns such as penny loafers, boat shoes, and camp mocs typically use this construction. Essentially just adding a sole to a moccasin, this style of stitching means that you can still have the classic all-over leather feel while having something a bit more substantial between you and the ground.