Hello and welcome to the final part of our terminology and glossary for English handmade shoes.
Our aim is to compile the definitive glossary for all things related to English handmade shoes and the craftsmanship involved in their manufacture.
All three parts will be compiled shortly together as an easy reference page.
Please comment with any further details or omissions which you may think will be helpful for those of us interested in English handmade shoes.
Pebbled Grain – An embossed-leather grain finish that resembles a pebble surface.
Penny Loafer – A slip-on style shoe with a slit over the instep where a penny traditionally was placed for good luck.
Perfing – “Perforations,” small holes punched into shoe uppers to form some kind of design for decorative effect.
Perforation – A pattern of small holes punched or bored into the trim of a shoe, for decoration or ventilation.
Pinking – This term refers to the decorative edging in a saw-toothed or Zig-zag design used on the uppers of some footwear and done for decoration. Sometimes this is called Gimping because a shoemaker does this with a gimping machine, in which steel tools with various patterns can be fitted to achieve the desired effect.
Piping – A decorative, narrow strip of leather that typically follows the seam of a shoe.
Pitch – The angle of the back part of the heel where it meets the sole, compared to the front part of the heel where it meets the sole. On a high-heeled shoe the pitch should be at a larger angle, to stabilize the heel.
Plain Toe – A style that uses a single, continuous piece of leather for the vamp.
Pull Grain Leather – A natural process to temper the hide using river stones. The result is a leather with an irregular grain that’s soft to the touch and flexible.
Pull Tab – Pull tabs are loops made from fabric to help pull a tight fitting boot onto your foot. It can be used with “Boot Pulls” for even more ease.
Quarter – The rear portion of a shoe, covering the heel and sides and often joined at the back seam.
Quarter Rubber – A hard, non-slip piece of rubber that’s inserted into the top piece of the heel. Sometimes it’s protected by plastic “heel protectors,” which a cobbler can put in for you.
Quarter Lining – The lining of the rear part of a shoe, typically made from leather or fabric.
Rim – The part of the shoe where the foot enters. Another term for the collar or top line.
Rubber Soles – Rubber soles can be found in shoes and boots of all types and are the most common alternative to leather soles. Rubber soles are durable, hardwearing and water-resistant. The pros and cons of rubber soles are pretty straight forward. Their durability makes them ideal for work, hiking and winter boots. When compared to a leather sole, a rubber sole looks thicker and clunkier making them better suited for casual wear.
Ruched – More common in women’s footwear, it is a kind of finishing detail created by gathering and stitching together material in a pleated, or bunched manner.
Russian Leather – A vegetable tanned cow leather or calf leather with a thickness of about 1.6 – 3mm. Today, other vegetable tanned leather is also called “Russian leather”. For example, leather tanned with mimosa, tara or chestnut.
Russet Leather – A leather that is also known as Shaft Leather is a vegetable-tanned, greased leather, which is either natural or dyed. Russet leather is mainly used for working shoes and other shoe products subject to heavy use. Both the grain side and the flesh side (suede) can be worn outwards, which can be seen especially in mountain and hiking boots.
Saddle – A leather strip that starts from both sides of the sole and goes over the instep.
Saddle Shoes – Shoes with a contrast colored instep overlay or “saddle,” usually found on golf shoes or retro styles.
Sandal – A form of footwear, with an open toe and open back, that is held to the foot by strips of leather or fabric.
Scalloped, Scalloping – Like pinking, but a wavy cut instead of a jagged, saw-toothed cut, characterized by round, wavy edges.
Scotch Grain – Scotch grain leather is embossed with a pebbled pattern. Typically, it is done with skins from older animals than are typically used for plain calfskin. Leather from older animals is typically thicker and more likely to be scarred in some way, which the embossing covers up. Today, Scotchgrain is one of many typical embossing patterns on leather. Scotch grain is commonly found on shoes, wallets, handbags and many other leather goods. It is said that pebble grain embossed leather is modeled after riding boots an old Scottish shoemaker crafted for his Royal clientele
Sock – A small piece of leather used to hide the nails that keep the sole together. A sock can be full length, three-quarters, or just cover the heel section. The last is the most common.
Sole – The entire part of the shoe that’s below the wearer’s foot. These can be single or double leather, or even HAF (double tapering to a single). The upper and sole make up the whole of the shoe.
Scotch Calf Leather – A calf leather that has been embossed to create a heavy, pebbled look.
Scotch Grain – Also known as Pebble Grain, Scotch Grain leather was developed in Scotland. Old Scots pioneered the texturizing process with the barley from old whiskey barrels that would shrink up the leather to create the signature pitted rhino-like appearance. Nowadays the pattern is generally embossed over an older calfskin. This hardy finish makes Scotch Grain more weather resistant than other leathers and has made it a common choice for casual English shoes.
Shaft Height – Shaft height of boots is measured from the middle of the arch up the inside of the boot to the top of the boot shaft.
Shank – A metal strip extending from the heel to the ball of the foot to strengthen shoe and add support.
Shearling – Sheepskin or lambskin with the wool still attached. Used often as a lining for shoes and boots.
Sheepskin – Skin from sheep, either with or without the wool attached.
Shell Cordovan – A soft, very fine-grained, colored leather produced mainly from the shell of a horse butt. Known for its non-porosity, density, and good wearing characteristics, The name derives from Cordoba, Spain, where the leather was first produced. Shell cordovan is distinguished by its lustrous waxy finish, superior durability, and suppleness that readily conforms to the shape of the wearer’s foot.
Shoe Horn – A curved metal or synthetic device used to aid in slipping the foot into a shoe.
Shoe Sizes – A variation between full sizes is one-third of an inch, while the difference between half sizes is one-sixth of an inch.
Shoe Width – The width of a shoe is typically measured in letters (AAA, AA, A, B, C, D, E, EE, EEE, EEEE) and refers to the width of the shoe last as measured at the ball of the foot. Widths are defined in increments of an eighth (1/8) of an inch.
Side Leather – Leather from the sides of cattle, divided by the backbone.
Siped – A type of outsole with narrow grooves or channels, often found in boat shoes that help to disperse water and prevent slipping.
Skip lacing – threaded leather lacing around the top line of Loafer style shoes. Also referred to as top-line lace.
Slip-On – A style of footwear designed without laces which is simply slipped on to the foot with no further adjustment.
Slipper – A flat shoe that is easily slipped on, usually meant for indoor wear and lined for comfort and warmth.
Smooth Leather – Any leather that is smooth on the surface, without pebbling, or noticeable grain.
Sneaker – An athletic shoe, typically made of canvas with a rubber sole. The term “sneaker” comes from the wearer’s ability to walk in the shoe without making noise.
Snip Toe – A type of toe that is tapered, with a squared front as if “snipped.”
Sock Lining – The lining that comes in contact with the sole of the foot.
Sole – Another word for the outsole, the bottom part of the shoe
Sole Leather – Any heavy leather (usually cattle-hide), used for the soles of shoes.
Spectator – A low-heeled, oxford, semi-brogue or full brogue shoe design that is characterized by 2 materials, often of different colors or materials, with an edge of the dominant color having a gimping (pinking) edge exposed, and a perforated design on the toe.
Split Leather – A type of leather used in shoes that are made from the lower layers of a hide that have been split away from the upper or grain.
Split-Toe – A style that features two pieces of leather joined together at the vamp and welt of the shoe; see Algonquin toe.
Stacked Heel – A heel that has horizontal lines, indicating that it is made up of stacked layers of leather, or a heel with that appearance.
Stingray Skin – Stingray skin offers a very unique, modern look with a white stripe down the center of the skin. Stingray skin is a versatile exotic leather, used for everything from small handbags and small accessories to cowboy boots and furniture.
Storm Welt – A style of welt that borrows elements from both Goodyear welts and Norwegian welts. Based mainly on a slight modification of the Goodyear welt for rougher climates where the welt is slightly wider. This allows the welt to be bent upwards, creating a seal around the junction between the upper and the midsole. This prevents water from entering the shoe at the seam between the shoes’ upper and the welt. This area can be a problem for traditional Goodyear-welted shoes in wet conditions. Rather than curving beneath the shoes’ upper leather as a traditional welt would, the Storm Welt is completely exterior. Although very similar to a Norwegian welt what separates the Norwegian from the Storm welt is that Norwegian construction makes use of exterior stitching only, where as storm welted shoes are typically made from a Goodyear construction, and as such, they’re built with only one exterior stitch. Storm welts are constructed with the goal of making the finished shoe even more waterproof.
Suede – A soft Leather that has been sanded or roughed to produce a surface with a soft textured napped surface. Suede leather is made from the underside of the skin, primarily lamb, although goat, pig, calf, and deer are commonly used.
Synthetic Materials – Materials other than genuine leather, but which are designed to look or function like leather. Also known as man-made materials.
Tailored – Characterized by a fitted, precise design that follows the contours of the foot
Tannage – The process of converting raw hides or skins into finished leather.
Tanning – Proper tanning is the most important step in leather production. It is just one part of the entire process of manufacturing leather. Tanning is the method of preserving animal skin, with or without hair using tannins. These are acidic chemical compounds that stabilize the fibre structure of the skin and prevent it from decaying, decomposing and oxidizing. A tannery is where these skins and hides are processed and the profession is called tanner. The tanning process involves many stages where the skins have to be treated first and, once tanned, depending on the application and specific customer requests, the leather is dyed, ironed, sanded, oiled etc. There are endless variations.
Tap – The attachment of a leather or metal partial sole over the existing sole of a shoe.
Tassel – A decorative roll of bound leather that is secured on one end and loose at the other, used as an ornament and typically found on the vamp of a loafer.
Throat – The main opening of a shoe extending from the vamp to the ankle.
Throatline – The top edge of the throat.
Toe Cap – A piece of leather that covers the toe area of a shoe.
Top Grain Leather – The outer layer of the hide, known as the grain, which features finer, more densely packed fibers, resulting in strength and durability. Depending on thickness, it may also contain some of the more fibrous under layer, known as the corium. Types of top-grain leather include Full-grain leather, Russian leather, Corrected grain leather, and Nubuck. Top grain leather is smoother and more flexible than the full-grain.
Top Piece – The part of the heel lift that actually comes in contact with the ground.
Tip – An additional piece of leather covering the toe of a shoe. May be in several different shapes or patterns. Also known as a Cap.
Toe-box – A stiff piece of material placed inside the vamp to retain the dome-like shape over the toes. It can take many shapes, flat, high, wide, etc.
Toe Ridge – A horizontal molded ridge found along the top of the footbed in certain sandals, to anchor and provide support and cushioning for the toes.
Tongue – A strip of leather or other material that comes between your foot and the shoelaces. Sewn into the vamp of a laced shoe and extending to the throat of the shoe.
Topline – The opening or shape of the shoe, where you stick your foot in.
Top Lift – The part of the heel that touches the ground. Often made of rubber or a combination of leather and rubber.
Tread – May refer to the design of a shoe’s sole or the way in which a shoe’s sole is worn.
Tricolor – Usually Derby Brogues incorporating 3 different colored sections.
Upper – Various assembled parts of shoe top that you see above the sole including foxing, quarters, vamp, toe cap, backstay, tongue, and saddle. The upper and sole make up the whole of the shoe.
Upper Leather – Any leather used for making shoe uppers. The principal leathers used for shoe uppers are calf, kid, horsehide, goat, sheep, and leathers made from the skin of reptiles. All of these may be made in a wide variety of finishes, such as smooth, suede, patent, embossed and gloss.
Vachetta Leather – A type of soft cow leather
Vamp – The center front part of a shoe upper that covers the toes and part of the foot.
Vegetable Tanned – Leather that has been tanned using a vegetable process, ideal for those with allergies to chromium or other tanning chemicals.
Venetian Loafers – Loafers that lack the ornamentation often found across the middle, or as one source stated ‘loafers with nothing to put a penny in’. Also known as Venetian Construction.
Vibram Soles – These are light in weight and offer excellent comfort, enhanced mobility, and shock absorption.
Vitello Daino Leather – Calfskin that is made to look and feel like deerskin.
Waist – The area of the shoe that supports the mid-section of your foot, where your arch is.
Waterproof Leather – Shoes that have been specifically treated to prevent the entry of water.
Welt – A strip of material that holds the upper, insole, and sole together. Here we see the welt seam, though it’s important to note that just because you see stitching here doesn’t always mean the shoe has been welted. Sometimes stitches are glued here for decorative purposes.
Wholecut – The Wholecut is a variant of the Oxford style in which the upper is one single piece of leather.
Width – Width is measured at the ball of the foot, in 1/6-inch increments and is often expressed in letters (AA=narrow, B=medium, D=wide)
Wingtip – A type of shoe style where the vamp and toe are joined together with a decorative wing-shaped toe-cap. Also known as Brogue.
Woven Leather – A leather formed by braiding or weaving different pieces together.
Please comment with your thoughts.
William and Joanne