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Handmade: Perry Ercolino

perry ercolini 7 of 22 blog Handmade: Perry Ercolino

From my first step inside Perry Ercolino’s atelier, which sits two blocks west of Main Street in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the dedication to craftsmanship was evident. The smell of leather was intoxicating and so was the display of museum-worthy, bespoke shoes and their lasts. It was porn for any handmaker. Hidden behind the main worktable was Perry, one of the best, maybe the best, shoe maker around. His tale is uncomplicated and non-convoluted. His father was a shoemaker and he followed suit, no qualms or reservations about it. Today, his business is in the vanguard of a still-living-and-breathing, old-world trade. With each pair of shoes, he brings fresh verve to established styles and marries traditional tailoring with dandy designs. Opening prices are high, but men and women who pay top dollar for the most refined clothing shouldn’t fail at the final hurdle – shoes. For these customers, Perry is offering them a way to get out of the monochromatic maze of Cole Haan and Coach.

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your story Handmade: Perry Ercolino
My history is simple. I grew up in the business. My father was a shoemaker here in Doylestown during the depression and his shop was a half a block away from mine. When he retired in the late 1970s, I took over the business and I’ve been here ever since.

process Handmade: Perry Ercolino

The shoemaking process begins by tracing and measuring the customer’s right and left foot. We then take that tracing and overlay it with a 2-dimensional pattern of what the bottom of the shoe last should look like. For those unfamiliar, a last is a 3-dimensional model of the foot; like a dress form but for shoemakers. Once this is finished, we send it to a lastmaker in the U.K., who creates a carved, wooden mold. Once he send it back, I begin the process of making the pattern for the shoes by drawing the style line directly on to the last. After, I use those style lines to create the pattern pieces, including the lining (a shoe as two separate layers: one for the top of the shoe and one for the inside lining).

The leather pieces are cut and sewn together to make the “uppers,” or top layer, of the shoes. The uppers are then humidify and stretched over a wooden form so that they can take shape and mold to the wood before final assembly. After, we take special pieces of leather for the back as well as for the toe area and insert them between the top and lining with a special wheat paste. This helps form the heel and toe areas as well as keeps them rigid for the life of the shoes.

The final phase is to attach a wooden, shank piece to the bottom for support under the heel. At the same time, pieces of cork are added, which provide cushion under the ball of the foot. The leather outsole covers all of that and is sewn onto a strip of leather (welt) at the bottom edge. Once the outsole is permanently attached, it is shaped to the contours of the shoe’s bottom. The heel pieces are then attached and the shoes are polished and fitted for a pair of wood shoe trees that replicate the shape of the shoe lasts that the shoe was built on.

The whole process from start to finish takes approximately 65 hours (actual work time).

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sourcing Handmade: Perry Ercolino
I source all my leathers overseas. I use French, English, Italian and German calf as well as some English suede. I use mostly French because it’s more durable. Italian leather is a softer, but that’s because they remove the “bottom crust,” which takes away some of the fiber structure and compromises durability.

fitpoints Handmade: Perry Ercolino
In garment sewing, there are various fit points on the human figure: shoulder, waist, hip, etc. In shoemaking, we have the same thing, but our fit points are the inside ball joint, the outside ball joint, the fifth metatarsal head and the long heel joint.

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famous clients Handmade: Perry Ercolino
President Obama. I didn’t meet him, but I was given his measurements/size to make a pair of shoes – oxfords.

aspirations Handmade: Perry Ercolino
I’m sure I’ve had aspirations to do something else. Host The Tonight Show…

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post footers perry ercolino Handmade: Perry Ercolino

Weekend: The Way Sewing Used to Be

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When I received a box of sewing notions from a coworker, one of the first thoughts I had while going through the goodies was, “how come sewing notions are not made like this anymore?” The designs, the colors, the illustration – all seemed to be considered as much as the actual product and its function. I take on that mentality when I create each posts. I spend as much time and effort on the aesthetic as I do the content, because I believe they work hand-in-hand to offer a great “product,” which in my case is a piece of information to share with other sewers.

The snap fasteners, the wooden bobbins, the zipper – they were so pretty that  I had to take a photo, and I even started an Instagram series with the hashtag #thewaysewingusedtobe. Korny? A little, but hey, I’m korny. Nowadays, packaging is so bland and I want to capture the way sewing used to be.

So, if you have any vintage sewing notions, I encourage you to upload a photo to Instagram using the same hashtag. Come on, it will be fun!

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the packaging of sewing notions then and now?

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How to Build a Bra Wardrobe

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My Bra Challenge: 7 Tips for Sewing Long Periods of Time

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Two weeks ago, I took a challenge to sew 3 sets of lingerie in 48 hours. For some sewers, this task is infantile, mere child’s play. For me, a seamstress who is not the speediest of the sewing bunch, this was a challenge. But pushing yourself into unknown and uncomfortable territory is a necessary part of life, whether it’s self inflicted or inflicted by others. That Saturday and Sunday was a new experience for me, but I had fun. Surprisingly, I finished with plenty of time to spare – early Sunday evening. I even had time to cook a hearty meal. That’s an extra large feat for this city living and loving lady. I have a few tips for those who are about to sew for an extended period of time. Some are serious while other are more for fun. Sewing is supposed to be fun, right?

prepping My Bra Challenge: 7 Tips for Sewing Long Periods of Time

This is an obvious one, but prepping for your project is super important. The reason for most sewing delays is not slow speed, but hitting an obstacle like running out of thread or interfacing, which forces you stop wherever you are, and go out and buy more. I didn’t have time for this, so a couple weeks prior, I made a shopping list and bought all supplies so that this wouldn’t happen. Also, the night before, I made sure everything was in place for me to sew the next day. Scissors out, needles ready, sewing machine threaded, iron in place, tape measures in sight, etc.

assembly line My Bra Challenge: 7 Tips for Sewing Long Periods of Time

Part of the reason why factories are so fast is because one seamstress performs the same operation over and over. This assembly line type of sewing was the method I used for my bra challenge, meaning I sewed the same operation on all three bras and undies before continuing to the next. Example: I sewed all six cups, then attached all 6 cups to all three cradles, then attached all bottom band elastics, etc. The opposite of this would be sewing one bra, and then sewing the second and the third. This reduces the amount of time you have to change needles and thread.snacks My Bra Challenge: 7 Tips for Sewing Long Periods of Time

Peanuts and pretzels are for frequent flyers. At 200 calorie or less, those snacks get you through a couple of hours, six at most. I had eight times that amount to keep my sugar and sanity levels at bay. I have no patience for hangry seamstresses. In Chateau Madalynne, I like to keep my cupboards stocked with a well rounded diet, which for this challenge meant stocking up on M&M’s and cereal. Breakfast and dinner of champions.

bramaking My Bra Challenge: 7 Tips for Sewing Long Periods of Timerefills My Bra Challenge: 7 Tips for Sewing Long Periods of TimeAnother rule at Cheteau is that we refill in a ratio of 4 to 1. How many of you hate when you run out of bobbin thread mid seam and have to rethread? Me too! So, before I even started the challenge, I filled 4 bobbins to the top. Shaken, not stirred.

dress for success My Bra Challenge: 7 Tips for Sewing Long Periods of TimeEven if I don’t have plans for the day, I always get dressed. Staying in my jammies until sunset is a no-no. Why? I think differently when I wear loungewear than when I wear an actual outfit. Knowing that I had to a goal to meet, I didn’t want to get into that lazy mentality. I wasn’t donning heels, but I was wearing me-made. Polka dots always get me in the mood; the sewing mood, people!

distractions My Bra Challenge: 7 Tips for Sewing Long Periods of TimeI agree with most people’s observation that I live in my own little bubble. I wish you could see me when I photograph. I think it sums up that statement pretty well. I have caused car accidents, been inches away from hypothermia and almost got arrested. I just do my own thing and don’t pay attention to what’s going on around me, illegal or not. But considering how solo I am, I’m also pretty connected. I take as many Instagram breaks as I do coffee breaks. I also check emails constantly. But these are all 5 minute distractions that can turn into 30 minutes or more, and because I had a deadline in front of me, I eliminated all of them. That meant turning off all notifications on my cell phone and computer – email, text, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Etsy and Bloglovin. Even if you don’t have a due date staring at you, I suggest you do this every once in a while. It’s a weird unfamiliar feeling to be disconnected.

background tunes My Bra Challenge: 7 Tips for Sewing Long Periods of TimeWhether it’s Pandora, Soundclound, Spotify, NPR, Netflix, a good movie or an audio book, you need some background noise. Most of the time, I start out with some kind of sound to get me into the zone, but a couple hours in, I go into silence. Why? Once you get passed the intital sewing, I’m good to go for hours. It’s just like a 10-minute warm up before a 10 mile run. Once things start movin’ and groovin’, rockin’ and a’rollin, it’s full on meditative sewing.

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*a note about sewing machines shown in the photos. I recently moved, and my regular sewing machines, a Juki DDL 5500 and a PFAFF Expression 3.2, have not been set up in my new place yet. As I unpack, I’ve been using my backup machine, a Singer Brilliance.*

      Did you hear that I'm teaching an online bra making class? In one hour, I walk you through constructing a bra from start to finish, and I'll cover choosing a bra pattern, finding your size, tracing and cutting tips and construction. Click HERE to sign up now!


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