All quality shoemaking processes are intensely interesting to watch, but there’s a fairly easy argument to be made that handsewn manufacturing takes the shoe-cake.

Yes, there are machines involved. But the hand-work that’s required to create the shoes that Rancourt makes in Lewiston, Maine—most specifically the hand-lasting and sewing of the “plug” onto the vamp—is just a fabulously old-school and artistic set of actions to watch. Which is why Matt Gondek went and filmed it.

Matt takes an interesting approach: no godly voiceover explaining what’s happening, barely any text on the screen, just pure shoemaking as a natural CXL beefroll penny loafer makes its way through the factory. Without any narrative guidance, part of the shoe-nerd fun is trying to identify what’s happening at each stage.

Dies click the leather, linings and penny straps are stitched, vamp leather is nailed to a last before being tugged, tugged, tugged until it’s just right. The plug is inserted, and then it’s just getting down to work on handsewing that thing: two needles, no guide holes, just experience and feel.

The factory isn’t silent, but there’s no ruckus, outside a Hawaiian shirted handsewer exclaiming about pound and a half steaks while hand-lasting a vamp. Beards and New England accents are prominent, as is a gigantic dog with paws this size of that craftsman’s already gigantic hands.

It’s not short—45ish minutes—but it’s very complete. Even watching five minutes is foolproof therapy for anyone who cares about shoemaking.


MORE ON THIS TYPE OF SHOE: THE RISE AND FALL AND RISE AGAIN OF THE US HANDSEWN INDUSTRY