A last is a form in the rough shape of a human foot, which is used in shoemaking to provide the fit and style of a shoe. It is used by cordwainers or shoemakers in the manufacture or repair of shoes. Lasts come in pairs and the material used to make them is either European bass hardwood, rock maple, or special, high molecular weight, high density polyethylene plastic.
Almost all footwear is made on lasts, a form that creates the footwear's size, fit and style. There are many types of lasts which reflect the type of footwear and feet they are designed for. In the mid-1800s lasts were made from specially selected hard wood, known as rock hard maple which does not increase in shape for the brief period when wet materials are laid on it during shoe manufacture. Modern lasts are made of HMW-HDPE, which allow for many tack holes without repairs to the bottoms. The material of a last does not affect the fit; but the shape and size of a last does affect the fit, and must accommodate the factory machinery used to finish the shoe. The material used to make the last must be firm enough to withstand the pressure applied by the pullover machines when bottoming the shoe. Both plastic lasts and wood lasts easily hold small tacks (called lasting tacks) which are used to preliminarily fasten areas of the shoe onto the last before the sole is added.
Today many mass production high fashion shoe designers such as Sebago shoes farm out shoe production to China and elsewhere in the far east, where lasts are commonly made of HMWPE and the plastic is recycled and reformed for different seasons. The only cordwainers still using wood lasts are the few in Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and England as well as some older American cowboy boot makers who prefer wood lasts to bottom custom footwear. In Northampton Loake shoes, Trickers shoes and Sanders shoes are still using those same lasts they were using a hundred years ago.
Different types of footwear require lasts with different characteristics. Open-toe sandal style will use a last that allows the toes to spread out, while a boot last is designed to hug the instep for a closer fit.
For a full made to measure shoe the customer meets the lastmaker who from detailed drawings and measurements of his feet will hand carve a pair of wooden lasts from which shoes can subsequently be made for a perfect fit. Bradshaw and Lloyd offer a full made to measure service whereby the customer meets the lastmaker in R.E. Tricker's lastmaker in their Jermyn Street store in London's West End. Visit www.bradshawandlloyd.com for further details.