What is a Shoe Pattern?
A shoe pattern consists of all the component parts needed to make a shoe. The pattern pieces are cut in 2D and once the pattern parts are assembled the shoe upper is lasted to set the 3D shape. You can learn more about lasts and lasting in the articles about shoe lasts and shoe lasting.
Pattern = Parts
The pattern is the template for all the shoe parts. To make a shoe you will need many pattern parts cut from many different materials. Even a simple shoe design may require more than 30 cut pattern parts. More parts are required inside the shoe than outside the shoe to make the inner lining and reinforcing parts. Once on the shoe assembly line, the workers follow the sewing pattern for the shoes to create the uppers.
When a new shoe is being developed, the pattern maker, or pattern cutter, will create a forme from the last. The forme is simply the 3D surface of the last laid flat to paper. Once the forme is created, the 2D pattern can be drawn. See more on how to make your own shoe pattern.
Taped Last Method
A shoe pattern maker may use the taped last method to cut the shoe pattern. In this technique, the pattern maker will layer masking tape onto the last, then draw the design directly onto the surface. Once the design is finished, the entire taped panel can be removed or the design can be cut off the last piece-by-piece. There is no right or wrong way, for the pattern master it is a matter of preference.
Computer Created Patterns
Today, we have CAD CAM software that a designer can use to “draw” the pattern onto the computer model of the last. This is a more advanced way to create patterns but there is still an art to holding the last in your hand and marking the design by eye.
Shoe pattern cutting is a special skill. While it is not hard to cut your own patterns step-by-step, it takes years to truly master the craft of pattern making. There are many books on the subject of pattern cutting.
You can download a real factory pattern for a classic trainer here.