Concept

Last

Summary
A last is a mechanical form shaped like a human foot. It is used by shoemakers and cordwainers in the manufacture and repair of shoes. Lasts come in many styles and sizes, depending on the exact job they are designed for. Common variations include simple one-size lasts used for repairing soles and heels, custom-purpose mechanized lasts used in modern mass production, and custom-made lasts used in the making of bespoke footwear. Lasts are made of firm materialshardwoods, cast iron, and high-density plasticsto withstand contact with wetted leather and the strong forces involved in reshaping it. Since the early 19th century, lasts typically come in pairs to match the separate shapes of the right and left feet. The development of an automated lasting machine by the Surinamese-American Jan Ernst Matzeliger in the 1880s was a major development in shoe production, immediately improving quality, halving prices, and eliminating the previous putting-out systems surrounding shoemaking centers. The English word last is thought to derive from a Proto-Germanic term reconstructed as *laistaz and intending a track, a trace, or a footprint. Cognates include Swedish läst, Danish læste, and German Leisten. Although Roman cordwainersbespoke shoemakershave been found to have shaped some footwear separately for the right and left foot, this distinction was mostly lost following the barbarian invasions in late Antiquity. Upon the return of commercial shoemaking during the High Middle Ages, a single last was used to make shoes for either foot, with the expectation that use would gradually reshape the shoe as needed. The use of such "straights" was particularly important after the rise of both male and female heels in the 17th century made shoemaking more complicated than previously. It was not until the beginning of industrial production and mass marketing in the early 19th century that lasts were again generally made and used in matching pairs. Generic one-size lasts are now only used for basic shoe repair.
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