Fudging is the addition of ridges to the welt of the shoe (that little strip you can see running around the outside of your nice Oxfords). Shoe makers and manufacturers have fudging wheels, which imprint ridges along the edge.
On most shoes it is merely decorative. It used to be how bespoke shoemakers marked out where their stitches would fall on the welt, when they stitched that welt to the sole. And it lends that impression of detailed work to benchmade shoes today. The welt is broken up and adds a different aspect of decoration to the shoe.
Better ready-to-wear shoemakers often use a finer fudging wheel as well. In a recent conversation with Deborah Carre, bespoke shoemaker in residence along with James Ducker at Gieves & Hawkes, she pointed out that my crocodile shoes from Lodger have particularly fine fudging, which is rather appropriate for the quality of the skin.
Interestingly, bespoke shoemakers still use the fudging wheel but don’t necessarily follow the marks it lays out. They usually have several, from fine to rather broadly spaced, which correspond to the density of stitching that best suits the shoe. But sometimes they will want to give the impression of fine stitching even when the leather they’re using suits fewer stitches – this is an aesthetic judgment more than anything else. It is certainly not cutting any corners.
Nevertheless, it is one way in which the name of the technique is appropriate, as bespoke shoemakers ‘fudge’ the number of stitches to the inch.
(Pictured: close-up on the welt of an Edward Green ‘Malvern’)