No. 97 – the Shoe Cream method


colour testing

Spurred on by other’s experimentation with Tarrago shoe cream and the very successful KG3 DIY repro I thought there must be some mileage in doing the same for No.97. The ‘shoe cream method’ has much going for it – easily and cheaply obtainable product, easy preparation and easy application. Indeed, it is easy to see why the ‘Pickerings’ tinned product was sought by the forces as a practical and ‘modern’ solution to the messy business of smartening up webbing.

Note that this shoe cream method replicates the colour of the tinned/bottled Pickerings 97 / Properts Green webbing restorers NOT the Blanco Khaki Green (Medium) or previous “Web-Blanco” blocks.

Having looked at the Tarrago colour charts (don’t trust the online charts – they had be fooled and resulted in many jars of unsuitable colours!) I picked some likely candidates. What Price Glory sell the ’48 Willow Green’ as a ‘Khaki Green – Light’ substitute so this seemed a good starting point. A selection of other greens/olives/browns was also made. Many tests later and I came to the conclusion that I was either going to have to mix many colours together to make a match (hopelessly impractical) or have a rethink. The problem was the greens have far too high a yellow component – whereas 97 although without doubt ‘green’ had quite a high blue component. Tarrago’s ’13 Pineneedle’ was green with high blue value but very dark so would need lightening up considerably so the various very pale shades of blue, green and yellow were tried without hitting the mark.

Taking a different tack I thought it might be better to match the tone of 97 first, then add colour to it. And this met with more success. Starting with a base of ‘2 Sponge’ (a mid-tone shade of mushroom fawn-grey) varying quantities of ’32 Spinach Green’ (very bright green with high yellow value) and ’58 Air Force Blue’ (strong mid-blue) were added it became immediately clear that this was going to be more successful – the high yellow pigmentation of 32 and high blue of 58 made a green of the right shade, it’s intensity being moderated by the quantity of the base 2 Sponge.

Tarrago coloursSo, the mix is:

One pot of 50ml ‘2 Sponge’ plus 15ml ’32 Spinach Green’ and 15ml ’58 Air Force Blue’

or for a nice batch probably sufficient to do a couple of full webbing sets and some left over for touch-ups:

Three pots 50ml ‘2 Sponge’ plus one pot ’32 Spinach Green’ and one pot ’58 Air Force Blue’

Nice and easy quantities, 250ml for around £13.00 plus postage.

Step by step guide

Add the 15ml of each of 32 and 58 to the pot of ‘2 Sponge’. I’ve pinched some measuring spoons from the kitchen drawer.

97 colour mixing

Start mixing. At first you will think this will be far too grey but keep going and be thorough and the colour will emerge. It will look too light and pale but the colour does darken down once applied and dried – do not be tempted to add a ‘bit’ more colour to the mix! By the way, making a single jar is a bit tricky as there is little space in the pot – much easier when mixing the full four pots-worth in a small jam jar.

97 colour mixing

At the back is an original piece that was done with Pickerings 97. Note this hasn’t been done with the block Blanco but the later 50’s tinned – a direct comparison of wax cream methods. My test pouch has been scrubbed with a nail brush in hot oxy-action solution to remove existing 97 Blanco and completely dried out. Even if you are working with a virgin piece of webbing I recommend you take care to clean it thoroughly to remove sixty or seventy years of storage grime and grease. Rinse thoroughly and pack the pouch with newspaper so it dries in a good shape.

97 colour mixing

Start applying the shoe cream. I’m using a stiff, short bristle brush for this to work the colour into the canvas texture. Don’t use a toothbrush – too spiky and will pull cream out of crevasses instead of pushing it in – besides, it would take ages!. Brush rapidly into the weave – I use a circular scouring motion then finish with straight strokes in the weave direction. Brush out well and thinly – do not allow blobs to remain in weave depths as this will end up caked with polish and not look good at all. Complete the article and set aside to dry. Once dry then apply a second coat. This fills in pin holes and missed areas from first time around and adds colour to the canvas surface which tend to get scrapped off first time as the shoe polish doesn’t fill the cotton with pigment like wet Blanco would do. This second coat uses very little shoe cream as the porous cotton has been sealed by the first coat. As an aside, the shoe cream is much easier to apply than pukka Pickerings, which is stiffer and required much brushing out to prevent caking.

97 colour mixing

And the finished article. Although looking at the photo I noticed that the pouch done by a soldier who knew what’s-what has blanco’d the inside seams of the flap. Ah well, he had the threat of a charge hanging over him so he was bound to get it right! Still, it is but a minute’s work to touch up, that’s why the ‘shoe cream method’ is so useful.

Note: Although the Shoe Cream Method gives a waterproof coating and will not wash off in use, Tarrago scrubs off webbing with some effort – soak in hot, strong solution of oxy-action for a while then scrub with a nail brush. There will, as with Pickerings, be some colour left behind. It has to be said the original Blanco block product comes off easier but this applies to use in the field as well!
More information of webbing cleaning: How to remove blanco from webbing

97 colour mixing

Tarrago Shoe Cream currently costs £2.60 per 50ml pot (plus postage) direct from the Tarrago UK web site

Photographed and written by David Pratt

Here is a set done by Sophie Penny using the Tarrago shoe cream method.
97 Blanco shoe cream method
Photo: Sophie Penny