What is it with the sewing community and puns/wordplay? I’m not complaining, I love it (clearly), but I wonder why it’s so prevalent? Must have to do with the collective level of intellect sewist’s tend to have 😉
Today’s post is all about shoes! Even though at this point I make shoes several times a year, I don’t often blog about them and I’m not sure why- the finished product is certainly worthy of as much space as I give to showing off my garment and accessory makes. I blame laziness! The format here will be a little different and there will be a few more process photos than I normally include in sewing-related posts.
I actually have been working on two pairs of shoes at the same time, but I will only be focusing on the clogs in this post since I am still waiting on a material for the other shoes I am making (a pair of perfectly vintage green slides, a design that I cannot for the life of me find in stores! I’ll probably do a blog post on those, too.)
I love clogs, and if you pay attention to footwear in my blog pictures at all, you will see that I can find a way to wear them with just about EVERYTHING. I can dress them up or down, they are (depending on the brand) super comfortable, and I love that they give me a bit of extra height without feeling like I am tottering on a high heel. My preferred brand is Sven, although I have a pair of Bryrs that I wear all the time, but in truth, those Bryrs took a while to get relatively comfy whereas the Svens were pretty much immediately a dream on my foot. I love the innovative designs that Bryr has (a company based out of San Fran where the clogs are also made) and they change the styles every season, but Sven has a much larger design base and more options for the kind of leather that you can use for your uppers (and again, for MY feet they are way more comfortable than any other clog brand I have tried, but everyone’s foot is different so don’t take my word for it)!
The thing about well made clogs is that they are so pricey! Which, honestly is how it should be. Most of the time, you get what you pay for, and the brands that I buy most often are all made in the USA, which I appreciate. Plus, my clogs are the most worn shoe in my closet, and there is certainly value in that. But for someone who would love to have a few pairs of “fun clogs” in yellow and blue and maybe rose gold, spending that much money on them doesn’t sit well with me- I can think of a hundred other places that money could go to in this particular political climate than on my feet. So that left me with the option of making my own clogs in fun colors.
I wasn’t even sure if this was a possibility when I came up with the idea, only because I wasn’t quite at the point where I wanted to whittle my own clog bottoms out of wood, so I needed to find a source that provided finished wood soles to regular consumers like me. By the way, the lovely blogger Carolyn of Handmade by Carolyn has successfully made her own clog bottoms out of wood so I know it can be done, it would just require researching a new skill and spending some time working on it. My moon must be in Mercury or something cause I am just not in the mood for that right now.
A quick search on etsy introduced me to a couple of sellers of wood sole bottoms, and I eventually settled on an individual in Portugal who makes clog bottoms out wood from a tree indigenous to their area (as of this posting, this seller has closed their shop- I went to link them to this post and they were gone). The bottoms were less than $20 a pair but shipping was more than both the pairs I got combined! I didn’t mind though- they were still way cheaper than the individual pairs of clogs I already owned, plus I liked supporting an artisan’s handcrafted work even if they weren’t in the USA. The bottoms arrived and were, from what I could tell, a good quality. One pair had a groove carved into them on the sides where the leather would be attached and the other pair was smooth on all sides. Both pairs have rubber soles.
Using the grooved pair, I played around with the design I was looking for in a couple different ways- one was to cut out felt and place it on my foot in various ways, taping it to the bottom of the shoe so I could get a good idea of what it would look like.
The other thing I did was to tape up a last, draw the outline of the shoe I wanted on the tape, then cut the tape away and make a pattern out of it. I mocked it up in felt again and ended up going with my second idea, only because I didn’t have enough of the leather I was using to make my first design happen (I am saving those cut-up pieces for another shoe, though).
Here is where I ran into the only frustrating part of making this shoe; I don’t have lasts that match up with the clog bottoms. My lasts are used to CREATE shoe bottoms out of shanks, heavy board and/or leather, but I had never before made shoes with a bottom that was already completed. I had assumed that making clogs would be the easiest thing in the world since half the work was already done for me but of course it was totally the opposite. The reason I needed a last to fit smoothly onto the top of my wooden clog is because I wanted the upper leather to curve around my foot like a normal clog does. This step is totally unnecessary when making a strappy clog, like my first design. To do that you just need to position the leather around your foot at the tightness you prefer and then tape it to the bottom of the wood sole to keep it in place as you staple or hammer nails through the leather into the wood bottom. But without straps, which leave most of the curved parts of your feet open, the leather needs to lay over and match the curves of your feet. And for this to happen, you need a last to pull and guide the leather over.
I tried to make it happen without the last, believe me. And I was even using a very soft, pliable leather, which I feared might not be heavy enough for an upper, so I glued a lighter weight leather to the underside as a lining to bulk it up just a bit. Still, working with the leather plainly over my own foot and taping it to the last was proving to be impossible. Luckily I figured out a plan that did work. I didn’t have a last that would fit perfectly onto the top of the wood sole, but I really only needed the last for the curved part of the top of the foot.
So I wet the inside of my leather and lasted it like I would have a normal shoe, pulling it taught and smooth around the last and using a few nails to tack it to the underside of the last. I let them dry overnight, and although the uppers were not super stiff due to the fact that I wasn’t using a thicker leather, they did maintain the shape I was looking to acquire in the top of the shoe. I placed the uppers over my feet again while I stood on the clog bottom and taped them to the sides and bottom of the wood, and they looked way smoother and fit to the tops of my feet.
Next I used my pneumatic stapler (basically a heavy-duty staple gun I use for upholstery that is connected to an air compressor) to staple the leather into the groove of the wood. This was by far the simplest, quickest, and most fun part. On my first shoe I ended up stapling it too tight on one side and needed to loosen it up a bit. I was nervous that I would ruin the leather or the wood, but, as long as I removed the staples carefully and slowly, you couldn’t tell at all, which made me realize that as long as the wood bottoms were in good shape, I can change out the uppers indefinitely, which is pretty cool. I learned my lesson on the second pair, stapling them into the wood with the right amount of ease, then I used my box cutter blade to trim off the excess leather.
The final steps were to attach the hardware for the straps- I used two big antiqued buckles I bought for my next pair of Birkenstocks and two antiqued rivets to the hold the buckle in place, punched holes for the hardware, cut out a piece of leather for the heel bed, glued it on, and voila! Finished clogs!
The construction part took no time at all, but the fitting/lasting part was a drag using all that tape and leaning over my feet over and over again to get the perfect fit (and in the end that didn’t even really work). Luckily I know how to do it next time so it shouldn’t be too time consuming. I would love to find another last that works a bit better with clogs, but I’m not sure how much I will have- I’ll keep you posted. Next time, if I don’t do a clog with straps, I will try to use a slightly thicker leather that will hold it’s shape better. I have seen lots of wood bottom shoes with soft leather like the blue kind I used, but I am partial to a slightly firmer upper that holds it’s shape better over time.
Oh, and one last thing! As I was trying to match up the upper placement on both the left and right shoes, I noticed that the clog bottoms were not exactly the same shapes, which is to be expected with anything manmade. The slight difference in length didn’t bother me too much but one of the heels of the clogs was at least a couple millimeters higher than the other one and both were misshapen, with one side of the heel dipping lower than the other. Because I have lower back issues stemming from a slightly twisted pelvis (no idea how that happened but I have been working on it in PT), I imagine that even a tiny difference in heel height would have a negative impact on my body when I walk around in shoes. Enter, my trusty belt sander! I freaking love this thing. I bought it with the intent of using it for shoe making and furniture making since the handheld sander I have in my shop requires so much grunt work and works mostly for big pieces of wood. The sander has really elevated the look of my handmade shoes with it’s quick and clean edges, and the wood of these clogs was the first time I actually used it on something that wasn’t rubber or leather. I evened those heels out in less than two minutes with the belt sander (you could also do this with heavy and fine grit sandpaper) and now they look almost perfect.
And that’s it, that’s the end of this clog saga! If you made it this far, you totally deserve a cookie! Stay tuned for another long post once I finish my green heels (still waiting on that damn cork dust!), but til then, if you want more information on making your own shoes, check out my other shoe making posts, here and here – I list some of my favorite spots to buy shoe making materials and tools and I also share a couple of shoe making schools, online and brick and mortar, that offer some great courses and information on getting started for newbies!