Dotted Named Outfit with Slate Leather Flats

As mentioned before on this blog, Named is not my favorite indie pattern brand. They have some great looking designs and I love their styling, but the drafting and instructions generally leave me always desiring more. Sakijane describes her complaints (which happen to mirror every single one of mine) very succinctly in this post about her most recent Kielo Wrap Dress and I felt so validated when I read it- I was not alone in my disappointment with their patterns! But I also know that there are tons of talented makers out there who love Named and have lots of successful garments to show for it, so when I saw Katie of What Katie Sew’s 100th pair of cute Ninni Culottes, I decided to take the plunge and get the pattern myself. For one thing, this pair of pants seems like a good staple to have in my closet- elastic waist and cropped legs scream nothing but comfort to me, and I like that it can translate from houseclothes to streetclothes pretty seamlessly. I also figured that I wouldn’t have any issues with the construction methods since it’s such a simple design. I was (mostly) right on both counts!

As soon as I saw this organic cotton jersey from The Fabric Store, I knew I wanted to sew it up into something coordinating (I got yardage of both the white and the blue dotted, but as of this blog entry they seem to be out of the blue- if you’re interested in this fabric I would keep checking back since they restock frequently)! I knew I wanted the culottes in the blue dotted but I wasn’t sure what to pair the white with for my top half- I liked the idea of a boxy crop top but I didn’t have any patterns like that in my stash for knit-specific fabrics. And then I remembered the Named Inari Tee Dress pattern. I’ve had it for years and the one time I tried to make the dress, it was a disaster on me- not suited for my body at all and very unflattering. But I had never given the tee a go, and the tee seemed like it would be much less tricky to make work on my body. The pattern is suggested for wovens or fabrics with a light stretch, which my jersey was not, but I thought it would work just fine since there is no negative ease drafted into the pattern.

Both the pants and the tee came together very quickly. The pants have deep side seam pockets that attach to the top of the waistband, and I cut out the smallest size since Named tends to run big on me. The only issue I ran into is when I tried to fit the waistband. As with most elastic waist garments, I measured out the amount of elastic that felt most comfortable and then fed it through the tube of the waistband. But it was very difficult to feed the amount of elastic I wanted through the pants and have the waistband lay right- it was like the waistband was too long for the short amount of elastic I wanted, so the fabric was bunching up and squeezing together all over it. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it just felt like the waistband was too big and needed to be made shorter. But I couldn’t do that without taking the whole pair of pants apart and taking out width from the top of the legs. So I left it as-is, trying to make the waistband as smooth as possible as I sewed the zigzags around it that keep the elastic stable inside of it’s casing. It looks a bit lumpy and bumpy to my discerning eye, but you definitely can’t see it thanks to the dots on the fabric, which cover up any inconsistencies.

After all that, I think the waist is still too big on me- the pants ride down, particularly in the back, and I have to keep pulling them up on me- I almost wish these had belt loops, which totally defeats the purpose of an elastic waist, lol. But I’ve still worn them a lot and think they are really cute! The next time I make them I am going to take at least an inch of width from each of the pants legs, plus the waistband, and see if that makes them fit me a bit better.

The tee shirt had issues, too, but it wasn’t because of the drafting. I wanted to add a band around the bottom edge of it because without it, the hem looked a little stretched out and haggard (again I think this is because there was no negative ease in the pattern and the hem isn’t intended to fit around the waist or hips of the body to help pull and stretch it out, it’s just kind of floating around my rib cage willy nilly). As you probably know, when adding a band to the edge of a neckline or the hem of a sleeve in stretch knit fabric, you usually need to cut the band a bit smaller than the opening you are attaching it to so that the band will ease in the stretch of the fabric and lay properly. If you cut it the same size, the hem will look stretched out and wavy. I applied this to the bottom hem of my shirt, but I slightly miscalculated the measurement so that the band was a tiny bit too small for the hem. The result of this is that there is a bit of wrinkling where the band is eased in too much in a couple areas along the seam. Again, not a glaring mistake, but definitely something I notice and frown at every time I see it.

As a whole, I love the silhouette of this outfit- I love the loose fit of both garments that somehow manage not to swallow me up thanks to the break that the crop top provides by showing a little of my belly. I love the matchiness (that isn’t too matchy) of the complimentary dotted fabrics, and I love how comfortable it is. Although I made these pieces to go together, I mostly wear these pants with a non-cropped t shirt (which helps the pants stay up on my waist) and a jean jacket, and I really want to pair this crop top with my Persephone pants at some point, because I think it will have a similarly interesting silhouette.

OK, so on to the shoes!

Rachel of RachelSeesSnailShoes (she is my unaware and unofficial mentor, LOL) has so much shoe inspiration on her IG, and my pair of shoes was inspired both by one of her designs and a RTWpair I found on pinterest by Rachel Comey.

Ultimately I changed the design a lot as I was working on the lasts, but I love the journey that I took to get to where I ended up, and they fit pretty great! They are comfortable, and the straps stay on my feet, something I always worry about when I don’t use buckles on slingbacks. Interestingly, the slingbacks tend to slide off the back of my foot when I’m sitting down, but when I’m standing and walking, they stay perfectly in place.

I used a patent leather from The Fabric Store in LA that I got many months ago and I love it- its a cross between gray and blue, not too loud but not too subtle either, and I think it makes a pretty cool neutral. I also decided to line my slate gray leather with a thinner cut of leather so that I could put a toe puff in the toe of the shoe. A toe puff gives the foot of your shoe some extra rigidity and keeps the shape of your toes from imprinting into the leather as you wear them over time, and I am very happy with my decision. They aren’t always necessary, but they can make your shoes last longer depending on what kind of upper leather you are working with.

The last time I made a pair of patent leather slides (which sadly I never blogged here so I can’t link to them, damnit!), they came out okay but there was a lot of room for improvement. My heel hangs off the back of the shoe just a tiny bit, which I HATE (the last fits my foot but the upper must be a bit too narrow in the toe resulting in the back of my foot sticking out of the shoe) and the lasting around the toe leaves much to be desired. You can’t see it from the top of the shoe, which is great, but if you look closely and the bottom and very front, you can see that there are wrinkles and folds and it’s not very smooth at all. Thankfully I have gotten much better at lasting this tricky area and the toe on these shoes looks damn near perfect, at least for my skill level.

The lasting process around the toe usually requires a lot of patience and hand strength from me, and I almost always slam my thumbnail with the hammer at least once getting those little nails all around the edge. But I can see how well my patience pays off when I look at a pair like these and see that it doesn’t have a handmade look the way some of my older pairs do- and nothing is wrong with a handmade look because…well, they ARE handmade! I just like to see concrete evidence of a learning curve, to see that I am growing and getting better and feeling more confident in my construction and design!

I am very happy with these shoes and excited to get started on my next pair, which will probably be using the beautiful new round toed lasts I just bought from I Can Make Shoes. They just stocked their online shop with some really cool block heels and I bought a couple pair for future use and I am just itching to get started. The only thing holding me back is trying to narrow down what design I want to use and that feels like it could take months! Wish me luck 😉

The White Kiki Party

All my posts are being shared out of order because I made several things over the summer months but was too lazy to photograph any of them until recently, so now I am trying to balance them out with things I am currently making and I am getting all turned around. But it’s okay! Please bear with me as I trudge through these clothing makes in the most (un)timely fashion!

To catch you up, Claire and I went to the wedding of our good friend Lawrence in Hawaii this summer, and it was our first time on the island of Oahu, which we were very much looking forward to exploring, but Claire started getting sick days before our departure and by the time we landed she had what turned out to be a full blown ear infection that was slowly making its way to her sinuses and throat. It was ROUGH for Claire, she was in a LOT of pain and discomfort, but thankfully we didn’t have much planned outside of the wedding events so she could be miserable in peace. Luckily, our airbnb was a 3 minute walk to a practically private beach, so I still had a lovely time hanging out with the sand and sun while I took breaks from looking after Claire.

The day before the wedding there was a “White Party” on Waikiki that all the wedding guests were invited to, but the name of the party was changed to the “White-kiki Party” at Claire’s urging, LOL. We were of course all invited to show up in white attire, and I had one dress in my closet that would have worked for the event but decided to make something new for it because…WHY NOT? Claire also needed something white to wear for the party and she settled on a Kalle shirtdress with popover placket in a terrific white linen fabric from Joanns. Claire is mostly a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal but my goodness she LOVES her housedresses, and she wanted something that felt comfortable and looked clean and classic to wear to this event. I opted for something a little more dolled up (surprise!) but still comfortable and breezy for the warm island weather.

When The Fabric Store closed in LA over the summer I got my hands on as much fabric as I could, which is why my stash is bigger than it has ever been before (a big stash is not my happy place, but I also can’t turn down good fabric that’s free or deeply discounted, so I have committed myself to not buying any more for the rest of the year so I can work through what I have…although I might need to amend that to next year after going through Mimi’s fabric giveaway pile yesterday lol). One of the cuts I ended up taking home with me was a white poly with animal stripes embossed across it. Because the whole print is white, it doesn’t really read as animal print (which I am not really into) but it gives the fabric a bit of depth and a texture, and I decided to pair it up with McCalls 7778, a jumpsuit/dress with options for different straps and closures. It’s a very simple garment to make with princess seams at the bodice, and I only needed to make some minor adjustments to it (surprise! it was too big right out the envelope!) to get the fit just right.

I actually had a bit more trouble with the legs of the jumpsuit than anything else because the crotch was just too high which gave me dreaded camel toe! It was a simple fix though- I sewed about 1/2″ past my seam allowance at the bottom of the crotch curve, grading to the regular seam allowance at the front and back waist, and now they are much better than they were, although if I made this pattern again (which I doubt I will), I would absolutely adjust the crotch areas on both front and back pattern pieces to give myself more room for my seat. As it stands, the crotch is still a bit too high for my preference, and you can see the fabric hugging my shape in the butt area more than you should for a flowy, gathered waist, culotte-style garment.

I also had to adjust the bodice pieces (which was to be expected) to make them smaller- it gaped out at the top of the bodice and was too loose under the arms, so I brought the seams in in these areas on both outing and lining of the bodice and it fit better. I pulled a real rookie move when I absentmindedly used my pink chalk pen to mark all my notches and circles on this white fabric, which of course showed through to the other side and wouldn’t rub off when I tried to remove them. I have other marking tools like Frission pens and invisible markers, I just use the chalk so often that I didn’t even consider how it would work on this white transparent fabric! Thankfully when I completed the garment, I threw it in the wash immediately and it wiped out every trace of the pink chalk.

Again, this was a super easy make- no pockets included, which I would have loved to add myself but I didn’t have quite enough fabric leftover after my pieces were cut out, and on top of that, the white poly is a little bit sheer and having pockets underneath it would have made them show through in a way that I am sure I would have been unhappy with. As a whole I feel pretty meh about this project. It came out fine and I was happy to wear it to the White-Kiki party, but there just isn’t anything all that special about it. The fit is nothing spectacular and the silhouette is definitely cute, but maybe paired with this fabric, which isn’t all that dynamic, it just landed a little flat for me. It’s not even the solid color that makes it feel boring, because I think this would have looked even nicer in a plain white linen. But I also think it would look cool in a statement fabric where the print takes centerstage. I’ve worn this garment several times and I always get lots of lovely compliments on it which are appreciated, but it’s just not my favorite make.

Now before I move on, I want to say just a little bit about my shoes! I didn’t wear these to the White Kiki party because I hadn’t made them yet, and I have a ‘no heels in Hawaii’ rule anyways, but I think they look really good with this jumpsuit so I figured I would do a 2-for-1 since I always neglect to do full blog posts for my shoe makes here (gotta get better at that)! These are the first pair of shoes I made from a pointy toe high heeled last I found at Saderma several months ago. Finding lasts is always tricky because once you find a pair in your size, you wont know if they actually fit your foot well until you make them, so there is always a little risk involved, and unlike clothing, you can try them on for fit throughout the making process to ensure you are on the right track. I have had a few pairs of lasts that seemed like they would work great for me but ended up being too big or too small, so I really lucked out with this pair!

I got the “snakeskin” leather (it’s just embossed) from The Fabric Store quite a while ago and was excited to make this style shoe with them once I got my hands on these lasts. High heeled slingbacks have been a little tougher to find in RTW than I anticipated so I figured I might as well give them a try, and I think these came out great. One thing I want to do on my next pair of heeled slingbacks is to use elastic at the buckle. If you have a pair of slingbacks, take a look at where the buckle is attached to the leather- there is likely to be a small strip of elastic connected to the buckle and leather which allows your foot to move around in the shoe without feeling too constricted and allows the strap to move with your foot. These heels are totally fine without the elastic because I am able to put holes for the buckle wherever I want them, but ideally the strap just adds a touch of comfort to wearing a shoe with a strap and it helps keep that strap in place.

I am still working on getting my heel completely attached and flush to the bottom of the shoe and this is my most successful pair yet, although I do have room for improvement. I seem to always choose a slightly-too-thick leather to cover my heels with which makes getting the top of the heel flat very difficult, but these came out pretty okay, and I like the contrast of the purple lining leather peeking out of the inside and bottom of the shoe. And they are comfortable! Well, about as comfortable as wearing 3 inch heels gets, hahah. But you know how when you buy new heels (if you wear them), they tend to take a little time to break in and form to your foot? Well my memade heels so far are not like that- they are softer than RTW shoes and feel pretty much the same the first time you wear them as the 2nd and the 10th, which is pretty cool. Still have a lot of distance to cover with shoemaking but I can definitely see that I am on a steady incline UP!

Okay, so back to the wedding…

you can’t take me anywhere.

Claire ended up being too sick to come to the Whitekiki party so me and my friend Kelly went together, and we BOTH happened to be wearing white jumpsuits, and we got to rock them while I drove the WHITE Jeep we rented for the trip! We were SOOOOO STYLISH! And the party was a blast! After some food and mingling with all the other guests, our little corner of the park was set up into different stations where we each got to learn from a local a little about Hawaiian culture and how to participate in a traditional luau. Me and Kelly’s favorite station was of course the hula, and we learned the song “Pearly Shells” while dancing to the music Lawrence’s friends played on their ukuleles. The night was beyond magical as the sun set over the ocean and our voices floated above us- the only thing missing was Claire! But I sent her lots of videos and pictures and she was at least able to make it to the actual wedding the next day.

Thanks for being my date, Kelly, and thanks Lawrence and Q for such a fun party!

The Kelly Dress

the cast!

This summer I was in a short film that my friend Kelly produced and also starred in, and we had a crazy amount of fun. Although me and Kelly have been friends for several years, this was our first opportunity to work together, and I appreciated us to getting to know each other in a new way through our “work” modes. Although short indie films almost always have a wardrobe supervisor, they tend to try and pull from an actor’s own closet whenever possible, which cuts down on costs and time since they won’t have to buy anything new for an actor and they know that whatever the actor brings will fit them and not need alterations. My character wore a cream colored pair of Ginger Jeans and a Grainline Hemlock Tee (it’s a free pattern!) pulled from my closet, of course, and Kelly brought in a white RTW button down dress that she found at the mall. I loved this dress as soon as I saw it on a hanger and I loved it even more once I saw her wearing it. It was a very simple design, but still not one I had seen out in the world very often. It had a fitted darted bodice with short sleeves attached to a gathered skirt, large buttons going down the front, and two big patch pockets on the sides. Needless to say, I immediately started dreaming up my own version!

You would think that such a simple silhouette would be an easy pattern to track down, but I had a really hard time finding exactly what I wanted (I made this dress several months ago, by the way), and ultimately it seemed easier to just hack something I already had. It took a while to figure out which pattern to use the bodice from- again, such a simple design and fit, but I couldn’t find a bodice that also had sleeves I liked. I decided to go with the Holly Jumpsuit from By Hand London, a pattern from my stash that I tried making for myself years ago with no success. I had issues getting in and out of the garment since it has a side zip that was still too short to accommodate my hips fitting through the waist circumference, and I wasn’t skilled enough at the time to know any other way to make it work. The bodice was exactly what I wanted for the Kelly Dress- it had a bust and a waist dart, roomy sleeves, and a front button placket opening.

I used a gorgeous pink silk linen from Blackbird Fabrics as both my fashion and lining fabric and got to work on making the adjustments necessary for the bodice- mainly I wanted the button band to be wider, which I also needed to adjust to attach it to a skirt that would also have a button placket (the original Holly Jumpsuit  design has a bodice that attaches to a closed-front waist). I sewed up the bodice first without the sleeves to try it on for fit and realized that the back was puckering up around my shoulders and neck (which it also did the first time I had made it!) so I had to add a small dart at the back neckline on each side.

Next I attached my sleeves and was really disappointed to see that they did not work on my body at all. The sleeves were super tight and the fabric was stretched taught across my bicep. Now, to be fair, I do work out, but to be even fairer, I only use like, 3 pound weights in my body sculpt classes, so I’m not the Incredible Hulk or anything! I am unsure why these sleeves were so tight since I have made other BHL patterns with no issues at all, and was stumped on what to do to fix them- I wasn’t convinced that giving the sleeves more width would resolve the issue since the sleeves were making the whole bodice sit awkwardly, even in areas where it seemed like the tight part of the sleeves wouldn’t affect it. I thought maybe the whole bodice needed some kind of adjustment around the arms/bust, but then I remembered that when I tried the bodice on without the sleeves, it fit almost perfectly. So I saved myself the headache and left the sleeves off the final version. Although I love the look of the sleeves on the dress, it wasn’t what originally caught my eye about the garment, so all was not lost.

Once I got the bodice looking how I wanted it to, I attached it to the skirt of the Jessica Dress by SewDef Patterns, a dress I absolutely love. It’s basically just three rectangles sewn together with a button placket in the front center, but that’s all I needed! In hindsight, I could have gone with a skirt that had less gathered material at the waistline (my skirt is fuller than Kelly’s, and I actually did take out some of the width of the pattern pieces of the Jessica dress for this hack and it still came out this full)  but I was too lazy to try and find another skirt in my stash that had this shape. I attached the big patch pockets to the sides of the skirt, sewed the top and bottom halves together, and then worked on my button placket.

Aside from getting the bodice to fit right, the button placket was the only other thing to give me a lot of trouble. It’s because of the silk linen I used, which was easy enough to sew regular seams with, but once it came to top stitching, the fabric had a hard time staying put. It would gather and gape and stretch and pull, even with my walking foot, and I had to take the stitching out more than once to get everything lined up and looking clean. It’s fine- not perfect, but fine! The stitching on the button bands is a little bit wobbly and it’s even more apparent because I didn’t use a thread that was super close in color to my fabric, but I’m not pressed about it- the 3 foot rule applies beautifully to this make!

This is a pretty great and easy dress to wear- although it was drafted to fit very closely to my body, the linen softens and relaxes very quickly so that it has a slightly roomy, loose fit around the waist without looking like it’s hanging off my body. I LOVE the big pockets and how they look on the dress, but they are SO big that the tops tend to collapse a bit, something that is also owed to the beautifully soft, drapey fabric I used. I keep debating whether or not to add buttons to the top of them and attach it to the skirt so they will stay closed, but if I do that, I won’t be able to stuff my hands in my pockets, which is pretty much the only thing I want to do when I wear this dress. Speaking of buttons, I bought these at my favorite store, Button Button, in Vancouver last year and I am so glad I found a great project to put them on! They are copper colored like a penny, and have a really cool graphic design on them, and I think they liven this simple dress up a lot.

These photos were taken at Hearst Castle when we took our friend Lawrence to the estate for the first time- he had never been before and Claire and I have gone multiple times, so we thought it would be a fun trip! We did our first night tour the day before these pics were taken and then took advantage of the daylight and stunning views for our second tour. I didn’t have a lot of makeup with me, I was tired, and I am generally uncomfortable taking pictures in front of random people, so these aren’t the best photos in the world, but when you have an unblogged garment with you at Hearst Castle, YOU TAKE THE PHOTOS ANYWAYS, lol.

Oh yeah, and a one good shot of my sandals that I made this past spring! I love these shoes- they have gotten looser over time because leather relaxes and because I was experimenting with this style and probably could have made them fit slightly tighter but at the time I didn’t know any better…but they are still super comfortable and pretty!

Thanks, Claire, for the shots, thanks, Lawrence for the fun road trip, and thanks, Kelly for the inspiration for this dress!!!!!

 

MeMade Birkenstocks

The first question that I know the majority of you will be asking is where do I get authentic cork Birkenstock footbeds?, so let me go on and get that answer out of the way: I have NO idea! That’s something you will have to search for on your own! The footbeds are out there because I stumbled upon mine accidentally, but I don’t know of a one-stop shop where you can buy them (not that such a place doesn’t exist- I assume it does and can be uncovered by a bit of googling). If your city has a shoe components shop, obviously check there first- that’s where I found my footbeds. Saderma (no website) is a leather and shoe findings store here in Los Angeles that has been servicing shoe repair shops and cobblers for years, and once I started making shoes I would head there to buy shoe heels, Barge’s cement glue, and used lasts. On one visit I saw a shelf full of packages of what looked like Birkenstocks, and upon closer inspection I realized I was half right- they were Birks,but they were unfinished: just the footbeds with no soles or uppers. I bought a couple pairs not knowing at all how to make them, but I figured that I could suss it out on my own with my already-acquired basic shoe making knowledge, and I was right.

Another place to check for these footbeds locally would be a cobbler/shoe repair shop in your area, since these are the places that generally buy the footbeds from the distributors. You know how after years of hard wear the cork on a pair of Birks, if not taken care of, can wear down so much that they are threadbare in places? Well a shoe repair person can take your beloved old sandals and save the uppers by replacing the corkbeds and the bottom soles. So you might have some luck reaching out to one of those shops and asking if you can buy a pair from them or asking them to order a pair for you to use on your own. Maybe they will charge you a few extra bucks for them, but in my opinion it’s still worth it: I pay $36 for each pair of footbeds, so compared to the average price tag of $140 for a pair of finished Birks, they are a steal.

Here is a list of basic supplies I used for my Birks:

  • thick leather for the uppers
  • Barge’s rubber cement glue (I wouldn’t recommend using anything other than Barge’s for these- there are non toxic glues you can work with to put together uppers and glue them in place on certain shoes, but when it comes to putting together a hearty, strong sole, rubber cement is the only thing that wont melt on hot pavement or start pulling apart at the seams after time)
  • thick rubber soling for the bottom of the footbed (I get my Birkenstock bottom replica soling from Saderma, but I have seen thick rubber soling in cool colors on eBay- again, hunt around!)
  • nylon thread
  • a leather needle
  • a multi-sized hole punch
  • buckles, clasps, or decorative pieces depending on your design

I’ve made several pairs of Birkenstocks and I have come up with my own designs as well as used the standard two-buckle design. If you decide to use a standard Birkenstock design, I highly urge you to make a pattern based on a completed pair. Borrow them if you don’t have a pair of your own, or you could even purchase a knock-off pair from some place like Target, trace the pieces, then return them! The reason for basing the pattern off of a finished pair is that even though the sandal looks very straightforward, it is actually drafted very specifically to mold over the shape of a foot, which is why the uppers are so comfortable and easy to wear. I always assumed it was just two straps on one side, two buckles on the other and that’s it, but once I traced my own pair I realized that the shapes of the pieces were unusual and not something that could just be thoughtlessly sketched out onto some paper. If you have a flat last that will fit into a Birk shoe bed, you can also make a pattern using the masking tape method and it will probably yield similar results.

There needs to be enough leather added to the underside edge of the pattern piece so that it can reach around under the footbed. The straps also need to be the correct width of the buckles so that they can slide easily through them- it’s easier to shave off some extra width so that it will fit than it is to have straps that are too skinny.

 

Once my pattern pieces are laid out, I trace them out of my leather. I found a beautiful oxblood suede at The Fabric Store, but it was a little flimsier than I would like- since these sandals need to be able to hold up to heavy wear, I want the uppers to be soft for comfort but strong for durability. The fix for this was easy- I glued two pieces of the leather together (this is a great opportunity for using the non-toxic glue if I want to limit my exposure to Barge’s) and let it dry, then cut out my pattern pieces: double the weight of my original leather with very little fuss.

Since I am making a standard 2-strap design for this pair of Birks, I attached my buckles to the outer pattern pieces at this point. On authentic Birks, the buckles are held into place by a kind of metal staple that is formed around the bar of the buckle and clasped closed on the other side. They are discreet and you can’t feel them on the other side of the leather.

I was unable to replicate this exact technique because I couldn’t find what kind of metal staple was used to secure the buckle, nor could I figure out the device used to apply it, but even if I could, it seemed an extravagant thing to have for someone who just make Birkenstocks for fun for herself and her family. So instead I just sew my buckles onto the leather in a tiny criss cross pattern using Nylon thread (it’s important to use nylon thread when shoemaking with leather as opposed to a thread made of natural fibers or a sewing thread, because cotton will disintegrate over time and you need the thread to be thick and strong).

I made a pair of polka dot Birks about a year ago and the nylon thread has held up beautifully, but the stitches need to be tight and secure, knotted at the beginning and ends of them (I also held a small flame to the ends of my knot to melt the thread for extra security). It helps to punch tiny holes in the leather to sew the stitches into, and it also makes the criss cross look neater. Ultimately this area is covered up by the strap so if it doesn’t come out looking that great, it won’t be seen anyways!

After attaching the buckle, I positioned the leather upper pieces around the edges of the footbed. These Birks are actually for my brother for a Father’s Day gift so I wasn’t able to position them around my foot in the sole, but thankfully these footbeds come with markings on the bottom for where the straps should hit, which takes out a lot of the guesswork. Another cool thing is that they seem to use the same sized pattern pieces for a variety of sizes, so the pattern pieces I created for my polka dot Birks work just as well for this pair for my brother which is several sizes larger.

 

Once buckles are complete I punch holes the matching width of the buckle bar into the straps.

When making regular sandals around curved edges, you often have to cut some darts into the underside parts of the upper pieces so that you can mold them around the curve and they will fit the foot well and not gape anywhere (this is the same premise as cutting notches into a curved edge of fabric in sewing), but since I didn’t have the luxury of actually molding these onto my brother’s feet I didn’t really need to use them. Also the edge of the footbed is pretty straight as opposed to curved so the notches weren’t as necessary, but I cut them out of habit before realizing I didn’t need to. I did try to curve the upper outer edge of the pattern piece around the toe because I remember that it wanted to gape out a bit when I constructing my first pair.

This part is easy to figure out if you are molding them around your own feet though. When positioning the uppers around the footbed, I use the marks on the bottom of the footbed as a guide but you don’t have to be married to them- I played around with what looked/felt best.

Safety first when working with Barge’s!

Once I figure out the best positioning, I use tape to secure the edges to the bottom of the footbed, then mark the outer edges of each piece so that I know what and where to glue. I also make sure to mark the insides of the uppers and up the sides of the cork footbed- this rubber cement glue only adheres to other glue, so both sides being adhered need to have a thin, even coating. After applying the glue, I let it dry for a few minutes before sticking them together, pressing hard and then pounding with my rubber mallet.

The final steps are attaching the soles to the footbeds. I skive the edges of the leather on the underside to create less bulk, but I also could have poured shredded cork onto the bottoms to fill in the gaps between the leather and the footbed.

I cut out a piece of rubber soling for each shoe that is larger than the shape of the shoe. It is much easier to adhere the pieces together and cut around the soling than it is to cut an exact soling shape out and then try and line it up perfectly (trust me, I learned this from Rachel of RachelSeesSnailShoes and she is the shoemaking QUEEN).

I mark the general area of the shoe on the soling so that I don’t waste too much glue, then evenly coat the sole and the bottom of the footbed with glue. I wait another few minutes til the glue is tacky, then press hard with my hands to squeeze the pieces together, especially around the thick edges of the upper and the sole where it wants to gape, and then I gently pound the bottom and sides with a rubber mallet on my shoe anvil.

If there are any gaps still between the footbed and the sole, I try to squeeze tiny drops of glue inside, then press hard at that area. I used a clamp here to squeeze them for longer than my hands wanted to and it worked really well!

 

Once the glue is dry and the footbed and sole are pressed together, I take my utility knife (essential in home- shoe making…who knew?!) and very slowly and carefully guide my blade around the edge of the sole. Rubber soling is very easy to cut with a sharp blade, it’s just important to remember to keep your blade perpendicular to the shoe so that the cut is straight up and down along the side of the shoe as opposed to leaning in or out. Since the cut is so smooth it’s usually not necessary to sand the edges, but if I need to I will take it my belt sander, or I will use my Dremel if the spot that needs to be sanded down is pretty tiny.

One coat of cork protectant and voila! I have a beautiful pair of Birkenstocks made especially for my sweet brother Nick, who I am hoping will wear them with pride! Apparently he and his wife just bought my toddler nephew his first pair of Birkenstocks so I am hoping I can get some cute pics of them rocking them together!

Nick, for anyone who has been following this blog for a year or more remembers, got really sick this time last year and was in the ICU for Father’s Day and in a coma soon after that. He was in there for weeks and things got really really dark and terrifying before they got better. Last year I had made him a leather wallet with his initials engraved on it for Father’s Day but he got sick before he could open it, and when things were at their lowest I was afraid he would never see it. But WOW what a difference a year makes! He is all the way healed up now and I am beyond thankful for his recovery and his health, and I am so happy I got the opportunity to make him something special again. I know you don’t read this blog, Nick, but if by chance you ever do stumble upon it, for the ten thousandth time, I LOVE YOU MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE AND I AM SO HAPPY YOU ARE HERE!!!!!

Pink Heels

I’ve made many pairs of shoes since the last time I posted about shoemaking on my blog, so a post on where I am in my journey is long overdue (and if you are interested in seeing a more extensive view of my makes, feel free to follow me at jasikaistrycurious on instagram)!

Sandals have been my go-to shoe make for a while now because, for me, they are fairly quick to complete (I can start and finish a pair in a day) and are a bit more goof-proof since they don’t require lasting. The first sandal class I took that I LOVED was with RachelSeesSnailShoes a few year years ago, and I must have made at least 15 pairs of sandals for myself and family members since then. I’ve also made Birkenstocks (there is a shoe components store here in Los Angeles called Sadermo that stocks authentic Birkenstock footbeds for $36- all I have to do is design and attach the upper and the rubber sole- I should probably do a blog post on these, too, yeesh). The whole process has been so fun and enlightening and I wear my memade shoes all the time, but completing a pair of wearable high heels has eluded me…til now!

 

I actually got my start in shoe making with heels. After reading the independently published book Make Your Own Shoes by Mary Wales Loomis (more on that book and the beginning of my shoemaking journey here) I started with a pair of 2.5 inch mid- heel components and some vintage shoe lasts and made my first pair. Although they looked pretty impressive for my first time doing it, they were far from perfect; the heels felt wobbly so I knew better than to wear them out and risk breaking my ankle, and the rubber soling I attached to the bottoms to keep them from being slippery were way too thick, more appropriate for the bottoms of rain boots than slip-on heels, LOL.

 

 

But I didn’t feel deterred- I knew this was going to be a long learning process and I gave myself a lot of room to mess up and learn. I took a break from heels and focused on lasting flat shoes and slippers and got pretty good at those, then I learned how to make sandals and Birks. A lot of time had passed since I had made my first pair of heels but I kept accumulating information and getting better at some of the basic steps that applied to both heels and  closed-toed flats (like skiving and applying a toe puff and counter). Last year I got the high heel bug again when I was hunting for a pair of shoes that I could easily picture in my head but that I could not find anywhere in stores or online, so I decided I would try and make the pair I was looking for myself.

 

The design was a classic open toed heel slide (reminiscent of the style that Candies used to make back in the day). Mine were made of a vintage-looking green leather and I topped the upper off with a little bow and was SO happy with how the shoe looked on the last. This time my skiving was much better and I knew to put cork granules on the bottom before I attached my sole to fill in the gaps between my shank board and leather upper pieces. But once I put the leather soles on the bottom the shoe looked sloppy and messy and very unprofessional. It occurred to me that I should have finished the soles of the leather before I glued them to the bottom of the lasts instead of trying to do it afterwards and risking messing up the edges of the upper leather and insoles. It also occurred to me that I could try skiving the edges of my leather so that they weren’t so thick on the edges of the shoe.

The last new thing I tried on these heels that required a learning curve was drilling screws into the top of the heel through the insole of the shoe. Although I am very comfortable with an electric drill, this part made me really anxious. There is a metal bar installed in most plastic heel components that give it the structure and durability it needs to carry your body weight, so the screw you drill in has to be short enough that it doesn’t hit this metal part, but the screws also have to be positioned so that they don’t hit the shank of the insole (another piece of metal used in the board of a pair of heels- basically a long, thin plate that travels underneath the bed of the foot into the heel area of the shoe to provide support and stability for the shoe). And lastly, the screws also need to be placed at an angle so that they don’t come out the other side of the heel. It requires a steady hand and thoughtful planning, and since I had never done it before, I was terrified I would destroy the shoes. And I did! But I had already come to the realization that the heels were looking a bit too rough to be wearable anyways, so once I started treating them as more of a shoe muslin, I felt less scared about ruining them; it’s the only way to get better, right?

Of course, two screws sticking out of the top of a pair of heels doesn’t seem very comfortable at all, but pretty much all RTW heels have them, manufacturers just use specialty screws and are able to cover them up in a way that the wearer would never notice them. I knew that I would need to use foam to cover this up and protect the bottoms of my feet and decided to implement that idea on my next pair.

Which brings us to today and these pink mules! I was able to apply pretty much everything I learned from my first pairs of muslin shoes to these, and it shows- they are hands down the cleanest-looking, most comfortable pair of heels I have made. Not without their issues and mistakes, of course, but wearable? YES!

Everything went smoothly up until the end when I pulled the shoes off the lasts and tried them on. They felt much too loose! Lengthwise they were fine but the upper had a lot of space around it and they were difficult to walk in because of that. I felt so defeated and frustrated- how steep was this learning curve supposed to be? After so many failures I thought I would have been much closer to wearable heels by now. But then I had the bright idea of adding a thicker insole to the shoe than I normally would have. I used foam board, the same material I use to create an insole for a lasted shoes, instead of just plain foam, and it worked a treat! It completely covered up the screws installed in the heel area and sucked up all the extra space in the upper so that my foot felt snug and comfortable.

The edges of my leather sole on the bottom of the shoe look professional and tidy, but I miscalculated the length of leather I would need to meet the heel on the bottom and I fell short a millimeters, so I had to cut out slivers of soling leather to make up for the space. It’s not a big deal since you can only really see it if you are looking at the bottoms of the shoe, but it’s definitely something to work on for next time. I also have trouble getting my heel completely flat onto the bottom of the heel bed. There are machines that smoosh the heel onto the bottom without any gapping or bunching of the leather, but I don’t have one, so I have to use pure muscle to make it happen and the result is just so-so. It might help to skive the leather around the heel component and heel of the shoe even more so that there is less bulk there, but again, something that will hopefully get better with practice.

Once I added my cushy insole to the shoe I felt a hundred times happier with them. I wore the heels to an interview with Pride.com a couple weeks ago and pretty much every person I crossed along the way had something nice to say about them; fuschia pink mules stand out, which I love! Although the shoes are comfortable and wearable, I am very thoughtful about walking in them. I don’t feel like the heel will come off, but I do feel like if I were to step the wrong way or accidentally walk on a rock that I didn’t see on the ground, I could trip over myself. I think this again has to do with getting the heel component smashed up very tightly to the bottom of the shoe, and I wonder if next time I could try and rig a vice grip along the heel of the shoe and the top of the last to press everything together after the rubber cement is applied. I think I might also be more interested in some thicker, chunkier heels that will create a bit more stability for weight distribution than these thinner ones, so I ordered a few pairs from an online supplier I like and hopefully I will get to experiment with them and find great success! I still have tons more to learn obviously, but this pair feels like a huge win and I hope they just keep getting better and better.

A Clog Post

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!

 

Reunited and it feeeeels so goooood…..

I’m not here to talk about Prince. I am forever sad about his death and I know many of y’all are too, and that is okay.

Instead I wanted to share a non-sad, glorious thing that happened to me a few weeks ago. It has brought a big smile to my face over the last few days as I steeped in purple mourning. But first, a little backstory.

Around 6-ish years ago I bought a pair of shoes from Anthropologie (I have since stopped shopping there  for various reasons, like the CEO’s personal support of famously anti-LGBTQ Rick Santorum and UO’s notoriety for ripping off the designs and ideas of unknown artists + unapologetic appropriation, but I digress). The shoes were a Spanish brand called Hispanitas, and they were SO amazing. I had never before, nor have I since, owned a shoe quite like this. It was an oxford lace-up design, but unlike most oxfords I had worn, they weren’t clunky looking. The mouth of the shoe was wide and oval-shaped so it didn’t visually cut my legs off at the ankle like most lace-ups did. The shoe also gave me a little height- maybe about an inch and a half, give or take- without looking like I was wearing heels due to the clever design of having the upper leather of the shoe extend all the way down and over the heel. But even though they were technically heels (maybe even considered very narrow platforms) and had a feminine look, they were comfortable enough that I could walk around in them all day long with no problems at all. My pair was a peachy salmon color and they went with EVERYTHING: jeans, skirts, dresses, shorts, you name it.

Are my cute shoes overshadowing the unimpressive mass of steel in the background?

Are my cute shoes overshadowing the unimpressive mass of steel in the background?

Since they were my most comfortable pair of shoes, I brought them with me on every trip where I knew I would be walking a lot- I spent my 31st birthday biking in them around Paris (yay, Velib!), paired with my favorite vintage yellow knit skirt and a gray tank top and very big sunglasses.

JasikasInParis

I also am mourning the loss of this vintage yellow skirt, whose perfect color, fabric, and fit I am still incapable of replicating! I threw it away because the elastic in the waistband had deteriorated, even though it would have been easy to just replace it. Friends, I have made some poor decisions in my life…

And then, sadly, a year later I wore them on a walking tour of the Tower of London where it proceeded to rain so hard and for so long that I am pretty sure the amount of water could have single-handedly saved California from all it’s future droughts. I was, to put it mildly, soaking wet and absolutely miserable for the duration of the 3 hour tour, but my misery only intensified over the next few days once my shoes dried out and I realized that they were ruined.

I LOVE that I actually have a photo of me at the Tower of London stressing over my shoes LOL

I LOVE that I actually have a photo of me at the Tower of London stressing over my shoes LOL

They didn’t look too terrible at first glance, but the fit was awful now, probably because the leather and some of the internal components had been water-logged and destroyed. I assumed I would just be able to replace them with a new pair when we got home, so I threw the ruined shoes away before we flew back to the states; I realize in hindsight that that was a big mistake. The shoes were several seasons old by the time I drowned them at that old haunted castle, so the style was no longer available at Anthropologie, nor could I find them for sale from another retailer.

Over the next several years, I would randomly have a fleeting memory of how amazing those shoes were and I would go hunting for them online. Occasionally I would find a used pair for sale on a site like ebay, but they were never in my size, and I decided to face the reality that these shoes were simply lost to me. A few months back I was catching up on the new shoe-making endeavors of a fav blogger (Handmade By Carolyn) when she posted some youtube videos by a Philadephia man who makes besoke brogue shoes for men. There were something like 13 videos to watch the process, from start-to-finish, of him making a pair of shoes with regular household tools and supplies and they were chock-fill of information and ideas. While studying his technique and envisioning my own handmade brogues, an image of my favorite long-gone oxfords floated into my head and I realized how cool it would be to one day attempt to replicate those shoes on my own. I couldn’t remember all the exact design details of my old shoes though, so I decided to look them up online and screenshot some images to keep in my pinterest inspiration board….and lo and behold I found an actual pair of them for sale in my size!!! They were the powder blue color, not the salmon I had originally owned, but they were only gently used and in great condition! The site that was selling them was new to me- a blog called The Laws Of General Economy, run by several people dedicated to the slow fashion movement and interested in participants selling garments in good condition- not for profit, but rather to recycle clothing and ensure an extended life for well-made garments.

The individual selling my Hispanitas had posted them on the blog a month earlier but had received no buyers, so she reposted them at an even deeper discount a couple of weeks before I came across them online. To buy an item on the blog, you have to leave a comment with your name and email address, and at the end of a month, the seller will randomly choose one name from all the commenters to buy the shoes. At the end of the allotted month I was the only commenter who had posted, so the seller contacted me to arrange payment and the shoes were in my hands within a week for a mere $23!!!

hispanitas2

I wore my “new” shoes around the house yesterday and they are just as fantastic as I remember- comfortable fit, slimming look (I have big feet to be as short as I am!), unique design. I am torn between wearing them out til they fall to pieces and pulling them apart so that I can see how they are made, but I think I have enough experience in shoe making now to understand the general components without destroying them.

hispanitas4

The bottom of the shoe seems to actually be comprised of a narrow platform, not a heel, that tapers to the middle of the shoe, and the rubber sole is cut in an even thinner strip than the platform which helps give the shoe it’s skinny, featherweight feel. The toe of the shoe is a little square-ish, which normally I wouldn’t like, but, paired with the slim body of the shoe and stitching details, the overall look is sophisticated and feminine. I remember Rachel Corry from my last sandal making class talking about an amazing last-maker here in CA who makes lasts according to your specifications for a very affordable price, and I wonder if he could take this pair of shoes and recreate the last for me without destroying the shoes (I could of course make a pair of lasts for these shoes out of plaster of paris, but it would also require a bit of shoe destruction which I am not ready for).

hispanitas3

So, this story indeed has a happy ending; girl finds dream shoe, girls accidentally destroys dream shoe, girl mourns dream shoe, girl gets reunited with dream shoe and wears them happily ever after. But I think the more important part of this story for me is having an experience where I love a garment so much that I am willing to put in lots of time and effort to recreate the feeling it gives me. I’ve definitely done this with clothing before, taking something apart at the seams and making a pattern out of it to sew it in new fabric. But with fashion being so expendable and many store-bought garments being so poorly made, it’s rare to fall in love like that- which is the math that keeps consumers coming back to stores again and again. What if everything in my closet brought me as much joy as these shoes have, provided me with that much inspiration? Honestly, I am not too far off- I would say that the vast majority of things in my life, particularly after having konmaried our home, bring me so much joy that I would be heartbroken if I lost them. But being reunited with these shoes has newly ignited my devotion to the cause: surrounding myself and adorning this body with things that make me feel confident and happy. It’s a lofty goal for sure, but it’s one that I don’t mind striving for.

So. Cheers to these new old shoes! May we all have the pleasure of being reunited with a good feeling that we have lost, no matter what shape or form it takes. To start, let’s turn up the stereo and shake our booties and give thanks to a legend we may not have known personally, but whose good feelings will live on in this world and in our hearts forever and ever! RIP, Prince!

 

Sandal Making with Rachel Sees Snail Shoes

I have been absent a while on the blog (but not on the instaaagram!) because I have been working on getting a good set-up for my picture taking. I happen to be married to a talented photographer, but I hate having to rely on her to get pictures of all my makes. First it requires us to coordinate schedules and settle on a date, and then we have to plan where the shoot will take place and at what time of day, and then I have to figure out what I want to get pictures of, and usually there are so many things on the list that there is no way we can get them all in at one time so I have to prioritize, and then I have to wait on her to process all my photos, and then I have to deal with the guilt of asking her to spend several hours of her weekend helping me find my best angle (which, it turns out, does not even exist). She, of course, says she is happy to do it, which I appreciate, but I would love to have a way to do it all myself so I can work within my own time frame and schedule, etc.

A few months ago Claire taught me how to use her nice Nikon more efficiently, so I got a remote and a simple gray backdrop, set the camera up on it’s tripod and got to work snapping photos. It took a while to get the camera focused (I taped a headshot onto my dressform) but once I got the hang of it, the pictures came out pretty well. The only drawback were our selection of lenses- we needed a wider angle lens to get better images of me from head-to-toe, an expense that didn’t seem quite justified for my every-once-in-a-while blogging habit. But then I filmed an interview for my friend’s show, In Bed With Kristin, and her camera set-up involved a regular tripod with a little connector that allowed her to put her iPhone on top of it. I am sure all of you know of this ingenious little device already, but for me this was a revelation- I could use my iPhone, which takes perfectly good photos, in tandem with a remote control which would allow me to be in charge of all my photo taking needs without having to worry about focus or lights or using my dress form with a headshot taped to it as a stand-in! It’s a simple solution that I am hoping will make my blogging a bit more manageable than it has been, so wish me luck!

classroom

In the meantime, I wanted to write about my latest foray into shoe making! The success of my last pair of flats has left me satisfied with my skill level but also excited to learn different techniques that other DIY shoemakers have adapted over the years, so when I saw that Poketo was offering a sandal making workshop in LA the day before my birthday, I couldn’t sign up fast enough- it seemed like the perfect thing to gift myself…and it was 🙂

The workshop was taught by Portland-based Rachel Corry of Rachel Sees Snail Shoes and the whole experience was fantastic- I highly recommend taking her classes if she comes to your neck of the woods. It probably helps that I came into the class with a fair amount of experience in DIY shoe making, so a lot of the steps were familiar to me, but I still learned a lot about how to make a shoe without a last, and I though Rachel was incredibly gracious, patient, and skilled. Every single shoe that came out of the class looked wonderful and wearable, and all my peers seemed very happy with what they had created.

samples

Rachel brought several pairs of shoes that she has made over the years, so we got to see a sizable range of designs that we could utilize in the short period of time that we had in the workshop. Normally I am ambitious in workshops and I try to challenge my skills and my creativity, but I decided to try something different this time around and choose a simple design so that I could focus on the process better. Now that I know what a good teacher Rachel is, I probably could have pushed myself a bit further and come up with something of my own design, but I was so inspired by the class and my final shoes that I know I will continue creating sandals based on her technique, and I couldn’t really ask for more than that, you know?

my inspiration shoe from Rachel’s handmade collection

The main things I learned in what I will call The Rachel Process was how to cut out slits in the insoles to allow your upper sandal straps to slide through, and how to then fit the pieces to your foot, which was a lot like fitting a garment on a body in the midst of sewing it. Since we were not using a last for these shoes (and didn’t need to since the toe was uncovered), we used a shoe anvil in tandem with wooden mallets and hammers to work on the bottom of the shoe. I used shoe nails for the first time, cleverly designed little brass tacks that, when hammered against metal, flattened into a nice little pucker on the inside of the shoe so that it wouldn’t poke your feet but would hold the bulky pieces of your straps together. I loved being able to take the shoe off and on again to check for fit, something that using a last doesn’t allow you to do, and it also gives you more freedom in adjusting the sizes.

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slit cutouts on the insole

 

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I LOVE HOLE PUNCHING LEATHER!

Rachel brought lots of pattern pieces for us to choose from to design our own shoes, and after I picked mine out, I decided to trace others so that I could take them home with me for future use. Of COURSE I realized as I was typing this blog post that I left all the patterns at her class when I left on Saturday, so I am feeling foolish for that oversight, but I feel confident that I can recreate some, if not all, of those looks through a little trial and error. The pair I chose to make has a medium sized strap over the toe and a single piece of leather cut out out into an elongated “H” which comes around the front of the ankle and then ties to close the shoe. In addition to the upper leather and the insole, we used foam rubber soling for the bottom of the shoe which is another new technique I learned about in The Rachel Process. All my previous shoes have been made with soling leather on the bottom, but I love how the rubber foam gives you a cushion-y bed underneath your feet and a little bit of height. SO cute and comfortable!

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deconstructed sandals- upper straps, inner soles, and foam rubber soles

The process of putting everything together was familiar except for using the nails; skiving, Barge’s glue, hammering thick parts flat, etc. were all a part of the process, but once the shoe has been put together, you have to trim off the excess foam rubber (which is cut larger than the sole to accommodate any extra room you might need) with a utility knife, and this takes a lot of practice to get right. I was trying to shave a little extra room off the back of my leather soles at the same time as trimming the foam, which proved to be too tricky for my untrained hands, so the heel edge of my shoe was pretty jaggedy. We didn’t have a sander in class so I worried that my shoes were just destined to look really unprofessional if you looked too closely at them, but when I got home I used my Drimmel on the edges and it shaved and smoothed down all the wonky looking areas really well. Next time I will make sure to have my sole trimmed to the exact size and shape I want so that all I have to do in the last step is cut the foam rubber, which trims away like butter.

you can see how jagged the edges were in the back before I took my Drimmel to it.

you can see how jagged the edges were at the heel before I used my Drimmel

I wish that I had used a buckle or a rivet on my shoe so that I could have some experience with those components in the workshop, but I did get to use leather stamps which I COMPLETELY fell in love with. I could stamp leather all day! So fun, so effective, so satisfying! As far as the buckles and rivets, they seem to be pretty easy to use with the right tools, so I will add them to my list of (additional) shoe supplies I need, which isn’t super long- it’s mostly leather tools that I haven’t needed before but that I would love to use in the future. I am planning a trip to a shop called Saderma here in LA that is supposed to be an excellent place to find shoe components, findings, and leather.

fitting the upper straps and marking placement before it gets glued down

fitting the upper straps and marking placement before it gets glued down

 

how the pieces will eventually come together

loose idea of the final shoe

wearing

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I am so very happy with how these shoes came out and I am beyond excited to make more using The Rachel Process. Her instagram is filled with her own beautiful makes and those of her talented students, so there is plenty of inspiration to be found there. Here are a few of my favorite photos that she posted to her account- I am dying to replicate them!

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Happy shoe-wearing, friends!

Red leather, yellow leather SHOES!

After Cashmerette posted a really great overview of her sandal making class on her blog, I felt inspired to join in the fun. I think it’s really exciting and motivating to see more and more people dipping their toes into the furthest corners of the DIY-osphere, and it’s also nice for me to document my own stuff so that I can see my personal growth in the arena. I have posted before about general shoe making here, but for this post I am going to do a photo heavy step-by-step show-and tell so that you can see each individual part of my process. This is not a shoe-making tutorial- it’s not meant to guide you through making your own shoes- but rather it’s meant to be a kind of visual synopsis so that you can see the steps involved chronologically and have a better understanding of what is involved in case it’s something you feel like learning more about yourself. Sometimes certain projects seem daunting when I only see it in it’s finished form, but when you see the steps laid out separately it can seem a little more manageable. One important note here is that there are a LOT of different ways to make shoes, and for the most part, none of them are inherently right or wrong; I am still figuring out my own preferences for my process from the information that I have gathered from reading books and taking classes. Ideally I would like to learn how to make shoes the old school way by hand sewing the leather pieces together, using shoe tacks, and using way less toxic cement glue, but for now I am still trying to get more familiar with lasting and understanding how leather works before I move onto sewing them by hand.

The last pair of shoes I made were a pair of brown leather ballet flats and they were the first pair that were both functional and a great fit for the shape and size of my foot. Once they were finished, I was simultaneously thrilled with how they turned out and itching to make another pair to fix all the things that I wanted to change about them.

The construction method I had been working from tells you to leave the edge of your lining as-is while lasting the shoe (meaning not to turn the edge under) and have about 5mm peeking out past the upper. Once the shoe is complete and you’re ready to take the shoe off the last, you are supposed to use a sharp knife to trim the edge of the lining off of the shoe. This, in my experience, is a TERRIBLE idea. For one thing, your knife has to be super duper super sharp to slice the edges smoothly, but you have to cut carefully so that you don’t slice into the upper of your shoe. You also end up digging into your shoe last with your knife, carving out a huge and unsightly circle around the last. I consider myself to be fairly dexterous, but on each pair of shoes I used this method on, my results were disastrous. The upper leather is butchered with tiny slices dug into it from my knife, and the lining edge underneath isn’t cut smoothly at all- it peeks out in some places, is cut down to the inside of the shoe in others, and is generally raggedy looking. For the next pair I made, I wanted to fold down the edge of my lining and sew the upper and the lining together around the mouth of the shoe so that I wouldn’t have a raw edge that needed to be cut later.

The other thing I needed to change about the shoe was my tight grip during the lasting process. Lasting means pulling and securing the lining and the upper around the shoe mold, aka last, and if you pull the leather too tight, you risk shortening the rise of your shoe. And finally, I wanted to finesse the look of my sole. In my leather working book I read about burnishing the edges of the leather so that it looks smooth and clean and it doesn’t have the rough fibers of the leather poking out anywhere, so I was excited to apply this technique to my next pair.

Now that my latest pair of shoes are done, I can see exactly what worked and didn’t. Pretty much everything I wanted to fix from my last pair was successful: the rise is perfect on these and they fit on my feet without feeling like they are going to fall off. The lining edge is sewn under and looks clean and smooth next to the upper. The soles look great with their burnished edges. I put in some small arch supports so that the shoes wouldn’t be so flat. I added a small heel made of one layer of leather and one of rubber (I might add rubber to the sole of the rest of the shoe but I wanted to wear them first to see if they were necessary. The only thing that I messed up was forgetting to skiv the seams of the shoe. With my last pair, the leather was pretty thin and didn’t create much bulk at the seams at all, but this leather was much thicker, and forgetting to thin those edges was a total oversight on my part. As a result, the seams are super bulky. I think the shoes still look great, but I wish I had paid better attention to that. My only other issue, and this is a small one, is figuring out how to keep light-colored leather looking great while turning them into shoes. The process gets a bit messy, especially with the cement glue, and once they were all finished I kept finding tiny spots of dirt and gunk on the yellow leather. I could probably treat the leather before making the shoes so that dirt and grime will wipe off easily once they are complete.

Now, onto the steps of construction (from here on out, captions will be placed below the accompanying photo)!

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I used some scrap felt material and small nails to play around with the design of the shoe before cutting out my leather. I have a few cool ideas for shoes with cut outs and interesting design features, but I want to get good at making a simple slip-on first. This style basically looks like a pair of TOM’s.

 

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Once I figured out my pattern from the felt template, I cut out the pieces from my leather. The yellow leather is for my upper (or the outer part of the shoe) and the dark blue is a lighter weight leather that I use for the lining and the inner soles. There are two pieces to the pattern aside from the insole: one U shaped for the toe area, and a longer piece which will make up the sides and back of the shoe. The pieces are sewn together on my sewing machine.

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Before sewing the two pieces of the pattern together, I used cement glue to tack them into place. It is important to let this dry before using your sewing machine to sew the pieces together, otherwise your needle will get gunky with glue.

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Cutting the inner sole shapes out of foamboard.

 

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Totally forgot to turn over one inner sole pattern piece when cutting out of my foam board so I had two left feet!

 

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I bought some gel arch inserts for my insoles to give me a little support in the shoe and they worked out very well! I just glued them onto the foam board in the proper place before I attached my lining leather .

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Lining leather is cut out in the shape of the insoles with extra room around all edges to fold over to the underside. Both surfaces must be coated in a thin layer of glue, left to dry til it’s barely tacky, then pressed together so that the cement can properly adhere.

 

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The inner curve of the insole leather gets little snips cut into it so that it can be folded smoothly around the edges.

 

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Insoles are temporarily attached to the bottom of the lasts with either tape or nails- I don’t have a preference, because sometimes tiny nail holes are left in visible places on the top of the insole, and other times the tape is hard to get off once the upper and lining has been lasted.

 

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The upper leather and lining leather get a bit of glue around all the edges where it will be folded over and later stitched- here is where I should have remembered to skiv the leather to thin it out and make it less bulky. I think I forgot to take a picture for the next couple of steps in this process so I will just explain it. After the edges of the upper and lining have been glued under, I put the lining and the upper leather pattern pieces together so that wrong sides are facing and I sew them together around the mouth of the shoe. The bottom parts of the leather are left as-is. I also separately sew up the back seams (they are not connected here). You see the little V-shape cut out in the photo above? That gets sewn together with about 5 mm seam allowance and creates a little curve in the shoe where the heel of your foot rests.

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Next I cut out pattern pieces for my toe boxes and counters. A toe box is a piece of firm material that covers your toe area and keeps your toes from poking through the upper fabric (in case you have wildly sharp toenails or something??) and also keeps your toe shape from distorting the upper material. A counter firms up the back of the shoe so that it retains it’s shape throughout wear. Check out a pair of shoes that you have, flats or heels- you might not have noticed it before but if you feel around the shoe, you will find a firmer material in the back area and most likely the toe area, too.

I seem to be missing another important photo here! UGH! I know that in support of the maker blogger community I’m not supposed to be ablogogizing anymore, so ummm. I guess, deal with it? HA! Anyways, here is what is missing: I placed my upper and lining leather that I had sewn together in a previous step onto the last. Then I pulled JUST the lining leather around the last and onto the bottom of the shoe (the upper leather is connected to the lining leather only at the top, remember?), and then I glued the lining in place by connecting it to the bottom of the insole that I had temporarily attached to the last. I will be doing this step again with the upper leather and I have pics of it later on in this post, so just imagine that happening with the lining leather first. After the lining has been lasted, the toe area and back area where the counter will go is covered with a thin layer of glue.

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Once my lining leather is in place, it’s time to adhere the toe box and counter. These are made of a heat activated material with a sticky glue on one side (this part goes onto the lining) that I warm up in the oven just to get pliable. Then I use my heat gun to warm it up even more and finish applying it. When this material cools it hardens, so you have to work fast while also taking care not to burn your fingers on the hot material. You want to cover the toe area with the toe box and and bring all the extra material to the underside while making sure it doesn’t have creases or ridges on the top of the shoe. This part is tricky, but I am getting better at it, and you can always re-heat the material to make it soft and pliable again if you mess it up.

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Here is what the last looks like once the toe box and counter have been applied. You can see my lining leather folded around the last and glued onto the underside of the insole/foamboard, and the upper leather is unattached except at the mouth of the shoe.

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Here is one of the most important parts of shoe making, and it also happens to be the most tiresome and time-sucking! It is called skivving (I mentioned it earlier), and it essentially involves using a sharp blade to trim and thin out the bulky area of your shoes. In the above photo I am using a special tool which helps keep your fingers safe while skiving, which is nice because it’s easy to cut yourself in this step- you want a very sharp blade but you also need to use a good amount of strength to shave off the most material in thick areas. I have found that using a sanding attachment on my Dremel helps with a lot with reducing bulk, but you have to go SO slowly and carefully or you might sand off some of the leather on the sides of the shoe (which I have done. Many, many times).

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Here is a photo of one shoe that has the toe box skivved and one that doesn’t. Some of the folds of the lining leather have also been trimmed to minimize bulk.

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Once the toe box and counters have been skived down, it’s time to last the outer/upper of the shoe. Glue gets applied liberally on the inside of the outer leather and on the bottom of the shoe- this type of glue only adheres to itself, so it must be applies to everything that needs to stick together.

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Once the glue on both areas is slightly dry, you can start folding your leather onto the bottom of the shoe. The goal is to pull the leather around tightly and uniformly so that it doesn’t crease and gather in folds on the visible parts of the shoe, but you also don’t want to pull so much that the shoe loses it’s shape on the top of the last (this is how my previous pair of flats are so low around the foot- I pulled the leather too tightly). The thicker your leather is, the more difficult it is to get the toe area completely smooth- I didn’t perfect it on this pair of shoes but it’s not very visible unless you are looking at the shoes from the bottom.

yellowshoes_blog22Here is what the shoe looks like once its been fully lasted with glue, and now it’s time to skiv the crap out of it and reduce all that bulk.

yellowshoes_blog27I drew a faint line around the edge above the line of where the sole will go to show me where I couldn’t skiv past.

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The shoe bottom is now skived, and it also needs to be sanded so that the soling leather will adhere to it properly. I have traced an outline of my finished shoe onto the leather I am using for the soles (it’s 12 oz and much thicker than the lining and upper leather). I keep forgetting to cut the soles out slightly larger than the actual shoe, particularly around the toe area! DOH!

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As I mentioned, I recently read about a technique called “burnishing” that finishes the edges of your leather, and I used it on this pair of shoes and am thrilled with the results! To burnish leather, you first use a tool called a beveler to smooth the rough edges, and it worked fine, but I think my tool was slightly smaller than what I needed, so I ended up mostly using my Dremel to sand and even out the edge of the soling leather. Next I used a simple solution of mod podge and water (my book recommends something called “paper gum” which I could not find for purchase anywhere on google and which ultimately just seemed like elmer’s craft glue diluted with water) which I applied to the outside edges of the sole, and then I used a piece of canvas fabric to vigorously rub the edge of the sole with the glue solution on it. According to my book, the friction of the rubbing creates heat which binds the fibers of the leather together and then the watery glue holds it in, giving the edge a clean look. Above, you can see the burnished leather on the left and the non-burnished on the right- it makes a big difference!

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The bottom of the shoe and the inside bottom of the soling leather get coated with glue which is left to dry for at least a half hour and up to a full day, making the bond even stronger.

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To activate the glue once it has completely dried, you can heat it up with your heat gun, which is helpful because it allows you to work area by area, making sure that your sole is attaching to the shoe bottom in just the right places.

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I press the sole onto the bottom of the shoe for several seconds with as much strength as I can muster, but because I don’t have a fancy shoe press like the ones in factories, I came up with another idea.

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Not fancy, but it gets the job done! I used some clips from my woodshop to keep a tight grip on the sole and shoe as the glue dried, and I used extra bits of rubber to keep the clips from leaving marks on the leather.

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yellowshoes_blog31I wanted to see what it was like to make flats with a small heel after I saw a blog post on pinterest of a shoemaker making a stacked heel out of leather (SO COOL!), so I cut out a piece of soling leather and an accompanying piece of sole rubber to glue together and stick onto the bottom of my shoe.

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Once everything has been glued together and is completely dry, you can carefully pull your last out of the shoe and try it on! I’m not gonna lie, I always do this step way before everything is dry because the anticipation of trying the shoe on after all your hard work is just too great!

 

Here are some comparison photos of the previous flats I made and the new yellow shoes:

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You can’t really tell from these photos but the sides are much higher (and therefore better fitting) on the yellow shoes than the brown ones. You can see how sloppy the edges of the mouth look on the brown ones look compared to the yellow ones, and you can also see how bulky the seams on the yellow ones look. They are not uncomfortable at all, they just don’t look as streamlined as the seams on the brown ones- again, this is because I totally forgot to skiv the seams of the leather before I attached the pieces together at the seams.

 

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The actual sole of the yellow shoe looks great, but the toe area is a little bulky and not very smooth where I pulled it around the last.

yellowshoes_blog34You can see the detail of how much better the lining leather looks on the yellow (bottom) shoe when I folded and sewed the lining and outer leather together instead of leaving the lining leather free and cutting around it with a knife as I was instructed to do on the brown pair.

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I’m not sold on the soling rubber on the heel as of right now. I used it to protect the soling leather from getting so scuffed up, but the rubber feels kind of sticky on the ground and sometimes makes me trip a bit- not so much that I fall or anything, but something about it doesn’t feel quite right. I might see if I can pull the rubber pieces off cause I know they will feel fine without them.

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I have worn my new leather shoes several times since I finished them and I absolutely adore them- the color is amazing, they are comfortable and I like having a simple design style like a TOM’s shoe without having to actually wear TOM’s. As you can see, there are a lot of steps involves in making shoes, but they don’t actually take that long- you can definitely start and finish a pair in a day with the exception of the glue-drying time. The trickiest part of shoe making is gathering all the various tools and materials that you will need, and for shoes like the kind I make, finding the last is the hardest part of the battle. You need a different last for each size of shoe you make and for each style, in addition to whether or not you want a flat or a heel, and if you want a heel, you need a different last for each heel height. Because different companies have different sizing in their lasts (in the same way that trying an 8.5 size shoe in one brand might feel totally different in another brand), my best method of finding a good last is going by measurement in inches from toe to heel. I have had the most success finding vintage lasts on eBay, but there are specific companies that sell new lasts online, and etsy also has shops that sell plastic and wood lasts. I don’t have a preference between plastic and wood myself- I have used both and they yielded great results, although I suppose that wood lasts are more aesthetically pleasing.

Some additional resources for you to check out:

This is the book that got me started on this journey a couple of years ago! It is an excellent book with great illustrations, articulate instructions, and info on making your own lasts and shoes out of found materials. It is super informative and all the information I have gathered from classes and courses in the past couple of years has had similar methods to what Loomis writes about in her book.

I CAN MAKE SHOES is an online source I have relied on, and they also offer classes in-person in certain areas (I think they are located in the UK). They have some great materials for purchase in their shop and their shoe making kits are a great starting point for people who are interested in dipping their toes in the shoe-making waters without having to fully commit to buying all the supplies and tools necessary.

Prescott & McKay is another good source for taking classes in shoe-making, and although they are based in the UK, they come to the states and offer satellite sources several times a year. I took their one-day shoe making course, and although I thought it was fun and helpful, I think that their 2+ day seminars are probably better. One day just doesn’t seem to be enough time to learn all the complicated bits and pieces of shoe making from scratch while also paying attention to design. I think this course would have been amazing if they had given us less freedom in designing the shoe and instead focused more on functionality- I would much rather have had less choice in how my resulting shoe looked as long as it ended up being wearable, which it wasn’t, because we didn’t have enough time to learn about strap placement and buckles, etc.

Shoedo is an online store that sells various shoe components that are normally difficult to find if you are not buying wholesale, and I am so excited to have stumbled across them. I bought my foam board, several pairs of heels and some lasts from this site, in addition to other bits and pieces that I needed to stock up on.

This of course is just a tiny little snippet of all the resources available to amateur shoemakers- etsy, craigslist and eBay have lots of more options on where to buy the components you need, and there are a surprising number of blogs out there by bespoke shoe makers who write about their process and share tutorials on how to do what they do. Although I have learned a lot in the past couple of years, I am excited to continue my journey of learning even more. As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I am super excited to learn how to handsew leather shoes as opposed to just gluing the pieces together, and I am also looking forward to taking a leather sandal making class this Spring that is coming to Los Angeles. The method they teach doesn’t involve using a last and is instead based on the measurements of your individual foot. I can’t wait to see how that works! Hopefully it will be successful enough that I can share everything about it here on the blog, so stay tuned!