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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!

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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.

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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

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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!

Ride, Sallie, Ride!

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It is a shame that it took me so long to blog about the Sallie Jumpsuit by closetcasefiles because it is by far one of my favorite things I have ever EVER made! The wearability of this design is the best kind of ridiculous- with options for a dress or a jumpsuit, straps or a kimono-style bodice, long or short, the possibilities give you the maker so much room to make it your own, but none of this awesomeness compares to how COMFORTABLE this garment is to wear. It’s the combination of knit material, an elasticized waist, and a body skimming, not-too-tight fit that makes Sallie feel like pajamas, but it should be illegal to wear something that feels this comfortable while looking this good.

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This jumpsuit hits me in all the right places- it makes me feel tall (I am not), it shows off my waist, and it hugs just the right parts of my hips before falling gracefully down my legs to cascade ever so gently on the tops of my shoes (yes, indeed, I am writing a love letter to this jumper). I get compliments from strangers every time I wear this jumpsuit, and I barely took it off last summer because it’s cool and breezy to wear even though it doesn’t show too much skin; my knit fabric is a soft stretch jersey from girlcharlee.

There are so many things to love about this pattern but I think my favorite is the kimono top option. As someone who is slightly obsessed with onesies, I have made quite a few versions over the years, some vintage, some contemporary. The most common design element of all of these pull-up onesies (meaning no zippers or buttons) is that they need to have a loose fitting bodice so that it can go over your hips and butt with ease, and “loose fitting” usually means some version of spaghetti traps coupled with a blouse-y bodice. They may be skinny and tie together over the shoulder or be thick and wide enough that they are sewn onto the bodice at the front and back, but they are always straps, and the bodice is rarely fitted. Straps and flowy bodices are fine, but sometimes I want more coverage, or a slimmer fit, or just a different look than what straps can offer. Heather Lou came up with a genius design feature by creating a bodice that is fairly slim and has a bit of a sleeve to it, and it works because she put ties in the back at the neck that, when undone, allow enough room in the bodice to pull up over your hips. She gave us all of the form and all of the function with one simple solution, and yes, it has allowed me to live my BEST life every time I wear it!

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Although my favorite version of this pattern is the long jumpsuit with kimono top, I have also successfully made the maxi with straps and I have shortened the jumpsuit into a romper based on closetcasefiles’ helpful tutorial on her site. I also made one of my best friends Kelly a Sallie romper for her birthday last year and she looked SO amazing in it- this is one of those patterns that you can be confident will look great on everyone because the sizing and knit fabric is so forgiving- it was a surprise gift for her so I guesstimated her measurements based off of my own and it came out absolutely perfect.

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Oh, and how did I forget to mention POCKETS?!?!?!

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Construction for this baby was, like all of the closetcasefiles patterns, straight-forward and easy to follow. I used my serger for most of the work except for the neckline and shoulder seams, the ties in the back and the hemming. It was quick to sew like most knits are, and I really like the method of sewing the channel at the waistline for the elastic to run through. I have made this pattern four times so far, but I only have one version like the garment pictured here and it is by far my favorite, so I might be making another one like it soon to get me through this summer. I am terribly afraid of wearing this one out too much and getting the fabric all washed and worn looking so I need something else to help take up the slack, and I have the perfect fabric in mind. I’ve been talking a lot on instagram about using the konmari method to get rid of clutter and reorganize my home, and last week I tackled my craft room which was a LOT of work, but was honestly a revelation once it was all done. There is so much space in there now, visually and physically, and one of the  most important things I did was de-stash a lot of my fabric. It all fits into one bureau now instead of in various bins, boxes, and drawers and stacked in piles on my couch, which means I can see exactly what I have all at one time….which means I will buy much less fabric when I have so many pieces waiting to be sewn up into something….right?  Well that’s the goal, anyways. And it’s only been a three days but so far I am doing GREAT!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Gunning It

Results are in= stabilo markers > colored pencils. Also I am DYING to make this @namedclothing Kielo wrap dress again…

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@trycuriousblog) on

I made an absolutely beautiful Kielo Wrap Dress a while back and blogged about it here, and, as seen in my 2016 New Year post, another version of the dress was added to my To-Make list. I loved how Named Clothing used a simple striped fabric to create a bold look with the design, so I thought I would take some inspiration from their blog and make a replica. I chose a medium-weight super soft striped knit jersey from organiccottonplus.com in an earthtone shade, and I even used my new croquis book by Gertie to sketch out the idea of the dress. The additional sleeve pattern hack that Named provided on their blog and accompanying instructions were definitely lacking, but I figured it out like a champ and managed to complete the dress, from start to finish, in one day.

Here was the result.

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I don’t even know where to start with everything that looks terrible about this dress, and if I am totally honest, I am still not sure exactly what went wrong. I know it’s not the pattern, because I made the dress before to much success. So I am blaming it on my fabric choice. Why is my fabric choice so wrong, you ask? I don’t know. Sometimes the universe provides you with questions but no answers. Honestly it’s probably a whole combination of weird reasons, and I could sit here and speculate forever about it, but I wont. I’ll just focus on what is terrible instead of trying to figure out why it’s terrible. Here we go.

Reasons This Dress Is Terrible:

-It looks huge on me. And I don’t know why. This dress is actually a smaller size than the original one I made!

-It doesn’t retain it’s shape or any of the design features. As you can see in the Named Clothing blog photo below, the folds on the sides look crisp and defined and the wrap holds it’s shape.

Not so with my version. Mine looks like a three-day old soggy burrito wrap.

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-Also do you see how uneven my darts are? I have no idea why they were in separate places and in different lengths; you would think I had never sewn a dart before in my life! This fabric was posessed I tell you.

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-When I tried to hem the sleeves, the bottom of the dress, and the neckline, my fabric went berserk on me and stretched out to twice it’s size like this.turrible2blog

I did everything I could to keep this from happening. I switched from a twin needle to a single needle. I switched from ironing the folds of the seam allowance to simply pinning them down, just in case my iron was inadvertently stretching the fabric out. I steamed the hems to see if they would shrink back to their initial lengths. I used my walking foot to keep the knit fabric from getting stretched out under my needle. Nothing really seemed to do the trick.

Simply put, this fabric and design, for whatever reason, did not go well together. Which was a shame, because I had been dreaming about this dress for MONTHS! Every time I walked by this fabric draped over my couch in the craft room, I would wipe a bit of drool off my face and think to myself, I am gonna look SO DAMN FLY when this is finished!

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As you can see from the pitiful look on my face, I don’t feel fly at all. I even tried to pair it with different shoes, hoping with all my heart that it wasn’t the DRESS that was a mess, that it just needed to be styled in the perfect way (as you can see, no styling could fix this thing). I contemplated cutting off the ties and having it be one of those baggy sack dresses that tall girls in NYC always seem to get away with looking chic in. But I was only fooling myself. This dress needed either a dramatic makeover or it needed to go in the Butthole Bin. I hated the thought of wasting this beautiful fabric on a pattern that it was just not meant to be paired with, so after laughing with Claire for a VERY long time and taking these horror movie-like photos (I look like a fashion forward version of that girl in The Ring, right?), I took the dress off and plotted what I could possibly do to save it.

I am now pleased to present to you one of my most successful Tim Gunnings to date!

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OK, so as I mentioned, the major issues with the dress were…well, the whole thing. It was too big, with too much material to make the cute wrap-tie feature work, and all the hems were wonky. To start, I carefully took out the stitching for the awful baggy neckline and I tried to apply a length of seam binding instead, hoping it would shrink up the stretched-out opening. That ended up looking even worse than when it was just folded over and sewed down. Because I had serged the neck binding, I considered it too much work to unpick all those stitches, since I wasn’t even positive that I could save the dress, so I cut the binding off, leaving the neck opening even WIDER. As a last resort, I slowly and ever so carefully sewed a tiny 1/4 inch hem around the neck, using my walking foot and a single needle and barely touching the material as it went through the feed dogs. The end result is…passable. Not perfect, but a far cry better than what I had started out with. The boat neck is so wide that I can’t wear the dress with a regular bra cause the straps will show, so I have to wear a strapless bra underneath instead. Not pleased about that, but it’s better than having to throw the whole thing away. The sleeve hems were thankfully a much easier  fix- I cut out some fabric for bands a bit smaller than the sleeve opening, and they were inserted without any problem; they actually ended up looking really cute. Lastly I cut off the bottom of the dress because it was several inches too long, and I carefully sewed a very small hem with my walking foot; it turned out much less wavy than before.

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Now for the actual body of the dress. This wasn’t too tricky since it is a knit fabric and pretty forgiving. I fixed the funky darts on the front so that they were a bit more even, I cut the wrap and ties off the sides, then I put the dress on my dressform and pinned the sides in so that they hugged the curves of the form instead of sagging around it. I reattached the ties right under the arms as the original design calls for and then I serged the seams from bottom to top. There were a couple of small adjustments I made to keep the side seams even and flattering around my hips, but other than that, this was probably the easiest thing to fix.

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And there you have it; I Tim Gunned it! I made it work! If I could do the re-design all over again, I probably would have moved the ties down just a bit so they were more at waist level instead of right under the bust, and I would also bring in the side seams just a teensy bit more so that it is a little less roomy overall. But even as-is I am happy with this garment! I managed to wear it to some Behind The Scenes footage for our movie Suicide Kale (did I tell y’all about the movie I produced with my friends? This topic is waiting to be turned into a blog post titled TryCurious gets BEHIND the camera, but until then, you can find out more about the film here)! Thankfully the dress held up well and I felt great in it! Maybe I am not at the caliber of SO DAMN FLY that I was initially opting for when I envisioned this dress, but I am pretty close to it, and honestly, saving a #sewingfail from the garbage can kind of increases the intellectual FLY factor when you lay it all out on the table, right?

I recently wrote a two-part article for one of my favorite sites, autostraddle.com, about sewing. There is probably nothing new in it for you seasoned sewists out there, but for beginners and people who think they might be interested in getting started with sewing but have never done it before, you might find some valuable information! You can check out Part I which is all about sewing machines here, and Part II, about fabric, patterns, resources and inspiration, right here!

Desmond Rolltop Backpack vs. Retro Rucksack

I took a break from the endless fitting and adjusting of Ginger jeans-making to work on a relatively quick and satisfying project for some instant gratification: behold the Retro Rucksack!

1.3_blogIn my last post I talked about how this is a pattern I would never have made without seeing this version of the bag first. I love the fabric choices Cut Cut Sew used- the colors are simple and sophisticated, the waxed canvas is super cool looking, and the Pendleton wool gives the bag a dose of sturdiness and a nice texture. I was inspired to make a near-exact replica of her lovely version, but thick wool isn’t a smart material to use in Los Angeles with the weather here generally being on the warmer side of mild. So instead, I copied her use of waxed canvas, a material I had not worked with before, and traded the Pendleton wool for a grid-designed medium weight canvas from Miss Matabi. I absolutely love the way the waxed canvas feels, looks and operates- it has the visual effect of well-worn leather without being finicky to sew with (although I do think this bag would look amazing in leather, too- maybe next time!)

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The whole reason I was inspired to make this bag is because I made THREE of the Desmond Rolltop Backpacks for gifts this past Christmas, and I was all too pleased with how they came out. But although I love the design, the finished product is a bit bigger than the everyday-use/over-the-shoulder bag I was looking to add to my own wardrobe. The Retro Rucksack pattern seemed to blend a lot of the elements I liked about the Desmond with something a little…well, daintier, for lack of a better word. After having made both of these bags (numerous times, even), I have to say that I am more impressed overall with the Desmond Pack because of it’s excellent instructions (and accompanying sew-along posted on Taylor Tailor’s blog) and its’ super-smart design. Sewing together square edges for boxes while using thick fabric is  known to be a tricky maneuver, but the Desmond uses a design that is easy to sew and makes the seams on the bottom of the bag look crisp and clean. Not so much with the Retro Rucksack though- you basically have to sew a rectangle onto a curved edge once you get to constructing the exterior of the pack, and because there are so many thick layers, there isn’t a good way to ease the fabric into the seam. It took me about 30 minutes to get the seams for the bottom of the bag sewn relatively straight and wrinkle free, and they are still far from perfect. I am sure there are all kind of tricks to sewing sharp seams with curved edges, but I personally prefer patterns that take these matters into account with the design.

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I also like how the Desmond pattern stresses the importance of sewing multiple lines of stitching over areas of heavy use. I ended up using a lot of the techniques I learned for the Desmond pack in making the Retro Rucksack, but despite some of the less-than-clear instructions, I am super happy with how the rucksack turned out and I think it’s a good pattern. I wanted my bag to be lightweight, small and portable, like the canvas grocery store tote I had been carrying around with me for months, and that has most definitely been achieved.

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I decided to nix the zipper for better accessibility to the inside of the bag (and also to eliminate a bit of weight and bulk), but I wish I had added a looped strap in the top of the bag to hang it on a hook. The side pockets successfully accommodate an iPhone and there are good sized pockets on the inside of the bag, too (although I accidentally put my lining in backwards so the zipper pocket touches the front of the bag instead of the back of it- NBD, but I will be sure NOT do that next time).

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I used some random (stained) linen in my stash for the lining that had been given to me years ago, and the tea-colored stains give the inside of the bag an aged, vintage look, although I hope that the old fabric holds up to consistent use. Thankfully, replacing the lining in the future wont be too much of a hassle because the lining and exterior are only connected at the top seam of the bag (and then I can re-insert the lining with the zipper pocket on the correct side!)

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The Desmond Rolltop Backpack construction was a little more involved than the Retro Rucksack, but it is absolutely worth all the extra work that goes into it. I love the detail of the webbing sewn onto the straps, the use of the hooks and D-rings (I used some of the same ones I bought from Taylor Tailor’s shop on my Rucksack), and the extended outer zipper pocket on the front of the bag.

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For Claire’s bag (shown in this post), I used a herringbone upholstery fabric for the exterior and a plain un-dyed canvas for the lining. The first time I made the Desmond bag I made a crucial mistake in the placement of the band on the top of the bag that holds all the straps in- somehow, some way (I swear I wasn’t drinking), I sewed that whole section like, four inches below its’ intended placement. So when I tried the bag on to admire my work, you can imagine my horror when I saw how short it was and realized I had messed up the placement and I needed to redo everything. And there is A LOT OF STITCHING there because that’s where most of the weight for the bag is held, so the straps need to be sewn down with many rows of stitching in several different places. It took me forever to rip all the stitches out. FOREVER, I tell you! But you better believe I never made that mistake again! Each of the three Desmond bags I have made have been well received- this will definitely be a staple in my pattern stash- I think the design is pretty flawless and there are so many cool ways you can personalize the design elements, with color blocking, using denim topstitching thread, and even incorporating leather.

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Thanks to Claire for these awesome pictures! You make my work look so good 🙂

Below are a couple of snapshots of the Desmonds in the wild:

@bishilarious gets gifted #desmondbackpack number 2!!! And it's looks great on her! Merry Xmas, Binty!

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@trycuriousblog) on

Brittani with her Desmond pack made of duck canvas fabric for the exterior and steel grey webbing!

https://www.instagram.com/p/-fWqdVxF_S/?taken-by=trycuriousblog

This cute blue version was gifted to my friend Lawrence- I don’t have any pics of the bag except for this one close up. It was modeled after Taylor Tailor’s bag on his blog- made of extra denim I had in my stash and used with the reverse as the right side.

Claire used this bag as a carry-on when we were traveling over the Christmas holidays and it was STUFFED TO THE BRIM. I was so nervous that the seams were gonna rip, but this bag is much sturdier than I even gave it credit for.

Happy bag making, friends!

 

What Will Claire Wear?

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Many years ago in NYC when I had to attend a lot of red carpet events for work, Claire and I were stumped as to what she would wear if and when she attended functions with me. This was early on in our relationship when we were in our mid twenties, and because her job at the time had no dress code, her wardrobe consisted of vintage t-shirts, plaid button downs, ripped jeans and a multitude of sneakers (honestly, her wardrobe still consists of those things, but it has expanded to include “grown-up” clothes like slim fitting slacks and wing tipped lace-ups). Anyways, back in the day, she had not one piece of clothing suitable for a fancy event. So we went shopping for a suit for her, something that was neutral enough to fit an array of dress codes, with a slightly androgynous vibe. After several hours of her trying on every article of clothing in the Theory store while sighing dramatically, we spent a small fortune on a beautiful black jacket, matching slacks, and a silky plaid blouse. The pants had big pleats in the waistband, were loose-fitting in the thighs and slim at the ankle, and, coupled with the jacket and her Mia Farrow haircut, she looked stunning. She wore that expensive ensemble a total of ONE time before we headed off to Vancouver for 4 years, where the invites to red carpet events and premieres were non-existent. So it has since lived in the back of every closet we have occupied for the better part of 6 years.

Fast forward to this past winter, when I was invited to attend the DGAs and Claire and I were struggling to figure out what she could possibly wear to them. We dusted off her old suit and, though it was fine for a funeral (which she unfortunately had to attend a few months ago), it didn’t really have the glamour and pizazz it once did. Maybe it was because her style has shifted into a more masculine look, but the pleats and stylized curves of the Theory pants just didn’t work anymore. Claire decided not to come with me to the DGAs; shopping for a nice, tailored-looking suit with only a couple day’s notice felt like a nightmare to her. And as much as I wanted her to attend the event with me, the thought of trudging around to retailers that didn’t specialize in making androgynous-looking garments for women’s bodies with someone who hates to shop anywhere that isn’t a sports store seemed pretty horrific to me, too.

Instead, I brought my friend Brittani (who showed up in a GORGEOUS, beautifully fitting suit that she got at Men’s Warehouse- who knew?!) and we had a great time. But it got me thinking- why can’t women rely on retailers to find androgynous clothing? And why has my own understanding of androgyny (until recently) only been defined by women wearing “men’s” clothes? What does androgyny look like for different genders and non-genders and different bodies? I know the answer to at least one of these questions is THE PATRIARCHY, but I was ashamed at the fact that I had never questioned any of this before. Why haven’t more retail stores caught wind of the varying shapes and non-binary identities that appreciate and support fashion? Even Brittani (who’s suit looked so fly and fit her so well and didn’t cost a fortune), was still subjected to being mis-gendered when she was shopping at Men’s Warehouse. Yeah, I get that it’s called Men’s Warehouse. But aside from the obvious fact that gendered business names are totally antiquated and alienating, why should only men be assumed to shop there when so-called “women’s retailers” drop the ball on providing beautifully tailored garments without ruffles and pleats and darts all over them?

I know there are a growing number of small, independent companies that are providing access to clothing catered to a demographic that dresses in an androgynous style. But a lot of that clothing is (understandably) expensive, and therefore not accessible to everyone who wants it. Which leads us to a whole new conversation, one about the global economy being fueled by a wasteful, dishonest and greedy fashion industry, which is in turn powered by a privileged culture that wants more, more, more for less, less, less. There is no simple answer to any of these questions- the fashion industry needs a complete overhaul to become 1. more sustainable for the environment and 2. more humane to the millions of people that shape it’s work force. Furthermore, there needs to be a gigantic shift in our culture’s understanding of the nuances of gender and gender expression. Here is what I was left with, a question that was also a declaration: why couldn’t I just MAKE Claire a suit?! A year ago this would have seemed like such an impossible project that I wouldn’t have entertained it for even a second. But I know that I have become a more capable seamster with each project I tackle, and what’s more, I am up for a good challenge. When I mentioned the possibility to Claire, she said she was on board, so we went to Joann’s Fabrics to see if we could find a pattern that matched the aesthetic of what she was looking for. We narrowed down our pants pattern search to a few different looks and eventually settled on Simplicity 1430. It came with a simple, casual jacket that I thought seemed like an easy pattern to start with, since I had never made a jacket before. Then we went to my fav fabric store (The Fabric Store!!! HEART EYES EMOJIS) in Los Angeles to pick out some material.

the feel of this cotton for the suit was lovely, but the color wasn't in the right hue.

the feel of this cotton for the suit was lovely, but the color wasn’t in the right hue.

once we settled on this deeper blue for the suit, we couldn't agree on the silk fabric for the blouse. she liked this one the most...

once we settled on this deeper blue for the suit, we couldn’t agree on the silk fabric for the blouse. she liked this one the most…

...but I thought the yellow in this silk provided a little more complexity to the color scheme, and made it pop just a little.

…but I thought the yellow in this silk provided a little more complexity to the color scheme, and made it pop just a little

I knew right away which pieces I liked the most, but Claire was unconvinced about my choices until I took photos of her with swatches of the fabric so she could see for herself which ones illuminated her and which ones washed her out. We decided on a medium-weight woven cotton fabric with a tiny little bit of stretch for the suit, and a beautiful printed crepe de chine fabric for the blouse underneath.

The fitting for the pants was tricky, ’cause it’s always harder for me to tailor to someone else’s body than my own- with myself, I can feel as well as see what doesn’t work, but I don’t have that luxury with someone else.

IMG_2377I made adjustments to this muslin several times before we thought this fit was just right. But then I made them up in the actual fabric…

fitting1…and I did another adjustment…

fitting2…and another adjustment…

fitting3…and another adjustment. I think there were more adjustments than just these three pictures, but I got tired of documenting them all, and I was probably a little more than frustrated at the fitting process. CHOOSY CLIENTS, amiright??  (more proof that making a muslin in a comparable fabric of the project you are working on is SO SMART and can save SO MUCH time). We were in real danger of over-fitting these pants because even though the fabric had a little stretch, it wasn’t enough to accommodate a pair of leggings, which I think maybe Claire was secretly looking for? I convinced her that I wouldn’t be able to take them in anymore while allowing her to actually breath and bend her legs to sit down, so we settled here, and I think the silhouette turned out fantastic!

The jacket was another story- it wasn’t a difficult make, it just wasn’t the right look I was imagining. It was baggy and bulky- a lighter weight material would have been better. Even though it ended up looking amazing with the pants, I wanted a jacket with a little more structure, something more tailored to Claire’s body. But she was super happy (and perhaps more importantly, comfortable!) with the final result of the suit- save for a couple complaints about the waistband being a little too loose, which will just have to be adjusted for the next make.

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I needed to insert the zipper more to the right, so it peeks out a little.

 

 

 

The funny thing is that this suit was made so that we could attend a wedding in San Francisco, and I bought myself a gorgeous pink polka dotted silk to turn into a dress for the event. My dress was supposed to be the easy make and Claire’s was supposed to be difficult, but it turned out exactly the opposite- her suit ended up being a huge success and my silk dress was so awful I wasn’t even sure if I was going to wear it. Luckily I ended up booking a job that recorded the day of the trip, so I didn’t have to. I put the dress in a pile of donations to Goodwill and hoped that someone, somewhere, would have a flat enough body with no curves or butt whatsoever to get into this thing and have it lay perfectly around their frame. I was so disappointed with it- it was the first time I had made a pattern from this particular company, and I think it was a combination of the wrong pattern for my body with the wrong fabric for the pattern. It was bound to be a disaster. I took a shot just for memory’s sake.

It didn't help that this silk had a SHIT TON of static cling, no matter what remedy I used to get rid of it!

It didn’t help that this silk had a SHIT TON of static cling, no matter what remedy I used to get rid of it!

 

This dress is one of those projects that I feel doesn’t look as terrible in the photo as it was in reality. You’re just gonna have to trust me- it was bad!

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Guess what wasn’t bad, though. THIS SUIT! Claire said she got a ton of compliments on it at the wedding, and I got to hear some of them firsthand when a couple of days later we attended PROM, a big dance party hosted by her basketball league. It was really queer and fun, and this time Claire wore her suit with a blue and white button shirt I made for her, so it also proved how versatile the suit was! Making the suit was a lot of work, but she looks so gorgeous in it that I am actually dying to make her another one. Nothing shows your learning curve more than diving right back in and fixing all the mistakes you made the first time around 🙂

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Brumby Skirt in Ladybugs

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Oh, nevermind the phone and record player cords piled up on the floor to the left of me, ok?

The Brumby Skirt is Megan Nielsen’s latest pattern, and um…it’s SO OBVIOUSLY my kind of skirt. It’s feminine and sweet, and Megan Nielsen’s version takes a pretty standard silhouette (dirndle skirt) and adds a couple of lovely details, like the wide, deep pocket option, and the double stitching on the front seam. Brumby was pinned on my “Patterns To Sew” board for a while, but it wasn’t until I stumbled across this FANTASTIC silk at The Fabric Store ladybug fabric that I actually bought the pattern and decided to make it. Funny thing, that silk- I had fallen in love with it the first time I saw it at the store, but I didn’t buy it since I didn’t have a plan for it (still trying to get out of the habit of making impulse fabric purchases, blah blah blah). I kept thinking about the fabric for the next several days (dreaming about it really), and then The Fabric Store had a big seasonal sale a week or so later, so my plan was to pick up a couple of yards of it when I went to buy other stuff. I arrived at the store the morning the sale began, and guess what- NO MORE LADYBUG SILK PRINT! I looked everywhere for it in between picking out my other pieces, but to no avail. I finally asked Brooke, who is manager of the LA store (who, by the way, is always incredibly helpful and thoughtful and an excellent ambassador for great customer service) what had happened to the ladybug print. She said it had all gotten snatched up pretty quickly…but then she reached under the cutting table and pulled out a folded pile of ladybug goodness. She said “it’s only a yard and a half, though- will it be enough?” and of course I, without a second thought, said “I will MAKE it be enough!”

Cut to a couple of weeks later, where I am literally squeezing all the pattern pieces onto the fabric to try and make it fit. One and half yards would have been plenty of fabric if it weren’t for the fact that the silk was paneled, so every yard or so it had this column of flowery design pasted across from top to bottom, separate from the ladybug print, which I had to work around. To make things even more difficult, it was a really slippery silk so I had to sandwich it between paper to be able to cut it out efficiently. The paper and silk trick works like a dream, but it can get really messy once you start cutting, with slivers of paper and silk just piling up all over the cutting table- it’s hard to tell what’s what, and I don’t know how I successfully got all my pieces cut, but I did (praise be to the sewing goddesses).

Because this is a delicate silk and I used a matching thread color, you can't really see the detail of the stitching on either side of the front seam, but I put it there anyways.

Because this is a delicate silk and I used a matching thread color, you can’t really see the detail of the stitching on either side of the front seam, but I put it there anyways.

Because the silk was see-through, I bought some bemberg rayon to line the skirt with, but in my haste to finish the project, I didn’t walk through the steps beforehand. As a result, I cut out the lining pieces weird- I should have put the pocket facing pattern piece onto the skirt front and cut it out as a whole, but instead I cut out the regular skirt front pieces with the pocket chunk missing, so I basically had a gaping hole on the inside of the lining. Does that make sense? But whatever, it was an easy fix- I just hand sewed the open pocket area of the lining to the actual pocket of the skirt to close the gap, and voila!

Can you see where the pocket of the lining was cut out (it has a pinked edge)? I had to handsew it to the pocket piece beneath it so there wouldn't be a huge hole.

Can you see where the pocket of the lining was cut out (it has a pinked edge)? I had to handsew it to the pocket piece beneath it so there wouldn’t be a huge hole.

And THEN guess what happened! I totally sewed the waistband onto the skirt upside down! Call it one of those brain glitches where you stop making logical decisions when you have been sewing for too many hours straight. Whatever it was, it was ridiculous and also hilarious. I remember staring at the waistband and then staring at the drawing in the instructions…and then staring at the waistband again…and then back to the instructions…I could not for the life of me figure out if the waistband curve should tilt up or down. I was ready to blame the instructions for not being clearer, but honestly, it’s something that I should have been able to figure out myself since I have made so many skirts in my lifetime. Once I realized my mistake, I pouted and cussed. Then I ripped out all my stitches and re-attached the waistband the right way; the longer I spend being annoyed at myself, the longer it takes to actually finish the skirt in the first place.

ladybug skirt back viewIn general, I hate sewing with silk, because I am not very competent at it. It’s so damn fickle- it snags easily, slides around when you’re trying to sew layers together, stretches out if your fingers tug at it the wrong way, puckers up all the time- it’s kind of a nightmare for me. But silks feel SO good against your skin, they are shiny and fancy and glamorous, and since I am trying to add more red carpet-ready items to my wardrobe, I know I need to get better at working with them. So! This was my third project in a row of working with silk, and I could definitely see my progress with each one. All in all I consider this pretty little skirt an absolute win! My plan is to make a Nettie Body Suit (ClosetCaseFiles pattern) in a nice soft navy knit to go with it. Stay tuned…

#MeMadeMay level= unlocked

At the beginning of #MeMadeMay2015 I had high hopes to post here on my blog every single day what I wore and where the pattern came from, but those hopes were crushed on Day 2 when my laziness got the better of me. I decided it would be a lot easier and more efficient on my end to just do a master post of everything I memade and mewore with a few details for each one (I posted everyday on tumblr but not everyone follows me there). Presenting, my first foray into the MeMade hashtag!!!

vintage jumper

Day 1: vintage jumper

I already posted about this little guy here, but to recap, this a 70’s (I think?)  vintage pattern for a romper made of knit fabric.

Day 2: Southport Maxi Dress by True Bias

Day 2: Southport Maxi Dress by True Bias

LOOOVE this Southport Maxi dress pattern, and just finished making another one in a peach polka dot cotton. Straightforward and simple, easy-to-understand directions, but the pattern is based off of a C CUP!!! My boobs are nowhere near a C cup, so when I sewed up the bodice and  tried it on for fit, it was so saggy and loose around my entire torso that I was afraid I was gonna have to take the whole thing apart and re-cut the pieces from my fabric. Thankfully I was able to make adjustments without altering the darts and the side seams- I just cut off the widths of the bodice center fronts and moved the button bands over to accommodate. I love the pockets in this dress, and I love the drape of the rayon challis I used in this version and would recommend that fabric over the 100% cotton I used for my second make, which is beautiful but more crisp looking and less flowy.

 

Day 3: Knit Sweetheart Top and A-line skirt from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Day 3: Knit Sweetheart Top and A-line skirt from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

A lot of my favorite makes come from Gertie patterns, as seen in this post. This is the Sweetheart Top made of knit fabric from www.girlcharlee.com coupled with Gertie’s A-line skirt in a beautiful wool herringbone that you unfortunately can’t see very well in this picture. Both patterns are from the book Gertie Sews Vintage Casual. The skirt has an okay fit for me- her circle skirt is wonderful and fits my figure beautifully, but I think that because the A-line skirt has less material in the hip area, it causes wrinkles and gaps between my waist and hip area in the back. It’s probably not noticeable to anyone but me, but I don’t get as much wear out of the skirt for that reason. The Sweetheart top is a simple make on a serger (I once made three of these tops in one day) with a wide neckline that gathers in the middle front.

Day 4: knitted sweater- Portland Tweed Curved Front Cardigan by Pam Allen

Day 4: knitted sweater- Portland Tweed Curved Front Cardigan by Pam Allen

I called this my Unflappable Darling sweater, and details for this make are on my ravelry project page here. I fell in love with Pam Allen’s patterns after I began knitting sweaters, but before I was good at making alterations to fit my size (I usually have to size down and use smaller needles cause my guage is fairly loose). I love this sweater but it’s hard to pair it with many things in my closet. It’s got a tent-like shape to it, and has a tendency to swallow me up, so it doesn’t get as much wear as I would like. The yarn I used for it is a really bizarre-feeling cotton blend with a unique smell that reminds me of hay. If I made this again I would make it much smaller, and with a softer, fluffier (less barn-smelling) yarn.

 

Day 5: Espresso Leggings by Cake Patterns

Day 5: Espresso Leggings by Cake Patterns

I was excited to learn about the Cake Patterns company when I started researching more indie designers, and I was intrigued by the unique way in which they have you put together the pattern pieces. There is a large page of numbered dots and symbols that represent different widths and lengths for your body, and you connect them all together to create an adjusted pattern for your specific size. I feel like this would be a great pattern for someone who was brand new to sewing, but for me it ended up being really confusing and frustrating, and at one point I just wished that it was less innovative and more familiar like other patterns I was used to- I would have been able to put it together much more quickly. The instructions were very different from any pattern I had made before, and not in a good way- they use a lot of symbols instead of words, so I had to keep going back and figuring out what each little drawing was supposed to mean. On top of that, this leggings pattern suggests that you use a 2-way stretch knit like ponte, but when I made them up in that fabric, they wouldn’t even stretch wide enough to go over my thighs (and yes, I cut the pattern out with the stretch going width-wise). Not sure if there was something off about the knit I chose or what, but it was a high quality fabric that I had used with great success before, so I was very disappointed that it didn’t work for this project. I eventually bought another knit with 4 way stretch (seen in the photo) and it worked fine.  I also bought one of their dress patterns to make for my sister-in-law for Christmas, but I was so confused by the bizarre, multi-step directions that I threw the entire thing (including the fabric!) in the trash halfway through construction. I would not buy one of their patterns again, but I have seen that a lot of people have had positive experience with their Cake Patterns, so maybe it’s just me.

Day 6: Tri-Cable Stitch Jumper by Susan Crawford

Day 6: Tri-Cable Stitch Jumper by Susan Crawford

This sweater pattern comes from Susan Crawford’s book A Stitch in Time Vol. 2 and is the kind of book that I would want to own and display even if I wasn’t an avid knitter. The photos and styling are remarkable and the patterns are beautiful, but the coolest thing about the book is that it includes a copy of the original vintage knitting pattern so you can compare the original styling and photos and instructions to the updated versions. I should have gone further down in my needle size for this pattern because it is just a little bit bigger than I would like, but all in all this came out beautifully and I love wearing it.

 

 

 

 

Day 7: Pencil Skirt in Stretch Knit from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Day 7: Pencil Skirt in Stretch Knit from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

This Comfiest Pencil Skirt made of a stretch knit material comes from a pattern in one of Gertie’s books and has become a real winner in my closet. It gives that wonderful curvy silhouette without the usual confining quality that pencil skirts tend to have.  I ended up adding two darts to the back of my skirt to keep the excess fabric between my smallish waist and wide-ish hips from bunching up and it worked like a dream without taking away from the simple pattern of the skirt.

Day 8: Summer Dress pattern from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Day 8: Summer Dress pattern from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

This is my Bitch You Guessed It Dress which you can read more about in this blog post.

Day 9: Ohhh Lulu Ginger Body Suit

Day 9: Ohhh Lulu Ginger Body Suit

OhhhLuluSews is a pattern company that operates from an etsy shop, and the designs are pretty, feminine and vintage inspired. The Ginger Body Suit doesn’t seem to be in the store anymore, but it is a one- piece pattern with a different adjustment marks to turn it into a two-piece and the option to use swimsuit lycra to turn it into a bathing suit, which I did here. Love the fit after I fiddled with the waist and bottoms for a while, and love the way the pieces are put together which gave me the freedom to make some unique design decisions.

Day 10: Vintage romper pattern

Day 10: Vintage romper pattern

This vintage romper comes from Simplicity Pattern 5503 which I bought a while ago on etsy. It’s kind of amazing- very comfortable and easy to make with an elasticized waist, although the front detail has never laid flat for me- not sure if that’s because of the material I used or what. The fabric was a gift from someone I used to date many years ago who went to Nigeria to visit family and brought me back this gorgeous African wax print. It accompanied me on moves to different apartments and different cities and eventually different states for over a decade til I was finally inspired to use it on this pattern. It was totally worth the wait.

Day 11: GInger Jeans pattern by Closet Case Files

Day 11: GInger Jeans pattern by Closet Case Files

These are my awesome and amazing skinny jeans from Closet Case Files’ Ginger Jeans Pattern. Can’t say enough good about the pattern (wasn’t prepared for my very first attempt at jeans to be so successful!). More details on the process here on my blog.

Day 12: Moneta dress by Colette Patterns

Day 12: Moneta dress by Colette Patterns

I am clearly a sucker for good design and good marketing, because no matter how many times I tell myself to stop buying Colette Patterns because the fit is always waaaay wrong for my body, I can’t seem to shake the habit. I thought that this Moneta dress and the Mabel skirt pattern (not shown) which I bought at the same time were gonna be big successes since they’re made for knit fabric, which is more forgiving in terms of fit issues. Not so. The skirt came out so poorly that I didn’t even make an attempt to try and re-draft it to work for myself, and the bodice of this dress was so awful that I had to re-cut it and make a lot of adjustments to make it smaller since it gaped like crazy at the armholes and was just generally gigantic (I already made the smallest size available). LOVE Colette designs and aesthetic, but I just have to learn to let them go.

 

Day 13: Ohhh Lulu Vintage style bra

Day 13: Ohhh Lulu Vintage style bra

Ohhh Lulu’s Lili Bra is a vintage bra pattern that uses wovens cut on the bias instead of stretch fabric, and it was a really fun make, as referenced here. It’s not the perfect bra pattern for me because it has this weird gapping effect in the nipple area (those puckers in the middle of the cups are filled with air, not actual boob) and I am sure I could adjust the pattern a bit to accommodate less space, but I haven’t yet. Still love this bra tho.

Day 14: Minimalist Cardigan

Day 14: Minimalist Cardigan

I call this my ‘Favorite Sweater’ Sweater because I wear it A LOT. It’s like my housecoat. Details for the Minimalist Cardigan are here and I am also in the middle of making one for Claire right now cause she has coveted it ever since I finished it in Vancouver. Moss stitch is so gorgeous, no matter how simple the pattern is.

Day 15: Nettie dress by Closet Case Files and Therapi sweater by Stefanie Japel

Day 15: Nettie dress by Closet Case Files and Therapi sweater by Stefanie Japel

Two makes in one! The sweater is Therapi by Stefani Japel and the dress is the Nettie pattern by Closet Case Files. The sweater took me 1,000 years to make, because, unlike the Minimalist cardigan, it actually is the size of a house robe, and it’s almost completely in Waffle Stitch, which isn’t very complicated, but it takes way more time than say, stockinette stitch. The dress is a body con dress that took me a little time to get right, only because knits are all so different and some have more stretch and others have less. This dress was at the beginning of my foray into learning more about knits, and this was the second version I made after the first one came out beautifully but encased my torso like a sausage because it was too tight due to the ponte fabric I chose. This black knit with the elephants adorning it is a 4 way stretch with a bit more give than ponte and came out so great… except the fabric started fading immediately after I pre-washed it.

 

Day 16: Pin-up Sweater from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Day 16: Pin-up Sweater from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Another Pin-up sweater by Gertie, in this really terrific crocheted stretch fabric that reminds me of everything awesome about Grandmas, cause up close the fabric looks like a huge doily.

Day 17: 40's Style Sleevelss Blouse and Pencil Skirt from Gertie's Book for Better Sewing and Gertie Sews Vintage Casual and Gertie

Day 17: 40’s Style Sleevelss Blouse and Pencil Skirt from Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing and Gertie Sews Vintage Casual and Gertie

Another two-fer: Pencil skirt by Gertie (from her first book Gertie’s Book For Better Sewing) and 40’s Style Blouse from her second book, Gertie Sews Vintage Casual. Used a stretch woven for the skirt which was an excellent choice- gives hold and shape without feeling like I can’t breathe. I made this skirt years ago so I don’t remember the details but I am pretty sure it was a straight make that didn’t require any adjustments, which kind of blew my mind- it was the first time I wore a pencil skirt that actually fit my body and didn’t pucker, gape and wrinkle all over the hips.

Day 18: Watson Long-line Bra by Cloth Habit

Day 18: Watson Long-line Bra by Cloth Habit

Cloth Habit’s long line Watson bra which I have given so much praise in this blog post.

Day 19: Harem Jumper (pattern by me)

Day 19: Harem Jumper (pattern by me)

I made this pattern which I based off of a Rachel Roy jumpsuit that I own and love to wear. The jumpsuit is made of a silky rayon material and is clearly meant for fancy occasions- I’ve worn it to a red carpet event and a couple of performances. I love the shape so much that I wanted to recreate it using a more wearable material. I bought some ponte knit fabric and, with some rough eyeballing and rougher measuring, I drew out a pattern for it and cut it out. It’s got a slightly different bodice than the original, and I added straps to this one to make sure it was more secure. My biggest obstacle was inserting the zipper onto a stretchy fabric, which I had never done before (with good reason). When closed, the zipper bunched and zigzagged, but I read online that using a stabilizer underneath the zipper tape would help, and it worked like a charm. I am dying to make this again in a 4 way stretch knit.

 

Day 20: Vintage High Waist Shorts

Day 20: Vintage High Waist Shorts

These shorts are the second pair I have made from  vintage shorts pattern Simplicity 7688. The first pair, which I am actually wearing as I type this, are made of a mint green linen and they are on the verge of falling apart because I didn’t know that I needed to finish the edges of this type of fabric  with either a serger or bias tape. As a result, the edges have frayed to the stitched seam lines in some places. I have tried repeatedly to save them with patches places on the inside of the shorts, bias tape to encase the raw edges, and double lines of stitching. They aren’t long for this world but I can’t bear to let them go because they are my favorite! This paisley pair is a close second, but the brushed cotton bags out a bit after wearing them too many times between washings.

Day 21: Vintage romper pattern

Day 21: Vintage romper pattern

This is a second version of the 80’s romper in the African Wax Print fabric, but I used a different type of material for this project and I hacked the strap and neckline-edging from a different pattern, so the end result looks (and feels) super different. I made a belt for this one, too, and the look just seems little more pulled together and fancy than the other one, which I wear more casually. You can’t tell, but the fabric is printed with flocks of birds all over it.

Day 22: Hannah dress by Schnittchen

Day 22: Hannah dress by Schnittchen

Hannah dress by Schnittchen, seen here!

Day 23: Vogue Vintage re-issue

Day 23: Vogue Vintage re-issue

Ohhh, how I absolutely LOVE wearing this dress! It’s stunning! Simplicity 1777, 1940’s Retro reprint, and truly unique in it’s bib detailing coupled with this amazing rayon challis I found on fabric.com. It’s one of my favorite pieces to dress up in.

Day 24: Vogue Maxi dress

Day 24: Vogue Maxi dress

Vogue 8827, as blogged about here.

Day 25: Vogue culottes jumper

Day 25: Vogue culottes jumper

I have been meaning to finish my post on this garment for so long-it’s  queued up and written and everything, just waiting to take some nice pics to accompany it. Anyways, I call it my JNCO’s Birthday Jumpsuit, but in actuality it’s a culottes romper, which required a fair amount of adjusting to make work for me. It’s made out of a double gauze by a company called Cotton & Steele, who has really gorgeous fabrics drawn by a team of super talented women artists, and I love love love this outfit and I need to make it again (and probably again). When I redrafted everything, I forgot to fix the pockets and make them longer to meet the new higher waistline, so they are SUPER short and everytime I put my hands in them I want to laugh and cry at the same time.

Day 26: Ginger Jeans (again) and Knit Sweetheart Top

Day 26: Ginger Jeans (again) and Knit Sweetheart Top

Ginger Jeans again! This time paired with a Knit Sweetheart Top by Gertie, adorned with a million mustaches. (This is a faux action shot, btw, which I feel like I must declare before I start getting comments from people warning me that I am using my power tools incorrectly).

Day 27: Carolyn Pajama bottoms by Closet Case Files

Day 27: Carolyn Pajama bottoms by Closet Case Files

Carolyn Pajamas (sans top) by Closet Case Files.  Easy make with lovely little details. I made mine out of rayon challis and after a few washings they started to look like worn bedsheets, in a GOOD way.

Day 28: Cap Sleeve Lattice Top by Purl Soho

Day 28: Cap Sleev Lattice Top by Purl Soho

This is the first sweater I ever knitted in California territory. Details here!

Day 29: Vogue dress

Day 29: Vogue dress

And this is the first dress that I ever made for myself after I learned how to sew in my Costume Design class in college. I have no idea what the pattern was (I think it might have been Vogue?), but it was such a success that it inspired me to keep going, even though I took a significant break from sewing after I moved to NYC. It fit great (still does) and was made out of a linen from JoAnn’s Fabrics which has held up surprisingly well over the past 14 years.

 

Day 30: Marianne Dress by Christine Haynes

Day 30: Marianne Dress by Christine Haynes

I hurried to finish this dress up in time to attend Autostraddle camp this year. It’s the Marianne Dress by Christine Haynes and it’s a very simple make made with knit fabric that includes a really cute sleeve detail on the cuff of the sleeve.

Day 31: fingerknitted necklace (no pattern, just fingerknitted!)

Day 31: fingerknitted necklace (no pattern, just fingerknitted!)

I MA(Y)DE IT! 31 Days!!!! Here I am wearing my vintage shorts pattern again from a previous day with the addition of my fingerknitted neck accoutrement! Fingerknittin’ Good is one of the craft classes I taught at camp and it was a big success! It’s easy to learn and easy to do if you have fairly good use of the fingers on your hands. It doesn’t require any materials or tools other than the yarn, and when you use a bulky skein, you can create something beautiful in a short amount of time. Fingerknitting doesn’t require a pattern or anything, just the actual activity of repeating the steps over and over again, and there are plenty of tutorials on the internet that can show you how to do it in no time. This ended up being a fantastic camp activity because even the campers who insisted they were absolutely terrible with their hands were able to create a gorgeous length of fingerknitted rope by the end of the hour.

 

And that’s it- my first memademay is complete! I have to admit that when it was all over I felt equal parts relieved and sad. Halfway through the month it had become exhausting to dress up in something memade every day, only because I don’t have a regular job to go to every morning. So unless I have an event or an audition or am meeting up with friends, I just putter around my craft room all day making stuff til Claire gets home from work, and hanging out in my craft room doesn’t require me to wear anything special. My wardrobe for most days (after I run or do yoga) is whatever is clean and at the top of my drawer, which usually ends up being a pair of shorts and a t shirt, or a breezy house dress if it’s hot outside, and I usually wear that for a few days in a row til it’s time to put it in the laundry bin. For much of May, I missed the ease of throwing on whatever clothes were laying around. But on June 1st, I realized I had become so accustomed to being thoughtful about what I was going to wear that I felt like something was missing. No more “Hey Claire- will you take my MeMade picture?” No more triple-sharing photos to instagram and tumblr and facebook. No more recalling little details about what I was doing and how I was feeling when I made the garment. Of course I will still share my new makes when they are finished, but the exciting part of committing myself to a month-long project will be absent…til next year at least. Thanks to everyone who offered encouraging words of support during the month, and thanks to all the other bloggers and sewers who participated by sharing their own makes. Y’all are so inspiring and I look forward to every single new project you create!

Shoe Makery

Around Christmas time last year I was deep in the rabbit hole of sewing blogs and reading the personal musings of strangers ad nauseam when I stumbled across a post about DIY shoe making. I don’t remember the name of the girl or her blog, but I did make sure to pin all the information she shared. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of making my own shoes, and more than a little shocked- I didn’t think that cobbling shoes would have ever evolved (or devolved, depending on where you stand on the subject) into something a person could do on their own without major machinery and decades of experience under their belts. I was so excited about the prospect that my heart started to race fast and I couldn’t google search fast enough! For something I had never before even conceived as a reality, there sure was a fair amount of information about it on the internets. There are so many schools of thought regarding the best ways to DIY your own shoes, and the finished projects run the gamut from super simplistic felted slippers to high heeled shoes with leather soles and buckles. I am still weeding my way through all the information I am finding, and hopefully I will get to a place where I can keep the ideas and techniques that work for what I want to create and discard all the other stuff, melding a bunch of steps from different schools of thought into a method that works best for me. That sounds really optimistic and I realize that I may never have the chance to see this through, but the process has proven to be SUPER fun and challenging so far.

The first avenue I went down on the road to shoe-making was to buy this book by Mary Wales Loomis, which I had learned about in that blog I stumbled upon. Mary Wales Loomis is an entrepreneur who published Make Your Own Shoes, a book about the technique she developed for building her own shoes after she essentially took one of her favorite shoes apart to see how it was made and then replicated it using inexpensive and found materials. Her story is incredibly inspiring because she never took “no” for an answer (the art of cobbling seems to have a lot of gatekeepers in place to ensure that no one ever gets the idea that shoemaking can be done for FUN and CHEAPLY), and she researched and asked professionals and experimented on her own for a long time until she was finally able to successfully make her first wearable pair of shoes. I am about mid-way through my first pair of shoes using the steps in her book, and I also made a pair of lasts per her instructions.

vintage shoes from Goodwill filled with plaster of paris.

vintage shoes from Goodwill filled with plaster of paris.

For those unfamiliar, lasts are molds that mimic the general shape and curves of a foot, and you build your shoe around it. They are made either out of wood or durable plastic, and you need a different last for each of your feet. Lasts also differ for size, heel height and each toe shape (like oval, square, pointy or round). If you know where to look, you can buy affordable vintage lasts online or new ones from specialty shoe component stores, but you can also make them out of an old pair of shoes and plaster of paris, which is how I made my first pair. The con of making your own lasts is that you can’t bend or fold the last once your components are put together on it, so you have to use different steps when molding the shoe upper and attaching the insole. The pro is that they are super cheap to make and you can cater them to your own specific needs, like if you have a bunion or one foot that is a different size than the other, or extremely narrow feet.

 

The other direction I went down in my quest to learn to make shoes was to seek out ready-made shoe kits with all the components necessary to make a pair of shoes. This is where I discovered a company called I Can Make Shoes based out of London that offers classes in addition to their kits to give you hands-on training in making shoes. Although the idea of the kit is innovative and oh-so tempting, I opted to hold off on buying one to do a little more researching on my own instead- for a little more than the price of a kit, I could spend money on tools and components and have enough material to make a FEW pairs of shoes instead of just one. I Can Make Shoes also offers PDFs for purchase on shoe design and shoe making, so I might just buy some of that material to add to my ever expanding pile of research.

After finding the I Can Make Shoes brand, I discovered yet another make-your-own-shoes organization called Prescott & Mackay, also based out of London, that offered 1 day, 2 day, and 5 day courses in everything from leather bags to high heeled shoes to sandals to accessories. I was really interested in this company because I saw that a couple times a year they offered a course in Berkley, CA, and traveling up to the Bay area seemed a lot easier than flying to London for a week. The next course they were offering in the states was for a 5 day heel making class in Berkley that was to take place in the middle of April, which was already turning out to be a busy month for me; I decided I couldn’t make it happen then and would instead try and sign up for the class they would be offering in the Fall. But lo and behold, a few days later I received a newsletter from P&M saying they were offering their first ever course in Los Angeles, a 1 day sandal making class, and it happened to be on a day when I was free. It seemed too serendipitous to pass up.

 

Shoe components

Shoe components

The class was taught by Melissa of P&M who was very knowledgeable and efficient in her teaching skills, and just generally a lovely person to learn from. She was able to rent the space of a furniture store in Mid-City to hold the class, and myself and four other women all sat at a big table with all the tools and components necessary for the sandals placed in front of us and got to learn the basics of shoe making together. The mood was lively and easy-going, but 8 hours to make a pair of sandals from scratch is hardly enough time if you have never done it before (some of us had more experience than others). I appreciated the “1 day” aspect of the course, but it was really only enough time to physically make the shoes- we could have used a few more hours to talk about design, functionality and wear-ability of our sandals. The other unfortunate thing about our class was that there were no machines to sew straps or tidy up leather edges or press our soles on, since it was a pop-up class in an environment that didn’t have the conveniences of their London school. So we were a bit limited in what we could do with our shoes. But this is in no way a complaint- I was very happy with the course, I learned a ton from Melissa and from the other people in the class, and it was a perfect companion to Loomis’ Make Your Own Shoes book, which I had already read cover to cover.

paper lining pattern + leather lining (pigskin)

paper lining pattern + leather lining (pigskin)

this insole is made special for sandals so that you can place the straps in the little nooks on the bottom.

this insole is made special for sandals so that you can place the straps in the little nooks on the bottom. here the insole is nailed to the bottom of the last to keep it steady.

fitting the leather onto the insole by clipping curves, just like in sewing!

fitting the leather onto the insole by clipping curves, just like in sewing!

finished leather insoles.

finished leather insoles.

I learned a few really key things in the P&M class that have me very excited to continue the process of DIY shoe making. The first is this: leather is, from my vantage point, the most ideal material to make shoes from, and I am very excited to learn more about leather crafting. I bought myself a couple of introductory books into leather making last year, the most useful of which is called The Leatherworking Handbook, which gives a very detailed overview of the different types of leather, what you can make with it, and how to work with it and sew it. Having a better understanding of leather and how to manipulate it is going to aid me a lot in being able to make the kinds of shoes that I envision in my head, and I never realized this before. When I first started making shoes from the steps provided in Make Your Own Shoes, I tried to start with plain fabric material since I was just learning. Regular fabric is definitely a fine material to use, but it requires so much to make it sturdy and pliable- using a good leather of the proper weight takes less work, less material, and creates beautiful results. Becoming more knowledgeable about leather crafting will make this book more helpful to me, too (I am dying to make a pair of cute Mary Janes using the guidelines from this document).

very pretty but barely wearable.

very pretty but barely wearable.

Another thing that I learned in class was that you must be as thoughtful about the design of your shoe as you are about the process of making it. As I wrote earlier, our class did not allow us much time to contemplate the blueprint of what we were creating, which makes perfect sense given the constraints of the course. In my head I was intending to make a wedge sandal with leather straps across the top of the shoe and a leather back that had straps or a buckle to tie around the ankle. By the time I was ready to plan out how the back of my shoe would look, we had already moved on to the next phase of gluing our shoe pieces together, which required some time limitations, so if I wanted to have a completed shoe by the end of the class, I needed to alter my design, sans shoe back. My last minute decision was to add some skinnier straps to criss-cross over the shoe from the inner toe edge to the opposite heel edge, which looked  pretty, but I knew it wasn’t going to be sturdy enough to keep the shoe on the foot, and I was totally right. At the end of class when our shoes had all been glued together, I tried mine on, and as soon as I took a step in it it just kind of slid around and then OFF of my foot; in addition to inefficient strap placement, the last that I used to make my shoes was also one size too big, so that didn’t do anything to help them stay on my feet. If I had had enough time (and the equipment necessary) to make a back to the shoes, they might have actually been wearable, but I wasn’t too disappointed- I learned a lot and I definitely feel more confident in making more sandals for the future, and that’s really all I wanted from the course. By listening to the other ladies in class chat, I also learned of the best place in LA to get beautiful, affordable leather (it’s called SAVE MOR and it’s incredible!) and I learned of some new sources to buy shoe components and lasts- I am keeping my eyes out for a flat ladies last with a slightly rounded toe in my size- if you find one, holler at me.

top view looks cute as long as I am stationary.

top view looks cute as long as I am stationary.

 

side view- you can see the I didn't do a great job with gluing the soles to the bottom, but there wasn't enough time in class to re-glue, and I already knew they weren't going to function so I didn't want to waste my time.

side view- you can see that I didn’t do a great job with gluing the soles to the bottom, but there wasn’t enough time in class to re-glue and re-attach, and I already knew the shoes weren’t going to function so I didn’t want to waste my time.

Maxi to Midi

photo 1After the success of the maxi I made from McCalls 7121 (as blogged about in this post), I knew I needed to make this again in a print that was a little more summery and more casual looking, and with a few alterations that would make this a perfect summer dress. WHOA DOGGIE, this make did NOT disappoint! I made this dress, start to finish, in 3 hours and 15 minutes last Sunday afternoon. I feel like I have been unwittingly training for a speed sewing competition (where I am the only competitor), getting faster and faster at simple projects. I love it because, unlike when I am intentionally trying to sew something up quickly, I am not rushing and making silly mistakes. Instead, I am getting more proficient at tasks through lots of practice, and therefore completing things more quickly. THIS IS AN AWESOME THING TO ME.

photo 4

Anyways, here are the changes I made from the first version of this make:

  • altered the bodice pattern to trim the extra room off the original fit
  • gave it a curved neckline instead of angled
  • cut the front bodice on the fold instead of in two separate pieces
  • made a lining out of the same material so that I could wear the dress without a bra (the double material in the bodice gives it a bit more support and a lot more opaque-ness)
  • cut the skirt pieces with more flare and a few more inches of width at the bottom of the skirt, and I also cut it out for midi-length. I NEVER wear midi-length skirts or dresses cause I have always been convinced that they were unflattering on my short frame, so I am trying to get over it. And so far I am loving the length!
  • lastly, I made a little tie-belt to go with this dress like I did for the last one, cause I just love belts that are made out of the garment material.photo 2

I saw the fabric on girlcharlee.com and was immediately in love- I love the mint green in it (it’s my favorite color to wear) and I love the summery flowers and that it has a kind of faded, gray look to it. But mostly I love the drape of the fabric- it’s lightweight and perfect for hot summers, and it doesn’t feel too heavy or full at the midi-length. I am already imagining whipping this dress up again in another summery knit fabric, because, like the Schnittchen Hannah, I am nervous I am going to wear it out before long. But isn’t that the sign of a great garment, one that you wear so much it comes apart at the seams and you keep fixing it over and over again to keep it wearable? If even HALF of my makes get this kind of wear, I will be way ahead of the curve.

(Please forgive the dark photos- I took pics with my phone instead of making Claire put on her photographer pants!)