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The White Kiki Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, so back to the wedding…

you can’t take me anywhere.

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

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

Pink Heels

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wearing

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

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Happy shoe-wearing, friends!

Red leather, yellow leather SHOES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Cutting the inner sole shapes out of foamboard.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Some additional resources for you to check out:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.