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Dawn Jeans, Zebra Shirt, Gold Heels

There are three separate makes in this post so this is gonna be a BLOOOONG one (I’m coining this term and I hope it really takes off lol).

First up are the Dawn jeans by Megan Nielsen, a pattern filling the holes of many jeans-loving sewists the world over. I must admit, when I first saw the release of this pattern I wasn’t super impressed, but I think it was because the styling of the jeans in the photos left a lot to be desired. The denim in some of the views looks pretty lightweight and of a questionable quality (that may not be true at all, just my perception) and the photoshoot in general just looked kind of bland. It was hard to pay attention to the style lines and design of the jeans when I couldn’t get past the fact that the overall look wasn’t very enticing. This is a skill I am still working on, ignoring the photos/illustrations on a pattern envelope and focusing on the line drawings on a pattern instead. Not every pattern designer has the same style as me, and that’s okay! Now that I have completed the jeans myself, I think it’s a pretty terrific pattern, despite how they were marketed by the photos. But it makes me wonder how many other patterns I have passed by because the styling/fabric choice/print/fit didn’t draw me in.

I’ve seen the Dawn jeans described as Mom jeans which is why I initially decided to give them a shot (I love a good Mom jean!), but I think they are a little more fitted and modern than my personal definition of the Mom jeans look. I made my own pair of mom jeans a few years ago by mashing the Closet Case Gingers (high waist skinny jeans made with stretch denim) with the Morgans (loose-fitting, low rise jeans made with non stretch denim) to great effect. The waist of my mash-up is high with a slightly loose fit in the thighs and calves, and they are made with a bleached woven denim. They bag out after a few hours of wear but are comfortable as all get out- I could probably wear those things to bed. The Dawns have a much tighter silhouette in the butt, hips and thighs and fit almost like skinny jeans but without the stretch factor, so they have to be very closely fitted to your body. I was really excited to make these after reading some reviews by other sewists who said they were drafted well and designed for a small waist to larger hip ratio. I wanted to see how they compared to Anna Allen’s Phillipa pants that took the sewing community by storm a little while after the Dawn jeans were released (I made and blogged about the Phillipa pants here– I really like them but they don’t give me the super fitted silhouette that I was hoping for, and they bag out in the butt pretty quickly which is a pet peeve of mine).

As for the instructions, I can attest that they were clear and concise- all of the Megan Nielsen patterns I have made have been easy to follow and understand, even for complicated techniques like zip flies, but, perhaps because I was unfamiliar with the details of her technique, I had a couple of mess-ups. The biggest mistake I made was adding a pocket stay to the design but forgetting to baste them to the fly openings before starting my zip fly construction. I didn’t have to deconstruct the entire fly to attach the stay but I did have to do a fair amount of seam ripping to make sure the pocket stay was solidly attached to either side of the zip. I elongated the zip fly about an inch but I could have lengthened it even more- it’s a bit better now that I am breaking the denim in and it’s softening up, but when I first wore them I had so much trouble getting the small waist over my big butt (as always, I graded up in the hips which makes it harder to pull them on) that I actually broke the zipper my third time wearing them!

(Full disclosure: I wore these to a photo/video shoot for LOGO celebrating LGBTQ artists and activists for this year’s Pride, and while in the dressing room, I got to meet some of the other people being photographed. Two gorgeous women I met went on and on and on about how amazing my jeans were and how great the fit was and when I told them I made them myself, they about lost their minds. They were so kind and complimentary and I was on cloud 9 because I knew and loved their work already and felt so special to have their attention! I excused myself to run to the bathroom real quick, but in the process of pulling my pants back up, I broke my zipper! I then had to come back into the dressing room to grab my stuff, surreptitiously trying to hide my open fly from the women after I had just bragged about how I made my jeans myself. Of course one of the women clocked the open fly and discreetly let me know I needed to zip up because she didn’t want me walking around with my crotch exposed, to which I thanked her and proceeded to pretend to zip my fly– which of course couldn’t actually close. I then placed my garment bag in front of my body to hide my crotch and I hightailed it the hell out of there so that my making skills wouldn’t be exposed as fraudulent! Hahahaha! The next day I took the jeans to my dry cleaners and had them replace the zip for me because I hate doing that myself and now they are as good as new!)

Okay, back to construction. I sewed my regular size but made sure to have them fit very tightly at the trying-on stage so that they would retain their shape after wear. There is a very fine line here of getting super-fitted woven jeans just right- of course if you make them too tight, they won’t give at all and will just cut into your stomach and feel uncomfortable whenever you wear them, but if you don’t make them tight enough, the woven fibers will loosen up after being stretched out from wear and body heat, and you won’t be able to enjoy a nice, close fit without having to wash them between each wear. I really wanted to make these jeans in a raw denim and not have to wash them over and over again (even my Phillipa pants could stand to be a little tighter) so I erred on the side of too tight, hoping and praying that they would mold to my body with very few washings. I honestly can’t tell how successful I was at this part- there are times when I put the jeans on and they feel so tight that I am worried I wont be able to sit inside of my car and drive comfortably, and other times when they slide on perfectly and feel just the right amount of snug but not uncomfortable at all. This is just how people’s bodies fluctuate from day-to-day and I’m not gonna stress about it because overall I really love how they look and feel, but I also could make a few changes to my next pair to help them feel like they fit more consistently.

Another mistake I made with these jeans was with the back yoke. I had intended to try out a swayback adjustment for the first time (I’ve never done this with jeans before) and I have a theory that it will help with the bunching up of my jeans. When I make high waisted jeans in a woven fabric, they have a tendency to bag out at the yoke right underneath the waistband as opposed to bagging out at the bottom of the butt or in the thighs. It’s hard to explain, but basically after wearing them for a while, a little fold forms underneath the waistband/ at the top of my butt and I think that taking out some of the length in this area will make the pants sit properly and lay over the curve of my waist without bunching, but I either forget to adjust the yoke pattern piece on each new pair of jeans I make, or I adjust them in the wrong way and get frustrated and then just use the regular yoke pattern piece as designed. One of these days I am gonna get it right, and I hope it’s with this pattern because I really want to make another pair in a railroad denim.

The denim I used for this pair is from Blackbird Fabrics, and it was lovely to work with. It’s rugged but not too heavy, strong but not so stiff it feels uncomfortable, and it’s got a subtle yellow-ish run of threads in it that gives it an antiqued look. I wanted to keep the wash as intact as possible so I opted to keep them relatively raw- before construction, I soaked the denim in a cold bath, let it hang dry, and I haven’t laundered them at all yet- I’m hoping I won’t have to for quite a long time. Only issue with this is that I decided to leave the leg hems raw, wanting regular wear and tear to shred the exposed fibers at the bottom, but that takes a long time when you aren’t washing, agitating and drying your garment. Oops! Hahaha, I know I could distress the hems in other ways but I don’t want to- I will let them age in their own time.

Another design element I added to this make was using the selvedge of the denim for the coin pockets and belt loops. I’m not normally an exposed denim fringe kind of person but I liked the coloring of the material so much that I wanted to show it off where I could. The effect is very subtle but I love it, and seeing the feathered edges on these jeans makes me smile every time I reach for them in my closet.

The last issue I had with these jeans that I would change for next time would be to adjust the curved waistband even more. I usually use my self drafted curved waistband when making any kind of non-elastic waist pants but decided to trust the waistband that came with this design instead. I should have compared it to my own drafted waistband as I ended up needing something with a deeper curve. I didn’t notice the issue when I fit them on at the basting stage, but once the garment had been fully constructed and I tried them back on, I realized they were gaping a lot at the waist in a way that was gonna drive me nuts. Instead of taking them apart I just unpicked my waistband and put a dart in the yoke and the waistband on either side of the center back seam (a seam I added so that I could easily let it out if I ever needed to have more room in them). I personally can’t stand darts in jeans but it’s the only way to salvage them sometimes, and they aren’t super visible so I will live!)

Overall, I would say that I prefer these jeans to the Phillipa pants in terms of fit, although both patterns are really terrific. The Phillipa pants are so unique because they don’t have a side seam and they are pretty quick to construct since they don’t have all the bells and whistles of a traditional jeans pattern (yoke, front pockets, miles and miles of top stitching, etc), but that also makes it more difficult to get a really close fit on a curvy body. The outer side seams are pretty much straight down the grain on the Phillipas, which is cool because you can show off selvedge denim with them, but to me, they don’t look as great on ny body that doesn’t also go straight down at the sides (I had to re-draft the side seams of my Phillipas when I made them because they kind of looked like clown pants on me at first). I’m including this little comparison because so many people wrote asking how I thought these patterns compared to one another since they had a similar silhouette- I’m team Dawn for this specific look, but I am sure I will make the Phillipas and of course the Persephones again!

Okay, onto my shirt now! It’s from a vintage Simplicity pattern (6531) that my friend Sean sent me from upstate NY. He works at a store that sells vintage/antique/secondhand items and he told me there was a big box of patterns that he wished I could rifle through if I lived closer. Instead, I told him my sizes and he went through the bins and chose everything that would fit me and that he determined was a good style (I don’t know if he normally pays attention to fashion or women’s clothing but he had great taste in vintage sewing patterns)! This one immediately stood out to me. I loved it’s 80’s feel and ease of wear, it looked comfortable and cool and it had some really lovely details that felt unique but not dated.

Image result for butterick 6531

I made up View C in a gorgeous zebra print silk from The Fabric Store and I love this marriage of fabric and pattern! The silk is lightweight like a voile but the colors are incredibly vibrant- I fell in love with it when The Fabric Store first carried it months ago but they ran out quickly. Luckily they got more in stock! The pattern was super easy to sew up although I somehow sewed the pleats down incorrectly (they are supposed to face the opposite directions on each side but by the time I noticed I had already sewn my French seams and didn’t want to risk fraying the raw edges in the process of re-sewing them). The end result looks like such a Dad shirt to me now, in a good way! Dad shirt + Mom jeans, what a pair! I love how the fit is loose but I don’t feel like it swallows me up. The drafting is pretty excellent for my frame, not too long or boxy, and again, the pleats at the shoulders offer enough detail that it feels like a notch up from a regular button down. It’s a really cool, dynamic looking shirt with this print, but I’m excited to make this in some neutrals, too- I already have plans to make the sleeveless one in a beautiful black and white striped linen in my stash from The Fabric Store.

Lastly, my shoes! These gold strappy shoes have been almost finished for months, but they sat gathering dust in my craft room after I realized I had made a mistake with them and I wasn’t sure how to correct it. When I took these shoes to get heel taps from my local shoe repair guy (his name is George, he is an Armenian immigrant, he’s sweet and funny and has been generously offering me lots of shoemaking tips, but if you follow my IG you know there was a whole thing that happened recently that kind of disrupted our relationship…), he showed me that I had miscalculated the height of my heel and that it was too tall for the last I used. I had not realized it, but the toe kick was non existent and the bottom of the shoe and bottom of the heel just didn’t match up. He told me the heels needed to be shorter but I wasn’t sure how to chop them off. For some reason I kept thinking that I needed to use a saw to fix them, and I just didn’t have one that could be used safely for this specific project (I have a jigsaw, mitre and circular). So they sat on the windowsill of my craft room for months until I was struck by a brilliant idea- I could just sand those heels down with my belt sander!

I had forgotten that these block heels were made of wood, not plastic with a steel bar inside of them (which would have made sanding with the sander impossible), and it took me all of like 5 minutes to shave about 3/8″ of the heel off. I took them back to George, he gave them his approval, and then he put the heel taps on them. Here is what he suggested I do for my shoes next time: he hates that I don’t sew my straps! He says that the heat from your foot can release the bond of the glue on the edges and the leather of the straps can come apart from the lining, so sewing the straps together is the smartest way to ensure a long life of the shoes. I sewed the side straps to the center piece of the upper but didn’t sew the individual straps together because I didn’t think I had a nylon thread color that looked great, but next time I will make that a priority.

These shoes are very comfortable and I love the way they look, although I realize I could have made the back strap tighter to the last during construction, and I am not crazy about the ankle strap design. I think they should come up higher on the ankle but honestly I was too lazy to keep figuring out the design by the time I put the straps on because it had already been months since I started making them and I just wanted them to be finished already! Laziness is not my favorite quality, but I consider it part of the learning process, hahaha!

Thanks as always to Claire who took these cute pics, thanks to The Fabric Store for the gorgeous textiles and the opportunity to share them with the sewing community, and thanks to George who has given me so much information about shoemaking in such a short period of time.

 

The Eponine Dress and Furry Heels

I call it The Eponine Dress for reasons that are obvious if you are familiar at all with Les Miz- Eponine’s character is beautiful, sad, and tragic, having faced more hardships than any one young woman ever should, pining after a lost love while surviving on the streets of Paris during the French Revolution (well, sort of…the show is entirely historically inaccurate but that’s not what we are debating here, I’m just painting a picture…a picture of Eponine, beautiful, sad and tragic!)

Image result for vogue paris original 2352 nina ricci

I bought this vintage Vogue #2352 by Ninna Ricci on Etsy several years ago when I first learned about the glory of Vogue Paris Originals, and I was drawn to this particular design because it reminded me of the ladies on the tv show Designing Women- broad shouldered, bossy, and feminine. I loved the silhouette of the collar, sleeves and bodice and the intricate detailing of the pleats on the front and back of the dress, but I had no idea what fabric I would make it in or when I would get around to trying it out. Earlier this year I very randomly packed it into my sewing suitcase for #sewnawayfromhome, but I still I had no idea what the hell I was gonna make it in. To be honest, I didn’t think I would even have enough time to even get to it on my trip- I had packed two other patterns with me and would only be out of town for about a week and a half, so the chances of me cracking it open were slim.

But lo and behold, I blew through my first two patterns (this piece and this piece) is quick succession and with a few days to spare. Because of fabric restraints, I wasn’t able to use the leopard print tencel twill with this VPO pattern (I used it for the DKNY pattern I linked above instead), but I did have a couple of wide yards of this olive green slubby linen viscose fabric I bought at Dress Sew while in town. Since that was literally the only fabric I had on hand, I just went with it. I was drawn to the admittedly drab looking fabric because I loved the texture (soft, but nubbly) and I don’t come across this type of linen very often. The color was subtle and not very exciting, but I knew it would look great on my skin tone.

Because the fabric is so soft and pillowy, it’s not exactly a great fit for the detailing of this pattern- linen doesn’t iron super crisply and as you can see, a significant portion of the bodice is made up of very precise pleats. Well, they are supposed to be precise. Mine are anything but, and this section of construction had smoke floating out of my ears cause I was so frustrated. I wish I had taken pictures of the pattern pieces for this garment- they were bananas- not easily identifiable pattern pieces at all, which honestly is one of the reasons I love VPOs so much- the patterns are so unique that the methods and pattern pieces can be super untraditional and challenging to put together, but it pays off because there are so few other designs out like it. There was not a traditional bodice for this pattern, it was effectually a large rectangle labeled as “yoke” with a couple of slices through it that would become the opening for the head and front of the garment at the neckline. The shoulders and sleeves are raglan but put together like no other raglan garment I have ever sewn- now that I am on the other side of it, I can say I loved this process, but while I was in the middle of it I hated every second, lol.

When I started marking and working on the pleats, I realized immediately that it was nearly impossible to keep them from looking sloppy- again, I couldn’t get crisp, clean edges on the folds, so I decided to edgestitch them down to keep them in place, but the lines of stitching looked wobbly because of the slubby texture of the fabric, even though they weren’t- it’s like a trick of the eye! I almost gave up at this point and decided to call it a mistake of right fabric paired with wrong pattern- it was just looking so street urchin-y (apparently a recurring theme in my sewing)! But then…I got indignant. This fabric was  pricey! But even if it wasn’t, I hate wasting fabric! What if I was wrong and the dress wasn’t a loss? What if I could just get over this one hump of figuring out how to make the pleats look decent- would the whole thing look better then? I had another full day in Vancouver at this point in the construction process and nothing better to do with my time so I decided to keep working on it til it was time to go- if I couldn’t successfully save it? Well, at least I could say that I tried!

honestly had no idea how gratuitous my nips were in these pics til I started adding them to the blog post lol

I kept toiling away at the pleats, and maybe they didn’t all look perfectly straight and crisp close up, but by the time I was done, the 3 foot rule applied- you couldn’t see anything askew or horrific looking when you were maintaining my personal space, so I gave myself permission to keep working. Next came attaching the “skirt”, which really isn’t a skirt at all but rather the bottom of the dress, and that gets connected above the bust area, at a seam line hidden under the bottom pleat on both the front and back of the dress. See? So strange! But so effective! It means that there is no visible seam at the waistline or anywhere else on the dress so it looks as if the garment is made of just one piece of fabric, which I think is really cool.

Since I couldn’t figure out how the hell this dress was supposed to come together from the start (reading through directions ahead of time rarely helps me in understanding construction because I am a visual learner and need to see the garment in my hands at each step to comprehend what comes next) I didn’t make many adjustments to the pattern pieces in advance, but I did shorten the sleeves, and thank god I did. The sleeves were also very strangely put together (they weren’t set in the shoulders, but instead attached to the bottom of the yoke) and I could tell by holding them up to my body that they were drafted for a giraffe. Seriously, these things were like 4 inches past my fingertips! I liked the idea of the sleeves being so dramatic and voluminous, but I hate sleeves that get in the way of like, eating or using the bathroom, so I shortened them significantly and the length came out great- they’ve still got that Labyrinthian look to them with all that body and poofiness, but they don’t interrupt me living my life.

 

love all the random but pretty details of this dress! Also I picked out these buttons from memory because I forgot to bring the fabric with me to the button store lol

Once I had finished the funky pleating and constructed all the main parts of the dress, I tried it on to see how it was looking. It was looking…like a massive failure. UGH! So drab! So shapeless! Beautifully big, dramatic sleeves and shoulders that cascaded into a garment that overall actually looked, and I am not  being hyperbolic here, like I was wearing a potato sack. The WORST. But I didn’t feel overwhelmed- I had come too far with this damn thing and I was too close to GOOD to turn back now. I had imagined that I would be able to wear this garment without it being cinched at the waist, as per an image I had saved on Pinterest of a dress very similar in shape to this one, but I quickly realized that this was not the proper silhouette to pull off that look, so I sewed up a belt and belt loops for the dress and tried it on. It was much much, better- having a clearly defined waist made me feel like I was actually wearing the dress instead of drowning inside of it. But I still had the issue of the hem, which was cut straight across, hitting my legs in a place that made them look very short (in real life I’m 5’3″ but in fantasy life my ass is pushing 6 feet!). I decided to take a risk and alter the whole shape of the hem by curving it up at the sides on both the front and back pieces, an idea inspired by the Kalle shirtdress. If it was a disaster, I would have enough room to cut it off straight again, but shorter.

I’m still amazed at how instantaneously the altered hem changed the whole look of the dress- the curve at the bottom makes it feel modern, fun and trendy, while the rest of the dress looks pieced together from different eras of fashion- shoulders from the 80’s, detailed pleat work from the 40’s/50’s…she looks designed by Frankenstein! I actually left off the shoulder pads suggested for use in this dress because the pleating at the shoulders created enough structure on it’s own and they weren’t necessary. As drab as the beginnings of this dress were, I receive lots of compliments every time I wear it- on paper I feel like it shouldn’t work at all, there are too many design elements fighting for space, but somehow all together it totally works, and I don’t have anything else in my closet that evokes the energy that this dress does. I love it!

Now for these cool shoes! This is my second pair of shoes made with this last (my first pair of pointy toed heels with the faux snakeskin leather are here) and they are really terrific! I was inspired by an image on pinterest of a pointy toed heel with some cool straps and I based my design completely on those, but with different upper material.

X21QX Alice + Olivia Davey Lizard-Embossed Pump, Hot Pink

I lined the shoes and the heels with a black sueded pigskin leather, used a faux leopard print “fur” for the toe of the shoe, then used a really cool deep dark gold for the straps. Few people on instagram thought this selection of materials would work and suggested I use black leather for the straps, but I was really drawn to the variety of textures in the gold/black/fur combo and decided to trust my gut- thankfully they came out beautifully! I was worried about lasting the fur over the pointy toe but it was totally forgiving, and the horse hair covers up any imperfections that might be going on underneath. Aside from figuring out the placement of the straps, these shoes came together very easily and the impact is strong- I have never seen a shoe quite like this before! I actually haven’t had a chance to wear these yet outside of the house so I can’t say how comfortable they are after more than 20 minutes of wear, but if they are anything like my snakeskin heels, they will be great- or rather, great if you like wearing heels. They certainly don’t feel like wearing sneakers, but as far as heels go, they are pretty damn comfortable.

Thanks to Claire for the beautiful pictures! When we get our backyard deck and landscaping done sometime in the next 20 years this is gonna be a killer place to take photos, lol!

 

 

 

Purple Backless Dress and Turquoise Animal Print Heels

This little purple number is made from a fav vintage pattern, Butterick 3867, that I first blogged about here a few years ago, but it was inspired by a pinterest image (below) that kept popping up in my feed over the fall. Apparently it’s a look from the upcoming Spring 2019 Madewell line up, and although I don’t follow their brand all that closely, I do love much of what I see from them.

Madewell Spring '16 Is About to Give You a Denim Obsession

As soon as I saw this dress I knew what a dead ringer my vintage Butterick pattern was for it, with only a couple minor adjustments. Although I love my original make of this pattern, I was excited for the chance to redo it; I made the original dress back in the day when my sewing skills were less advanced, so the old dress has a lot of room for improvement. For one thing, my mint green ladybug covered fabric, as pretty as it is, is a cotton voile, which is pretty sheer on it’s own. To make the bodice more opaque, I added a lining to it but I used a silk organza which was the best thing I had on hand at the time. As you might know, silk organza is pretty transparent, and also a bit of a strange pairing for cotton voile- while it successfully beefed up the body of the bodice, it doesn’t really flow well with the voile since the qualities of the two textiles is so different. I also used a white organza which just soaked up my deodorant marks over the years and turned the pits to a sickly green-ish yellow color (my preferred natural deodorants are made with Bentonite clay, which is a MOTHER to get out of light-colored fabric!)

The main adjustment I needed to make to create the Madewell inspired dress was to simply change the angle of the back bodice pieces so that they overlapped at the very top where the neckline is instead of the center. I basically just eyeballed this part and curved the neckline of the back instead of angling it down, then adjusted the bottom of the back bodice lines to meet up with it- everything else I kept the same.

I used a cut of beefy sandwashed rayon that I purchased at Promenade Fabrics on a trip Claire and I took to NOLA last December (SHOUT TO THE GERIATRATRIC CREW!!!!!), and I sewed this entire dress up while shooting in Vancouver this past February, which makes this dress my first #sewnawayfromhome of 2019!

It was a smart project to sew while out of town- I have learned to choose projects that I am familiar with and know will not need a ton of fitting adjustments. Aside from the hacking of the back bodice and creating a lining (the pattern doesn’t call for the dress to be lined at the bodice, but I prefer it that way since it’s basically a backless garment that I don’t want to wear a bra with- lining it gives my babygirls in the front some extra coverage and protection from the cold!), everything else was sewn according to the instructions.

This dress comes with nice, deep pockets, a button closure in the back that goes all the way down the skirt, and a lot of flexibility in terms of fitting- since the gathered skirt is essentially attached separately to the bodice (they only meet at the waistband), it’s easy to make any adjustments necessary at the very end stages of construction.

Again, I still really love my ladybug version, but this purple remix is a real win! It can obviously be dressed down, but I had no idea how chic it would look when paired with heels! I love the body of the fabric- it feels substantial and weighty, but not heavy- in fact, it’s light enough for the skirt to look really full and airy, and the sheen of the fabric in certain light makes the texture look luxurious! And my dress looks even chicer than the one in the inspo pic, if I do say so myself- the Madewell dress has drag lines and scrunching on the back bodice that looks like it either doesn’t fit well around the arms or is just baggy. Jasika 1 Madewell 0.

Now let’s talk about heels!

Inspo shoe:

Check out www.TheStyleBouquet.com #Gucci

I was very excited to get an invite to NYC in early March to take a 3-day shoe making class with the I Can Make Shoes team which is based out of London. I have been shouting them out on IG for a while now because they carry hard to find supplies and have some great free youtube tutorials available on their channel, and although I have been making heels for a while now, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to learn something new and continue elevating my skills…which I totally did! I had actually taken a satellite class of theirs several years ago when they came to LA for a one day sandaled heel making class, but the most recent class I took with them was 10 times better- for one thing it was taught by Amanda, founder of the company, who was super knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and patient with each of her 10 students, and the setup was much more efficient- 3 days gave us plenty of time to design, plan out, and implement our shoe makes, and we got to work at Brooklyn Shoe Space, a really fantastic shoe making studio in Brooklyn that offers classes on bag making, shoe making, and more. There were so many amazing machines to use at BKSS and I only knew what like, 4 of them were for- there were belt sanders and special leather sewing machines among them, but my favorite was the vented table in the basement that sucked all of the toxic fumes from the rubber cement glue out of the room so you could glue your shoes without passing out from the smell- brilliant!

I soaked up all the wisdom that Amanda and her assistants had to offer, and among the most helpful techniques I learned/clarification on was covering the heel! I have always had a lot of trouble getting a nice, clean-looking heel for my shoes out of leather, but I was cutting out the shape all wrong- Amanda showed me a way to cut a vaguely mushroom shape out of the leather and then make Y-cuts (god, I hate Y-cuts!) along the allowance edges to fold them in, then how to cover the front with a leaf and another piece of leather to get everything smooth looking. I even used a really thick suede to cover my heels and I didn’t have to skive down the edges- with her technique, everything laid down beautifully! I also learned how to make a sole that tucks underneath the heel of the shoe as opposed to flowing down the front of the heel. I actually prefer a sole that goes from heel tip to toe because I think it gives a skinny heel a little more stability with memade shoes, but it’s definitely a great technique to use for wider, thicker heels, and I am so excited to recreate them. Oh! And I also learned how to do the quick version of “welting” a shoe! It’s not really welting, of course- it’s actually just using randing as a decorative edge around the sole of the shoe but I have always liked how those looked and I never knew how to do it! I liked it so much that I bought like 4 yards of randing from my fav shoe components place in anticipation of actually learning how to do it, and YAY WOO HOO the time has finally come!

 

As you can tell, I am SUPER inspired to make more shoes with everything I have been learning! At this point I still prefer to stalk cool shoe designs on pinterest and use that as a jumping off point- I don’t have enough skills (or perhaps creativity, lol) to design shoes on my own- I mean, I’ve done it in the past, but they are not always successful. I think a lot of that comes from me wanting to make sure I create something that I am going to love and that will be wearable, and there are a lot of rules to shoe design that I am completely ignorant of. It’s much like sewing, where, for instance, you know that a woven dress will need a certain amount of ease in specific places to be wearable, and that’s just a rule of the craft that you learn early on and carry with you in all your makes. There are similar things in shoe design where, like, you don’t want the back of the shoe upper to come up past a certain point of your leg or it will dig into your ankle when walking, or how you can’t pair heel components with a pair of lasts that don’t match the lasts’ toe spring or it will make you walk funny. It’s cool to be absorbing all this information but it’s mostly through trial and error since I am self-taught, so I am slowly gaining more knowledge through copying other designs and figuring out why certain elements work and how.

BKSS has a huge wall full of stunning leathers to choose from, and although I had a good idea of what I wanted my design to look like, I was completely open to color and texture, and I figured I would wait to see what I was drawn to from the available materials. There are countless times on this blog where I have talked about how I don’t like animal prints, so it was hysterical for me to feel myself reaching for yet another animal-print leather, at the same time realizing that the last THREE pairs of shoes I have made have all been with animal print leather, lol! I couldn’t take my eyes off this blue green roll of amphibian-inspired leather, and I liked that it had so many other colors in it: it was blend of turquoise, and blue and even had a tiny hint of black in there, so, although a bold choice, I felt like it would pair well with a variety of garments.

I chose a deep royal blue suede for my straps and heels, and went with a brighter turquoise leather for the insoles and lining. I used some of my black shoe elastic for the buckle, a material I started incorporating into my shoe making after I completed my snakeskin print heels– elastic helps provide some flexible ease to your straps- if you have any strappy heels/shoes in your closet, take a look at the strap that holds the buckle around the ankle and chances are you will see a small fold of elastic doubled over  to connect the strap and buckle together. Not all flat shoes with straps have it but I have found that the majority of modern RTW heels do. It makes the shoe a bit more comfortable when walking and allows the straps to stretch out a bit instead of clinging fixed and tight to your ankle. My favorite thing about my inspiration shoe was the peep toe because it’s so tiny and isn’t big enough for a whole toe to force its way through (something that happens with me and peep toes a lot since I have a long second toe, argh!), and I think that on my next pair I will make the peep even tinier.

I am super happy with how these shoes came out, and construction and design-wise I wouldn’t do anything differently, although the sewing on one of the ankle straps is pretty atrocious- I blame it on the fact that I was using a new-to-me leather sewing machine that I was in love with, but that definitely required some fierce maneuvering that I just wasn’t skilled enough to master. Because my ankle straps were so thin, it was hard to get the edge of the strap under the needle (this machine didn’t have a bed to rest your material on, just a skinny little raised platform, so for thin straps you have to work hard to keep it from slipping off the machine). I might go back over that area on my home sewing machine if the stitches ever start coming out, but for now, it’s totally unseeable to the naked eye since that area of the strap is covered by the buckle and strap end.

Thanks once again to Claire for these glorious photos, and stay tuned for another exciting installment of my adventures in shoemaking in a future blog post…and yes, they are made of animal print!

 

 

Dotted Named Outfit with Slate Leather Flats

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, so on to the shoes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Pleated Pants in Pink

I have always been quite fearful of sewing pants for myself, which makes very little sense considering I have successfully made nearly a dozen different versions of jeans over the past couple of years. Somehow Closet Case’s Miracle Jeans patterns (here and here) have seemed like a walk in the park compared to starting from scratch with a brand new pattern that has no sew-alongs or hand-holding to accompany it. I’m not scared of the actual construction so much as getting the fit right, and I am sure this fear comes from a lifetime of experience trying to buy RTW pants in commercial stores. I have never, I repeat, NEVER bought RTW pants that fit me perfectly. They have run the spectrum of I can’t believe you’re wearing those out of the house to I guess they look okay if you pull your shirt down over your butt, but never wow, those pants look amazing on you! Either the pockets gape at the sides or they are too tight in the thighs or, most often, the waist is huge while the hips fit snugly, leaving me with a big gap of space between my waistband and my actual body. Doesn’t matter the style- jeans, pleated, flat-front, darted- if they didn’t have an elastic waistband on them then they weren’t going to fit my body very well.

With her patterns, Heather helped me (and hundreds of other people around the world) craft a pair of jeans that fit our bodies beautifully and made us feel and look amazing, but for some reason in my head these successes seemed to only apply to jeans making- I couldn’t imagine those concepts translating to the world of trousers at large. Intellectually I knew this didn’t make sense, so I gave myself a bit of time to work through my fear without adding too much pressure to jump into pants making. I started reading blog posts about people’s journeys making their own pants. I pinned pants patterns that interested me and seemed suitable for my style and shape. And I bought myself a copy of the much heralded Palmer and Pletsch’s Pants for Real People. Some of the material in it is pretty dated, but on the whole the information is reliable and very helpful.

There are a few standout lessons I learned in reading this book which I was able to apply to these pink pleated pants. Number one (and perhaps most important) is tissue fitting. I always side-eyed the tissue fitting concept because I couldn’t comprehend how substituting pattern paper for fabric would translate to anything useful; pattern paper seems too thin, stiff and delicate to temporarily mold to your body. But with tips from the book I was able to get a better understanding of why you tissue fit- it is but one step in the process of creating a pattern that works for your body, and it is super helpful. First of all you are instructed to tape the crotch seams of both the front and back pants pieces to keep the paper strong during the fitting process, which addressed my initial concern about the paper not holding up well to fitting on the body. It is also recommended that you use a length of thin elastic tied around your waistline to keep the paper pattern pieces from falling off and to give you a visual reminder of where your actual waist is in relation to the pattern pieces. You pin the seams of the pattern wrong sides together and then (very very carefully) try them on and make your way to a mirror so you can assess the fit and look. The paper doesn’t necessarily give you a great idea of what your final pants will look like, but it does show you most if not all of the fit issues that the pattern will have, particularly if the waist/thighs/calves/crotch are too big/little, loose/tight, high/low. Once you see where the pattern needs to be adjusted, you make marks on the pattern paper and then add in or take out “fabric” as needed.

Many of these adjustments were familiar to me because I would make them when muslin-ing (or just working directly from my fashion fabric), but making changes on the paper pattern streamlines the process, takes less time than muslin-ing, and keeps you from potentially ruining your fabric. The two most awesome adjustments that I learned about from the book are 1. changing the crotch curve and 2. adjusting the waist height of the pants. Deepening the back crotch curve creates more room in the seat for fuller butts like mine (you can do the opposite if you have a flatter derriere) and WOW what a huge difference it made! I deepened mine by 1/2 inch from the seam allowance and it made for a pant that fit my curves in the back while still giving me plenty of room to walk and sit and bend- they look super fitted but they don’t feel tight at all. Amaaaaazing! Raising the waist of the pants was another impressive fix- it’s a quick and dirty way to keep the pants from sagging or gaping and seems to be a good solution to fixing a swayback as well. Since you have a band of elastic around your waist, it’s easy to see where the paper pattern should be adjusted in relationship to where you want the waistband to be. When I was tissue fitting these pants, the back came up super high on me, several inches past my natural waist, so I was able to cut that chunk out to make them sit better, giving plenty of room for ease and wearability.

After my initial tissue fit, I added more room to the hips, adjusted the width of the legs and calves and adjusted the length of the pieces between the waist and the hip (this created a shorter depth of crotch since mine hung down a little lower than what felt comfortable or looked good) on my paper pattern, then I cut out the new pattern pieces using a black textured fabric that I hoped would be a wearable muslin. Unfortunately, halfway through the process I realized that my fabric was of pretty poor quality and that I would probably never wear them once they were finished, but I didn’t mind- I got some great practice with that first pair and once I saw that the fit was getting closer to what I wanted, I was excited to move on to my pink fabric anyways. I installed my zipper using the Closet Case method she shares in her Jeans Making e-Book, then I basted the pant legs together, tried them on, and made a few more tiny tweaks in the hip and thigh area. After that it was smooth sailing- I just needed to create and attach my waistband and hem the bottoms.

Now the real exciting thing for me here is not that I used the Palmer Pletsch method of making pants, but that I used a BURDA PATTERN TO MAKE THEM. Yep, you read right! (I blame Renee). I have mentioned a dozen times on this blog how much I hate Burda patterns. I love the styles but MY GOD the instructions and construction techniques are just awful- too sparse, sometimes written incorrectly, no line drawings or photos (at least with the online patterns I have purchased) and no additional details on construction techniques whatsoever. When I first started getting into sewing a lot a few years ago, Burda enticed me with all their pretty photos, fashion forward designs, and inexpensive patterns, and I accumulated quite a few of them, even making a couple of dresses that turned out sort of okay, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was NOT the intended demographic for their patterns. With the exception of a few simple designs, their patterns are generally not for beginners who are unfamiliar with how to construct a variety of garments. I remember buying a cargo shorts pattern of theirs a few years ago which essentially began with the words “insert your front fly zipper” and no actual instructions that followed. I was like *#^!)#&%$%?!?!?!?!- aren’t you supposed to tell me how to insert a front fly zipper, Burda??? I looked up instructions online but I was too out of my depth, having never made a zip fly before and getting incredibly confused when the details of my pattern pieces didn’t match up with the tutorials I was finding. Needless to say, I threw that project in the Butthole Bin and hadn’t tried another Burda pattern since.

But when I realized that I wanted to make a pair of trousers for myself using the Palmer Pletsch technique, I had a lot of trouble finding a pattern that matched what I wanted. I was looking for a peg-leg trouser, something high waisted with a loose-ish (but not wide) leg that could be rolled up at the ankle, dressed up or down. I wanted pleats, too, a detail that ladies with curves are not “supposed” to wear since pleats can accentuate areas that you “should” want to hide. But of course, as mentioned in an earlier post, I am moving away from all those “rules” and experimenting with clothing that has aesthetics I am attracted to as opposed to details that I think will “work” for my body (/excessive use of quotations). The Big 4 companies didn’t have what I was looking for and neither did any of my fav indie pattern designers, but I found several pattern contenders when I reluctantly started sorting through the online Burda catalogue. I could vaguely hear Renee’s voice in the back of my head rattling off all the amazing Burda patterns she had successfully made over the years, and I started to gain a little more confidence. It had been years since I had last attempted a Burda pattern and I knew my skills as a sewist had grown a lot since then, but I had also noticed that as a I got more comfortable with the craft, I liked to challenge myself more. So. Maybe it was time to give Burda another chance. I chose the Pleated High Waist Pants 02/2012 #103A, (why do they choose the most confusing way to name/categorize their patterns??) added the damn seam allowance (I shouldn’t hate this as much as I do because I already trace all my pattern pieces- adding seam allowance is really not that big a deal for me…and yet!) and went to work.

This is me demonstrating how comfortable and easy it is for me to do a squat in these pants! I do squats in heels all the time, by the way!

Guys. It wasn’t that bad! I used my trusty Closet Case construction method for inserting my zip fly, adding and subtracting certain details to my liking, then I proceeded as usual for any other pair of jeans using the fitting adjustments described earlier in this post. With a solid foundation on how to construct a pair of pants, I didn’t even need Burda’s measly 7 sentence “instructions”, and maybe that’s how most Burda patterns are intended to be used- you use them with your own basic understanding of how to make the garment and they just supply the drafted pattern pieces. I guess there is reason these patterns are so cheap! I would still prefer to have a regular set of instructions included with my patterns, but I know now that I am capable of working from my own knowledge, and I love that the world of beautiful Burda patterns is now open to me again.

As for the pants, I LOVE them! I realize that I have been saying I love my makes way more consistently now which feels so exciting to me. And it’s true! These pants fit great, they are super comfortable, and I freaking love the gorgeous pink color of the fabric. On my last trip to The Fabric Store, the lovely Sara immediately led me in the direction of this hot pink raw silk when I told her I was looking for a bottom-weight fabric for some trousers. This fabric was a little more lightweight than what I was initially looking for but once I saw it, I obviously couldn’t say no (pink is my favorite color, next to yellow, and next to gray. I have three favorite colors, sue me). It ended up working perfectly with this pattern, and raw silk is probably a smarter fabric to wear in a Los Angeles summer than what I was looking for anyways. This is one of the (many) things about The Fabric Store that I love- everyone in the store is knowledgeable about the fabric and they also have really good taste, so whether you are looking for something specific or needing help narrowing down your options, they can steer you in the right direction. The color of this fabric is as brilliant in person as it is in the photos, it has a spectacular hand (soft with just the right amount of nub) and drape (a lot of body without being stiff) which works really well for this pair of pattern.

I didn’t use the waistband pieces of the Burda pattern, mostly because they made absolutely no sense to me- I couldn’t tell where they connected to each other and which piece was supposed to be cut on the fold. Instead I decided to use my waistband from the Ginger Jeans pattern, which was already curved and adjusted to fit my waist perfectly; I shaved off a little of the width and it worked like a dream on these pants. I played around with the idea of adding belt loops but eventually nixed that idea because I wasn’t sure if I would actually wear a belt with them. After wearing them once I can say that a belt is totally unnecessary and I am so glad I didn’t do the extra work of adding them, cause sometimes I am just lazy.

brushing my shoulders off, obvs.

Now that I have successfully made a pair of pants using a fitting technique I had never tried before and a pattern company that I historically hate, I am feeling kind of unstoppable, like I need to make ALL the pants! I already have a project in mind for my next pair- I want them to be a high waisted wide leg pant in another fun color, like yellow or robin’s egg blue. I wish I had some of this raw silk in every color because it would work for SO many projects, and I can only imagine how beautifully it would sew up into a dress. But let me slow down and take it one cut of fabric at a time…I already have two #recarpetDIY projects on the horizon in addition to one of the Pattern Review winners for best dress of 2016 lined up in my queue. And I have like three pairs of shoes that I am ready to try my hand at, too, now that spring sandals are in all the shops and I am feeling newly inspired.

Sigh. Sew little time, sew many projects 😉

edit: OMG I forgot to say: The top is a Grainline Studios Lark Tee in a knit fabric from Michael Levine’s which was just too pretty not to buy when I went shopping there a couple months ago- didn’t blog about it because these tees are super easy and there isn’t much to say about them, but it’s a great pattern with lots of options and I love how this one turned out!

Reunited and it feeeeels so goooood…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sandal Making with Rachel Sees Snail Shoes

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

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

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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!