Thursday, November 3, 2016

How My Handmade Shoes are Ageing

I'm back today to talk you through my little collection of handmade shoes and how they're ageing. Thankfully because I blogged them all I know that the blue ballet flats were made at the start of March this year, almost 8 months ago. The Tan Sandals were made just a few weeks later, also in March, so close to 7 months ago. The Derby Shoes were made at the end of August so about 2 months ago.

This post is to check in on how they've been wearing and what I've been learning whilst having them on my feet.

Blue Ballet Flats

Firstly these were made from the same hide as my Leather Tote Bag so they were automatically a win in a lot of respects. I set myself a goal when I bought that hide to make myself a handbag and a pair of shoes from it so being able to fulfil that was pretty exciting all in itself.

I spoke in the post for these shoes about how I had, for the first time on my shoe making journey, made shoes that actually felt like shoes. I'd made shoes prior to these that sneakily looked a lot like shoes but depressingly felt a lot like slippers. The biggest difference with these shoes was getting the stiffeners right. By the way if you want a comprehensive list of what materials/tools I own and use you can read about it here. The stiffeners I used for these shoes were thicker than what was recommended so I did have to thin them down in general and most especially on the edges. This was to make sure you couldn't see the line through the leather of where the stiffener starts and ends. Can you see where they're positioned in the above picture? Me neither! I got that bit right. So one of the biggest lessons I learned making and now wearing these shoes is that I like them to feel firm and structured. I like a shoe that holds it's shape without a foot in it. Even after a couple of hundred hours of wear these shoes are holding their shape pretty much like the day they were made. Success.

I also spoke in the post for these shoes that I couldn't actually sew the neckline together because the combination of leathers was just too tricky for my sewing machine. I suspected this would be a problem as the blue leather and the lining leather were just glued down to each other and were going to take a LOT of wear as I walked. Turns out that neckline unpeeled itself basically on the first wear and by the third wear it's as if I had never even attempted to glue them together. They were just sitting however they wanted and there was nothing I could do about it. This would have been disheartening if this was something that people could see when they looked at the shoes. As it turns out although the leathers aren't attached in any formal way the topline still manages to remain folded down no matter how much I wear them so although they look terrible off my foot you can't even tell when they're on my foot. Winning??

As you can see from the pic above there's a pretty obvious hole in the back seam of the right shoe. This is where you nail the leather to the last to keep it in place while lasting because you need a bit of tension to last the leather into shape. The teacher did say you need to use a tiny little nail for this job and I used a small, but obviously not small enough, nail. You could barely even see this once they were finished but it's created a weak spot and is pulling on that seam in strange ways so I'll know to use a tiny nail there next time. Although I quite like the idea of nailing into the lining above the upper leather so I may just nail the lining to the last in a couple of spots to secure it next time and avoid this problem altogether. Also there's the tiniest gap between the heel and the bottom of the shoe appearing there. This is just from wear but has been that way for some time so I don't think it's likely to affect the sole in any way.

And to finish off here's a pic of how the leather soling is wearing. Quite good, no complaints.

These sandals have most definitely had the most wear of all 3 pairs of shoes I've made. They've probably been worn twice as much as both other pairs combined. Which tells me I'm going to need some more handmade sandals in my life soon.

You can see from the picture that the area under where my heels sit is the most worn of all the shoe. It's scuffing and I also suspect that it's got a touch of water damage from not having enough leather dew applied in the beginning. I assure you that I went at these so thoroughly with leather dew but I think for my next pair of sandals, knowing how exposed to the elements they'll be, I'll let them dry then repeat the same process again before I even think about putting them on my feet.

From above you can see the upper parts of the sandal are all holding their shape very nicely. This is mostly because I worked with very thick and hard to work with leather. It was worth the struggle so that the shoe could keep it's shape without a foot in it. I'm seeing a pattern here.

The most disappointing part of these sandals is the way they wear at the side front. The midsole/sole curves up around the side of my foot. Just a little on the my left foot but a whole lot on my right foot. I suspected when I made these that having a layer of leather as the midsole and having leather soling attached wouldn't be strong enough and unfortunately when it comes to the front of the sandal I was right. They could have done with some texon board sandwiched in there to give it more structure but that would have meant hiding the edges of the texon board because I wanted one nice neat finish on the side.

I think I've got a resolution for this problem as it's come up again (but in a different way) with a pair of shoes I started a couple of weeks ago. So I'll try that fix and assess whether that will give me the structure I want to keep the soles of my sandals flat and professional looking.

The leather soling is wearing just fine on these two and is showing evidence of just how much I wear (and love) them.

Derby Shoes

Here are my 2 month old Derby Shoes looking the oldest of the lot. I have to say it's been a love/hate relationship with these shoes which I never expected when I was making them. In the post on these shoes I talked about making a dressy shoe that conversely had a relaxed feel to them. I wanted to experiment with what a shoe would look like and feel like without all the stiffeners in them. Would they be soft and supple and cool to wear or would I not like that? Back then the question was driving the process.

As evidenced in the above photo although I've only worn these for about 100-200 hours they have very visible crumple lines which I don't love. They look a touch better on my feet than they do sitting footless on a piece of wood but still they're a little sad looking to me. The structure of them, not the whole shoe.

Unfortunately on the left shoe I had an issue with the soling. The soling for the right shoe went on like a dream. I bashed it with a hammer in all the right places and it responded by becoming a sole that was attached to a shoe and never once threatened to move. The left one however is still driving me a little mad. You can see the front of the sole gaping from the toe and that's AFTER I've already peeled back the sole and tried to reglue it. It's the sole that will not be tamed. Currently it's not really affecting the wear of the shoe so I'm still wearing it out occasionally. Part of me hopes that it will peel back far enough that I can resole most, if not all, the shoe and be given the chance to start again. Ahhhh contact cement you fickle thing you.

On the plus side the back of the shoe is holding it's shape really well. Remember how I was all worried about how thick I'd made the back of the shoe because I'd wrapped one piece of leather around another piece of leather? Well, my friends, turns out that gave my heel the perfect amount of structure for it not to cave in like the toe has. Problem no more.

The leather soling is ageing quite well so all is well there.

I probably sound quite ambivalent about these Derby Shoes because they've been a little disappointing and also the laces broke on the right shoe (thankfully before I left the house so I could replace it). But I still really, really love the look of them and the combination of the leathers. My curiosity will drive me to wear them until they literally fall apart because obviously that will give me a whole new topic to analyse. What fun.

All in all I think for my first 3 pairs of "real" shoes I've done exceedingly well and I'm learning from the process of shoemaking as well as from wearing them. Also I've never been so interested in my feet until now. That's something new and different.

A little while ago I entered a competition with these shoes and managed to win second prize. I won half a cow hide - that thing is literally as wide as my arms and far taller than me. I also got a smaller hide, a box of leather making projects, leather working tools and a t shirt. This shoe making thing is all a bit fun!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Derby Shoes

I made a pair of derby shoes! I had another 2 pairs of shoes that I was working on in my head deciding which one to make first when I spotted this blue, metallic, laser cut leather and fell in LOVE. So naturally that bumped itself to the top of the queue and I had to make shoes with this leather IMMEDIATELY.

I'm a little off script from my classes on as she offers an Oxford shoes class not a Derby class. I just couldn't bring myself to love Oxfords even though it would have been easier to follow her instructions than make up some of the pattern making and construction steps. Also I'm pretty sure I've been talking about making Oxfords this whole process when really I've been making Derby's. I've always used these terms interchangeably and I now understand they mean something different.

I'm kicking this off with a whole bunch of progress pics and then a bit of a discussion on what went right and what I learnt from these shoes. I could write out all the steps but I'd be sick of repeating the words gluing, skiving, hand stitching (swearing, bleeding...) etc.

Pattern pieces cut out for upper, feature leather and lining.

Glued, skived and hand stitched together.

More glueing before more hand stitching.

Faintly resembling a shoe.

Lasting the leather with nails all over the joint.

Blurry photo, whoops. This is the bottom of the shoes after sanding them all down flat ready for soles.

Sole and heel pieces cut out and ready to wrangle into place.

Soles attached, glued and hammered into place/shape. Starting to shape the heel to make it perfectly level.


I have to say I'm incredibly proud of these shoes! Since taking classes on shoemaking I've seen a huge jump in what I can create but now that I'm getting the hang of some of the skills involved they're starting to come together a little easier. Each part of the process comes with a set of skills and when you first start you're trying to learn them all and be good at them all at the same time. It's nice to repeat each step on each new pair of shoes and feel your knowledge and experience go a little bit deeper each time.

The aim in making these was to have a dressy pair of closed shoes that conversely had a bit of a relaxed feel to them when worn. I mentioned when I made my Ballet Flats that I had hit upon the right amount of structure for my shoes (as compared to the ones I was trying to make pre-shoemaking classes) and while that hasn't changed I wanted to experiment with what my shoes could feel like without a toe puff and heel counter to give it shape and structure. The safest bet for these shoes was to make them from a pretty thick and strong leather to start with so that would create all the structure and shaping I'd need without needing to add to it. As chance would have it this thickness of leather was perfect for what I was going for. They feel a tiny bit lighter and definitely more relaxed than my ballet flats after trying them on. I'm keen to feel how they age and stretch as they get worn.

So I got the leather weight spot on. That was already half the battle. I don't feel like I quite did the right thing wrapping this feature leather around the black leather because it's too thick and sticks out too much at the sides for my liking. But had I thought about my process before getting excited and jumping in I could have skived the black leather pieces down nicely and made it sit closer together on the overlap. It's definitely not the end of the world and if you look at my shoes you'll probably laugh at how much I even care about that detail but at least there's room for improvement.

I feel like I'm getting better at getting a consistent result across the toe. It's one of the scariest parts in shoemaking for me because if they don't sit nice and flush around the toe people will notice every lump and bump. I think this one comes down to practise as well as really understanding how to use my lasting pincers better each time I last.

I'm a bit bummed about the hand stitching on them though. When I was at Birsdall Leather I found some thick waxed thread which looked perfect for hand stitching shoes. I thought it might give the shoes a bit of a different look to a thinner thread. Turns out I hated how thick it was as soon as I started working with it. It's hidden really well because the feature leather is quite busy so it's far from a disaster but I'll know for next time that a thinner thread is actually my preference.

Also we need to talk about that heel. When I made my ballet flats I was a bit overwhelmed learning all of the different skills and just getting through the sheer amount of steps to get from start to finish. I got shoe fatigue (if that's a thing) so I ended up just gluing the sole on and gluing a heel straight over  the top which was cheating. This time I really took the time to rewatch her lessons and set an entire day aside just to do the soles and heels. And it REALLY paid off. My Dremel got the workout of it's life and I was covered head to toe in leather dust but I got that heel dead level. I really think this is the most impressive part of the shoe this time. I mean that feature leather is awesome and all but having a handmade shoe with a heel that looks smooth and level really takes this pair up a notch compared to my last ones.

When you look up close the heel is still quite lumpy and bumpy which comes down to adding a bit more width and length to my heel pieces so I can be sure to sand it off to the same level. I think it would also help if I put a bit of dye on the sides (and maybe the whole sole?) this would make the sole and heel look uniform which could definitely elevate the sole and heel a bit more. I may look into that for my next pair to see how it turns out.

All in all though I'm absolutely stoked to have ended up with something that looked how it did in my head prior to starting. It's not easy to learn a new hobby and see so obviously the gap between your vision and your skill set. I'm closing that gap ever so slowly and having a big vision to work towards will only mean greater looking shoes in the future.

If anybody wants me I'll be walking about staring down at my new shoes hoping not to bump into anything!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Me Made May 2016 recap with handy dandy infographic and collage!

For those of you who don't follow me on instagram - surprise! I pledged to be a part of Me Made May this year for the first time ever. Every other year I've had to wear uniform so it was nice to finally get involved. I wear me-mades most of the time and while I know there are gaps in my handmade wardrobe I wasn't sure exactly where they were. This was a fun way of finding out.

Because I'm that kind of gal I've created a handy dandy infographic to fill you in on all the fun. Plus I'm throwing in a bonus collage of my instagram selfies AND a dot point list of my discoveries. What a post. Much excitement.

Note: I made this infographic last night so it only chronicles 30 out of 31 days but you get the picture.

So the infographic compiles the most noteworthy data on it. The only bit I forgot to put in was the most amount of me-mades worn on the one day - 7!

As promised here's the collage of my selfies. Confession: I'm absolutely terrible at selfies and I'm not entirely sure how to take a selfie of myself in a mirror without the phone being directly in front of my face. This is the reason you only get one face-on selfie below. It was a bit of yoga for the mind to get that picture lined up, and in the work bathrooms no less. Top tip - the internet has heaps of articles and videos on how to take a good outfit selfie. Turns out if you google this on day 2 of the challenge you can calm your worried mind about how you're going to survive the whole month. Ask me how I know.

So the whole point of Me Made May was to discover how my handmade wardrobe functions in my everyday life. Here are some things I discovered:

  • I thought I wore a lot more clothes in the one month. I'm surprised that I rotated the same 30 items throughout the month. Especially seeing as I was generally wearing about 3 handmade items a day.
  • I wear a lot of black and blue. I'm like a fashionable bruise.
  • I wear my grey Jenna Cardi far more often than I ever thought. I should definitely make another one to give it a rest.
  • I wear more separates than dresses. I thought it was the other way around.
  • I thought my biggest wardrobe gaps were pants and jackets because I've never sewn them before. What I'm actually really lacking is clothes to wear around the house.
  • I used to think that my favourite items I've ever sewn were some of my dresses. I used to think they expressed something about me I couldn't explain in words. Turns out it's my Leather Handbag that's far and above my top worn and loved item I've ever sewn. Closely followed by my handmade shoes. This tells me that leatherwork is something really important for my future.
And there you have it folks my Me Made May all wrapped up in one fun and informative post!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tan Leather Sandals

Today's a big picture heavy post about the making of these Tan Leather Sandals. As you may know I signed up to a 3 month membership to for Christmas and after buying all my materials I've slowly been working my way through endless hours of content learning how to make a ton of different types of shoes. I have to admit I was a bit puzzled when I saw Sveta had only offered an asymmetric unisex sandal course on her website. The style of them is not for me but I downloaded the classes anyhow just for the learning. However I poked around a bit more and found she had a stand alone class you can buy just to make the patterns for T Strap Sandals. They were the exact shape that I wanted to make so I jumped in and bought it immediately. I went back a day later and found that my membership had expired (it's been 3 months already?!) and then realised I'd only downloaded the first couple of lessons on the asymmetric sandal course so I had no idea how to last my sandal once I made the pattern. I figured I'd watched enough content and absorbed enough of her wisdom to give it a good try so I forged ahead.

I drew my pattern onto my last with a little bit of help from a pair of shoes I have that look a bit like this. Then I pulled off the masking tape and made my pattern following her instructions. I ended up with the pattern pieces you see on the right which I tested out in paper and cardboard to make sure the fit was good. This time around I got to try the pattern on my last and my foot which was reassuring as generally with shoes you don't know what the fit's like until you've finished and put it on your foot.

Once I was sure about the pattern and the placement of the upper on the midsole I cut out my leather. I bought this leather from a fabric destash market a couple of weeks ago. It's really thick, like about 4mm thick, and was difficult to cut and work with but I loved the colour and how sturdy the shoes would be once made so I forged on. It had quite a few imperfections which I couldn't entirely cut around but this was why I was using it in the first place, if the sandals didn't work out I wouldn't have wasted really good leather making these. 

Because I wasn't sure how to last these I puzzled over the order of construction and finishing for a while. As you may be able to tell those midsoles in leather above are enormous. I originally cut them out with a 2cm allowance around all sides to fold the leather around my texon board I use for midsoles. However once I started working with the leather I knew it was going to be impossible to get this thick leather to bend let alone fold around a texon board neatly. So after much thought I decided to leave out the texon board altogether and just have this leather midsole glued straight onto the leather soling which is already extremely stiff. I hoped this would be sturdy enough to feel comfortable and supportive.

Then I faced the conundrum of how to last these sandals. Because I wasn't using a midsole with a covering like I did in my ballet flats I couldn't just hammer nails into the last to shape the leather. That would put holes through my midsoles which would be on show for the life of the shoes. No thanks. But I knew this leather was not going to be wrangled into place just with glue and pliers so I had to work out a solution. I ended up sticking masking tape to the soles and drawing out where the straps would sit and the upper toe part would sit. I nailed the straps onto the last just as they were but I soaked the upper toe part in water so that I could stretch and form it over the last and nail it into the right place so that when it came time to glue them the leather would "remember" where it was meant to go. I was a bit worried abut submerging the leather in water in case this caused any lasting damage to it? Would they dry out and crack in the future? Would the underside be affected and not look how it should because they'd been soaked? The choice was to wet and form them or not make the sandals at all because there was no other way I could think to do it. 

The result was much better than I expected! When I lasted my ballet flats and eased two concave curves into each other I had ripples or folds of leather I had to wrangle into place, nail and glue down and then skive and sand back to get it flat. When I lasted this leather onto the midsole just with glue and pliers it automatically laid flat as you see here - no folds whatsoever. This was great because it meant I had less skiving and sanding to get that layer of leather flat against the midsole once everything dried. Hurrah!

The last step was to glue the soles on and they were done!

So let's talk about how they fit and feel. Firstly they're super comfortable. The width around my joints is perfect and doesn't squish my feet like all other shoes do so that's already a great win. However we need to talk about sandals and lasts. I bought lasts specifically for making flat, closed shoes. They're perfect for making ballet flats, oxfords and ankle boots but they're not designed to make sandals on them. You can make sandals on them but the sandals aren't going to be perfect right from the get-go. A sandal last is wider around the toes so that you're feet lay flat on the midsole and are not being held in by the sides of shoes. The sandal last is also flatter at the toe end of the last to mimic how thick your toes are. I knew all this before I started and I'm ok living with imperfect sandals but I'll point a few things out to you in the below photos so you understand. The biggest reason I got away with this was because my toes are almost completely enclosed so they're being held in place as I walk. However if you look closely you'll see that the open toe part is sitting much higher up than my toes because it's been formed to mimic the shape of a ballet flat toe not a sandal toe. This is much more noticeable in real life than in pictures but I knew it was going to be this way so at least I was expecting it. I believe that sandal lasts are also slightly longer to accommodate the length of your foot as it rests on an open midsole. As you can see my feet literally just fit onto the midsole and could probably do with a tiny bit more length seeing as my feet move very freely in this type of shoe. Again not complaining, I knew this would be the case but it's interesting to notice the difference a last can make on the final pair of shoes.

I'll most likely buy myself a pair of sandal lasts for next spring/summer seeing as it's Australia and I wear open toed shoes for a lot of the year. But for now I'm ok with the limitations of these lasts. These pictures were taken a day after wearing them for the first time so this is 9 hours into their wearing life. As you can see in the photo on the left they're starting to curve up at the sides of the outer foot - it's much more noticeable on my right foot than my left. I'm sure this is because I let the texon board go and it's just two layers of leather glued together. Very stiff and strong leather but leather all the same. I think my next pair of sandals are going to need texon board and maybe even a shank to keep their shape properly for the life of the shoe. I don't just want to make shoes anymore. I want to make shoes that last me years. Part of my shoemaking journey will be about monitoring the wear and tear on them and feeding that back into the making process to ensure I'm focussed on longevity not just how pretty they look.

All in all I'm absolutely stoked with them. I'm amazed every time I look down at my feet and think that I made them with my own hands. The hand stitching looks great, I love the buckle, I love the width of straps I chose and I think the proportions work pretty well for my feet. The proportions aren't perfect but for my first sandal they're far and above what I expected of myself and I can't even begin to tell you how good that feeling is. It's like the beginning of sewing again. I wear them out of the house and wonder if anyone is going to look at them or check that I made them because they look handmade or something. It's a weird feeling.

So what next? I have some black leather calling my name which I was going to turn into another pair of ballet flats. However on passing through Myer yesterday these shoes below caught my eye and now I'm obsessed and can think of no other shoes. I have leather hole punches and an entire course on making oxfords. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Blue Leather Ballet Flats

About 6 months ago I bought a whole hide of leather from The Fabric Store with the dream of turning it into a bag and matching shoes. Here I am today to tell you I'm living that dream.

I blogged about the making of this Leather Tote Bag about 6 months ago when it was hot off the sewing machine. It has since been carried out the house with me every day for 6 months. It's the single most used and loved bag I've ever owned and it's such a great feeling that I made it with my own hands.

As you may know I started a course through ShoeMaking Courses Online at Christmas time and I've been slowly acquiring all the required shoemaking materials to begin learning from Sveta. My lasts arrived around 2 weeks ago and I got stuck straight into her lessons, starting with making a pair of ballet flats. I was so confident after watching all Sveta's lessons that I dove straight into making these shoes from this leather knowing there was no turning back if anything went wrong. I'm so proud to be sharing the successful outcome with you today. FYI there are tons of pictures in this post but it was hard to cull them all down!

Let's start by looking at the shoes and the fit before zooming in on some of the...quirks.

Firstly the fit. They're hugging my feet in all the right places and they're wide enough to completely encompass my flat feet. I mentioned on Instagram that when I originally started shoemaking I had no idea about lasts. This course has an entire class dedicated to lasts, their measurements and measuring lines to make sure you know where to start from. She also includes some charts to work off to make sure you choose a last that's the right size for you. This is when I learnt that even though I generally fit into a size 39 in the shops that is not the size last I should buy. I was in complete denial when I measured my feet and found out I'm actually a size 37. There's NO WAY my hammy feet would fit into a size 37 no matter how much I tried. However the charts also revealed I have the widest feet you can account for without having to buy fully customised lasts. This makes sense seeing as I have wide flat feet. So although I technically went down 2 sizes I went up a whole bunch of sizes in the width and TA DA! Magic.

They're a tiny bit tight at the moment - like that feeling you get when you buy new all leather shoes that need a little breaking in before they fit your feet. Also I learnt in the making of these that I like my shoes to have structure to them, to be firm and support my feet. I knew when I was trying to teach myself to make shoes (see here) that I kept making shoes that felt like slippers and I just wanted them to feel supportive. I really feel like I've achieved that with these shoes. They have the exact amount of flex and support that I like in a shoe. I can't believe my luck really.

You can also see in the photo below how much coverage of my feet they provide. I've spoken before about how I can never cover the sides of my feet because my feet are busy pushing the sides of the shoes under my foot. These shoes are really encasing my feet in a satisfying way. I think I'll fix up the neckline a little to dig out a couple of millimetres around the outsides of my feet but other than that the neckline is pretty spot on.

So let's get into the details of how they've turned out vs. how they're meant to turn out once you're adept at making shoes (which I'm clearly not yet). You can see below that while the neckline is really holding it's shape without a foot in it it's also quite messy. I really tried to topstitch the upper and lining together on my machine around the neckline but my machine just couldn't do it. This means the upper is simply  folded over and glued down and the lining is just glued to it. This is meant to be a bit neater once the stitches are there to hold everything in place. It would also give me a clearer guide of where to snip the lining which is a little hacky looking rather than neat. Something to work on.

I absolutely love the way the sole looks once it's attached. She talks you through skiving the edges so it softly follows the curve of the shoe. However the heel could be attached a lot neater. I'm currently doing all my sanding by hand so it looks quite rough but I think I will buy a dremel at some point so I can get a good, clean, polished edge on the sole and the heel.

You can see below that I accidentally put the right sole (pictured left) on a few millimetres further back than the left. This was a happy accident to find out that if the heel layer hangs out over the sole layer you can sand them back and make them look like they're one piece. However the left sole was put on a few millimetres more forward so I ended up with a gap between the layers that no amount of hammering would bring together. I'm glad I made this mistake on one of them so I could learn for next time.

From this angle you can also see that I left glue on the edges of the shoes when applying the soles. You're meant to rub an eraser over excess glue to get rid of it but that didn't seem to help so I'll be more careful next time and maybe apply masking tape around the edges to make sure it doesn't extend beyond that point.

Also this is just a sensory thing but they make a really satisfying sound when worn. Like they're actual shoes. I love that I've switched to working with veg tan leather for the soles. It's easier to work with and has such a great finish.

All in all I'm super impressed with how much I've learnt. My first attempt was successful because the instructions are couture-like. Detailed, considered but still accessible. I've really learnt just how much each millimetre affects the final shoe and the fit. I was miles away trying to teach myself but I feel like I could make just about anything now.

I have plans to make a pair of ballet flats in black that I can wear to work all the time plus I'm really keen to make sandals before the hot weather ends. Then I'm excited to make boots once the cold weather arrives. So you can imagine my head is spinning with possibilities. Just like the beginning of sewing I'm now only limited by my imagination. It's a wonderful place to be.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Starting with Shoemaking Courses Online - Gathering materials

As promised I'm back talking about Shoemaking!

As you may know I signed up to Shoemaking Courses Online as a Christmas present. I got the Gold Membership for 3 months which allows you access to every course streamed online or downloaded to your computer to watch and refer to later. 

To give you an idea of what shoes she's teaching you to make here is a list: ankle boots, slingback pumps, oxfords, sandals, knee high boots, high heel pumps, ballet flats (leather), ballet flats (fabric), wedge cork sandals, T strap pumps and moccasins. Plus she has specific courses for learning to measure and use lasts, make midsoles, make outsoles, make stacked heels and there are more courses on the way all the time.

I really can't recommend this course highly enough. It's like you're there in the studio of an expert shoemaker getting a bird's eye view of how to make shoes. Plus she talks you through common beginner mistakes as you go so you know what not to do and what to look out for. 

It's not, however, a casual hobby. Making shoes Sveta's way involves specific tools and materials that can be hard to find. So if you're going to learn to make shoes you need to commit. That's why I'm sharing my materials below. I would just love a group of people to learn shoemaking with so I hope this helps in some small way to those who want to give it a go but don't know where to start.

What's missing from this list is good shoemaking glue. I tried to source Klebfest which is non toxic and no odour shoemaking glue but I couldn't get it. It also comes in larger portions branded as Renia Aquilim but I can't seem to get that shipped to Australia. Instead I'm trying different brands of contact cement which are all highly smelly.

I haven't found topline tape that can be shipped to Australia yet. I also haven't decided on what to buy to skive with. I'm currently using my cutting knife to do it which is achievable but it would be better to invest in a tool that's designed to skive.

Materials I'm using which I already have:
- Mineral Turpentine
- Clear plastic bags
- Foam sheet
- Tack hammer
- Cutting Mat
- A3 paper and cardboard
- Masking tape 5cm width
- Pacer
- Compass
- Eraser
- Metal ruler

I think that's it in the way of materials. I started following the lessons a week and a half ago and if you're following along on Instagram you might have seen the below pictures. I've learnt to make my own ballet flat pattern based on the shape of my last. I've cut the leather and lining, skived it, reinforced it and glued it together. I've prepared the patterns for the midsole, counters and toe puffs, cut them out and I began lasting my first shoe on the last today.

It's hugely detailed work and every millimetre is well considered to ensure the right end result. I'm really enjoying the pace of it as I'm learning so much at each step.

With any luck I should have finished wearable ballet flats within a week - woohoo!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Living Slowly and the Aftereffects of Konmari - My life for the last 6 months

Hi There!

Blogger tells me that I haven't posted since last September which is a heck of a long time! Some things have been shifting for me over the last couple of months which has lead to this unintentional blog silence. I can't say that I'm back for sure or even regularly but hey I'm back right this moment and that's enough for now.

About 6 months ago I joined the KonMari frenzy which I spoke about here at great length. It really resonated with me and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of culling my belongings down to the things that brought me joy.

Since that post I've managed to inspire hubby to cull a whole heap of things he had hanging around as well. Even though he didn't actually read the book he really seemed to get it. He kept saying that opening boxes was like looking into our past lives and past hobbies. We were hanging onto things that used to bring us joy but we'd both changed, our interests had shifted and it was time to recognise who we are now, what we actually want in our lives and let our past selves go.

This whole process resulted in a huge garage sale 2 weekends ago which went quite well. We made more money than we thought and it was nice to see our long hoarded stuff being walked away by people who were happy to grab a bargain.

I was a bit wary of letting go of all our books because there was somewhere between 200 and 300 of them. Even though we sold quite a few on the day of the garage sale we were still left with about 10 boxes of books afterwards. We actually ended up putting them out again the next day with an honesty box asking for $1 a book. A girl who lives around the corner from me bought the entire 10 boxes in one fell swoop at a package price after we realised that she'd done the same uni course as me at the same uni around the same kind of time. Turns out she'd just put the finishing touches on her manuscript for a novel she's been writing that she's already got a publishing deal for. This sale really hit home for me. The items that I treasured the most and found the hardest to get rid of were taking up residence on an author's shelves destined to be read and in some way used as inspiration in her daily life and perhaps one day her writing. If nothing else this moment validated it all for me. The things that weren't bringing me joy and were cluttering up my space could bring joy to someone else and be just as meaningful.

Of course KonMari hasn't just stopped there. My house feels fresher, lighter and bigger. I hadn't realised until I moved all these items out just how stuck I'd felt in my life. I feel like I've been given a surge of new energy over the past couple of weeks which has all come from a renewed sense of order and joy in the belongings that surround me. I'm in control of my space not the other way around. Liberating, profound and simple.

And it's not over. Even though I've let go of a lot of things and even though my house feels different I'm still yet to rearrange what I've kept into their forever spots. I'm still revelling in the part of the process where I've fallen back in love with my house and I'm quietly observing where things should be kept now that they are the chosen items.

I'm still excited for the next part of the process where I rearrange things and I'm enjoying less clutter to clean up each week.

Apart from KonMari I've also been learning to live slower. About 4 months ago I got a new job working at a theatre locally to me. As in a 7 minute walk to work kind of local instead of a 3 hour daily commute. Needless to say it has been truly life changing. This new job comes with an RDO every 3 weeks and an hour long lunch break each day.

It's hard to explain just how much more living I've been doing as a result. I now have a big cooked breakfast every morning before work - because I have the time. I now cook up batches of lunches for the week - because I have the time. I now walk home and spend my hour long lunch break with my dog and sometimes my husband too - because I have the time. I now have something like 2 long weekends a month all dedicated to living more - because I have the time. Because life felt so incredibly fast and stressful before it's like I'm permanently on a bit of a holiday in my own life. Except it's real and it's every day.

I wondered whether all this time would result in more sewing but it's actually had the opposite effect. Something about Konmari still has my sewing output quite low and understandably so. Instead I've been super inspired in lots of other ways.

For instance we bough a vintage caravan a couple of months ago that I'm now starting to do up. She was built in 1956 in Leichhardt Sydney and I've gotten stuck into pulling out the doors, sanding back the walls and pulling out the old upholstery so I can redo it all. I can't WAIT until we can go caravanning in her in the next couple of months!

For my Christmas present I got a 3 month membership to and I've slowly been working my way through watching hundreds of hours of incredibly detailed content on how to make 17 different types of shoes. I've spent ages sourcing all the materials for making shoes her way and I'm now just waiting on my shoe glue and my new shoe lasts to arrive before I can get stuck into pattern making and then shoemaking!!

She ran an online seminar the other day about making your dream shoes which just about made my head explode. Do you remember when you first started making clothes and you realised what Frankenpatterning was? Where you could take the best parts of this pattern and mash it up with the best parts of that pattern and bring it all together to make something greater than the original? Well that's what this seminar was about. It explained how if you sign up to her paid classes on shoe design she will actually teach you how to frankenpattern any type of shoe ANY type of shoe by working off your basic patterns for each type of shoe. MIND. BLOWN.

Apart from all this inspiration I've also been influenced a great deal by a book and a documentary I read and saw at the end of last year. The book was called In Defense of Food and confirmed all of my suspicions about how badly I eat. If you know you eat too much sugar and want to figure out a way to eat better this is most definitely the book for you to read. I happened to read it around the same time as watching the documentary That Sugar Film which just hit home all over again. My eating habits are actually destructive to my body and I was caught in a loop I couldn't get out of. I've cut down my sugar intake and I'm slowly replacing packaged food with wholesome home cooked food. This was not something I could have a knee-jerk reaction about and try and quit all at once because I have quite an alarming addiction to sugar. I'm working on it slowly and even when I falter I'm much more aware of my choices and why I'm reaching for packaged foods which in itself is enough sometimes.

So there you have it. The last 6 or so months of my life has been about slowing down, refocussing and continually being inspired but not necessarily in the areas of sewing which is why I haven't shared anything. I'm not entirely sure if I'll be back here talking about sewing anytime soon and I think that's ok. I'm incredibly impatient to make myself some shoes with all this mind expanding knowledge I've acquired so I suspect this may turn into more of a shoemaking blog for a while.

I hope to be back soon with some things I can wear on my feet. Until then I hope some joy finds it's way into your life in one way or another.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Leather Tote Bag

I was in The Fabric Store the other week patting lots of gorgeous leathers wondering what I could buy to make myself a pair of sandals from. I had some birthday money to spend and had just received a shiny new sewing machine which I knew would handle sewing leather (more on that later!). I came across a half hide of this vibrant blue leather you see above and knew it was The One. When I unrolled it I realised I had enough to make multiple projects from it and so the idea was born to make myself a bag and a matching pair of shoes. Best. Idea. Ever.

I spoke in my last post Sewing after Konmari about how decluttering my life had lead me to refocus the way I sew. I was so overwhelmingly ready to tackle all the projects I'd put off as too hard. This clarity coupled with the fact that I recently started playing around with making my own leather sandals was what lead me to snap up this hide and face the fear of making my own leather bag.
I figured if I kept it as simple as possible, planned out all the details and made a mock up then I could achieve it. I'm assuming there are a few of you out there that want to do the same thing because I had quite a response to how I'd made it, what needles, thread, pattern etc so reader beware this will be quite an involved post.

I started by grabbing a few tote bags I had around the house and picking different elements from each of them. I discovered that I like tote bags with a square bottom to them with long and really sturdy straps. So that's where I started. I sketched out a plan with some measurements that worked for me and sewed a quick mock up in some scrap cotton to test the dimensions. I ended up with the following measurements.

I highly recommend making a pattern from your measurements from paper or cardboard to lay onto the leather for cutting. I measured this out really, really carefully with a ruler but still managed to cut it slightly wonky. It was easily fixed by straightening up the lines once I'd folded the piece on the dotted line but still, it's leather. Take the time. It's worth it. I used my rotary cutter on my cutting mat as normal and it cut straight through the leather no troubles.

Having the cutouts you see on the sides there meant I could have a square bottom to the bag without any bulk. If you're not sure how to sew this together you should google or pinterest sewing a square bottom bag. It's ridiculously easy. Trust me.

I sewed the side seams at a 1cm seam allowance but you could add more width to the pattern before starting if you want to give yourself some more allowance.

It's funny that I sewed up a small scrap of leather first and my machine refused to sew the leather with a leather needle in. However when I put the universal needle back in it was fine to sew through it. I had to change my tension to 9 to get the stitches nice and even but once I'd figured that out it was humming along nicely. And to be sure my test piece was 3 layers of leather to make sure it could sew bulk as well. I used regular thread for this and had no troubles.

Once the side seams were sewn together I turned the bag right side out and realised it would need a little help keeping those seams looking neat. The photo on the left above shows what the seams look like straight off the sewing machine. I turned it on itself again and got my hammer out. Life got you down? Hammer those seams! Bad day at work? Hammer those seams! Not enough time in your life to sew? Hammer those seams!! It's therapeutic.

Also top tip from Rosie at Artworker Projects - boil a kettle and hold the leather over the steam to make it more pliable before working with it - works a treat! Also I love that a hammer and kettle have snuck into my sewing tool arsenal. Best.

As you can see from the picture on the right above the whole bag looks nicer, cleaner and more professional once you've hammered those seams. Hammers are friends now.

I decided on 70cm long straps but spent a full week mulling over how best to construct and sew them. I knew I wanted to have two layers of leather which would be sewn together to make for a sturdier strap. What I didn't know was how to sew them without creating too much bulk. I toyed with stripping back the fleshy part of the leather to reduce bulk where the strap met the bag but this would still add weight to the strap when the bag lay open and I was fond of the bag being able to stand up by itself as much as the leather would allow. I knew I wanted a 3cm wide strap and so a 3cm long section of the strap would be nice to be sewn onto the bag to make a square I could sew an X into to make the whole thing neat. In the end I chose to cut piece 1 of the strap at 70cm and piece 2 of the strap at 76cm which would give me the spare 3cm at either end.

I took my time topstitching the straps and then neatening the edges with my rotary cutter afterwards. Once the straps were sewn together I butted piece 1 up against the edge of the bag and sewed piece 2 down. This was probably the most terrifying part of the whole thing- topstitching that had to be straight and perfect to create a square and then an X in the middle of it. I had to take breaks throughout this process so I didn't psych myself out.

I love the way the straps turned out. They sit flush with the top of the bag when being carried but fold over neatly when hanging open and don't pull the bag down with their weight. It's really satisfying.

And here's what the bag looks like on the inside.

I bought some products to seal the suede and keep the leather conditioned which I'm yet to apply to the bag. I've also left all the edges raw. I'll be buying some burnishing wax really soon seeing as I'll need it for this as well as any leather sandals I make in the future. But it'll be ok to use for a little while until I seal it properly. I just won't be taking it out in the rain in a hurry.

So that's the story of my leather tote bag. I had to cut this out of the half hide first to make sure I'd be able to get all the pieces out of it. The next project for this leather is to make a pair of matching sandals to go with the bag. I'm excited!

I made a mock up of a leather sandal the other week and learnt a lot so I'll be tweaking a few things about the pattern before attempting the sandals. Can't wait!