Sunday, January 4, 2015

Shoemaking: My second pair of ballet flats, made from following a book

I made shoes that FIT! I discussed in my very first post that I was going to use the kit to the letter for my first pair of shoes and the book to the letter for the second pair. As it happens my second pair turned out to be a bit of a hybrid between the two options which I'll explain further on. These shoes are not perfect and there are a bunch of things I'll change when I make my third pair but they are definitely wearable!

Last time I made a pair of shoes I was working from a kit so this time I've made a handy dandy table for you so you know what I used.

Following the book

I loved following this book so much. You can tell it's written by someone who has made a lot of pairs of shoes and has ironed out all the kinks in their steps and procedures. She provides a template for a shoe pattern or you can cut open a shoe of your own to make one. Since I had already based my customised pattern on the free template from I stuck with that. It did mean I varied a couple of things which I'll talk about below.

It starts by having you make slightly graded patterns so that each layer in the shoe is stepped off from the next to reduce bulk at the seams. Once you sew it all together you understitch everything but the outer fabric. I trimmed and pressed my seams to reduce any further bulk and then topstitched and pressed again. Unfortunately, because I was changing her suggested process, I hadn't thought through what order to do this all in so I topstitched before I sewed the side seam. It means the seam isn't lying flat which is unfortunate but it's not too noticeable.

I do love the way the side seam is sewn though. It took me a long time to pin this meticulously and I still didn't get it right. Millimetres really matter in shoemaking. I suggest you spend some time on this seam (with a seam ripper handy) to get it right.

Once all the sewing is over you end up with these weird looking things. This means it's time for some shaping which, when you make them this way, only involves fabric stiffener.

The crinoline and interlining over the toe get fabric stiffener rubbed in to them to give the rounded toe more shape and rigidity. She includes instructions in the book for making your own counters (the part that gives the heel shape). I really wanted to try this as an alternative to having to source them and since it's only layers of crinoline with fabric stiffener rubbed in I was curious to see how well it would work out.

I'm really pleased with the counters. They were messy and fiddly and time consuming to make but they really work. They have the right amount of rigidity with just enough flexibility for your heel to move as you walk in them. They probably took me about 2-2.5 hours to make out of about a 12 hour shoe making process so comparatively they're the biggest and longest step in making the shoes but I really think it's worth it. Also I should mention I drastically reduced the amount of time it should have taken to make these by using my hairdryer to dry each layer as I was working on them. If you had to wait for them to air dry properly between layers you would have to do them over a couple of days which wouldn't be worth it. So have your hairdryer handy!

Not following the book

Because I used my own pattern and not the kind of pattern suggested in the book it had some flow on effects for making my shoes and the order I had to do it in. Firstly she is making a pointed toe shoe and I'm making a rounded toe shoe. Her process for shaping the shoe is to wrap the fabric around the last and handsew giant zigzags of thread across the bottom to pull the sides of the fabric really tightly together. I couldn't do this because there was no way for me to work the fabric around the rounded toe. She also does all this, pops the fabric off the last, attaches the insole, snips off the excess fabric around her pointed toe and glues the sole on. I didn't do that either. I glued it all together just like I did for the first pair I made.

One thing I tried to follow from her book was the insertion of the counter. She has you put the counter over the last between the lining and the interlining. As I said before she then goes about hand sewing these layers tight around the last. I decided to glue my pieces together so I could still get a nice rounded toe shape so I wasn't sure how to deal with this counter. I ended up inserting it where she suggested but then gluing every other layer around it onto the bottom of the insole as I did with my last pair of shoes. With each layer I was pulling, gluing it down, turning my last over to check the positioning and pressing it into place as the glue dried. What I didn't know until right at the end when I popped the shoe off the last was that the lining was really loose and hadn't been pulled into shape very much because I was trying to keep the counter in place. It's only a slight change of steps but next time I will most definitely pull my lining into place over the last, glue it down, check it meticulously and press it into place as the glue dries before I even touch the counter. This will eliminate this problem altogether.

The dart was tricky when trying to follow this process. There are a lot of layers and I was hesitant to sew the dart in the lining and sew the dart in all of the other layers together. I remembered from using the kit that while it helped shape the heel it ended up getting cut off anyway. I made the decision to cut the dart out literally. I cut that triangle out and then just glued each layer down separately and all was fine. I'm really glad I did it this way because it's not actually necessary to have that dart.

What I would change for next time
 As I said before these shoes are definitely wearable but they do feel a little soft and fragile so I'll be wearing them with care. Like on non-rainy days.

The Toe
The fabric stiffener on the toe area was good but it's not enough. The toe doesn't feel as firm as it should. I think I'll add a second layer of crinoline for the toe area and use fabric stiffener on them separately, much like with making the counter. It wouldn't need much more than this for a bit of rigidity and shape.

The sides of the shoe
The side of the shoe have no shaping whatsoever. It's just a couple of layers of fabric pulled tight around the last and, in the end, your foot. This is too flimsy, soft and prone to crinkle. I think I'll use fabric stiffener on one layer all the way around the shoe next time so the fabric holds it's shape on the sides.

The insole
When I used the kit I hated how inflexible the texon board was to walk on. This book suggests you use really sturdy and thick cardboard. I used the thickest cardboard I had onhand from a lightly corrugated box but it's just a bit too flexible. I'd like to find a heavyweight, flat cardboard to use next time. I may even glue a couple of layers together until it feels strong enough.

All in all they're a bit too lightweight and flimsy so I feel a little protective of them. I'll still wear them out and I'm contemplating keeping a little journal on the shoes I make so I can monitor how many hours I wear them, how the sole wears, how the fabric wears and how long I get out of them so I can narrow down the best process and materials over time.

What I love about these shoes

The pattern I made worked a treat! As you can see below my wide feet now actually fit in shoes. I think I might shave a half a centimetre off the sides of my pattern so it's not as high there but I'm stoked that these are the best fit I've ever had on my feet.

I nailed the insole shape. It's perfect.

I made SHOES that FIT!!

As you can tell from these posts I'm on a very steep learning curve. I'm finding out what works best for me and the kind of shoes I want to make. I will eventually put a detailed tutorial up on my favourite process incorporating all the tips I've learnt the hard way so that you can follow along if you want to get into shoemaking. Since I'm still figuring that out you'll have to just follow along my ramblings for now.

I haven't forgotten about making some sandals and I haven't forgotten about sewing either!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Shoemaking: The verdict on the first pair of ballet flats

If you've been following along since the beginning you would have seen me making a plan on how to startcustomising my shoe last, making a pattern to fit my customised shoe lasts and finally a post full of pictures of my first ballet flats. It's already been quite a learning curve and it's really exciting to be learning so much and acquiring a new skill!

I started this pair of shoes Monday night and I was finished them by Tuesday night. I estimate that I spent around 12 hours making them which makes them sound super quick compared to some of the things I've sewn! Don't be fooled though, shoemaking is hard work!

Seeing as I have so much to say let's talk through the positives, followed by the negatives and then round it up with my plan for my second pair now that I'm learning a bit about my preferences in shoe making.

The Good

The Kit
The kit from is fantastic. I've said it before and I'll say it again. It's a very clear, easy, step-by-step venture into making a great looking pair of ballet flats. The website has two different patterns for ballet flats. One with the rounded toe like I used called the classic ballet pump and another called the high front ballet pump, for obvious reasons. The booklet that shows you through every step is basically a sew along all put together in one continuous book. It has big, bright, easy to follow photographs and basic step by step instructions with a few hints and pointers thrown in so you feel like you know what you're doing. Even though it's really easy to follow I recommend reading through the book a number of times before starting. Get out all your included pieces and get familiar with the materials, what you're meant to do with them and in what order.

Using Leather
This kit is well thought through in that it asks you to make shoes out of leather. First of all if you're going to go to the effort of making your own shoes and spending a bunch of money on a kit, it's a great idea to make your shoes special by making them out of leather.

Secondly it's a brilliant choice for the method they teach you. You may have noticed from the photos that the outer fabric is turned over 5mm and glued down to itself to create a smooth line around the foot. The lining however, extends that 5mm out until right at the end of making the shoe where you drag a blade around the line at an angle and cut it clean off. This would not be achievable without leather (or suede) and would require stitching and under stitching. Not having to sew much makes this kit all the more accessible for anyone to pick it up and make a great pair of shoes without a lot of technical knowhow.

The final product
If you were to follow this kit to the letter using standard lasts and the templates on the website you would absolutely end up with beautiful looking, wearable shoes. Unfortunately I'm a bit ambitious so of course I had to go and change the shape of my last and of course I had to go and make a whole new pattern and of course I had to change the shape of the insole. You are probably not me. Which means you're going to make great shoes if you use this kit.

Where I went right
The modelling clay I masking taped to my lasts worked a treat. I was not even thinking about whether it was squishing in all the right or wrong ways during the making of the shoes. The fact that I didn't think about it until I pulled the last out of the shoe (out of sight out of mind) means it was all fine and dandy. Fabulous.

My new pattern turned out great! I made a muslin out of faux leather so it would have a similar hand to the leather. I basically lined up my marking for the dart over the centre of the heel and cut a dart with the same width of the pattern, sewed it up and it worked fine. Also the dart is a funny thing. It helps shape the fabric around the heel so that when you pull on the fabric to glue it to the insole it makes the whole thing easier. It's worth it just for that. However as soon as the fabric touched the insole I realised I'd have to cut the entire dart away anyway (along with tons of fabric that gets pleated and then cut out.) So I didn't need to fuss so much about the positioning or the grain line of the fabric or any of that nonsense. The fabric tells you what it wants to do and you just trust that.

The Bad

During the making of these shoes I questioned some of the things included in the kit and the process. Now I'm sure this has all been chosen for a reason and I'm sure the kits are mostly designed for students actually attending classes so they get all the added value of having a teacher there to talk them through at difficult moments so my opinion could be a little skewed seeing as I'm on the other side of the world locked in my sewing room staring down a kit. But this blog is about my opinion so I'm going to give it to you anyway.

The (lack of) sewing
I don't love that the outer fabric and the lining aren't stitched together. I knew this before I made the kit and I'm pretty sure this would only bother someone who sews (meaning everybody who reads this blog.) The consolation here is that since the shoe is made of leather you don't really have to but I'm pretty sure the next time I make shoes from leather I'm going to stitch and under stitch my pieces together. Most of this opinion is based on this side seam you see below - so bulky! Imagine if you had sewn these pieces together, cut away the excess to reduce bulk on the inside and flattened the seams properly before making the rest of the shoe? Not to mention the bulk wouldn't be visible on the outside of the shoe it would only be thicker looking from the outside. This would be better for me. It would not be better for anyone who doesn't sew because that would make the process more difficult and the kit much harder to work out for a non-sewing beginner but hey, it's how I feel.

So while we're already here let's talk about that side seam. You're meant to fold over 5mm on either end of your pattern piece and glue it to itself. Then you overlap these pieces and top stitch them down. So what you have here is 4 layers of leather to sew through which is already difficult but then because you're top stitching you kind of want your stitches to look good because it's the only visible seam. Trust me when I say my stitches don't look good on this seam. I hand cranked this entire seam and it was still wonky and uneven. Maybe this would be better done in a class so the teacher can help?

Reducing Bulk
One thing the kit didn't suggest to do was reduce bulk. I'm such a huge fan of pressing during sewing now that I couldn't let that go. I got out my hammer and bashed the leather until it laid as flat as possible. Perhaps they have you do this in the class but it wasn't mentioned in the book.

I'm back on the side seam again. Have a look at that photo again and tell me it doesn't make you cringe seeing that sole have to curve around all that bulk. Luckily you can't feel any of this as you walk but I feel like there's a better way.

The Insole
The provided texone board feels really stiff compared to every shoe I've owned. Potentially this is because I only ever buy cheap shoes. Whatever the case I'll be hunting down a material that is a tiny bit more flexible than this for my insoles.

Where I went wrong
This bit's painful to talk about peeps. I mucked up the insole and it affected everything about the shoe. I can't believe I managed to reshape a last, create a freaking pattern with no pattern making knowledge and then managed to stuff up the entire shoe just because of the insole. I'm kicking myself. I really am. (Kicking myself - ha! Because of shoes - ha! geddit?)

So let's talk about the insole. Because you're not me you would be using a standard insole template which they kindly provide on the website. I however made up my own. My theory was sound. My practise was not. Along the way of doing all my adjustments you'll remember I traced around my foot with a pencil, then I went around this line in sharpie so it would be easier to see and use. Then I stuck it to the bottom of my last and filled out my last with modelling clay. I didn't want to mess with the toe because I liked the shape of it so I left that alone. I traced the new shape with pencil so I would have a new "me" shaped insole. I covered the pencil line in sharpie line laid it over the texone board and traced around that sharpie line. Finally I covered the whole thing in leather.

You may see where I'm going with this. That pencil line (which I drew straight down and not on a slight angle to compensate for the width of the pencil) would have already been skewed very minutely. Then I add a thicker line from the sharpie which added to the width minutely. Then I cut around it (again straight down and not on a slight angle) which added width minutely. Then I covered it in leather which added width minutely. All of this only really adds up to about 5-6mm but let me tell you it's the difference between well fitting shoes and clown feet. Seriously.

I know all this because I left the toe shape the same as the last and there's still 5-6mm too much insole going on around the toes. Cringe.

Notice first how the extra 5mm all around makes the shoe huge.
Then notice that my pattern got a lot more of my foot in my shoe.

And so here's where things get honest. The shoes actually look horrible on my feet and I'm not going to wear them. They are the most expensive pair of shoes I now own and I can't wear them. To be fair though I think you learn more rapidly with shoemaking as there is so little fitting to worry about so I'm equating this one shoe with like 1-2 years of my sewing curve (remember the beginning where nothing ever fitted?) and somehow the amount of fails and fabric I had to throw out/donate would make these shoes pale in comparison. So there's that.

The Cost
Looking back on my original post on materials I work out the cost of the kit, booklet and shipping to be about $120 Australian. I used half a leather hide I bought from The Fabric Store which is around $40. This means all up these shoes cost around $160. This would totally be worth it if they fit.

Looking forward and making a plan
This always helps right? You rise from the ashes only by reflecting, setting new goals and going out and proving you are actually good at things even after you've failed? I do.

I am going to research the shit out my insoles. I'm going to draw and redraw and muslin those things until I have the best damn insoles the world has ever seen. Yeah.

I'm sticking to my original plan too in that I'll put all this kit stuff aside and follow along with the book. I'm really, really looking forward to it because firstly it's way cheaper and secondly I get to sew and have a professional finish which is obviously going to make me feel better about my shoes and myself.

Also I'm super keen to make sandals! They look incredibly easy. These shoes took 12 hours to make but I'm pretty sure you could make sandals in maybe around 2 hours or less? Also I'm pretty sure even with all leather materials plus clasps/snaps/thread etc, they're not going to cost more than about $25-$30. The good news for you is that you don't need shoe lasts to make sandals. All you need is your materials, your foot, good shoe glue and you're off and away! I hope that some of you may join me in making sandals once I get my materials sorted, make them and blog them.

I'll be back to sewing for the next couple of weeks until I gather materials and get ready for my next pair of shoes. This process has only made me more excited and determined to succeed.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Shoemaking: My first pair of ballet flats made with a kit


The good news is the kit was awesome and I'm so proud of how the final shoes look. My pattern was also a winner and covered up my wide feet nicely.

The bad news is I stuffed up the size of the insole which is one of the first steps and affects every single other step and hence the final fit of the shoes. I have too much to say about the whole process to just have one blog post on it so I've decided that this post will show you all the pretty pictures of the process.

Since I followed the kit to the letter I'm not providing any commentary on the below pictures. If you're curious about making you're own shoes I highly recommend buying it and you can use the below pictures for reference.

I'll write another post which will go into detail about the process. I'll explain what I did wrong with the insole, what I loved about the kit and what I might change next time I make ballet flats. For now enjoy the pictures!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Shoemaking: Making a pattern to fit my customised shoe lasts

Last time we left off I had just customised my shoe lasts with some modelling clay and masking tape. This post is going to be all about making a pattern for the customised foot last. If you have average feet you're probably not going to need to do this but seeing as my feet are so wide I'm taking the plunge and attempting to make my own personal pattern before starting.

I started this process by carefully sticky-taping all the masking tape down. I did this because my pattern is also going to be made of masking tape and I didn't want to pull the original masking tape off the last when pulling my pattern off. It worked really well so I recommend doing this.

When wandering around the internet looking at all things shoemaking I kept seeing images of shoe patterns being made on shoe lasts with masking tape so I gave it a go. I read somewhere (will link it up later if I remember where...) that you should  masking tape the entire foot last horizontally and then vertically so I did that. Also I read that the wrinkles on the masking tape should be made to lie as flat as you can get them so it doesn't affect the final pattern. I got a bit OCD about it so this part took me forever.

I wasn't entirely sure what to do once I got to this stage so I experimented by slipping my last into a shoe I bought recently and started tracing the line of the fabric. This really highlighted the poor fit that I have on pretty much all of my flat shoes. I wasn't sure how much to raise it by so again I experimented. This time I put the shoe on my foot and started measuring from the bottom of my foot to the spot where I'd like it to sit. I drew little dots on my foot all the way around until I was pretty happy with the curve. Then I took some masking tape and filled the gap between the edge of the fabric and my line of dots to see if the line I created look good in practise. It did! So then I had to do the same thing to the last. I carefully compared my measurements on my foot to the last and marked out dots all the way around the last until I had a smooth curve I was happy with. The only difficult part of this process is blending your newly created line with the existing toe curve to make it all look nice and seamless. Take your time with that bit, it's worth it.

To give you an idea of what you're looking at the heel is 6.5 cm high and then it grades down to 5cm just below my ankle and grades down to 4cm all the way along my foot until it meets the curve at the front.

Then it was time to cut away the excess tape at the top of the last so I could turn my pattern from a 3D shape into a 2D one. The nerves, oh the nerves.

I should mention here that all of this was done by the help of the free downloadable ballet flat pattern on My aim was to make my pattern resemble theirs so I could follow their tutorial in their book. I wrapped the pattern around the last so I could cut mine in exactly the same spot as their pattern. You can see my very high tech washi tape doing the job below.

Once I'd figured that bit out I marked a straight line down the side and peeled the pattern back off. Now I was ready to cut the pattern off the last.

I cut around the bottom edge of the last and then cut straight down the line I had drawn on the side of the pattern before peeling the whole thing off the last. My sticky tape came with it which was great because  I was left with my original modelling clay and masking tape, just how I started. This pattern is sitting inside out below because that's how it peeled off.

Now for the tricky bit. Figuring out how to turn a 3D shape into a 2D one. The first thing I needed to do was figure out exactly where that dart needed to be located on my pattern so I could lay it flat. As you can see below I used washi tape to secure the pattern to the table and then more washi tape to secure the masking tape pattern to the paper pattern so I could match it as best I could. I'm still a little doubtful about that dart but we'll come to that later.

Next step was to find some sturdy cardboard to stick my pattern to. It's quite handy that it's made of masking tape because you can just flatten and stick it to the cardboard all at once. I flattened all the easy bits first while wondering what to do with the not-so-flat bits.

In the end I decided to clip the curve at the toe and flatten it that way.

So let's talk about that dart. Once you flatten it it kind of meets up but won't stick down. Now I don't have any pattern making experience but something is really bugging me about it. If you look closely the horizontal masking tape lines are kind of acting as my grain line. They're all lying nice and flat and horizontal right up to the dart. The part after the dart (at the bottom) is now on an angle and it makes me wonder if maybe it should actually be hinged out so that the grain line is flat? I guess because I was following a pattern and the pattern had a straight line down I figured it was best just to follow along and hope for the best.

I laid the paper pattern over the top and measure the extra allowance all around the sides. It was somewhere between 2.5-3cm depending on where you measured. I thought it might be safer to keep it to straight 3cm all over. This means I'll definitely have enough fabric but it may also mean I may have to cut bits off while making the shoe. At least I know before going into it that this bit might be tricky.

I thought I'd made a huge mistake when I laid the patterns side by side at the end because I couldn't see a difference between the two and wondered if I had done all that for nothing??

Luckily once I laid one over the top of the other it became apparent that I had added extra fabric exactly where I needed it. Apart from the toe curve I had managed to bring the entire pattern in by about 2cm all around. Perfect!

Where to now? Well careful little me is going to make a muslin now and practice sewing this shape up, testing out that pesky dart and just getting my head around the whole pattern before attempting to work with leather.

Exciting times!!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Vogue 1247 - it's love.

I've been hearing people rave about this skirt and I've loved pretty much every version I've seen made up but I guess I was too into my love affair with Simplicity 2451 to notice. I used to consider Simplicity 2451 my favourite skirt pattern, my BFF, my TNT but sadly that's all over now. Enter Vogue 1247.

So why is this pattern so good? It fits straight out of the envelope! Let me clarify. I have a sway back and I'm pear shaped and when I tried on my muslin there were no folds or creases to be found. It fits in the right places and skims over things in the right places and it's kind of just the perfect length for summer. I'm not sure what magic Vogue is working in this skirt but I am officially in love. Vogue 1247 is now my BFF and TNT. Like forever guys.

The construction is pretty easy if you carefully mark everything and really read the instructions. It would be a quick little make if it weren't for all the bias binding on the seams but it does make for really good looking innards. So while we're talking about bias binding - check out what I got for Christmas here. A bias tape maker! I love using bias binding on hems and arms holes and I'm constantly on the hunt for nice stuff but now I don't have to worry. This thing can pump out metres of the stuff in about 60 seconds flat. Now I shall bind ALL OF THE THINGS.

And let's talk about pockets. Aren't these great? They just sit there being all inconspicuous-like and suddenly your hands disappear right in front of you. It's like having two tiny Kangaroo pockets.

This pattern includes a 5 centimetre hem allowance which, if I had have used it, would have turned this skirt into scandalous territory even for little 5"2 me. It was pretty much the perfect length before I had to hem it so I chose the skinniest bias binding from my stash and only had to turn it up 0.5cm. I think I might make it a smidgeon longer on my next two versions (yes, there are already 2 lined up, fabrics picked, washed and ready to cut!).

I'm wearing this skirt with one of my recently made Baseball Singlets. It's also a newly acquired TNT so I guess this whole outfit is now one giant TNT outfit. Dynamite.

Since it's been long enough since I've blogged those singlet tops for me to wear them and wash them religiously I thought I'd let you know here that the Cotton Jersey ones are looking a little worse for wear. Their hems stretched out and they're only really good for tucking into skirts like this (which is not such a bad thing). The heavy, woodlands printed cotton jersey one is still pretty good but the winner by far is this one which is made from a brushed cotton lycra. It stretches with you but keeps it's shape and the hem still looks the same as the day I sewed it.

I'm finding the longer I sew the easier it is to narrow down which fabrics I should be using and which ones to pass up. It's taken a long time to get to the point where I can walk into a fabric store and only pick up the exact fabrics that will work time and time again with my patterns but I'm super glad to be at this point. I hope if you're somewhere on your fabric picking journey that this kind of info helps you too!

So let's talk about the one downside to this skirt. The waistband. I didn't sew up the waistband on the muslin partly because the rest of the skirt was already really well fitting and I thought what could go wrong? Also I had enough continuous interfacing for one waistband and it made sense to keep that for the real thing rather than the muslin. I'm bummed I didn't sew it up first though. I found this really great tutorial for sewing this kind of waistband here. I started following the tutorial only to find that my waistband fitted the skirt exactly with 1.5cm leftover on each end for seam allowance. This was a bit of a problem seeing as there was meant to be about 3-4 centimetres leftover so that the waistband would overlap once closed. I wasn't really sure what to do so I just sewed it up with it's seam allowance and tried it on. Of course the top of the waistband is sitting away from my body because it's not right. My temporary fix was to make the top of the waistband overlap by about 3 centimetres and sew a hook and eye to keep it sitting there. It made it better but there's got to be a better way to get this waistband to fit. If you've made the Vogue 1247 and had waistband woes could you let me know what you did to fix it?

All in all this skirt is a winner. I don't have fitting woes and I'm determined to outsmart the waistband so that this becomes the perfect skirt. Stay tuned because there will be a trifecta of Vogue 1247's coming shortly!