Thursday, December 4, 2014
Shoemaking: Figuring out how to start
Shoemaking: Figuring out how to start
When I first got into sewing about 4 years ago I got really curious about making my own shoes as well. Surely if you can make your own clothes from scratch with the help of the internet you could fumble your way through making your own shoes right?
I guess I was a little more intimidated by starting because there’s not a lot of information about shoemaking at home. While there are hundreds & thousands of sewing bloggers worldwide with even more people sewing without blogging there just aren’t that many people shoemaking. Or maybe there are and they haven’t got blogs? Or maybe they blog and I just haven’t found them yet? Whatever the case, shoemaking seems to be a lot rarer than sewing.
I’ve come across a number of shoe making courses both in Australia and worldwide which I don’t doubt is probably the best way to learn. However I don’t learn as well in classes as I do when I teach myself things. There’s something about the very public nature of learning and making mistakes in front of other people that just doesn’t work for me. I’d much rather learn and make mistakes by myself where I can take my time to reflect and research and retry things at my own pace.
So where to begin?
Making shoes from a kit vs making shoes by following a book
Shoe Making Kit
The reason I took the plunge and committed to start making my own shoes is because I stumbled across a link on Pinterest that lead me to this site icanmakeshoes.com.
It’s a place in London that teaches classes on basic shoemaking and sells kits, lasts and booklets online. This place really seems to understand what it means to teach people a whole new skill from scratch. They’ve got all the materials for sale, you can buy yourself a kit which includes every single thing you need to put together a pair of shoes (except the lasts) and they have booklets with really clear instructions which are accompanied by colour photographs outlining each step. The look of their website, their products and their booklets is very fresh and modern. The kits and the booklets are clearly aimed at someone who has never ventured into shoemaking and could either be there in their studio learning or doing the same thing from home. I bought the kit, the booklet on making ballet flats and the booklet on making sandals. I would have bought my lasts from the same place but the shipping was going to cost more than the actual lasts so I didn’t.
After reading the booklet you can tell this is the absolute simplest way to make a pair of shoes and takes away all the fear of beginning. The perfect start! It has you making shoes from leather so you can simply cut away the edges and they won’t fray. It only asks you to sew one seam on the lining and one seam on the outer fabric so this can be done without a sewing machine if necessary which makes this kit even more accessible.
Following a book
This website was not the initial inspiration for making my own shoes though. Four years ago when I started researching this idea I happened across this book Make Your Own Shoes by Mary Wales Loomis at marywalesloomis.com and bought it. Mary wanted to make her own shoes at home and since she had very little information on the subject she researched shoemaking the best way she knew how - from shoes. She cut up some of her older shoes and inspected each part. She sourced materials wherever she could and she spoke to her local cobbler whenever she couldn’t find what she was looking for. She also didn’t stop at flat shoes. She was keen to make heels or high heels (read: pumps if you’re not Australian?) as well so she cut them open and sourced materials for making her own heels.
What I loved most about this book is that it’s all done with what she can find. She sacrificed a pair of shoes so she could make a plaster of paris shoe last and experimented with different fabrics and stiffeners on the shoe upper until she had the process down pat. As a result this book is much more detailed. It requires you to stitch and understitch your layers, it has you hand stitching the layers under the shoes together really tightly before gluing and it talks about different fabrics to use and what linings and stiffeners might be appropriate for each choice.
Figuring out how to start
I love the idea of both of these methods. I bought the kit because I wanted a little hand holding on my first pair and now that I know they’re made with leather I don’t have to worry about much sewing. I can dive straight in and have a custom made pair of shoes in no time. Instant-ish gratification!
So my first pair will be made solely from the materials from the kit and following the booklet on making ballet pumps to the letter. I think it will be a fun and easy way to ease myself into shoe making.
For my second pair I’m going to put all that aside and go with the book. I’ll choose a fabric instead of a leather, I’ll use appropriate linings and stiffeners as per the book’s suggestions and I’ll be sewing some of it on my machine and some of it by hand as suggested.
I’m interested to see which process is better for me. I suspect I’m going to like the one with all the sewing better because I feel like its going to produce a more professional shoe but on the other hand all the materials come with the kit so it’s going to end up looking and feeling pretty professional too. Time will tell!
Also I'll be trying out making my own sandals. And somewhere along the line I will customise my shoe lasts so I can make shoes that really fit my feet.
What materials have I got so far and where did I source them?
Shoe Making Kit - £39.95
Ballet Flats Booklet - £12.50
Simple Sandals Booklet - £8.50
Extra shoe glue x 2 - £9
+ £10 postage
Total Australian = $148
Shoe lasts - $45 American + $22 American postage
Total Australian = $80
Make Your Own Shoes - $39.95 American
Total Australian = $45
I haven’t yet bought leather for my first pair of shoes and I also don’t have all the materials for my second pair of shoes yet but I’ll be including an expenses list for each pair of shoes I make. I suspect making shoes from the book will result in a cheaper pair of shoes but I’m yet to really test that theory.
I’ll be making my first pair of shoes in the next couple of weeks so I’ll report back on the process in a detailed post or you can watch the process on instagram.
at 7:23 PM