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 icanmakeshoes.com 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!

30 comments:

  1. Yay for the best fitting shoes you've worn! These shoes are so darn cute! I love reading these posts and reading your journey into shoe making. One day, I'll make shoes too and your posts will be so helpful! I can't wait for your tutorial too!


    I too have wide feet and it's a pain finding the right shoe. I have a few shoes that aren't comfortable after a couple of hours of wear, and I haven't worn them sense. This is a great solution to that!

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  2. You made such a brilliant article! and the shoes are super nice and I bet with next pair you will create the perfect shoe, good to be worn when it rains too! Keep us informed on how the fit evolve by wearing them! Have a great day!

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  3. Thank you for documenting this, it's so interesting! They may not be perfect yet, but you're making shoes! That's so awesome. I hope I'll get around to it one day. I was wondering, if you hadn't made the ones from the kit first, do you think you'd have been able to follow along with the book? It seems like the cheaper option.

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  4. Rosie the artworkerJanuary 4, 2015 at 8:34 PM

    Hurrah for you Jodie! It's so exciting being an observer of your shoe learnings; your genuine interest in the process and long term dedication to the whole project comes across beautifully. Its really refreshing to see the energy of a new skill (a new, enjoyable, challenging and useful skill!) unfolding, keep at it!

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  5. Yes, it's really gratifying to have shoes that fit in the right places. I never really thought about how bad it must be for both my shoes and my feet to wear bad shoes until now. I hope these posts can help you further down the track!

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  6. Hah! Yeah having shoes that can be worn in any weather would be ideal! I'm sure it will all come together if I work on it slowly.

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  7. That's such a great question and maybe on some level you're right? I've had this book for 4 years but the second I came across the kit I bought it and used it. I think the biggest thing stopping me using the book in the beginning was my lack of sewing skills and knowing what buckram and crinoline and these types of fabric were. Now that I've got a foolproof pattern and a basic understanding I can pick and choose tips and techniques that will suit me. And I guess this is the reason I'm going overboard with documenting this process. I know a lot of people are just like me and want to make their own shoes but just don't know where to start. I hope by the time I create a proper tutorial that it will take some of that confusion away for other people.

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  8. You're so right Rosie! The energy of learning a new skill is incredible. I'm a curious person by nature but this process is just so fascinating to me that I can't quit. I hope that sharing my fails and triumphs in equal measure will help people to take the leap and start making shoes of their own. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

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  9. Excellent work there. You should feel very proud of those shoes - they look fab!

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  10. These are adorable and I'm so happy it worked out so well for you this time!

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  11. Thank you for documenting your experiences! I am one of those no-clue-where-to-start people, and your posts have made me feel like making my own shoes isn't impossible.

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  12. Not only are your new shoes cute as a button, I love that you are learning so much. It's fascinating to read the steps and know how much work must go into each piece. So inspiring.

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  13. I love these shoes! Huge kudos to you for following through with your plan to make your own shoes---twice!! My daughter made herself a pair of sandals when she was about 12yo,,,(because her teacher told her she couldn't "make" a pair of shoes) and still clomps around in them when she's home to visit.

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  14. I'm ridiculously proud. Thank you, I love them.

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  15. It turned out so much better! Still a lot to learn but it's so gratifying.

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  16. It's definitely not impossible, particularly if you don't make the mistakes I already have!

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  17. For sure! Wearable shoes make me feel triumphant.

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  18. Thank you. I think it might be sandals next when I get myself organised.

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  19. Yeah it's a whole new world, shoe making. I can't wait until I have my process down pat and I can whip up a sturdy, reliable pair of shoes and replace the ill-fitting, cheap ones I already own.

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  20. Ha! Nothing like being told you can't do something to fan the flames! That's a great story!

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  21. Amazing - so glad you kept on with your shoe making journey!

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  22. This is fantastic! I feel like every person who boggles at me when I tell them I can make my own clothes ('people can MAKE THEIR OWN CLOTHES?!' O.O), except now it's me going 'people can MAKE THEIR OWN SHOES?!?!

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  23. I really hope you do! It would be less overwhelming to start if you knew there was an expert you could ask questions.

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  24. Nothing's going to stop me now!!

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  25. Ha! It's true. People think that making things yourself is some kind of magic and they're really keen on learning the trick until they realise the trick is hard work and patience. I think it's the same with shoes.

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  26. Hooray for handmade shoes that fit! The fabric outter is fantastic. I would never have thought so many materials go into making shoes! Great post Jodie :)

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  27. I'm actually surprised that of all the materials that go into shoes you can buy almost all the materials in fabric/craft stores actually!

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  28. omg so much work, but they look so awesome! great work, it totally paid off

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  29. Yeah, I'm stoked with how they turned out. Hip hip hooray!

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  30. These are amazing! It makes me want to make a pair too!

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