Saturday, June 27, 2015

Shoemaking - An update on what I've learnt so far

Firstly HI!

It's been nearly 6 months since we've spoken on this platform. I'm all about the instaspam but I lost my enthusiasm to blog at the start of the year. Also my tripod broke at the end of last year so there was that. Good news though, I bought a new tripod and also I finally feel like blogging All Of The Things.

I had a week off recently so I geared up for making some more shoes and I have a bunch of things to tell you about what I've learnt is working and what most definitely isn't.

So far I've blogged about a lot of things to do with shoemaking. I talked about figuring out how to starthow I customised my lasts and how I made a pattern to fit my customised shoe lasts. Then I got straight into it and made a first pair of ballet flats from a kit, before sharing the verdict on my first pair of ballet flats. I then worked through some things I learnt in the book and shared my thoughts on my second pair of ballet flats.

I did attempt to make another pair in early January that never made it to the blog and look like this.

So let's start with the fun part. I discovered flipagram for instagram and took a bunch of photos throughout the shoemaking process so you'd have a better idea of what I'm doing to put everything together. Remember that this is very much a hybrid process where I've mashed up some things I like from using the kit and some things from using the book.

This first one includes cutting out all of the parts, gluing together the insole parts and sewing together the layers.

This second one shows the insole being taped to the last, the "shoe" being pulled around the last and the lining glued down before shaping the buckram over the toe with fabric stiffener.

This third one shows all the layers being glued down, my attempt to fill in the gap with felt and then the sole being stuck on.

What you'll notice from this process is that I managed, on 4 different occasions, to make something that looks like a shoe. What you can't imagine from your computer screen is that I've made something that feels like a slipper. Now, slippers are great. I love slippers. I'm wearing some right now. But they are not, nor will they ever be, something I wear outside of the house. Even if they look like shoes.

So I guess where I'm up to at the moment is trying to bridge the gap between them looking like shoes and actually feeling like shoes.

The hardest part of this (self inflicted) process is figuring out whether the fault lies with the materials, the pattern, the process or a bit of everything. Thankfully the 6 month break I had from shoe making between January and now has let a lot of things marinate around in my little noggin.

The Materials

Crinoline - is 100% useless in creating shoes. It doesn't matter how much you use or how much fabric stiffener you slather on it, it will never be sturdy and strong enough to make something feel like a shoe.

Canvas - is helpful if you're making a fabric shoe and you want a sturdier interlining. However it still makes the shoes feel like a slipper.

Buckram - is the shit. It's pure shoe making magic. I used it in my 2 most recent attempts at shoes and it makes a world of difference to how the shoe feels. On the blue/green fabric shoe I showed a picture of above I used buckram throughout the shoe which I wet down to mould it over the last. I used fabric stiffener on the toe and I made a dedicated counter from 3 layers of buckram with fabric stiffener slathered over them. This, however, wasn't enough. The most recent shoe I made from bright blue pleather had 1 layer of buckram right round the shoe and a second layer just over the toe. I slathered every bit of buckram with the fabric stiffener and it made a huge difference. The toe area of this most recent shoe actually feels like a shoe - huzzah! Whereas the rest of it feels like a slipper. Next time I will have 2 layers of buckram coated in fabric stiffener right round the shoe and 1 extra layer at the heel to act as a counter and I'm pretty sure they're going to feel like shoes. Shoes that feel like shoes? Shut. up.

Rubber Sole Sheeting
The first 3 pairs of shoes I made had leather soles. They weren't sturdy enough, they didn't feel right and they're much too porous to be worn around very long. I'd researched rubber sole sheeting but hadn't managed to find an Australian supplier. Scrap that. I hadn't managed to find an Australian Supplier who had a website that I could easily order from. I did, however, find a company in Sydney with a website that had a catalogue. I called through to ask for the guy's opinion on rubber soling but he told me he had 200 types and he couldn't possibly know what I was after so I would have to come in. I took the opportunity of having a week of to have an excursion from the Blue Mountains to Banksmeadow. It was rainy and cold and boy was it a long way but totally worth it. I walked the last little bit in very light rain and rocked up to a factory in the middle of an industrial estate wearing a pair of ballet flats so I could take one off and point at the rubber soling should everything go horribly wrong. Turns out the owner and his team were awesome and let me walk through and feel the sheeting for myself and talk me through my options. He also learnt that I had walked in the rain which he found unacceptable so after paying for my sheeting he made me sit in a chair while we got to know each other. He told me I must be proud to be making shoes myself. I must be. In the thirty years he's run the business he's never had someone walk in off the street asking for soling because they were making shoes for a hobby. Fifteen minutes later he was driving me to the nearest Westfield which had frequent buses, all the while explaining the incredible importance of Elvis Presley's lyrics. And that, dear readers, is how I came to buy rubber sole sheeting.

So the important bit to tell you is that it's Topy sheeting which is about 3mm thick and comes in a sheet that I would say is about 100cmx60cm. They were $50 each and I can get a hell of a lot of shoes out of this. This is going to take my shoemaking to the next level. Like, hopefully a wearable level.

Fabric vs Leather/Pleather

The fact that I've been flitting back and forth between the two hasn't really been helping. I know that Leather/pleather doesn't need as much structure as does fabric but I'm still working out the perfect ingredients for both types of shoe. More to learn.

The Pattern

I had a lot of fun playing around with my lasts and creating a shape that was much more like my foot in the hope that I could make shoes that fit my wide feet. This required making a new pattern which I feel was pretty successful. Not perfect whatsoever but better for my feet than a standard pattern. However I'm finding that having this pattern I made for myself is making this all a little murkier and harder to assess whether it's the materials, pattern or process. So I've decided to do away with what I've created and go back to basics. More on that later.

I've also found that even when I've managed to make the shoes a little stiffer and sturdier they're still way too loose on the sides of my feet. I think this might come back to my pattern. I also think it might have something to do with a pattern that has the seam down the arch of the foot rather than down the heel of the foot. I'd like to experiment with making a pattern that has a seam down the heel. That way I can shape the seam more to hug my heel and therefore draw in the sides of the shoe. Without having much idea what I'm doing I feel like the line around the top of the shoe needs to be every so slightly shorter than it should be. This way when I put my foot in my heel and toe are drawing the shoe to opposite ends which will pull the sides a bit tighter. Minutely so but perhaps enough to create a bit of tension so the shoe hugs my foot rather than casually sitting up against it.

The Process

I've now learnt and applied two different methods of shoe making and then mashed them together. However this is not the only way to know how to make shoes. It only very recently occurred to me that most of the time I've been sewing I've been referring to the internet. While I couldn't find a lot on shoemaking when I first started I've since discovered a ton of great videos on youtube that give a lot of insight into how to make shoes in a big fancy factory and how to make them in your home. I've been delving through youtube and watching everything I can to absorb whatever people are freely sharing on the internet. I've also found a place that does shoe making classes online that I might sign up for if I find their method to be helpful. Membership lasts for 2-3 months though so I'd have to make sure I had a period of time to dedicate to all things shoes and not get distracted by sewing or fabric. mmmm fabric.

Learning from the Internet 

If you're interested in following along with making shoes or just want to see some great videos then head over to my new youtube account. So far I've watched just about every video from Sveta Kletina as her videos are super helpful. She's the one that runs the online sewing school over at shoemaking courses online. I've started following her process just today and I plan to make a bunch of patterns and muslin them to test things out before attempting any more shoes. This means pulling the modelling clay off my lasts and working from a standard size 39 to get used to pattern making before making any wide footed mods.

I've found the London College of Fashion videos really helpful as well but they're very geared towards people in fancy shoe making factories whereas Sveta is very geared towards someone like me at home.

All in all I'm having a lot of fun learning to make shoes. The excitement in my sewing room is palpable whenever I'm working on something that vaguely looks like a shoe. I know you might think I'm mad floundering around like this but it's been so fun. I know I have a lot to learn and that excites me. So stick around as I'm sure there'll be many more posts just like this as I narrow down the perfect way to make a shoe at home yourself.


  1. I find this all so interesting - not so much that I"ll make any shoes soon, but I really like watching you figure it all out. Nice work!

  2. This is fascinating! I am loving watching you learn this new skill and being a bad ass crafter in yet another field!

  3. Thanks lovely, it's both mad and fun. I look forward to the day I can make shoes as wearable as my handmade clothes!

  4. I'm glad it's interesting to someone other than me! It's a lot of fun but I already get enough weird looks when people hear I sew all weekend. It's nice to explain all this to people who understand the obsession to create! Just you wait til I'm a bad ass handmade shoe wearer, that's going to be something!

  5. Hi Jodie,
    Thank you for mentioning my online shoemaking courses and channel, I appreciate it.
    If I can give you a suggestion!
    Your topline is little bit too thick ( you can see it through). First you need to skive the edge of the upper real good ( 4-6 mm wide) Place glue and after you already turn it over hit along the top line with your hammer, until you flat it.
    But for beginner it's a nice job!

    It's not sewing school ( as you wrote) it's online professional shoemaking courses

  6. Hi Sveta, thanks for stopping by and commenting! That's a great tip about the topline, I'll remember that for next time.
    You happened to stumble on my sewing blog and I sew A LOT so I was saying I need to find some time to just make shoes so I can take one of your courses and really get a lot of time and benefit out of it. I'm looking forward to it!

  7. You know I was just thinking about you and your blog last night! I thought it had been a long time since I had read anything you had posted and glad to know you are fine and working on shoes. Although I am not interested in shoe making, I find it incredibly fascinating and appreciate your excitement.

  8. Great, you welcome to join at any time .

  9. Yeah I took a 6 month unintentional break from the blog. I lost my blogjo which I didn't realise was a thing. I'm definitely back now though!