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!


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