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Shoe Making – First Forays

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Okay, so over the past day and a half I’ve been attempting to bust out a pair of what my wife calls “Hippy Shoes’.

On Tuesday I ventured out to Lefflers which is a large leather and sundries wholesaler here in Melbourne.  Fortunately for me, it’s walking distance from my home, which I think is quite pertinent considering I’m making shoes.

The first thing I did was do a few test stitches and some gluing.  That was pretty straight-forward but of course, looked nothing like the pros.  When you see hand stiched shoes that look like it’s come off a machine, that’s seriously impressive when you consider how that skill develops.  Mine on the other hand look like they were done by a caveman.

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For my first shoe, I decided that I would experiment on my family and make a set for my son.  I originally thought I’d make some for myself first, but then thought I’d perhaps use some other materials other than leather (I cut up some old jeans) and save on the expense, but then realised I wouldn’t be getting any of the leatherworking experience that I wanted.  So as a compromise, I decided I’d make one shoe for junior and see how it went.  If it sucked or didn’t fit, then I would’ve got the pattern-making and leatherworking experience anyway, and I could move on to improving the pattern and make another one.

As you would imagine, preparation is everything.  I decided on a simple Moccasin pattern as that seemed pretty simple and if they were too lame junior could perhaps just wear them around the house.  Or something.

The big lesson here was that because the upper gets sewn around the sole and meets up at the back, the diameter of the sole must be the same length as the outer perimeter of the upper.  Also, you have to check the circumference of the foot at two places and make sure that resulting dimension is the same as the width at that corresponding point on the pattern. If it doesn’t, the shoe will be too loose.

Suffice to say my upper was too short, so I had to add a piece at the back.  This wasn’t so bad because I added a piece of contrasting material to the back which actually looks quite good.

After I had everything sort of right, it was time to sew the sole to the uppers.  You do this inside out so that there’s no visible stitching on the outside.  Keeping track of things that are constantly not the right side up or are inside out means you have to keep on the ball.  I made a couple of mistakes cutting things out with the wrong side of the material up.

The sewing is quite straight-forward, and the more you do it, the more you kinda get into a groove.    Little things make all the difference. I decided to do saddle-stiching throughout this shoe because it’s strong and looks good, and all up, it literally took me a whole day to go from pattern to the basics of a finished shoe.

Once you’ve finished sewing the sole to the uppers, you turn the shoe right-side-out.  On adult size shoes with a thick sole material this is hand breaking stuff apparently, but on a kid’s shoe it’s fairly easy. When junior got home from school, he tried it on and thankfully it fit!

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Now that he had it on his foot, I decided I didn’t want to do just a ‘normal’ moccasin.  They just looked a bit too simple and I wanted to add more designer-y stuff to it, so I decided to make it lace up in a fairly traditional way.  What I did was fold the ‘flaps’ of the foot opening down, and made a tongue to splice in and sewed them together.  To make it more kid friendly, I’m going to use shock cord and a toggle instead of laces so he can put them on himself…but I’ll be sure to take some hippy glamour shots with leather laces after I go buy a hole punch which I forgot to buy.

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  1. Looks pretty good! You integrated the back piece and the tongue in nicely.

  2. wgresswell says:

    Yeah sort of not really! The tongue is not wide enough and I don’t really like the over simplicity of the basic moc pattern, so I’ve scraped this one and am making a new one. I’m adding some 3D curvature to the heel, and made the tongue much larger, and also made the sole pattern narrower. I was pretty happy that the new upper pattern was only 5mm too long for the sole, which was pretty close seeing I only eyeballed it. An easy fix to the pattern and I’m hoping it means that I’m making progress – I expect the next one to me much better then this first one!

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