We have a bit of an unusual life, Wadly and I. We live on twelve south-facing acres backed up to forty square miles of Weyerhaeuser on a dead end road off a dead end road mere minutes from the freeway. As locations go, it couldn’t be more perfect. It’s quiet and private here. From the top of our property we can look out over Shoestring Valley and see Mount St. Helens in the distance.
Once our mortgage was paid off we decided living small was better than bigger fancier accommodations with its accompanying debt. Because our living space is small, engaging in crafts like quilting takes some innovating and good organizational skills. Having a table that will fold up out of the way when not needed is a crafty thing indeed. When it comes to crafting in a small space, it’s all about maximizing use of space!
Unless you have a family whose members require personal space, bedrooms are a waste. They’re one-use rooms not used for most of the day. I’ve always though Murphy beds were a really smart idea. They allow the bedroom to be more than one thing.
Our bed is not a Murphy bed. It’s a metal frame that sits up high enough that storage bins can be placed beneath. To further maximize the space, I’ve mounted a 4×6 layout/cutting table on the footboard. The plywood base is covered by an Omnigrid mat I purchased from the factory on a Guild field trip. The mat is held to the table by tiny brass nails to keep it in place when the table is tilted up out of the way.
I’ve got the first batch of silicone on my last and here are my observations.
First is that I shouldn’t put off until another day the continuation of the project.
Second is that I should put on a lot more silicone in the first coat. I can work with what I’ve got, I just think it would have been better to keep at it. When mixed 1:1:1, the combination is spreadable and sets up to the point additional layers could be added in under 2 hours.
Third, I should have used plaster instead of molding clay to build up the ankle and toe of my test last shape. The silicone and molding clay separate beautifully . . . . but a little too eagerly. Where the plaster will absorb the water the silicone puts off as it cures, the molding clay cannot and this creates hydraulic pressure which separates the silicone from the clay. Despite that, I think I can work with this. It’s just a test and the important bit is neither the top of the ankle OR the toe. I’ll coat the silicone with a couple layers of mold release and then add the remaining layers of silicone. I may have to pin the bits that are separating, but I don’t see that as a game changer.
Let the games begin! I’m testing molding. After lots of research, I’m actually testing! Woohoo!
Modeling clay (doesn’t dry out)
Something to use as a base (glossy scrap cardboard)
Pure silicone caulk
Stir sticks (old plastic spatulas)
I used the modeling clay to make something to mold against. I cut a piece, stuck it down to the glossy card stock, mixed equal parts corn starch and silicone caulk, then added xylene to get a spreadable consistency.
I then plastered the silicone mix onto the clay. Not pretty, but pretty really isnt’ necessary.
The third picture is the result after two hours. The silicone was largely set. I didn’t do a good enough job getting the silicone into the register holes. I’ll know to watch for that when starting the actual mold making.
Here’s the sequence of producing the short casting. If I don’t have to deal with the toes I can do this by myself pretty easily. Note that I have coated my foot and ankle with olive oil just after installing the tape (see below).
The only photo I didn’t get was of my foot set with forefoot on the ground and heel off and my leg correctly aligned.
Note the blue painters tape showing above the wrap. It runs down almost all the way to the bottom edge of the plaster wrap and protects my skin from the butter knife used to cut the plaster wrap.
I’ve used my modeling clay (has oil in it so it doesn’t dry out) and I’ve added to the casting I made for my heel seat press. There’s no reason I can’t use that casting for both my initial last casting AND as the template for a press for the cork for my heel seat.
Once I get the initial mold made I can clean it up and do any final fussy shaping. The modeling clay fleshes out the toe and the top of the last at the ankle.
I’ve been toying with making a pair of stitch-down sandal shoes ala Alan James Raddon but I could never figure out how to get the toe strap adjusted so it would be comfortably snug but not too tight. When I need a solution to a problem, I’ve learned to just let things ferment. Today I think I’ve found the answer.
I was researching shoe making stuff and in a search on lasts shoes DIY I ran into a forum that led me to a website that had this picture. The site is SixSmith.org, a company that makes custom lasts and hold workshops on shoe making.
For making my own pair of sandal shoes, my brain was firmly fastened on sewing the outside first and I couldn’t figure out now to get the strap length right. Duh. This is just a little too obvious. <rolls eyes at self>. Sew the inside first!
In my weekly conversation with our son, I talked about what I’ve been doing to get lasts that would help me produce a better fitting shoe. We’ve thrown a lot of ideas back and forth and it’s gelling. We’ll see how it goes.
One of the most difficult roadblocks I’ve run into for making my own shoes is good lasts. The better the last matches the foot, the better the fit of the shoe. The better the footbed matches the stabilized foot (vertical support system, forefoot flat on the floor, heel not weight bearing), the less stress put on the leg/ankle.
Because I have both fit issues (3½EEEEEE and 4EEEEE) and support issues (high arch and instep and wrecked left ankle), having a superior fitting last is essential.
In the past when I cast my foot I had problems. Part of this is simply learning curve, part of it is technique requiring modification or improvement. When casting your foot in plaster, any movement of the foot changes the final shape of the mold, pushing the mold material and making a loose fitting cast. I’ve wracked my brain on this one and I have the answer to that, finally. An elastic bandage.
The day before yesterday I cast part of my foot with the intent to build a mold for creating a modified foot bed press for my left foot (bad ankle leg). I bought an Art Minds Plaster Wrap from the craft store and cut half of it into lengths ranging from just over 1′ to just under 1½’. After collecting all my bits and pieces (plastic to set my foot on while casting, pan of warm water, serrated butter knife, plastic bag, elastic wrap, small bowl with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a 2″ paint brush) together in a convenient spot and protecting the floor, I painted the area of the foot I was casting with olive oil.
I had a reason for not wrapping my foot in plastic before adding the plaster wrap. No matter what you do, the plastic changes the shape of the foot. Where there’s only one tiny thin layer it doesn’t make much difference, but every fold and wrinkle adds up to a sloppy fit. The sloppier the fit the more you have to do to the mold to make it work. It’s much easier just to paint the foot with olive oil. Using a paint brush kept it off my hands and gave me a nice thick coat of oil on my foot.
I dipped the pieces of plaster wrap in warm water, squeegeeing off as much of the extra water as I could and proceeded to wrap my foot.
When I finished adding the plaster wrap I covered my foot with a plastic bag and wrapped it with an elastic bandage. This final bit is the true trick. It provides tension and keeps the plaster wrap tight against the foot so the end result is a snug fit while the plaster sets. Before, when casting my foot, I would invariably end up with loose spots in the casting that made the casting less than useful.
With my foot all en-swathed, I sat with a small amount of weight pressing down through my leg into my forefoot with my heel slightly off the ground until the plaster set enough to hold its shape. I paid particular attention to having my leg properly aligned vertically above my ankle and my ankle flexed to a create a right angle between my foot and my leg.
When the plaster had cured to leather hard, I unwrapped the elastic bandage, removed the plastic wrap and, using a butter knife with a serrated edge, carefully sawed down the front of the casting to almost the edge above the toes. I pried the edges apart and slid my foot out, wrapping a piece of plastic bag around the casting to close up the front edges before setting it aside to finish curing/drying.
Next time I do this I will be casting the whole foot. I will fold/roll a piece of plaster wrap lengthwise to create a thicker top edge. This will help strengthen the casting. I’ll also get Wadly to help. This is a much easier job with two people, one to own the foot and hand over the tools and materials, the other to do the wrapping.
Thanks to a member’s post on Crispin Colloquy, I found “Dress and Care of the Feet” by J.L. Peck at archive.org, a book which I found to be enlightening.
I have very short very wide feet. One foot is a 3½EEEEEE, the other a 4EEEEE. Yup, really. I’m 5’3″ so I’m not short. Okay, I’m not relatively short for a woman. Next to my 6′ spouse, I’m short. And my feet are very thick. All the volume in length I should have for my height is packed into short wide feet. We can do the “woe, genetics” thing another day. I’m just not that into beating my chest over things I can’t change.
With my feet it’s impossible to get shoes that fit the volume of my foot. If the shoe is short enough to fit my length, I can’t get my foot in them. If I can get my feet in them, they’re so long nothing on the footbed fits.
Over the last 8 years I’ve been on a journey to get shoes that actually fit. I’ve gone from shoes made by others (custom made shoes which gave me an ingrown toenail and mildly uncomfortable clogs with a generic footbed that didn’t accommodate the intricacies of the bottom of my foot) to shoes I’ve made.
Pig skin lined wool which were very comfortable if too loose and which still lacked the necessary custom foot bed
The pair of shoes I’m wearing now (kangaroo lining and chrome tanned bison outer) which are ugly but the most comfortable and easily the healthiest shoe I’ve worn yet, though still somewhat lacking in having the footbed just right.
With each iteration of footwear I’ve learned something vital and each subsequent effort is closer to the mark.
So, back to Care and Feeding of the Foot . . . In reading Peck’s “Dress and Care of the Feet” I got confirmation on what I have done. In making the toe box of my shoes overly generous I have been slowly restoring my feet to health. My ingrown toenail no longer bothers me, the large callous at the base of my little toe has peeled off and my ankles are getting healthier and stronger. I no longer lose a day to lameness when I spend a day running around outside.
So, though my shoes are very unfashionable, my feet are happier. With that I interject a hearty and droll “Go me!”
My next effort will be a pair of shoes with the lace encircling the ankle. I’ve made a test shoe and it wraps around my foot properly and provides the right support. I just need to master the footbed. I’ve got plans for that (custom press to shape mold-able cork).
I made two iterations of this shoe, one with the ankle race and one without. The one with the lace race around the ankle was easily the best as it keeps my foot correctly oriented in the shoe.
If you’re wondering about the lacing hardware and direction, my instep is so sensitive I am uncomfortable with laces running across it, even with the extra buffering of a lined tongue. Keeping the laces on the outside of the shoe makes having laced shoes tolerable. By trial and error, I’ve discovered tying the shoe at the bottom provides the most comfort.
The next pair of shoes will have one lace hook paired with lace Ds. I can knot the lace at the bottom and by unhooking the lace off one of the upper hooks I can loosen the laces enough for the shoe to be taken off and put back on.
You really can’t call this a boot. It’s a shoe but I’ve snugged the top right up against the bottom of my ankle bone to help stabilize my foot. This design really works. I run around outside and don’t even notice I have them on.
I’d like to thank Larry Anderson for the “lace race” term. It’s perfect.
Now that I know this design works I’m going to make a “real” pair.
I love my new toe socks. Who knew toe socks could be so awesome?! They are max comfy if a tad more difficult to install than untoed socks.
I like these so much I’ve ordered smartwool toe socks. I have some smartwool knee-high regular socks which are the socks I wear most, so smartwool toe socks should be awesome. Unfortunately, smartwool toed socks don’t come in knee-high style in my size. I’m getting mini and anklet in womens small. Better than a jab with a sharp stick . . .
If I’m ever going to try Five Fingers, now is the time. Vibram is having a big sale. Instead of the normal $80 price tag, the kids’ KSOs are $60. I ordered mine for REI and ordered black and gray toetoe walker socks from Sock Dreams in Oregon.
We had a lovely dinner with our kids last weekend. Patty was wearing sandals from Payless Shoes. The strap design was simple and elegant, just two loops. I’ll have to make a pair of these. I’ve got some red goat hide that would be perfect!
I have a short hand awl I like to use for opening holes for hand stitching. It’s got a nice slender shaft and the hole is ample for accepting needles carrying 7-strand waxed linen. The problem with using it is the amount of time the process takes. Punch three holes, sew three holes, punch three holes, sew three holes. The left foot took me two days as my neck would wear out from fighting the awl out of the hole once I managed to get it into the leather to make the hole.
Some really bright guy on the Crispin Colloquy (shoemakers list) used a drill press to punch leather. The drill press wasn’t running, it was used as a press (leverage). Insert the tool into the chuck (he was using a three gang chisel punch) and pull the lever. Instant hole. I thought it was such an exceptional idea I just had to try it.
It took less than five minutes to punch all the holes I needed for stitching the shaper to the midsole for the right shoe. There’s no way I could have done the job that easily or quickly with my hand awl. I had previously marked all the holes so jumping from one to the next was a breeze.
The crewel needle I used held up really well to being chucked in the press. I didn’t turn the drill press on to see if I’d managed to chuck it completely straight. I don’t know how much the difference in symmetry was an issue. It worked and that’s what I needed to happen.
So here’s where I’m at on the second pair of “real” shoes. These are oil tanned bison outer and vegetable tanned kangaroo lining.
I sewed the upper and lining pieces together then joined them via a row of stitching around the opening. The rivets I got with the speed lacers where too small so I sent them off to Albert at Sunshine Shoe Repair for rivets to hold on the speed lacers I got at an online shop specializing in fittings for those who build S&M harness and clothing. <wince> What can I say, it’s where I found them.
After a good soak, I stretched the lining over the last and nailed it in place.
After it dried I added a ring of inner tube to hold the lining in place while I denailed, trimmed and glued the lining to the insole.
After the glue had dried I trimmed off the excess and rasped the bottom to a fairly regular surface.
Now I need to add the filler, a piece of leather the thickness of the lining leather. Once the glue holding the filler in place is dry, I’ll build the shapers. My butt stitching is improving and I hope to have a not too lumpy shaper over which the outer will be stitched down to the midsole.
I’m using 7-cord waxed linen thread for the hand sewing bits. I’m using nylon upholstery thread for the machine sewn bits.
I’ve got a pair of shoes in the works. I don’t know how successful this design will be. The upper is a single layer of bison and all the support is built into the insole. The single pieced shaper is stitched through the bison layer.
The sole still needs to be trimmed very close to where it joins the upper. Once the sole is trimmed, I will reinsert the last, get the shaper wet and reshaped. This will close up the awl holes I made stitching the shaper to the upper.
Once the shaper’s completely dry I’ll paint bed liner over the shaper and the side of the sole. The end result should be a funky looking sneaker.
There are two things I didn’t do that I probably should have. I didn’t add a welt around the ankle opening. That may have been an error and only time will tell. This is something I can go back and do if I feel I must.
The second maybe oops is, I didn’t stitch the outer sole to the shaper before applying the shaper to the upper. The one person I know with the machine to do that has developed a really mean case of early onset Alzheimer. <wince> Sadly, avoid is the name of the game there.
The side rings are to accommodate a strap that goes around the back of the shoe, through the side rings and across the top of my instep to secure the shoe for heavy duty things like running after horses. The strap under the foot is, I believe, too long, but I won’t know for sure until I wear the shoes for a while.
What would a shoe look like if a California architect designed it? Trust me, it gets pretty interesting.
Cydwoq produces some pretty interesting uppers and I’ve gotten some really interesting ideas from looking at the footwear on the site.
Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any awareness of the connection between toe spring (how much the toe of the shoe lifts of the ground) and heel height. Some of the low heeled or heelless shoes are made on lasts engineered to have more heel than provided on the shoe.
I’ve been reading up on Vibram Five Fingers; the technology behind the shoes and the people who wear them. This month they’ve come out with a youth sizes of their KSO (keeps stuff out) style. Next time I’m in Portland I’ll run by REI and give them a try.
I had an epiphany last night. I need to rethink how I’m making my shoes. I don’t need to change a lot, but what I need to change will make a significant difference to how my shoes fit and my feet feel.
Because I have a really high arch and correspondingly high instep, I can’t wear a regular shoe and expect it to not hurt my arch. Any pressure I put on the arch is downward as the lacing tries to press my arch down to fill the void left by the arch of my instep.
I need to do one of two things. I either need to make an orthotic to fill the void or I need to build the shoe to fill the void. Of the two choices, I prefer the later. I hate having to move supports from one shoe to the next.
I’ve started on my first pair of *real* shoes. I’m going to make a glued “sneaker”. This will take one additional piece of leather. I’m going to glue the lining to the insole, add the fill to level off the bottom, add the fill for the instep, glue the upper down over all that, add the fill for the upper, glue on my shaper (yeah, I’m gluing it outside the outer) and then add the final outsole shaping it to come just to the feather edge. The last bit I’ll have to have Sunshine Shoe Repair do as he has all the wonderful shaping machines.
That should give me an all leather sneaker with superior support. It should be fun. Let the games begin . . .
I finished the second pair of fitters this morning and overall, I’m very pleased. They aren’t fashionable, but they do tell me how I’m doing getting my lasts adjusted. I initially thought I would need to narrow the toe box but they’re just right. As to overall fit, the right shoe is perfect. There is nothing I would change about the fit of the right shoe. The left, though close, isn’t quite perfect. My left heel slides up and down just a little and the shoe is a tiny bit short. I occasionally feel the end of the shoe with my left middle toe. Once I fix these two issues, I think I will have great fitting shoes.
I want to add a little to the height of both lasts at the top front of the cone. I think the fit would benefit from having that part of the shoe cut ½” higher.
My next pair of shoes will be a “real” pair with pig skin lining and 4oz outer leather. I’m not saying I won’t wear the fitters. I will. The first pair will work great as house shoes and I’ve already been running around outside in the second pair. They’re not pretty, but otherwise they’re great; light and supportive without being rigid. I’ve added the pair of supports out of my dress clogs to keep my knees and hips comfortable. Picture me happy.
Ultimately, I want to reshape the lasts so the supports can be built right into the shoes. When I get the lasts perfect, I’ll make a mold and recast them in the final shape. That will give me a clean feather edge, something that would make the process of creating shoes on the lasts easier.
I’m always looking for manufactured shoes in my size. I always seem to miss by half a size. It’s frustrating.
The latest was a pair of New Balance 3½ XW. They arrived and the left shoe fit perfectly. The foot bed was right, the width was right and the length was perfect . . . then the other shoe dropped. The right shoe fit half a size too small and was tight across the ball. My left foot is actually half a size larger than my right, so picture me puzzled. I went online to see if I could get a pair a half size larger but their size 4 doesn’t come in an XW. <sigh> At least they cover the cost of shipping the shoes back.
Here’s the shaper for the left foot showing the butt stitching at the heel. It’s not the most perfect but it certainly does the job. I’ve got some more stitching, trimming and skiving to do before I can start assembling the shoe. The other shaper hasn’t been butt stitched. I stitched one before shaping it over the last. The second I left unstitched. This will tell me which works best, stitching it wet or stitching it dry.
Here they are, the first shoes. They’re pretty comfortable, though I haven’t put in my anti-arch supports. The neck of the shoe is too large, which I expected. I really have trouble with the laces crossing my arches. It’s really uncomfortable though I used a very heavy spongy piece of leather for a tongue to try and protect my arch. I’ve rerun the laces to go from side to side on the top and up and down on the foot side (not pictured). That’s proving to be more comfortable.
After this next pair of shoes (in the works) I’ll know how much I need to reduce the last’s width in the toe box area. One step at a time . . .
It’s very much a Mr. Rogers kind of day. The sun is out, the crocuses are in bloom, the elephant garlic is showing green shoots. Spring is just around the corner. I need to get a pair of shoes done so I can get out and play!
After completing the fitter pair, I made some adjustments to the lasts and to the pattern and I’ve started a second pair of shoes. The first pair is at Sunshine Shoe Repair having soles sewn on and grommets added for lacing. They won’t be good for anything except running around the house because they don’t come up high enough to stay on if I try and do anything but walk gently. Making them told me where I needed to make adjustments to my pattern and my lasts. We’ll see if the adjustments I made are adequate.
So here we are, new shapers are on the lasts. I’ve cut triangles out of the shapers at the heel to reduce the bulk and help shape the leather around the heel. This set of shapers come all the way to the top of the heel in place of the heel counter.
As you’ll see when I get these out of the wrapping tomorrow, my butt stitching needs more practice. I like what I’m doing and I’m learning new stuff which is always fun.
Here it is, fresh off the last. I’m going to need to make some changes to the pattern. The shoe isn’t tall enough around the ankle. I will fix that. I think these will be a good light-duty around the house shoe. All in all, I’m fairly pleased.
I’ve got a lot done in the last couple days. I fnally got thread that works and the sewing has been fairly flawless. I finished the sewing on the second upper and have started lasting. I have detailed images if you need to see them, just let me know.
When the glue dried completely I will rasp the lumps and bumps in the lining to smooth it. Once that’s done I will do an infill to make the bottom completely smooth and glue on my shaped bottoms. These I will have to clamp in place to ensure I get firm smooth connect.
Here’s the lining, all stretched on and tacked in place. This is glove leather. Preshaping it works for me, I can’t say why. I soaked the leather before stretching it over the last. I didn’t use a pattern, just stretched the single piece of leather over the last, tacking it in place and trimming away the excess.
Next I will unlast and sew the back seam, then relast and trim the lining at the top, turn the top of the lining down and fasten it with white glue. Then I will unlast the lining again and sew the upper to the lining and attach the tongue.
Before I can tackle the actual lasting I have to sharpen my skiving knife. I bought the equipment to do that on my trip to town yesterday.
I’m working on a “fitter” to make sure my last doesn’t need adjusting before I start making *real* shoes. So far it looks pretty good! I’ll try and get the second one done today so I can take them both with me tomorrow to get the Vibram outer sole and the grommets for the lacing.
Out of the blue this morning I got a call from halfway around the world. Frank Jones from England called to introduce himself, laugh about our life experiences and extend some advice.
He directed me to a shoe making school (run by Bill and Julie Shanor) fairly close to me that might be able to help smooth my learning curve as it applies to making shoes. I did a bit of snooping around on their site and ran into the shoes pictured to the left. Are those perfect or what?! <LOL> A little too fancy for running around in the field but the shape and function is totally appropriate.
I’ve extended the question to the Shanors (a bit of custom instruction), thanked Frank for the proffered advice and will now sit back and see what happens. Life can be SO much fun . . .