I *love* research

I was trying to find out which needle would be the best for the stuff I’m doing and I was getting confused. I watched a guy sew a pair of moccasin loafers using glover’s needles, but that doesn’t help when you’re sewing curved seams. I’d read something and one person would advise a certain size Osborne needle and another would say use a Tandy in that size and my brain would begin to whirl . . . If you’ve done research trying to learn stuff, you know just what I mean. Everybody’s got an opinion.

Did you know . . . you can make a steel boars’ bristle type needle out of an E guitar string? How cool is that!? I knew I needed a flexible needle as I’m going to be doing butt joints on some stuff. I’ve looked at threading and using boar bristle needles and have winced. I happened upon a link to a YouTube video on making a steel bristle needle and I’m gonna give it a try!

Shoemaking research

We’ve got snow, I’m waiting for more leather to arrive (sow hide, goat skin and goat kid skin), I still don’t have needles and I’m bored.  So, let’s research!  <grin>  It is one of my favorite things.

I was reading up on leather needles and different cords and what threads others use for stitching leather stuff.  I was wandering through the forum at www.leathermaker.net and I ran into a link for a forum for shoemakers.  I kid you not, I have seen some of the coolest shoes and boots!

There are masses of people there making sandals, shoes, chukkas and boots!  It is an AWESOME forum!  I’ve seen everything from Roman soldier footwear and huarache sandals to award winning cowboy boots!  Before you go visiting, make sure you’ve got the time because there’s a tremendous amount to see!  The shoe pictured to the left is an example . . . and the pattern is really neat and conserving of leather!

We’re skiving, we’re skiving . . .

Rough shape ready to skive
Skiving complete
A judicious spray of water . . .
Starting to shape . . .
A few twists and more nails, more hammering . . .
Sufficiently trussed


Lots happened today . . . and now we wait.  While we’re waiting for the leather to dry, let me give you a recap of the steps.

The day before yesterday I cut stabilizers from light weight soling.  These are to replace the toe box, side stabilizers and heel counter.  This  may not work, but you know me . . . I have to try.

I got the stabilizing mid-sole (the one between the inner and the outer) wet and wrapped them in newspaper overnight, then tied them to the bottoms of my lasts using strips of t-shirt material.  I wasn’t worried about perfect at that point, I just wanted the general shape so I could see if I needed to do any additional trimming before I skived the edge.

Yesterday my skiving knife came.  After carefully sharpening the knife, I skived 1/2″ of the outside edge, feathering it down to nothing.  I only cut myself twice!  <LOL>  Neither was serious enough to require bandaging so the job got done.  I want the edge to not show on the outside of the shoe so the quality of the skiving job was important.

The I sprayed the leather on the grain side and set my last into place and, using a piece of t-shirt material began conforming the leather to the last, spraying with water occasionally as I worked.

Next came lots of nails, some rubber bands, some more strips of t-shirt material, more twisting and hammering lumps to make sure all was smooth and lots more nails.

Now we wait for them to dry.

I need to get the other pair of lasts lengthened so they match this pair.  With two sets of lasts I can do two steps at the same time.  I could be shaping the uppers ready for gluing . . . Or, if I’d been smart enough to lengthen the other pair of lasts and use them for this step, I could be gluing the liner to the insole on this pair of lasts.

Hindsight.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Pattern making

Getting ready to draw the pattern

The ;attern cut off the last.

I’ve got my shoe last stuffed into a crappy Hanes NOT 100% cotton sock.  When you wear kid sized socks and you buy a low end brand, don’t expect the content to be consistent from year to year – this purchase was a really unpleasant surprise.  I’m using them up any way I can until all six pair are gone.

With the socked last covered in ~3 layers of painters tape, I’m ready to start drawing lines for the pattern breaks.

Once I cut the pattern off the last (cut right through the sock) I traced the parts onto card board (cereal boxes work great) and added seam allowance where appropriate.

I need to do more to this pattern.  I need to figure out whether I will use a separate tongue or draw a tongue onto the front portion of the pattern.  Decisions, decisions.

I’d like this first pair to be fairly simple.  I’ve got a bunch of fairly thick really good quality leather I might use to make a pair of kickers while I’m waiting for my shoe leather to show up.

Shoe leather

I bought some shoe leather yesterday . . . gray kangaroo.  I’ve had kangaroo leather gloves before (different tanning method for glove leather) and they’re tough.  I also bought a skiving knife that can be sharpened.  I did not want the kind that had replaceable blades.  They may be safer but they’re more costly over the long run and they take more passes to get the job done.

The leather won’t be here for a week.  That gives me time to play with patterns.

And the beat goes on

My foot shape versus Doc Martin lasts

How much can I stretch this and make it work?

I found a pair of Doc Martins at Goodwill for $5.  While I couldn’t comfortably wear them for very long as they were (they tipped me forward and squeezed my metatarsal bones too much and have zero support in front of the heel on the outside of my foot), they will hopefully provide something I can work with for a pattern.

Once I got the bottom deconstructed I stuck the upper on my last.  You can see the difference in shape between my foot and the Doc Martin last.  I can wear them but they’re really uncomfortable.

I would re-last this upper onto a new sole, but the trick here is, I don’t know if there’s enough material at the bottom edge to fasten the upper to the sole.  The second part of the problem is, the lining of the toe is fabric that doesn’t stretch.  I either re-line the front of the upper or build a new upper using the disassembled upper as the starting point for a pattern.

Shoe one step one

Shaping the first layer

By now you should know that I don’t do much “normally”.  I research, I see what others have done, I think a lot and I dive in.  Here’s the first splash into serious shoe-making, sink or swim.

I had some cured leather (neither vegetable nor chrome tanned) I’ve cut to act as the form for the bottom of the shoe.  Okay, maybe that’s the wrong way to say it.  The last is actually the form for the shoe, but once the last’s taken out, I want there to be something that stabilizes the shoe lateral, a second stabilizing connection between the sole and the lining/upper.

If you’re wondering why all the cord instead of nice tidy row of finish nails to hold the leather in place . . . I neglected to get the right size finish nails on my last foray to town.  Maybe next time, assuming I remember to put it on the shopping list.  For now, I’ve had to settle for a couple horse shoe nails and bounteous amounts of cord.  On the plus side, that seems to have worked pretty well.  I think I could have done nearly the same thing with a cut up t-shirt in less time, something to try next time.

Sans cording and nails

Here’s what I have (tentatively) decided to try.

The leather you see wrapped around the bottom of the last is being shaped to the last.  Once it has completely dried, I will trim and skive it so the top edge is a uniform height and the thickness graduates to nothing at that level.  Once the trimming and skiving is done, I will set aside these pieces of leather to be added to the assembly later.

Next step is to start normal shoe construction with a leather layer on the bottom of the last that ends at the edge of the bottom.  This layer is skived/rasped at the edge to graduate it to nothing as it comes around the corner from bottom to side of foot.

The upper will be constructed of two layers (outer and lining) with a welt (around ankle and lace opening) and tongue.  The upper is then stretched over the top of last and the lining is pulled down over the bottom of the last where it is stretched, shaped, trimmed and rasped to a harmonious and flat meeting with the initial sole.

At this point I will insert the leather form I created at the beginning, gluing it into position.  As well as stability, this will provide some base line waterproofing.  Toe and heel counters are then added using judicious applications of Barge cement.  Then the sole will be applied to the bottom of the assembly and the upper outer will be pulled down and stitched to the sole.  I’m thinking I’m going to have to have one more layer of leather before the sole is applied.  If I stitch this layer of leather to the previously formed shaper, then apply the shaper to the last, then apply the sole and attach the upper to the sole catching this additional piece of leather, the build will be ultra solid but hopefully not too stiff.  The sole and upper outer will then be trimmed and finished and a sole bed liner will then be added to the inside of the shoe.

I can see a couple problems with this approach but I won’t know how it will wear until I try it.  I am hoping to produce a shoe with a lot of lateral stabilizing support that isn’t too rigid.  I’m a little concerned that I didn’t make the initial shaped leather tall enough at the sides and back.  We’ll have to see how they wear.

So here we go . . . sink or swim.

Two part lasts

While they lack to sophistication of complex break apart lasts, they have all the necessary function.

Lorr’s making more than one set of lasts for me.  This set has been cut into two so they can be removed from boots, which is my first project.

Wadly and I are headed to Lorr’s Saturday.  I’ll get a little more detail on exactly how he did the molding, what product he used for the mold and what he used as a mold release agent.

Mold making

"I made a box and then I filled it"
"Now it's full of product. I'll pull them in the morning."

Pretty new lasts!

My son, bless his heart, has taken on the task of molding my lasts.  He makes molds at his work so has much more knowledge in this area than I.  I know he struggled with how to make the molds, trying different things before reaching this pinnacle.  Success at last!

I sent him a text asking what he used as molding material.  He replied saying “some industrial crap.  Any off the shelf latex will work.”

These pictures were taken with his phone and texted to me.  The fuzziness is, I’m sure, smudges on the camera lens.

I’m so ecstatic about having lasts that match my feet!  <grin>

Cordwaining videos

Andrew Wrigley makes shoes.  He also has a really nice set of videos on YouTube on making shoes.  So far he’s uploaded 5 parts which includes all the clicking (pattern cutting), skiving, dieing, decorating and stitching of the uppers.  He is doing it all using common tools.  The first video is here.

Wrigley’s videos are the first I’ve seen that show how to construct the uppers.

Let them eat cake

Clog upper, prepped sole and appropriate tools.
Bottom of the sole and side of the clog. The back portion of the clog was trimmed to become a strap.

The shoe, all finished. Both were done in under 3 hours.

Marie Antoinette, totally bereft of the concept of people too poor to buy bread, advised the intake of cake instead, totally  missing the point altogether.  Not being able to buy shoes to fit is a bit like that.  I tell people manufacturers don’t make shoes for my size/shape feet and I get a bit of the, “eat cake” thing.

So I had a moment of brilliance this morning.  It happens occasionally.  When it happens Wadly steps back well clear of whatever chaos is about to erupt and watches warily as I forge ahead on some mad scheme.

A couple years ago I had Mark of Multnomah Leather make me a pair of clogs with a radically slanted sole.  It turned out my brilliant idea wasn’t so brilliant but rather than get rid of the whole shoe, I pulled the uppers off (pulled all the brads) and chucked the bottoms.  I’ve played with the uppers a bit trying them on this and that but generally they sat in my shoe materials box unloved and unappreciated.

While waiting for Lorr to cast my lasts I’ve been digging in my shoe materials box.  I had a pair of soles I had prepped with my anti-arch supports and a leather liner.  It occurred to me I could put the clog tops on my prepped soles and I’d have a pair of shoes.  And darned if that didn’t work!

It’s nice to have something comfortable I can wear that doesn’t readily let the water in.  A bit of spit shine and they’ll look pretty spiffy!

Shoe lasts

I still have a tremendous frustration with getting lasts that match my feet.  Winter’s coming and all I have to wear is a poorly fitted pair of expensive custom boots.  Honestly, the 10th century shoes I made are more comfortable, though they rub the ends of my toes, have zero support and are worthless in the wet.  If I can get lasts made I can remake the boots into something that will work for me and be worth close to what I paid for them.  I can also make shoes for everyday wear that are comfortable.

Not my foot, cast in RTV Silicone

So, I’ve been doing more research.  I found a  guy who made shoe lasts out of A20 RTV silicone rubber.  Hmm.  To make a mold to accurately reflect the shape and size of the foot, the foot should be weight bearing during the casting phase but that’s the only issue I have with his method.

I want to make a clay base to stand on, then pour the alginate around my foot while standing on the clay pad.  I don’t need to come up my leg as far as he did.  Using clay for the bottom should give me a reusable 2 part mold, though alginate is  not a product I expect to hold up for long.  There’s a potter on Main in Chehalis.  I’ll stop in and see if I can buy a couple pounds of worked clay.  If not I can stop and dig some out of a bank somewhere.  It’ll take longer to get it ready but it will work as well.  It’s been decades since I’ve wedged clay but I haven’t forgotten how.  I have Plaster of Paris for a wedging table and enough scrap lumber to knock one together.

Once the casting is done I’ll add material around the toes until I have models I can make molds from whenever I need to.  I can get 2 part fiberglass resin for permanent molds.  Lorr says he’s got a casting material that mimics spruce.  That’ll be a good test material for lasts.

I occasionally toy with the idea of carving my own lasts.  I’d need more chisels and gouges than I’ve got.  I wouldn’t start from scratch.  I’ve got 5 pair of women’s lasts I can cut apart and scab material to to get the right width.  With the models of my feet to work from I think I can get really close to what I need.  It’s a lot of unnecessary work if I can get molds made and find the right casting material.

These boots are made for . . .

I still haven’t gotten around to sending my boots back to be resized for my fat little feet.  I admit to being slow . . . not just in getting them packaged up and sent back but also in connecting the dots on how to fix the problem.

My boots went to town to Sunshine Shoe Repair (Korean guy and his wife, really nice people) and he put them on stretchers for four days.  I got them back and they were better but not enough so I planned to take them back and have them stretched some more.  Then something I watched months and months ago finally clicked.  Duh.  I’d seen a video wherein a young lady showed how to use ice to stretch shoes.  She was stretching peep-toe heels, but why wouldn’t the same concept work for my boots?

I put water in a couple of sandwich bags, stuck them into my boots and put them in the freezer.  Yup, that was better but still not enough so I did it again.  MUCH better on the right, but the left is still tight.  I’ve got my thinnest wool socks on (lime green with white and pink polka dots) and I’ve been out in the snow!  How cool is that!?

Felted Wool Boots

Felted wool boots

I don’t know if you can really call these “boots”.  They won’t keep moisture out but they’re really comfy and healthy for me feet.  I wear them ALL the time.

The uppers are the tops of a pair of felted wool slippers made especially for me by Cindy Gleason.  I wore those slippers until I wore the bottoms out.  No, I don’t hoard things but I also don’t throw out something I might be able to use in another way.  Cindy went to a lot of work to make these for me and the only worn out spots were the parts I walked on.

At some point the light came on and I harvested the soles from a pair of kids’ slippers I got max cheap at Target (cardboard between the foam sole and felted top was a dead giveaway) and had worn until the uppers fell apart.

I pulled everything off  the soles, trimmed them to more closely match my feet, attached my anti-arch supports (I need support on the outside of my foot, not at the arch) and covered the works with a layer of leather.  Then I  trimmed the worn out bottoms off the felted wool slippers, serged the cut edge and hand stitched the felted wool uppers to my prepared soles.

I wear them with Smartwool socks and stay out of puddles and wet grass.

Lasts at last?

I’m still working on the finding/getting/making-lasts-that-match-my-feet thing.  The three pair of lasts I got through Ebay don’t in any way resemble the feet I have.  I think they could be split and pieced to make a pair my size, though I suspect that would be an awful lot of work for little reward.  I’m really ambivalent about that. Part of my problem with that is I don’t have all the tools I need.

There’s a guy online who cut his own lasts out of blocks of wood.  I remember the photos being on one of the online photo galleries, you know the ones where you can sign up for an account and they host your pictures.  He used all sorts of hand and power tools and ended up with decent looking lasts that pretty much matched his feet.

In talking to our son, it appears he may have the perfect solution.  He has an epoxy that cures to the consistency of spruce, light, strong and workable with hand tools.  How cool is that!?  I just need to make mold of my feet with added room around the toes.

Did you know you can buy plaster impregnated socks?  I ran across them in my search for casting material.  They’re unreasonably pricey but isn’t that an interesting idea?  The plaster socks came with a plastic strip to stick to your leg.  Once the plaster is set they used bandage scissors to cut it off using the plastic strip as the guide.  Because the sock/plaster layer isn’t very thick it didn’t get as hot as sticking your foot in a plaster bucket.  That’s a plus.

There has to be a fairly simple method for making molds using socks and plaster of paris.  I wonder if it’s possible to rub dry plaster of paris into a sock and end up with something that could be used as a mold.  You know I’m gonna have to try it . . . I have a whole sack of cotton socks (white and tan) I don’t wear and a 3 gallon bucket of plaster of paris.  Perfect testing material.

What if I split a pair of socks down the back to the top of the heel and sewed in something that would allow me to . . . hmm . . .  I can see I have something here . . . I’m just not sure what.  I only need them to come up to the bottom of the ankle bone.  Maybe material flanges that I can clamp closed at the back of my foot.  I have plenty of socks to test on.  We’ll see how it goes.

At some point I’ve got to get started on this project.  I have the pattern, I have the material and tools for making shoes but before I can start I have to have lasts that resemble my feet.  I thought I was going to be able to get lasts made.  I contacted Bill at Global Footwear Solutions and had my feet scanned but never heard back from him.  I talked to him, sent emails . . . no joy, no lasts.  <sigh>  It was a bit frustrating but not a total waste of time.  I learned stuff.  That’s always good.

Shoe pattern

Inside of foot
Inside of foot (click to enlarge)

I’ve settled on a shoe design for my first solo attempt at shoe making.  I’ve got the lace-up bit set to the inside of my foot as my instep is so high lacing over it is uncomfortable.  I don’t want the lacing to the outside because they invariable provide an opening for moisture and they’re more difficult to lace.

Outside of foot
Outside of foot (click to enlarge)

I’m still short some barge cement and some buckram.  I also need a skiving knife, though I can use what I’ve got for skiving for now.  I need a good honing stone.  I can pick one of those up in town.  I’d like some thermoplastic for the toe box . . . don’t know if that’s possible.

I have three pair of wooden lasts on the way I’m hoping to be able to alter to fit me.

The pattern mockup
The pattern mockup (click to enlarge) I like this pattern really well. You can see I've already made one adjustment to the pattern (pin). And I've got the lace opening moved to least sensitive the spot on my instep.

I’ve got enough leather for all the pattern pieces.  I got a box of heavy chrome tanned leather remnants for soling from a place back east that makes motorcycle bags.  All the pieces are big enough to be usable for soles or heel counters, which is great and the price was excellent.  I’ve got a mess of different types of softer leather from our local glove factory for the upper pattern pieces.  I have a good selection of undyed and dyed.

We’ll see how it goes.


Cordwaining is the art of making shoes.  I am seeking to embrace this art form.  How’s that for pretentious?  <LOL>

I have a bit of a problem with shoes as I wear an impossible size.  Friends say my wide little feet require boxes with laces, and they aren’t far off.  I can’t tell you where I got these ridiculously small feet.  My mother and father both had normal sized feet.  All my brothers and sisters . . . okay, I lie.  My sister has the same size feet, but for some reason I cannot fathom she’s able to wedge her feet into production shoes.  Baffles the heck out of me.  I can’t.  Well, I can, I just can’t walk comfortably when I do!  Ugh!

My 10th Century shoes
My 10th Century shoes

So I’m seeking to make shoes for myself.  I’m in the middle of a shoemaking workshop put on by Trackers NW.  It’s a good workshop, though I know I’m driving the instructor mad (I cannot deny my nature).  By the end of this coming weekend I should have a pair of shoes that fit to show for my effort.  Tenth century shoes, but shoes never-the-less.