Casting for lasts

Instep side

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.

Looking down into the heel bed

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.

Fitting the foot synopsis

Thanks to a member’s post on Crispin Colloquy, I found “Dress and Care of the Feet” by J.L. Peck at, 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.

10th century turn shoes which were too short and exacerbated the ingrown toenail

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).

Latest with lace race

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.

Pattern Updates

Butt stitched shaper

The inside of the butt stitching doesn't look too bad . . .

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.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

First shaper with full height heel

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.


Off the last

Off the lasts and off to Sunshine for sewing

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.

Glueing down the lining

Lining glued to insole

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.

Lining – first step

Stretched and tacked

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.

Building a fitter

Glove leather lined felt fitter.

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.