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.

Sewing sequence for the toe strap at

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, 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.

Starting my first pair of lasted shoes

My foot is 8¼” long by 4″ wide.  For a 5’3″ tall woman weighing ~200 lbs, that’s not much foot and the relation of length to width makes it an EEEEEE.  Yup, that was six Es.  My sister’s foot is the same, though she’s quite a bit finer boned than I am and probably weighs just a bit less.  She has mom’s bone structure, I have dad’s.  Her face is oval, mine is square.  She has long oval fingernails and I have short square fingernails.  Why our feet are the same size . . . <shrug> . . . it’s genetics.

Because there is no company on this earth that I am aware of that makes shoes that are designed to fit my feet, I’ve taken to making my own footwear, for better or worse.  And because, as I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve spent any time on this site at all, I do things my own way, the methods and steps I used to create my first pair of shoes differ from those who seriously embrace classic cordwaining.   I’m sure by now I’ve got the folks on the cordwaining forum mentally throwing stones at me.  I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t at least gently stir the pot a little.

So here we go, my first pair of lasted shoes.

My last

Because I cannot purchase a last that will produce a shoe that will fit my feet, I have to start with a last.  I made boxes to use as containers for molding my feet.  I mixed alginate, poured it in the boxes and stepped in.  For small feet like mine I used a total of three 1lb bags of alginate which I got from my wonderful dentist.

Once the alginate set I wiggled my feet free, mixed plaster of paris and filled the molds to the brim.

Once the plaster of paris had set I tore the alginate apart to release the plaster feet therein.

I built up the plaster foot form with more plaster to give myself a toe box shape.  As you can see I didn’t add enough to the length and ended up having to add more length after I got the resin last.  I also shaped and filled in rough spots.

After the plaster was dry I cleaned up the plaster feet and sent them to my son for casting in a two part resin.  The result is what you see.  The screws allow the last to be taken apart for easy removal from the shoe.

Leather molded to the bottom of the last

To make sure the last would give me the right shape for my foot I molded a piece of leather to the bottom.  When I stepped into this form with my sock-clad foot, I could tell I was on the right track.

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.

Bespoke sneakers

Product of a workshop

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 . . .

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 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!