I am super excited that I have finally learned how to make proper shoes at home and I can’t wait to make more of them! I acquired the lasts on last Friday and it took about one day to make this first pair of proper ballet flats. As you may know, I have made some ballet flats before without lasts but I now wanted to learn the basic shoemaking methods to make flats with hardened toe and heel that you can find in the shops.
I guess my enthusiasm showed through my first shoemaking endeavours since a real shoemaker, Satu Puustinen of Satupuu, offered to help me. She got me lasts and proper insole material and I then got her to answer dozens of questions along the way. Thank you so much!
I am sorry if I don’t use the correct shoemaking terms. Right now the terms are not yet familiar to me in any language! (Actually, the Finnish terms seem to be harder for me… how curious!)
I started by making a trial slipper with a cardboard sole. I wanted to make sure that the fit was right and try out the process without any pressure. With the lasts, no pattern is needed. Instead, masking tape is used to cover the last and the pattern is drawn onto the masking tape and cut out carefully. For the ballet flats, the pattern is actually symmetric. The asymmetry of the real foot is mostly due to the shape of the sole and the little differences can be fixed by pulling the material over the last.
My trial shoe came out alright. I didn’t bother finishing the upper edge since this shoe was never meant to be worn. However, I tried it on and it fitted nicely. My toes had enough room and my heel stayed in place while walking.
Now I finally dared to touch my actual shoemaking materials. I had Nuppu print company cotton canvas for the upper, soft suede or chamois(?) leather for the lining and Texon insole board for the insoles. Disclaimer: I got this small piece of slightly damaged Nuppu fabric for free.
The first thing to do was to seam the heel and sew the lining to the upper. To reduce bulk, I turned the canvas edge with the help of some magic tape and sewed the lining on to the already turned edge.
Sewing the upper and the lining
Here is the result:
Stiffeners and the insoles
Then I needed to cut stiffeners for the heel and the toe. I used the same suede leather I used for the lining:
Then I made the insoles. The insole pattern was taken from the last and cut out of the Texon board. Here I made several mistakes, the smaller of which is that the text side is supposed to face the sole, not the foot. Also, I should have cut the insole slightly smaller since the lining widens it a bit. I leave the third mistake for you to figure out!
I used contact glue to glue the lining to the insole. With the contact glue, it is important to spread the glue to both surfaces and then let the glue settle for a while until the solvent has evaporated. Even better is to do two layers of glue before joining the pieces.
While the insole glue was settling, it was good to glue in the heel stiffeners. These are glued to the lining using contact glue.
After this the stiffener is covered with a layer of wood glue (Such as Eri Keeper for us Finns!). This stiffens the material and sticks it on to the upper.
This is the time to pull the shoe over to the last. First, the insole is stuck in with a couple of staples. Then the upper and the lining are fastened with a few staples to their approximate positions.
Then the actual gluing and pulling starts. I started from the heel and then did first the outer side and then the inner side of the shoe. There was a lot of waiting since the glue needed its time to settle.
The toe section had to be done in stages. First the lining was fastened with glue. Then the toe stiffener was added and stiffened with wood glue and finally the upper was pulled over and carefully glued, smoothed and stapled in place. Here is the end result:
Finishing the sole
As you can see, there was quite a lot of bulk at the toe and heel. Therefore, I had to smooth out the bottom of the shoe. I used my Dremel to do it:
The gap in the middle was filled with leather scraps:
Now finally, the staples are taken off and the sole is glued in. I cut the sole shapes from the shoe soling material and sanded the edges for neatness and the glue side to improve the grip of the glue.
Fixing the slipping heel
It was hard to leave the shoes for a few hours for the glue to dry properly. Finally, when I was able to try them on, I noticed that they were slightly too loose and my heel kept slipping off. I think this is mainly due to my insole that increased my shoe size and I could have made the cover a bit more snug. I wasn’t giving up, though, so I made a couple of foam patches that I added to the heel to keep the shoes in place.
The finished pair of shoes
Here is the finished pair:
All in all, this was a super fun shoemaking project and I learned a lot! Yes, even my untrained eye can see faults but still, the first pair I ever made is completely wearable!
For the next time, I have a long list of things I will want to remember: First thing is to make the back of the shoe a bit higher. Then, I want to make the insoles slightly smaller. I also had a problem with lasting since I didn’t mark the upper edge of the shoe to the lasts. Therefore, it was hard to say how much I needed to pull the fabric. I could also add foe to the upper edge of the shoe to keep the shoes better on my feet.
I will also try if I could reduce the number of glueing steps. The instructions I got from my helpful shoemaker friend were meant for heavier leather shoes. With this kind of lightweight summer shoes, I think I could save time and effort by glueing the whole lining to the insole in one go. I could then add both stiffeners at the same time.
Here the shoes are from the back:
The fit very nicely to one of my favourite outfits I made last summer:
Ok. This was a mammoth of a post! Thank you if you managed to read all the way to the end! If you are interested in reading more about shoemaking, subscribe to the blog. More projects are definitely coming soon! Happy sewing!