The goal of my shoemaking projects thus far has been to acquire the necessary skills to make myself a pair of red leather ballet flats that I have wanted for years. Now I finally dared to cut into actual leather. It took a couple of days but I managed to make a pair of serviceable leather shoes that I have already worn for days.
I found this gorgeous leather that was about 1 mm think – a bit to the thinnish side but the leather itself was pretty sturdy so I figured that it would work. I also found shoe lining leather in delicious cream colour. I also used some scraps of about 1 mm thick (probably pig) leather to make back and front stiffeners. As my previous pair had a problem of my heel slipping off, I decided to make a new pattern and add a fold-over-elastic to the top edge.
Again I must thank the shoemaker Satu Puustinen for providing me with learning materials and answering my questions. Now I followed them more carefully as I first taped my last with masking tape and then transferred the pattern to paper. I noticed that the instructions told to shorten the heel at the top and the bottom, which was definitely something I didn’t do the last time. I also marked the top edge of the shoe to both lasts so that it would be easier to keep the shape correct when pulling the leather.
The upper was simple to stitch together with only the heel seam to do. Then I zigzagged the FOE to the edge of the shoe while stretching it at the same time. This was a bit tricky to do since the FOE tried to slip away from the edge. I think the next time I try to use a bit of glue or magic tape to keep the FOE in place while I stitch.
Lasting the shoe
I moistened the leather with a spray can and left it to settle overnight in a covered wash basin. The next day I was too busy to continue so I repeated the procedure. The next night the leather was all dry and I was frustrated. The next time I will wet the shoe better and wrap it inside a plastic bag. Perhaps with a wet towel… Finally, I just sprayed the leather and only let the leather moisten for a while. (This is something I need to do better next time!)
I started stretching the shoe over the shoemaking last by fastening the upper with a single nail through the stitched seam at the heel. Then the upper was fastened from a few places to give it an initial shape:
Now it was much nicer to work than previously when I was working both shoes separately. I could switch between the shoes and the glue always had time to settle. Time is an important ingredient in shoemaking as it makes the glue stick better and thus creates lasting shoes (no pun intended).
I forgot to take a picture of the back stiffening but it is a pretty simple rectangle with rounded top corners. It was first glued to the lining with contact glue and then stiffened with a generous spread of wood glue. The wood glue also glues the lining and the upper together.
Then I could start building the heel. I used a stapler and tried to pull the leather so that I could avoid any visible creases at the edge. I think I did pretty nicely:
I continued fastening the lining and the upper until the middle of the sole. Then I continued with the lining but only used glue. This was because I needed to add the front stiffener between the layers. I carefully sanded the leather at the stiffener to make it easier for the glue to stick. I also thinned the edges so that they wouldn’t show through the upper. Then I used contact glue to glue the stiffener on. I moistened it a bit and pulled it carefully around the shoemaking last to avoid any wrinkles. Then I again used wood glue to stiffen the leather. The bits of the stiffener that went over to the sole side were cut off.
Now I could finish glueing the upper at the front. Here I noticed an error I had made. I hadn’t left enough allowance to the outside part of the toe section. I had to really work to be able to pull at least a few millimetres of leather to the sole side. That was very hard as there wasn’t so much leather to grasp. I noticed that if I didn’t grasp enough leather with my pliers the leather was in danger of ripping. After a lot of work, I managed to be able to make it work, somehow, but I am afraid that this will not make a shoe that will last very long.
I used pieces of scrap leather to even out the sole. I also sanded and cut away the sticky-outie folds of leather.
Now it was time to leave the shoes to settle overnight. Meanwhile, I cut the soles out of sole sheets I bought from Etsy. The rubber pieces weren’t very big but I managed to cut little heel pieces from the leftover scraps. I glued those on and carefully sanded the edges.
I had bought myself a tiny die cutter machine a while ago and I noticed that it cut pretty decently leather as far as the dies weren’t too detailed. The inner bits of the butterfly in the picture below didn’t cut through but the other shapes worked nicely. I decided to use some of these to decorate my ballet flats.
The next day I ripped out all the staples and glued the soles on. I combined the flower shapes and the letter K and glued those on top of the shoes:
You can see the little holes made by the stapler. Usually, shoes have a piece of leather glued to hide them, but I decide to leave them to remind myself that I had, in fact, made the pair myself.
The finished pair
I accept little imperfections as this is my first pair. The toe is not perfectly smooth. This is probably due to me not moistening the leather enough and also due to the allowance issue which prevented me from pulling the leather enough. I also would have liked to neaten the sole edges by paining them with edge paint. However, I don’t have edge paint and it will take some time to get it.
However, the pattern adjustments and the FOE did their tricks and these shoes stay on my feet pretty well! Here is the proof:
Now I have already worn these shoes for a few days and they still look great:
These shoes were shown in two fashion shows at the Ommel festival. I was a bit nervous whether the shoes would hold together but they did! In fact, I continued to wear them through the whole Sunday and Monday and the glueing has held together.
I will continue practising shoemaking. Now that I have one pair that works it will be easy to continue building different styles of shoes.
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