Learn to make shoes day #1

Shoe School

Last weeks post was about men and their hobbies, so it seems only fair that this week I should fess up to my hobby. I love shoes. Love love love them. And while I’m no threat to Imelda Marcos, and I don’t even come close to having the equivalent number of shoes that hubby has plastic kits, it’s fair to say I do have more than is strictly necessary. Way more than Jacinda’s miserly collection of three. You can barely call that a collection. She is a disgrace to shoe fiends everywhere.  But I digress.  So when Shoe School opened pretty much on my doorstep, what was a girl to do? Enrol of course!

In the past when I have dreamt of making shoes, there weren’t really any options that covered just shoemaking, so I was ridiculously excited to think that I might be able to actually make my own pair of shoes. It was an easy decision to sign up for the 5-day workshop and make myself a pair of custom fitted bespoke shoes.  The whole experience was fascinating and rewarding, I came away with a new appreciation of the amount of work that goes into the process.  I plan to take you on my shoe making adventure over the next five days.

Read on for Day #1.

Day #1

Shoe School is in Newtown Wellington and is run by the fabulous Lou Clifton. It is a five-day workshop, we go in bare-footed and walk out five days later with our feet beautifully clad in stunning leather shoes.
As preparation for the course, I had to draw around my feet and take various measurements following simple instructions. From this, Lou made a pattern specifically to suit my foot, and also made a mock-up of the style and size based on my pattern. I had chosen to make a derby style shoe, a simple flat lace-up. Think of a standard Doc Marten shoe – that’s a derby style.

When I arrived on day 1, I had a mocked up shoe to try on for fit and had been assigned a last to use for making my shoes. I tried the mock-up shoe on and we made a few adjustments to make sure it fitted perfectly.  A little higher at the back of my heel so my foot wouldn’t slip out, a little lower on the seams at the side.  For the uninitiated like me, a last is basically a 3-dimensional template which is used as a mould to fit the shoe on to, as per the right foot in the photo below.  The last can be padded out and have bits added to replicate the shoe wearers individual foot quirks. The left foot has the mock-up made out of soft leather according to my measurements.

Mock-up and last

With the fitting done it was time for the fun stuff – choosing leather. What colour, and what overall look do I want the shoe to have?  I had found a shoe idea online that really appealed, a casual lace-up with star shapes cut out of the leather with a contrasting colour stitched underneath. I found some lovely purple that had a sort of crinkled aged look for the uppers and a teal blue shiny leather for the stars. Sorted!  Excitement levels ramped up a notch further.

This is what a shoe pattern looks like.  The “tight” arrow indicates how the pattern should be placed on the grain of the leather, with the tightness basically running down the length of the animal’s spine.


I traced the pattern on to the leather using a silver pen and cut out the shapes using scissors.  Two pieces for the uppers and four pieces for the sides.

Now I had to draw a pattern for the stars and cut out the shapes in the upper leather. Sounds easy right? Well if I had any ability to draw, maybe it would be. But I was not blessed with a gene that enables me to put a picture on paper. Even a geometric shape that I should have been able to draw with a ruler was beyond me, and Lou had to print out some stars on paper for me to use as a pattern.  How sad is that?
But I swallowed my pride and used the printed pattern to draw the star shapes on to my leather uppers with a silver pen, and once I was happy with where they were all placed, I cut them out using a craft knife and a metal ruler.

cutting out stars

All the raw edges of the star cut-outs were then painted with a product called Resolene, this finishes the surface and leaves a nice clean edge, rather than the slightly fluffy finish of the freshly cut leather.

For the blue shiny stars to fill the cut-outs, I cut pentagons and then used a craft knife and set about skiving the leather. Skiving is my word of the day, it means reducing the thickness of the leather so that once the star is under the upper, there isn’t too much bulk to cause rubbing or discomfort. So the pentagons ended up quite thin leather with only the shiny surface intact. Lou and her assistant Gemma helped me with this, it’s quite tricky and would have taken me ages to do all 12 stars. I did two in the time they did 5 each! Apparently, I will get quicker with practice.  The leather is laid on a glass jar, the curve makes the skiving easier, and the glass doesn’t blunt the blade.
Here’s a photo of me skiving. No, I did not lose any fingers.


Once the skiving was done, the blue shiny pentagons were aligned under the star cut-outs and taped in place.

Next task for the stars is to sew around them. I was feeling a bit daunted by this, and keen to get it right, so that was left until Day #2 when I’m hoping to feel braver.

stars ready to sew when I’m feeling brave

Instead, I cut out the lining, using a plain black leather, and glued the seam at the heel of the foot ready to take a deep breath and tackle the sewing machine tomorrow.


Tune in same time tomorrow for Day #2.

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