I’ve been interested in shoe making for a long time. My first attempt was a pair of felted ugg boots, which are hideously ugly but now officially win the prize for the best shoes I’ve ever owned. After wearing them every single day last winter, they show no signs of wear and tear, have been the warmest, softest, most appealing shoes ever, and I never wanted to take them off. Unfortunately though, the soles aren’t very good: I made a thick piece of felt and rubbed some silicon into the bottom for extra grip. They haven’t worn out, but I’ve been careful to only wear them indoors and on the occasional trip to the garden. When I do go into the garden, everything on the garden path sticks to the felt, which is very irritating. And if it’s raining, they get wet and take ages to dry out.
But every single time I went out, I felt this little sad sigh as I pulled off my lovely boots and put on my outdoor boots. And this has motivated me to learn enough about shoe making that I can make the perfect shoes for myself: with all the warmth, softness and comfort of my ugg boots, and outdoorsy enough to cope with a bit of rain and the junk on my garden path. Ideally, outdoorsy and attractive enough to wear when I go out socialising – that would be heaven!
I don’t want to invest in a whole lot of fancy shoe making equipment though, so I felt I’d finally struck gold when I found this tutorial, which explains how ordinary people with no special equipment can make ballet flats.
Following their instructions, I spent an entire day making a test shoe:
I know this doesn’t pass any attractiveness test, but the point of this shoe is simply to test my pattern. And it felt good. Firm around my ankles, no flapping, but roomy around my toes, and comfortable for people with weirdly wide feet, like me.
So I gathered together bits and pieces to make my first actual pair of shoes:
- Some men’s shoes from the op shop, from which I removed the rubber sole to reuse
- A canvas bag to use for the upper
- My pattern and my test shoe.
In the interest of making these shoes warm and soft, I made some felt from the fur of my pet rabbit. Freshly cut fur, with carders, the special brush you use to tease up the fur before felting:
Fur all carded and laid out carefully in layers on this plastic sheet. It would have been good to use bubblewrap, but I didn’t have a piece that large, and I did have this plastic.
Next I drizzled it with detergent, ladled hot water over it, rolled it up and began massaging the tube:
Eventually it held together enough that I could remove the felt from the plastic, and boil it in the pot. Unfortunately I did this a bit too soon in the process, and as a result, ended up with some holes:
I also cut pieces from the canvas bag, and cut the rubber soles to size. You can see here some black elastic too.
Next I sewed the pieces together to create a pair of uppers. I inserted a little elastic V:
I bought some shoe glue from Bunnings, and set about glueing the uppers to the felt sole:
Finally it was time to glue the rubber sole into place:
And then.. after waiting a very impatient 24 hours.. I got to wear them for the first time:
I’m pretty pleased with them. They are far more stylish than my ugg boots, even if they aren’t the most gorgeous shoes ever, and they are soft and warm. One drawback though: they have already stretched a bit. I think the canvas bag may not have been a sturdy enough fabric for this. The other thing is, all those lumps on the sole actually sit strangely beneath my foot. I think I will pull off the sole and glue on a new one.
I’ve now bought a sheet of soling rubber, enough for several pairs of shoes, and I’ll replace the soles on these to see how they do. When I’ve had a bit more experience, I’ll try doing a makeover of my ugg boots, to see if I can turn them into something attractive and outdoor-worthy.