I have just made myself a new pair of shoes.
Last year I made some canvas shoes, lined with fur from my rabbit, and they are the best shoes I have ever owned. They’re a bit loose, so I need to wear them with socks, but they are incredibly soft, comfortable and warm. So I wear them nearly every day. But they’re a bit hot in weather like we’ve had here in Melbourne recently, so I’ve been meaning to make something a bit more summery.
Here in the photo you can see my plaster shoe lasts, which I made by casting my foot, the pattern for my grey shoes, which needs altering because of the looseness, and a test shoe taped to my last, which I’m hoping will be the new, tighter, ultra-shoe!
Last year I ripped the soles off some shoes I got at the op shop and repurposed them for my canvas shoes, but they were really uncomfortable. I bought a sheet of soling rubber, which you can see in the background. This stuff is thin and flexible, because I want shoes that are as close to a barefoot experience as possible, while providing protection from bee stings.
I reckoned I’d got my new pattern about right, so I took the plunge and cut one shoe out of leather. I’ve pinned/taped it to the last, and it’s pretty good, though you can see it’s a bit baggy around the toes and the arch is sagging. Hmm. More tweaking needed, but I’m hoping to fix up THIS piece of leather so it doesn’t get wasted.
I sorted out the arch-sag with a little snip, and hoped soaking the leather in water and stretching it while wet would take care of the rest. I cut out the pieces I plan to use – red leather uppers (didn’t have to waste my test shoe!), black rubber soles, and some black foam inserts. The design includes black cross-over elastic to the top, to help hold them in place, in case they came out a bit loose.
My last was a cast, EXACTLY, of my feet. But when I tried on my test shoe, it was a little loose. How that can be, I cannot fathom. Go figure.
24 hours later, I nailed my wet leather uppers onto my last, stretching as hard as I possibly could. You can see I managed to get rid of a lot of the bagginess around the toes. Leather moulding really does work!
I decided to keep my foam inserts to put inside the finished shoe, as that will make it a bit smaller. So I cut some inner-soles out of a pair of Jesse’s old jeans, and you can see that behind the red leather. If the shoes turn out the right size, I think denim will be a good base to walk on.
I used a super-sharp scalpel to trim back the leather on the bottom of the sole, and I even scraped off the top of each pleat to try and make the soles as un-bumpy as possible.
Paula found me a thick leather bag in someone’s hard rubbish (she’s such a scavanger!) so I cut it up to make these mid-sole pieces. I don’t have to waste my nice red leather on them.
Here you can see red leather and mid-sole glued down. I glued the outter black rubber sole onto the shoe on the right, and wrapped it up in a bandage to hold it all together.
Unfortunately my shoes did NOT take kindly from being removed from the lasts. The first one, this one, came off easily and completely broke to pieces.
The other one wouldn’t damn well come off at all! Paula and I pulled for ages, bending several knives in the process, before we FINALLY got it off. And it became so stretched and terrible looking I couldn’t even bring myself to take a photo of it.
I reglued this one, then rewetted the leather, and, wearing the shoes, pressed them into shape on my foot. With a lot of re-wetting and moulding, I was eventually able to coax the leather back to a shoe-ish shape.
I sewed on the elastic and put them on for the first time, and I love them. The edges look a bit unfinished, and if you look closely you can see they are still slightly stretched rather than firm, but hell, these came out better than I dared to hope.
I didn’t add my foam inserts. I don’t seem to need them. I’m liking the natural feel of the denim underfoot, and I’m amazed at how flat they feel. Shaving off the top of those pleats made a big difference. My other shoes have felt lumpy for a while until I flattened them by wearing them in.
I think next time I’ll try removing the shoe from the last before I glue on the rubber outter sole. I think they’ll be more flexible with just the denim and the mid-sole, and that I’ll probably be able to glue the outter sole into place without difficulty.