Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Finally, they're starting to look like shoes

I don't know yet if it's just this particular pair of shoes - the suede I chose is a little heavier than the kangaroo leather I'll mostly be working with in the future - but my sewing machine did not like sewing the lining to the outer suede.  Even with a walking foot, it did a really shitty job of keeping tension.  Since these shoes are for me, and they're sort of an experiment/learning experience all around, I kept the mostly-ok bits, and hand-sewed the rest.  Ugh.  
Then, trimmed off the excess lining material.

A couple of things had to happen before I could start lasting.  For starters, my home-made ghetto lasting stand was too tall.  So I had to unscrew the steel pipe, and take it out to the garage, and cut about 8 inches off it.  Now, when I put the last on the stand, I can brace it with my knee. 

Also, I made sure to test the hinges - to make sure that the glued-on modifications I made to the last wouldn't make it impossible to get the shoe off once it's done.

Then, I had to drive to Fred Meyer.  Because it turns out I don't have an old bottle of baby powder in the bathroom.  I didn't even know where they kept the baby powder at the store - I had to ask. 

Also, I'm going to be adding a 1/4" thick comfort insole into the bottom of these shoes, so I grabbed some fun foam sheets, glued them together (to get approximately 1/4" thickness) and cut out some insole shapes, so that the final shoe will have enough room in it to slip in the blue comfort foam.  I put the last on the stand, put the fun foam on the sole, and then the insole I made previously.  Nailed it on with three nails, positioned toward the middle, where I'll be able to get them out again after the shoe is lasted.

So - under normal circumstances, you'd powder the inside of the upper liberally with baby powder, to help get the shoe off the last when you're all done.  Because I'm working with suede, and it's a flat (which means it'll be easier to get it off the last anyway), I powdered the last, rather than the leather.

Then the nailing begins!  My lasting pliers are a little large - I may eventually invest in a second pair with more pointy grippers. 

After it was all nailed down, I sprayed it liberally with shoe stretch - I'm hoping that as it dries, it'll form a bit into this shape.  The next step (probably tomorrow) is to carefully take out the nails, and glue down just the lining to the insole, all the way around. 

Both shoes are at this stage - and they're sort of looking like shoes!  That's kind of exciting.  I started making the toggles that will hold those two straps down.  There are still a couple of different ways that could all shake out, and I'm not sure which way I want to go with that.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Re-cut, re-skived, and partially sewn

Finally got my (now very sharp) knife back from Universal, and boy does it make a difference.  I re-cut the black suede - here's Kaylee helping me trace the pattern onto the leather:
Cats love to help with art projects. 
Skived the top edge.  Did a much better job this time around - last time, the edge looked more like it had been nibbled at by beavers - this time, I managed to shave it down nicely.  (Skiving is shaving down the edge until it's paper-thin.)  Also sewed all the bits that needed sewing - both on the outside and the lining, and pounded down the seams.  My sewing machine can handle the heavy thread and leather only, it seems, if the leather is skived down, and isn't too stretchy.  I ended up sewing some portions by hand.

Glued in the top line tape, and turned the edges.  

The next step is to insert the silver piece in the cutout.  I cut the silver bits last night, and skived them down.  Now I need to sew them in place, and once that's done, I can sew the outside to the lining.  Just need to figure out the toggles, and then I can start lasting!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Heels are finished, made top line tape, more colors!

Sent my skiving knife off to get sharpened, which has ground everything to a halt here. 

On the other hand, I did finally make top line tape.  Top line tape runs around the upper edge of a pump, to give the top line of the shoe some reinforcement. Leather stretches - this stuff doesn't.  You can purchase top line tape, but I made some (like we did in class) from two layers of nylon ripstop fabric, glued together with Duall 88, and cut into 1/4" strips.

I also got my shipment from Sheridan Leather - Kangaroo in Fuchsia, Pink, Scarlet, and Orange.  Their prices are really good (about half what anyone else is charging) so I figured I'd grab these while I can.  They're out of the fuchsia now - I got the last one.

I've also finished making the oak heels.  I don't know if this will work or not - again, wood is not recommended for heels, because it splits.  On the other hand, I don't have a lot of choices, and the oak is free.  I think I did pretty good at getting the two to match eachother fairly well.  Once the shoes are lasted, it'll be easier to tell if they're a.) the correct height and b.) cupped enough on the top.

I think I've finalized the design for the second shoe.  Again - horrible lighting for photography in my workshop, but I think you can see the pencil lines clearly enough.  I ordered a book - Handmade Shoes for Men, by Lazlo Vass and Magda Molnar, which I'm hoping will answer some questions I have about the area where the laces go, and how the lining interacts with the outer in that area.

What I haven't been able to figure out is the color scheme for this shoe.  I now have a whole lot of colors, but can't choose.  And even once I choose, which color should be the dominant color (toe, heel, lace area) and which the background/accent color?  I've got cobalt blue, turquoise, light blue metallic, lilac, hot pink, light pink, orange, scarlet, black, white, and gold metallic, as well as a matte black and both grey and orange/brown suede.  And other than the black/red and black/white, I'm not sure I like any of the colors together.  It's a problem.  Any comments from the peanut gallery?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Patterns, heels, and boy do I suck at skiving.

Finished up the fabrication of the heels for the taller shoe.  I think I got them pretty much like eachother, and I guess time will tell if oak is a suitable heel material.  I can only guess that heels used to be made of hard woods, back before high impact plastics were available?  Photos on Friday.

Also made the pattern for the flat shoe.  This is done by carefully cutting along the top line, through the tape, then peeling the tape off the last.  (Leaving on the tape on the parts where there will be no leather upper, as it's a good placement guide when lasting.)

Small relief cuts are made in the tape, so that it can lay flat on a piece of cardstock.  Some decisions have to be made about how to break up the pattern - should I cut across the straps and sew it together there?  Or make a seam in the lower left-hand section, from the middle cutout to the edge?  

In the end, I decided to do something different than how it looks in the photo, but this is the general idea - various allowances are added, and a pattern is also made for the counter - a piece of stiffened leather that goes in the back of the shoe - that's the dark pink line.

I cut the black suede for the upper, and the grey pigskin for the lining, and started the skiving on the black suede.  Turns out, I'm really terrible at skiving.  Or perhaps my skiving knife is dull.  I dropped it on the cement floor when I bought it, and didn't notice at the time that I had chipped off the tip.  I'm going to send it off to Universal Saw, who sharpens all our bits and blades at work, and have them do it up to a nice razor edge for me. 
I've considered getting a Tina knife - although I'd have to get two, since I'd want to work in both directions.  They're a bit spendy for me, though, and I'm used to the Japanese knife I'm using now.  If it comes back really nice and sharp, I might just re-cut the black suede - I do have a lot of it, and it was fairly inexpensive. 
With that portion on hold for now, I'll make my top line tape on Friday, and get the design for the heeled oxford settled.  I ordered more fun colored kangaroo leathers today, but some of them will be a few weeks getting here, so I'll have to be patient in picking out my colors for the oxford.  Currently at my house, and of appropriate weight for this shoe:  Matte black (with grey/white tie-dye looking markings - they called it "licorice"), Cobalt Blue, Turquoise, Gold, Lilac, and Scarlet (they call it "light red"), as well as a very orange-y brown suede and the black suede.  Coming next week:  Fuschia (which I saw that they had removed from their web page - I called, and they had one left, at a screaming good price, so I snapped it up), Light Pink, Orange, and another of the Scarlet (the one I have is kind of small, and I can see myself using more of this one).  Some time in March, Black and White will arrive.  So - I have some decisions to make as to the colors of the oxford, and happily, a bunch of choices on their way.
Also, the smell of epoxy is still lingering in the house.  The next time I do that part of the process, I think I'll do it *outside*.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Multiple packages from overseas...

FOUR separate packages arrived for me today.  It's kind of crazy - wait for weeks, and then it all comes at once.

Today's windfall was:

Linda O'Keefe's book, "Shoes" - mostly pretty pictures.  I picked it up on Amazon for one penny plus shipping.  Good inspiration.

Both of the kangaroo hides I purchased on Ebay (from two different vendors) arrived today from Australia.  The "licorice" black one sort of looks like they tried to tie dye it - it was cheap, even with the international shipping, so I'm ok with that.  The second one is even better than it looked in the photo - cobalt blue, and huge. 

Finally, from the Czech Republic, a leather stamp with my sun/moon logo.  Custom order off Etsy.  Considering where it came from, very fast and very reasonably priced.  Here's what a stamp of it looks like:

Tomorrow is a day off work for me, so I'll be starting on making patterns for my shoes.  The oxford style one is still giving me trouble.  Maybe now that I have *so much* leather, in so many different colors, I'll be able to do this thing.

Maybe not. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Insoles, home-made tools, and a foul epoxy smell

My box from Baltor & Sons arrived today (yay!).  Turns out they tried to deliver it on Friday, but I wasn't home, and didn't see the sticker they put on the front door.  Note to self:  B&S ships with a "signature required", so have them deliver it to work.

This means I now have my tacks, soling, and Hirschkleber - a special elk-hoof glue from Europe.  This is the one place I know of in the U.S. that will sell you an 8oz jar of it, rather than a gallon bucket.  It's used to stiffen the counter (a piece of leather that goes in the back of the shoe). 

Also today, I spent a little under $20 and made myself a lasting stand. 

This would be a piece of scrap wood, with a threaded plumbing flange screwed on.  The pipe is a 2' piece of threaded 1/2" steel pipe (I'll need to cut it down about 8" when I'm ready to start lasting, as it's too tall for that currently.)  The pin is a 1/2" x 5" bolt, with the bolt head ground down to fit in the pipe, a 1/2" nut half way up, and the top end with the threads ground off.  It fits the pin holes on my lasts beautifully.  I have a spare bolt, in case I need to make a second pin of a different diameter.
I glued the celtec insole to the shank board, and tacked it back onto the last.  Now that I have tacks, this is much easier to do.

Next thing to do was to cut the fiberglass shank to size, and glue it to the bottom of the insole.  The tape on the ends is to keep the liquid activator from leaking out.  This stuff is available from Georgene at - otherwise, you have to pound steel shanks, which is less fun.

Then, I folded up a bunch of tin foil, and tacked it on around the shank, to protect the insole from the heat gun.  The heat gun worked great - all my shanks are hardened just like they did in class!
Once they were done, I pulled off the tin foil and tacks, and sanded down the ends of the shanks until they were flush with the insole.  Here's where I wish I had known more - the fiberglass sheds everywhere when you're sanding it on an electric sander, and it gets all over your clothes, and hands...  I would have worn gloves, and a respirator, had I realized.  But I didn't.  I'm now wearing my third shirt of the day...

Similarly, the fiberglass cloth (purchased at the auto parts store) sheds, and once you've got sticky epoxy on your fingers, that stuff just shreds everywhere.  Gloves will definitely be my friend the next time around.  I mixed up some bondo epoxy resin (also from the auto parts store), and painted it on the insole.  Placed a (pre-cut to the pattern) piece of fiberglass cloth on top of the epoxy.  Painted on more epoxy to saturate the fiberglass. 
I had also pre-cut some orange suede into a shank cover.  I painted the back of the suede with the epoxy, and placed it over the top to cover the whole shank/insole thing.

I laid a strip of scrap leather down each side of the shank to help form the suede around it:

Then tied it down with duct tape, to hold everything in place while it dries/cures.  Duct tape with rainbow flowers on it, no less. 
So at this point, I'm waiting for the epoxy to dry - probably overnight - and then I'll do a bit more finishing/shaping/sanding on the insoles. 
Next comes the patterns and the uppers!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Adventures in... oak?

While I'm waiting for things to arrive in the mail (and no, I'm not waiting particularly gracefully), I thought I'd try designing the other shoe.  It's a little taller, and I think I'm going to go for an oxford-like look.  I'll have to choose some colors, which might be the hardest part - despite not actually knowing how to make an oxford. 

Also, since the last has about a 1 1/2" heel pitch, I need a heel for this shoe.  I don't have any commercially-made heels in that height (the small selection I have are all 2" or taller), and it's not something you can just order a pair of off the internet.  Unfortunately. 

I looked in to 3-D printing, but the prices quoted to me by local people doing that kind of thing were way too expensive (I want to pay no more than $15 for two heels - the few that are available commercially in single pairs run between $6 and $9.)  I thought maybe injection molding, but again, it's cost prohibitive - because I only want two, not hundreds, and there's the set-up fees of making the molds. 

Wood isn't recommended, because it splits and breaks.  Aluminum might be an option - after all, I know several machinists - but again, it seems expensive, and because you can't drill into it, there's other design challenges.  I don't think that polymer clay or easy-cast resin would be good choices, because of the strength needed.  I haven't found a source for an inexpensive block of high-impact plastic that  could cut/carve/sand into a shape I like, nor do I know if that's even really an option. 

One of the guys at work gave me a piece of oak out of the scrap bin.  I'm going to go ahead and risk it for this pair of shoes.  The heels are fairly blocky, and they're not very tall, so I'm going to just cross my fingers and call it a learning experience.  I've made one, mostly (there's a bit I still want to sand off across the front edge), and will need to duplicate that exactly for the other.  It'll be covered in leather, so if I sand off too much, I guess I could theoretically build it back up a little bit. 

Anyway, here's a side view of what I'm thinking for the second pair of shoes:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Insoles, Part 1

While I'm waiting for some other supplies, as well as for inspiration to strike for that second pair of shoes, I'm getting started on the insoles.  So - first order of business is to cut the insole pattern from celtec  - sort of a foam board stuff.  It's directional, and bends more in one direction than the other, so it's important to line up the long axis of the insole with the arrows on the back of the material.
Also, two lines are drawn across the insole pattern at the ball of the foot, and the spot where the shoe first contacts the ground (a spot that's easier to determine and more crucial on a higher heel).  The line where the shoe hits the road is the pattern line for the shank board - the dark green stuff.  
Shank board is really hard to cut - at shoe school, we used a 5 in 1 cutter, but those run about $1,900 used, and I'm not really in the market for that expensive of equipment.  So, I used a jig saw to cut the shank board, which I'm not very good at, and then made up for my crappy saw usage with the bench sander.  I love my new bench sander.  

The bench sander is also very useful for skiving the edges of the shank board.  It's important to get a nice feather edge on these, because otherwise, it would make a lump across the inside of the shoe where your foot would feel it.

Next step is to soak the shank board for at least an hour, or up to a week or two, to get it really saturated.  I dumped them in some water, and watched The Bourne Ultimatum. 
Once they're well-soaked, stick them on the bottoms of the lasts, wrap them in elastic, and let them dry.  Again, if these lasts weren't flats, it would be more dramatic - the shank board molds to the shape of the bottom of the last while it dries.

Taping the Lasts, Designing a Shoe

Finished taping the lasts last night, and started on the design work. 

The first step here is to cover the upper of the last with two really thorough layers of 3/4" masking tape.  The tape has to be put on really neatly, and smoothed down, so there are no wrinkles.  Also, a center line is marked on the front and heel of the last.  The sole is trimmed off (the same area as the insole pattern.)

Next, five points are identified  - the Counter Point, Heel Point, Ankle Point, Vamp, and Instep.  People have been making shoes for long enough that the math has been figured out, and there's a chart for this.  You look at the Standard Last Length for your size (one of the few things that actually is standard, in this business), and measure to the appropriate points from there.  I made a diagram:

The heel point is the top edge of the back of the shoe.  On a pump, you need to stay below the ankle.  At this point, I start drawing the shoe onto the last with a pencil.  Once I think I have it the way I want it, I put some dark tape along the edge of the line.  I'm using colored duct tape, cut down to about 1/4".  Basically, the tape is removable and re-adjustable, and I can step back from the last and take a look from multiple angles, and make sure I like what I'm looking at.  Once I'm sure, I'll trace along the tape line with a fine point sharpie, and then with an exacto knife, to cut through all the layers of tape. 

This shoe is going to go with my costume for Norwescon.  It's a flat, and is going to hearken back to the Vikings, at least in spirit.  I'm not making a Norse style turnshoe, and I want something that I can wear *not* with a costume, so it's sort of "inspired by" the Viking shoes I've researched.  It'll have two straps across the top of the foot, that attach with toggles (need to work on figuring that out), and then a teardrop-shaped cutout on the toe that will be filled in with grey.  The shoe will be black suede, and have a black sole.  I'm still deciding if I want it to have grey piping along the edges. 
I don't know yet what I want to do with the other last.  It has a bit more of a heel (about 1").  Part of me wants to experiment with some things we didn't learn in class - maybe a sandal or a mule. Either way, I can't finish the patterns for these shoes until I receive the insole material.  It's coming from Saderma in Orange County, and I only ordered it this morning.  (They said they'd ship it today, so I should have it by the end of the week.)  So I'll be switching gears here, and starting work on the insole.  Part of the shoe that you don't even see, but it's most of the actual work!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Modifying lasts

Finished modifying the lasts this morning, and spent much of today making patterns.

Yes, I'm making two pairs of shoes at once here - I got two pairs of lasts, and I'm going to just power on through two pairs at the same time.  CRAZY!!!  I know.

Once I got the leather glued on, I used my brand-spankin' new belt sander to smooth down the edges.  It's important here to keep the curved shape of the last, and just build on that, rather than change the shape. 

Once it was sanded down, I coated it (liberally) with Press Cement/Toe Hardener, which gives the leather a nice hard glossy finish.  My initial sanding wasn't so great, so I sanded some more, by hand (and gave myself a really bad blister on my thumb) and re-coated with the toe hardener.

Next step is to make a pattern for the insole.  This is done by laying down 2-3 layers of 3/4" masking tape across the bottom of the last.  Then, use a crayon or soft pencil to draw the "feather edge" line - the edge of the sole.
Pee the tape off, and flatten it out on some card stock, then cut along the line. 

Technically, I didn't need to do both the right and left - you only need one pattern unless your feet are dramatically different from eachother (like, a whole size longer or something), but I wanted to cut them out and compare them.  The modifications I did made the two soles a little bit different from eachother, and I wanted to even it out a bit.
Next step is to tape the upper of the last - which leads to designing and patterns!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Not a Cobbler (or a crisp, or a crumble, or a brown betty, or a pandowdy...)

Something I learned from the Internet (where everything is true, of course):

Cobblers fix shoes.  Cordwainers make shoes.  Supposedly, in the U.S. at least, people who make shoes prefer to be called "cordwainers". 

For the record, I'm fine with "person who makes shoes", "artist", or "crafty person".

Since I don't have another progress photo for you yet, here's a picture of one of the other pairs of shoes from the class.  Lauren made these (her website:  These are made from polished stingray, and they're amazing. 

Stingray is very hard to sew, because all those little dots?  Bone.  The effect in person is like shattered glass.  It also doesn't hurt that she knows what she's about with the photography of the shoes - something I need to work on.