If you’ve ever researched making your own shoes you know how much specialized knowledge and difficult to source materials are involved. Unfazed, I set to work developing a way to make shoes that is accessible in material and technique. (Don’t worry hardcore readers, more elaborate methods are on their way, master this first!)
I’ve consolidated tons of research, hundreds of hours of work and a whole lot of unacceptable test shoes into a series of blog posts. This is a method for making basic women’s flats. They’re classic, they’re easy to wear, and, from a shoemaking perspective, they have some advantages:
1. They don’t require a last. This is often the biggest barrier to making a great pair of shoes. Standard shoe making requires you to have a foot shaped mold to build your shoes around. Making shoes this way will be addressed in a future series, but not this time!
2. Almost all of your materials can be purchased at a standard craft and/or home improvement store. The exception is the shoe rubber, which is easily ordered online (if you order it when you start you’ll probably have it by the time you’re ready to finish your first real pair of shoes.) If you can’t get your hands on any sole rubber you can use a heavy weight vegetable tanned leather instead.
3. A good knowledge of basic sewing skills is useful, but you won’t even need a sewing machine.
4. Once you know what you’re doing you can make a couple pairs of new shoes in a weekend.
5. They lend themselves to a variety of pattern manipulations.
This series includes:
Part 1 – Intro & Supplies
Part 2 – Making a Pattern
Part 3 – Making a Test Shoe
Part 4 – Making an Insole
Part 5 – Gluing an Upper to an Insole
Part 6 – Making a Shoe Sole
Part 7 – Making a Minimalist Style Upper
Materials and Tools:
This is a list of supplies you’ll use to make most basic shoes. As design complexity increases the list becomes longer, but this is a great start. Don’t rush out an buy everything on the list, some things won’t apply to you!
Fabric for the uppers:
Canvas is a classic choice, but any woven fabric can work. With the amazing fabrics on the market and the increasing options to have fabric custom printed there is almost no limit in the awesome shoes you could make. Don’t use leathers or vinyls for your first few pairs, those are much harder to ease into place. Do have some inexpensive fabrics – muslins or broadcloth is good – for making test fits.
Fabric for linings:
I prefer a nice, smooth, cotton broadcloth. You could also use felt, especially if you’re planning to wear them in cooler weather. Flat woven fabrics are the easiest, so use those for your first few pairs.
Overall, heavier weight interfacing is better than lighter. It takes from 2/3 yard to 1 yard per pair of shoes, depending on the style and size. Read the directions that come with your interfacing, they’ll tell you the best way to get a solid bond.
Look for one that includes “fabric” and “doesn’t bleed through” on the label. A brand that advertises a strong bond is generally best.
Double Sided Fusible Interfacing:
This can be used instead of the standard fusible interfacing and spray adhesive combination on shoes with a top edge trim. These shoes will probably be a bit less durable than the other method.
Press your fabric before you use it. You want it flat, and you want any shrinking to happen before fusing it. You’ll also use this to fuse the fabric to the interfacing, be sure to follow the directions on your package of fusible interfacing for best results. If your iron doesn’t have steam you may also want to have a small spray bottle full of water available.
You’re looking for a water based, stays flexible glue that is water proof and washable when it’s dry. I use “Unique Stitch,” but there are many choices on the market and some fabrics respond better to different glues.
Grosgrain and Satin Ribbon:
Ribbon is used both as decoration and for structural strength. Each style of shoe comes with it’s own recommendation for what size and type of ribbon to use.
This is useful to giving the fabric edges more support and finishing the ends on ribbons and trims used to decorate the shoes.
Small spring clamps can be useful for keeping the sole and upper in contact while glue sets.
Solvent Based Glue:
Barge Cement is the standard in shoe making. It’s a contact cement, meaning you spread it on both sides and stick them together once they’re dry. I’ve had great results with E-6000 lately, to some degree it’s dictated by the specific rubber sole material you have. E-6000 is a great option for gluing the upper to sole inner lining, but you may choose to switch to Barge Cement to attach the shoe to the rubber sole.
Basic Sewing Supplies:
Thread that matches the fabric, a nice array of needles, sharp scissors, etc. You can definitely use a sewing machine for your uppers, but I prefer to hand sew everything for the increased precision. Shoes are pretty small and don’t take much sewing, anyway.
Card Stock:This is the inside sole (insole) of your shoe. A standard office supply card stock will work fine for this, and you can print the alignment marks onto it from a computer printer if you’ve purchased a pattern. For extra durability you can trade up to an art supply store bristol or illustration board. For test fits you can use cut up cereal boxes, but these are high in acid so they aren’t a great option for something you expect to last.
This you’ll probably have to order online unless you’re lucky enough to live near a shoe supply store. I buy mine in 18×36 inch sheets which is enough for a lot of shoes – at least 7 or 8 pairs at size 8. It is also available in a variety of colors. My preference for most shoes is 1/8” thick. The higher the shore rating or durometer the stiffer the rubber is. High numbers mean more durability but less flexibility. I walk a lot so I usually choose a high shore rating. My current favorite is crepe rubber with a durometer of 50-55, I find it to be much more comfortable to stand on than most of what is used in mass manufacturing. If you want more traction you can either purchase a slightly thicker rubber and use wood carving tools to carve in texture, or you can cut smaller pieces out of a thin sheet and glue them to the sole. I bought my rubber from NordShoe on ebay.
You can use leather instead of sole rubber. Vegetable tanned leather in a heavy weight is a good choice, but it’s more likely to be slippery and it’s less durable than sole rubber.
Use this to cut the rubber. Take your time and be very careful. I’ve found the rubber cuts like butter with a sharp blade.
Trims or Decorations:
Anything you’re going to use to decorate the shoe needs to be planned. Some things can be applied before fusing the fabric to the interfacing, some can’t. Plan accordingly.
You might want to give your shoes a spray of this before wearing them. It can keep them looking clean and fresh longer.
Shoe Sole Comfort Lining:
Even the most carefully constructed shoes will probably have some small texture variances. To remedy this, you’ll want to add a removable or semi-removable inner sole lining to your shoe. This can be a commercially available foam or gel sole, or it can be a heavy piece of felt or piece of fun foam. Be sure this is in your test shoes when you’re making fit decisions, a 1/8 inch thick sole can make a huge difference in how a shoe feels. Experiment with different things until you find out what your favorite is!