By starting with a pair of existing shoes you can be fairly sure of what the fit of your finished shoes will be. The process of taking apart shoes can be tedious but it’s worth it in the end. Either shop around until you find a pair you like or take apart a well loved existing pair that have surpassed their usefulness.
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
shoes to take apart
A cheap, basic ballet flat is what this project is based on. I’ve seen this exact style of shoe at stores varying from big box retailers to fashion discount stores at the mall. You want a pair that fits well, you can make a few small adjustments when you make your own. A fabric/canvas upper will make it easy to make clear marks.
Ball point pens made clear marks on my shoes, you may need a pencil, Sharpie or some other writing device to make clear marks on yours.
Utility knives, scrapers, scissors, screwdrivers. The idea here is to take the shoes apart with the least damage to the shoes and no damage to yourself.
first aid kit
You will probably cut yourself somehow. Be prepared to put yourself back together if you need to.
These are useful for keeping a barrier between you and the sharp devices to avoid injury.
Sharp objects, lots of force and the potential of broken blades makes it very smart to protect your eyes. Doctors still don’t have a good way to replace eyes if you ruin the ones you came with.
large sheets of paper
This is for tracing the shoe parts onto. You can piece together smaller sheets of paper if you need to.
You’ll probably need scissors for something, like taking apart stitches at the back of the shoe. Small sharp embroidery scissors are good for stitches, larger scissors are good for cutting apart glued fabric.
This is optional, but it’s very helpful to have photo documentation of the shoes before being torn apart.
Document the shoes:
Document the shoes before taking them apart. Take pictures from any angle that might be useful later. This is best done in bare feet, that way you can refer to your bone structure if you’re trying to match or measure something.
Plan to tear apart one shoe and leave the other intact. This way you’ll have a good pattern and a good basic shoe to put on when considering styling choices and pattern manipulations in the future. You can also be sure you didn’t make any mistakes when creating your pattern.
Mark the shoes:
Choose a marking device and start drawing on your shoes. You really only need to mark the shoe you’re taking apart.
Trace the edge of the shoe sole on the outside of the fabric upper.
Remove any cushion layer that the shoe might have.
Draw a line on the inside heel end of the shoe along the seam. Continue the line onto the sole.
This is the upper after being removed from the sole. It clearly shows the back seam and sole edge markings.
Draw lines from the inside side of the shoe onto the insole around the entire perimeter of the shoe. Use more lines in places that curve more (at the toe, for example.)
You will use these lines as marks to properly place the upper on the sole when you make shoes of your own.
Trace the line where the upper meets the sole on the inside of the shoe. (This line is not shown in some pictures, but it was there and it is VERY important.)
Add any other marks you would like to have for future reference – I added lines between my toes so that I would be able to judge where my toe cleavage risk is.
Take the shoes apart:
Do this when you’re well rested and ready to focus. The materials used to assemble shoes like this are amazing, and you have a difficult task ahead of you. By the time you’re done you’ll be glad you’re only taking apart one shoe. Be prepared with a first aid kit to put yourself back together if need be, and it’s smart to wear safety glasses and leather gloves for this part.
Using something blunt like a flat screwdriver or scraper, gently start prying the shoe apart. Look for a weak point and try to ease the implement in. Eventually you’ll have to start using something sharp, try to leave the fabric as intact as possible, you need it to make a pattern. Work your way around, separating the upper from the sole. It will take a while, but that’s okay. You only have to do it once.
Above is the toe of the shoe – the fabric is heavily gathered, this is why the alignment marks are important!
Once you have it separated, use scissors or a seam ripper to open up any seams (down the center back on these) and remove the edge finish along the edge of the shoe.
Clip any fabric to necessary to get the upper to lie flat, this may be necessary around the toe if they used as much glue on your shoes as they did on mine. Keep working carefully and gently until the entire fabric upper is willing to lay flat.
Make the paper pattern:
Lay out the upper of your shoe, with the inside facing up. Place a sheet of paper over it. Trace the inner line – the top edge that is where your foot goes through. Then trace the back seam edge, the line you drew where the sole and upper met, and all of the alignment marks.
Take the fabric piece out of the way. Now, using a ruler, add a 1/2 inch allowance to the lower edge of the upper, where it meets the sole. Also add a 1/4 inch seam allowance to the back heel seam and the “top” edge – the one that your foot goes through (this seam allowance is not shown in this picture.)
Establish a grain line by folding the pattern in half, matching the heel seams. Mark it on the pattern.
Trace the insole, add the alignment marks.
Add a line 1/2 inch inside the perimeter of the insole.
Label all the parts of the shoe with whether they are right or left and inside or outside.
Trace around the outer sole, and mark where the heel block is (if your shoes have a heel block.)
This is your original pattern. Keep it somewhere safe. Trace another copy from it to use for actually making shoes.
Part 1 – Intro & Supplies