NEW GIVE-AWAY and additional comments on “First Walkers”

Now that I have a grandchild, I will be learning a lot more about what size of shoe a child wears at a certain age, and what fits and what doesn’t – here’s Millie in the smallest-size shoe from How to Make SimpleShoes for Children with your own two hands!, which is for a 3 1/2″ foot. She’s four months old. Of course she’s not walking, so the shoes are not functional, although they may be helping to keep her feet warm. I used the pattern from said book, which is similar to the First Walkers pattern featured in my most recent tutorial.

In fact, the folded-over part of the First Walkers pattern can be eliminated, and holes for a thong or elastic to pass through can be punched along the top edge, as is shown here. Most all the patterns I make can be adapted in many ways.

I am gratified by the number of comments I have received about the tutorial; I belatedly realized that when I copied the tutorial I had written for Living Crafts, I also copied the note about, “free pdfs of the children’s shoemaking book will be sent to five of the readers who comment on the article before sunday midnight”. Oh well, I’m happy to send them to the commenters here, and I learned the value of offering freebies! I’ll do it again soon. In fact, I’ll do it right now..


I consider those who respond to be my experimental team – I want to know what worked for you with regard to the pattern, and what might not have, what kinds of material you used and how it was to work with, and any tips or comments you’d like to share.

millie's feet

Concern and response regarding use of chrome-tanned leather

Greetings all, I just received this email, and consider the topic so important that I am answering it in this blog-post. I have removed the name of the sender.


I really appreciate your shoe designs and patterns and your generosity in making them available online.
I’m hoping to get back to experimenting with some Mary Janes for myself soon.
I have some concern, however, about using chrome-tanned leather for baby shoes. It comes out of some reading I’ve done while investigating my own contact allergy to some chrome-tanned leathers. (I’ve reacted to both watchbands and sandals. I’m fine with shoes worn with socks.)
Using chrome-tanned leather for adult shoes is probably rarely a problem (for the wearer, at least—for leather-tanning workers and the environment is another issue…), but my concern (raised in this article) with using it for baby shoes is that babies might suck on the shoes.
I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but felt I should share. You can’t count on the U.S. government or corporations to do this kind of testing.

MY RESPONSE:  I share your concern about using chrome-tanned leather for children’s shoes, especially shoes for those who put their feet in their mouths! The weight of making the “most conscious” decision regarding SO MANY ISSUES in our world lies heavily on my shoulders, and on the shoulders of so many others, I know. The use of recycled and practically-free  materials earns these shoes some “points” from my perspective, but can that ecological advantage be off-set by the fact that most leather goods at the thrift shop are made from chrome-tanned leather!

I have a four-month-old granddaughter, so I am beginning to re-learn the timeline of “when babies do what”. I see there’s no reason for children of this age to have shoes (the mary-janes printed on socks work just fine). If their feet are cold, get out the wool coat you have felted, or felted sweaters, and make some booties! I’ll post a pattern for some soon, but there are many already on the web. (I’ll take this opportunity to insert a photo of said grand-daughter, wearing a simple hat made from a thrift-shop cashmere sweater – it’s stitched “Alabama Chanin”-style, and can be unstitched and enlarged as she grows!)


I think I remember that when children start walking they no longer put their feet in their mouths; if this is true, that can enter into the equation.

HOWEVER, there is some great leather out there for those who can pay the cost of it, and that’s ecopell! It is tanned and dyed with only harmless plant materials. I have some colors – forest green and cream in a weight appropriate for “first walkers” (see photo), and softer (more appropriate for robeez-type shoes)  in blue and purple. I will list pieces of it on my etsy shop. If I get a good  response, I will continue to offer this product. You can order full hides from the distributor, but for those who want it,  I will sell pieces adequate for this project.

With gratitude for your comment, sharon

How to make a pair of “first walker” toddler’s shoes


How many pairs of shoes does a child grow out of before he or she is fully-grown? I don’t know the number, but I do believe if we were making some of those shoes, the cost of raising a child would plummet (a slight exaggeration) and our children’s feet would be healthier.  And, if we use recycled materials to make them, our children’s shoes would have a smaller “footprint” on the earth.

Here’s a pattern and directions for making simple children’s shoes in a “first walker” size. The pattern can be reduced or enlarged on a photocopy machine by about 8 percentage points without becoming too distorted to be usable.

I think these shoes make great baby shower gifts. There will, no doubt, come a time when these “first walkers” will fit perfectly.

Consider checking the sizing of this pattern by making a “mock-up” from inexpensive felt to try on your child before cutting into your actual shoemaking material.

Pattern and Materials:

Pattern: twinkletoes shoe pattern by Sharon Raymond

Uppers: Make the upper parts of the shoe from thrift-shop leather goods, leather or fabric upholstery remnants, hand-made felt or felted wool coats, recycled denim or canvas.

Soles: To make children’s footwear as flexible as bare feet, there are a couple of materials I use. For those who want their children’s shoes to be made of all natural materials, natural rubber soling is available on my etsy shop. A child wearing shoes with natural rubber soles can feel the topography of the earth, yet will be protected. This soling must be stitched with a stitching awl as described below, as holes pre-punched in it seal right up.

Another option, readily available and thin enough to provide that barefoot feel, but in no way “natural”, is the grey hall-runner available at home building centers. It has rubberized material on the backside that can serve as soling. If you put a few layers of fabric or felt, or a single layer of leather over the fuzzy side-up, the texture won’t be noticeable underfoot.

A third option is to cut them from thrift store leather goods. If you use leather, I suggest that you use two layers, with the “fuzzy” sides facing out. The fuzzy side on the bottom provides traction and the one on the top absorbs perspiration. This is the option I have used on the sample pair of shoes shown here. If you prefer rubber bottom soles, cut them from bicycle inner tubes.

Thread: I use heavy-duty waxed braided cord from Tandy Leather. Four-ply waxed Irish linen or stitching-awl thread can also be used. It’s best to use a synthetic thread when stitching the upper to the sole, as organic materials deteriorate when in contact with the ground.

Elastic: For this size shoe, I use six inches of  3/8″ elastic for running through the channels. To get the elastic through the channels, make a little tool from a piece of plastic milk carton, about 5″ long and 3/8″ wide. Cut a little slit at one end. Use like a sewing needle or bodkin to pull the elastics through the channels.

To make colored elastic, I use permanent markers to “dye” the elastic in the area where it is exposed, between the toe piece and the heel piece.


The tools for making these shoes are simple – a decent pair of scissors, a “scratch” awl from the hardware store for punching stitching holes, a couple of layers of corrugated cardboard to place below your upper material when punching holes with the awl, a glue stick, a marker appropriate for your material, permanent markers for “dyeing” the elastic and a couple of tapestry needles for stitching leather shoes, or sharp needles for stitching fiber shoes.

If you want to make proper round stitching holes in leather, the 00 round-hole drive punch from Tandy Leather, # 3777-33, is the tool for you. You will need a plastic cutting board to place under the leather piece while punching, and a rubber mallet or other non-metal hammer for pounding on the punch.  The little “spring punch”, # 3236-00, from the same source, can punch holes nicely if they aren’t more than 1/2″ or so from the edge.

A stitching awl (Tandy Leather # 1216-00) can be used for stitching the upper to the sole. A video showing its use can be seen

left to right: spring punch, stitching awl, 00 drive punch, scratch awl, rubber mallet.


Make the soles: If your material is sturdy and sueded on both sides, you might only need one layer for soling. If your soling is different, cut out the leather or fiber topsole, then use a glue stick to adhere it to the bottom sole material. When the glue has dried, cut out the bottom sole to match the topsole. Mark the stitching holes onto the topsole with silver pen or permanent marker.

Cut out the upper pieces: Draw around the toe piece and the heel piece onto your upper material, then cut the pieces out. Be sure to flip the patterns over when drawing the second shoe.

Punch out the stitching holes: Punch out the stitching holes on the patterns and transfer them to your shoe pieces. Also, mark the center of the heel and the toe, and the location where the heel piece meets the toe piece, indicated on the patterns by a spiral. On fabric or felt, use whatever mark-maker that is suitable for your material, to mark the location where stitches should go through the fiber.

For leather, I like to use a silver gel pen to mark the location of stitching holes, it usually comes off with soap and water applied with a cloth.  After marking, punch out the holes. To accomplish this, either place your shoe part on a few pieces of cardboard and punch down with an awl, or use the 00 punch as described above.

Make the channels for the elastic to pass through: if you are using leather, punch out the stitching holes along the two lines shown on the patterns. If you are using felt or fabric, you have made stitching marks. You can turn the channel either to the inside or the outside. Use the “simultaneous running stitch” to stitch the channel.

For the simultaneous running stitch, cut a piece of thread about four times the length of the distance you are going to stitch, and put a needle on each end of the thread.

For stitching fiber shoes, attach a sharp needle to each end of the thread. Stitch into the first mark on one end of the heel piece, then down through the corresponding mark on the sole. Bring that thread back up in the second mark in both sole and heel piece, and tug on your threads so they are the same length. Pass the second needle down into that second mark, while holding the thread that is already there to the side, to protect that first stitch from being split.

Give a good tug on both threads after each stitch to create a nicely-seated seam.

Keep repeating this process.

Hiding knots: Each time you stitch, at the end you have two loose threads. To tie the threads in a hidden knot, put each needle through only one layer of your shoe material so the threads meet inside the area stitched. Tie a tight square knot, then run the ends of the threads under a few stitches before cutting them off.

When working with leather, you will have punched stitching holes. Proceed as described above, and for the neatest appearance, develop a pattern of which thread goes into the hole first (from the top or bottom) and whether the second thread goes to the right or left side of the first. Consistency is the key – and that’s why your work won’t look as neat if you make a running stitch with one thread all along the seam, then fill in the gaps with the other thread; you’re missing that tug on both threads after each step that makes the threads grab each other and settle in.

Embellish: Embellish the shoes if you like – embroider, applique, reverse applique, stamp, paint.  Since I made shoes from leather, I punched holes along the decorative lines on my pattern, about 3/16″ apart. I then transferred the marks to my toe piece, punched them out, then stitched with 4-ply waxed Irish linen.  It’s fun to add a little touch of embellishment to the heel piece also.

 Run elastic through the channels: Use the plastic bodkin to pull the elastic through the channel so it emerges at the other end. Put one end of the elastic through the slit, then pull it all the way through with your plastic strip.  Once the elastic is through both channels, check for twisting, then overlap the two ends about 3/8″ and stitch them together. After stitching, pull on the elastic until the stitching is hidden inside a channel.

Stitch toe-piece and heel-piece to the sole: Now that the uppers and soles are complete, stitch the shoes together. I usually start stitching on the inside of the shoe, where the heel piece meets the toe piece. Cut a length of non-degradable thread about four times the distance around the shoe, which is about 12 inches x 4 = 48″.

For fiber or leather soles, use the “simultaneous running stitch” described above to stitch the shoes together, unless you are using a natural rubber sole. As described above, a stitching awl is needed to stitch a natural rubber sole to the shoe.

In the toe area, the distance between stitching holes or marks is greater on the toe piece than on the corresponding holes on the sole; this causes the toe area to “pop-up” and not press down on the child’s toes. I usually wet leather when stitching in this area so it’s moldable, and do my best to gather the leather so it doesn’t overlap on itself.

If you are concerned that stitching through the soling might result in these stitches wearing out sooner than you’d like, remember that the part of the foot that touches the ground is the part you can see when walking barefoot in wet sand. However, if your child does wear through stitches, you have the skills to re-stitch!

When you’ve stitched all around the shoe, hide your knot as described above. Spray water inside the toe piece of a leather shoe, and stuff it hard with fabric or paper bag scraps. Let it dry for a few hours until it keeps a nice, rounded shape.


For twenty five years, Sharon Raymond has had a passion for making simple footwear. She first learned shoemaking when living in England in the early 1990s; since then she has written seven books about shoe making, and taught the craft of shoemaking to hundreds of students. She delights in learning, then sharing, how to make simple footwear, often inspired by ancient and far-away cultures.

Sharon disseminates her joy of shoemaking from her home studio in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.

You can read more about Sharon’s work on her website:



Sharon will send out a PDF of her book, How to Make Simple Shoes for Children with Your Own Two Hands! to five lucky winners! Enter a comment on this post by Sunday March 17th,  Midnight PST for a chance to win.

alpargatas, espardenyers, espadrilles, and a German shoemaking manual!

What riches! Today I happened upon, where I discovered a “sole mate”! That is, a woman who is fascinated by all kinds of techniques for making shoes, and who no doubt finds solutions for shoemaking puzzlements while cogitating between 2 and 3am, as do I.

I like the blogger Katya’s moccasin-making technique; I planned to do something similar in making the “plug” (the part of a moccasin that goes over the top of the foot) with a friend who wants to make shoes for refugees who have wider ankles and feet than can easily fit in U.S. shoes. We will be making bellows tongue boots from How to Make Simple Shoes for Women to hopefully solve the problem. The leg of this style boot can expand or contract according to how tightly the laces are tied.  Hopefully these boots will be comfortable for the refugees as well as anyone who has swollen ankles.

katya's moccasins

I was delighted to see how she solved the problems of making espadrille soles – she has created a totally-natural sole that looks substantial and attractive.

Another great gift of her blog is this German booklet on shoemaking – how wonderful it would be to have it translated!

german shoemaking book

Here’s a traditional espadrille-making video, which I find especially interesting to view in conjunction with viewing Katya’s technique for making the soles ourselves.

This url goes to multiple videos about alpargatas; the dearest one is entitled “espardenyers”, with the most charming “thumb piano”  music.


Multi-color boots better than ever!


I made myself a pair of brown boots with laces several years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t make the pattern quite right, so even when the laces were laced as tightly as possible, the boots still had too much room in them. I didn’t like the way the sides slumped down, so one day I decided to cut the strips of leather off between the two rows of eyelets. At least then I could tighten the laces so the boots would fit!

However, they didn’t look too good with that chopped-off strip quite visible down the front of the boot, so I decided to put a leather flap across the eyelet area, which would snap to the boot. I found enough matching leather for the two flaps, so they were stitched in place.


That looked pretty good, except it became clear that one flap wasn’t enough, the thin edge between the eyelets was still visible higher up the boot. I thought a flap that fastened with buckles might look better than two with snaps. Then, since I had no more of this particular brown leather, I thought I would use another color – and I had a mauve-purple that looks good with anything I wear. So, the purple flap was installed.

I had been thinking for years maybe that I needed to make a black pair of boots to wear with my grey corduroys – brown just wasn’t the right footwear to wear with gray I had learned many years ago…. but why not embellish these boots in some manner that would bring a touch of gray into my brown boots – then I could comfortably wear them with gray pants! I devised a little “collage” of the purple, green and gray that I thought I would stitch to the brown flap (I also have a green pair of pants that would look “cool” if I had a bit of green on my boots – as “cool” as a 68-year-old woman can look!) In the photo below I temporarily taped the “collage” on the flap where I would have put it if RISD students hadn’t advised me otherwise, for you to see..(does anyone think they would have liked it this way?)


But the little mosaic look “contrived”… Since I was soon to do a quickie shoemaking workshop for a group of students at Rhode Island School of Design, I thought – I’ll present my design dilemma to the students, and ask for their advice as to how to best bring these colors into my boots!

And, I got a couple of really exciting suggestions that I have now incorporated and I’m so pleased with the results! One student said, “Change the color of the tab at the heel  to one of the other colors you want. Another student said, “Put colored leather strips around the edge of the lower flap.” I realized that their thoughts involved making color accents more integrated into the boot instead of being an “artsy” design plopped down onto the front of the boot.

So here’s how my boots look now. I love them, I wish I could do nothing but make these boots with custom color accents – but maybe one of you reading this will turn this idea into a thriving business!

derby boot w/color accents

Shoe Design at Rhode Island School of Design

What a joy it was to walk around the classroom and see the sketches of shoes made by Rhode Island School of Design students who had returned the previous day from a Shoe Design tour of Italy. I had the thought, “how can there be a fresh way of looking at footwear, as so many millions of designs have already been made”.

Well, I learned that there can be, I saw it in their notebooks.

risd notebookTake the average “derby-style” shoe; it usually has a clean curved line between the vamp in the front and the heel section. Well, what if that line undulated in and out between the two shoe parts – I can’t wait to see  it made.

I have to wait until February 8, at which time there will be a critical evaluation of the shoe that each of the twenty students will make as , and an evening presentation. I look forward to being there and taking photos so you can marvel at the results as well as myself.


I had some confusion about the purpose of the tour and the make-up of the class; I had imagined that the students were aspiring shoemakers who had learned how to make shoes “the Italian way” on their trip. I thought I was there to show them a “simple shoemaking option” they might use in making their presentation shoe. Instead, they were design students from many different fields of study, such as Industrial Design, who wanted to focus on shoe design as inspiration for a new way to look at projects they were already working on.

So, instead of teaching “simple shoemaking”, I took the audacious step of teaching “complex shoemaking”, meaning that the bottom edge of the shoe upper was made longer, then wrapped around the last to be cemented to the bottom of the topsole that had been nailed to the bottom of the last. I have almost never made a shoe using this technique, but with the simple materials that we were working with it worked out fine.

I brought children’s lasts for the students to practice pattern-making on; they were instructed to cover the lasts with two layers of masking tape lying in different directions for added strength, then to draw their shoe onto the tape. Once that was accomplished they used an X-acto knife to cut their pattern off of the last. They then attempted the task of changing a 3-dimensional object into a 2-dimensional pattern.

stitching shoe

After learning some basics of this process, they made their pattern, then a felt “mock-up” of their shoe. This required some ability to envision the finished project, and therefore put seams where the shoe parts overlapped so the parts could be stitched together, as well as to add the 1/2″ to the bottom edge of the upper for adhering the upper to the bottom of the topsole.

By the end of the day many cute little felt shoes began to materialize. For some of the students, creating a unique sole was an important part of the design of their shoe, so for that they will have to explore in other directions as I have no experience with making soles from anything beyond a flat sheet of material (usually natural rubber). Yet viewing the woodworking and other studios we passed through on our way to the classroom, there are ample resources at RISD for making just about anything that one can visualize. If only all the students in the American school system had access to such richness of materials and instruction for creative inspiration!

dragon shoe

newsy bits: “workshop” at RISD, emails to my address book, working on shoes for people with swollen feet

1. I have my facebook business page functioning, so i was ready tonight to send out a one-time mailing, inviting people whose addresses are in my address book to take a look. I look forward to seeing who remains interested in simple shoemaking. Having a business page is still confusing to me, I can accept “likes” but I can only “like” other businesses, not people – so it seems I can’t show my appreciation for those who “like” my page by “liking” them back!  But I do so appreciate hearing from someone who has an interest in simple shoemaking… thank you.


2. On Tuesday, I am giving a “workshop” at Rhode Island School of Design to a group of students who are just returning from a design-trip to Italy! Each of them are using their design ideas to make a shoe that soon will be part of a group presentation.

This is so exciting for me – it’s like Project Runway (I never miss that show – and it starts again tonight) for shoes!  I plan to bring shoes I have made so they can see what the “stitch-down” process is like. I’ll also demonstrate how to make a shoe using Soles with an Edge, and using the traditional fully-lasted method (just a quickie; I don’t have much interest or experience making more complex footwear).  Then, I’ll show them how to make a mock-up shoe with felt, cardboard, and non-toxic cement.  I have a friend/photographer coming with me, so I expect to have a lot of photographs to share from this day – and then photos of the final creations.


3. Finally, my mother has ankles that swell, so purchasing footwear for her has become quite challenging. Imagining there are many other people with this problem, I’m working on a generic pattern that might prove helpful in making footwear for them. I’ll post it soon. If anyone would like to try it out during the “design stage”, please get in touch.

Shoes for Natalie

Shoes for NatalieI love the work of Natalie Chanin ( and how she has shared the details of her hand-stitching process in three inspirational books. Adopting her nonchalance, I no longer concern myself if the ends of my threads are visible on the outside of my work – which is a big boon to a shoemaker since knots left on the inside might irritate the foot. Transparency of the process is her way of working – and might that inspire us to reveal our inner process as well?

Above is a pair of flats that I made using Natalie’s process of reverse applique, note the dangling threads!

Home Depot stocks soling for kids’ shoes!

They didn’t stock this for use as soling, of course, but the grey hall runner (sku – 195-339) found on a big roll in the carpet department)

Multy Home Gray 2 ft. 2 in. x Your Choice Length Track Runner

looks like a good material to use as children’s shoe soling.  At $2.27/26″ x 12″, quite a few affordable soles can be cut from a piece just one foot wide.

Use it with the rubbery-side down and the fuzzy-side up; you might want to use a piece of leather or felted fiber over the fuzzy side if your child doesn’t like the feel of it.

It’s totally flexible, so a child can feel as if she or he has bare feet in footwear made with this soling. I am convinced this is so important for growing feet.

This soling has no ecological merit – it’s 100% polypropylene. However, if you are making footwear for your family and friends you are hopefully decreasing the importation of a much bigger quantity of this stuff, which would be used to make a typical child’s shoe sole – and maybe the entire shoe as well (crocs etc). There are so many ethical points-of-view involved that for me, using this would be OK. However, I do sell natural rubber sheets for those of you who would prefer for your footwear to be totally kid and earth-friendly.

And, convenience; how many of you are more than five minutes from Home Depot?!

rug runner from Home Depot for use as soling for children's shoes

rug runner from Home Depot for use as soling for children’s shoes