“Shoes are boring; wear sneakers”

Converse “design it yourself” ads are all over web pages I go to: I say, “shoes somebody else makes are boring, make your own!” Why be stuck with choosing colors and maybe the location of a rivet or two? Start with my book, How to make the simplest sandals for everyone with your own two hands! And out of recycled materials, no less!

I was talking with a fellow recently who wants to make high end shoes for men. As I reflected on our conversation, the idea came to me that a brilliant business move might be to make the “fisher(man)” sandal, and make the heel section and toe-strap out of a neutral, less-expensive leather, then make the cross-straps out of more interesting colors and textures of leathers; perhaps the customer could select the colors and types of leather that he wants for the cross-straps from strips on display.  His customized sandals could be ready in hours.

The fisher sandal that is featured in “simplest sandals” has an elastic instead of a leather strap; great for women’s and children’s sandals, but not sufficiently “upscale” for the man’s sandal I am imagining. I’ll be working on making patterns for the fitted heel section and strap so it can be available for those who are intrigued by this concept. I did create a children’s pattern such as this one several years ago for an organization in Haiti; you can see the sandals in the young Haitian man’s hands, one pair I sent as a sample, the other pair he made himself.

Tweaking the loop sandal

For those of you who have purchased either How to Make Simple Sandals, or How to Make the Simplest Sandals, I just made a pair of loop sandals and offer these improved directions: (1) On the pattern, two holes are shown so the loop can pass up through one and down through the other, I now don’t think that’s necessary, so you can punch one hole in the center of the two holes shown, and pull your loop material up through it. I cut a 1/2″ dowel rod and cut sections of it to put into a loop so it remains the same size while I make the next loop. I used a 3/16″ hand punch to make the holes. To pull the loop material up through the hole, I used a paper clip: one leg extended up, one-half of the “lozenge-shaped” section poked through the hole. Pull the loop through the paper clip, then pull it up and shape it over a dowel rod section.

more sandal inspiration

here’s two more sandal styles that can easily be made as out-stitched – or even “understitched” – meaning that you punch slits or oblong slots in the sandal sole and thread the ends of sandal tabs through them. Then, either stitch, rivet or nail them in place (this is all explained further in my sandalmaking book and/or dvd) before assembling the sandal.

Sandals you can make by reworking patterns in “Simplest Sandals”

I saw two pairs of shoes on the web recently; they each provided an example of how you can take an idea you see and like, and make something similar for yourself. Here’s the two shoes, which one can you see yourself making? That’s right, the ones on the right, just create some gorgeous fabric through beading, applique etc, construct the pattern using pattern for the avarca sandal from my “Simplest Sandals” book. A leather strap and you’re all set. Re: the high heel, you could take the heel tab and the two leather straps from it and make something similar, but with a low heel.  

How I modified a strap that had become too loose

Several years ago I made a pair of sandals for my friend Karen that had a fixed strap across the ball of the foot. As time went on the strap stretched, until her feet slid forward uncomfortably as she walked. I thought a while about how to solve the problem; it might be best to cut the strap, then attach a buckle and  a thinner strap on top of the present one, but I just couldn’t crank out a good way of accomplishing this feat.

So, I decided to simply cut the strap, take out about 1/4″, and stitch it back together. Not exceedingly clever, but all I could come up with at the time. So I cut out a slice on the inner end of the strap, thinking that would be less conspicuous. Then I decided to “couch” the seam, meaning to catch a thin strip of leather under the stitches. I chose something in the purple range, always a good bet for me and my friends. I then went to my stitching thread collection, and am unable to resist braided waxed cord – and there was my multicolor jumping up and down saying “use me! use me!” So I did.

But first I decided to punch a third row of stitching slits, so if it loosens up significantly in the future, we can just take out that thread, snip off more of the leather band, and stitch it back together again even tighter! And, in the future I plan to stitch this all on the outside of the sandal, for all to see.sandal stitched, braided cord, couching, leather sandal

One-strap sandal found from Northern Mexico to Guatemala – at least!

I have greatly enjoyed making and wearing the one-strap sandal, which became known to the Northern Hemisphere through the book Born to Run (highly-recommended!) Checking out websites about the “invisible sandal”, I realized that a mystery had been solved for me: for years I have had a delightful photo from a calendar hanging on my studio wall – it shows three men sitting together (I cropped one out), engaged in their different crafts…one of them has traditional-looking footwear on. I have studied that picture many times, trying to figure out how the sandal was made with only one strap! I have presumed the men were from Central America, now I’m thinking Peru…if anyone has familiarity with this style of dress and these activities, I would love to know where they are from.

Now I know – it’s the same as the Tumahumara (the Northern Mexico indigenous people) sandal, but instead of the strap going through a loop in the sole alongside the ankle, there is a leather heel piece with holes at the top front corners that the strap goes through instead. Then there is the little “keeper” piece of leather over the straps, all very wonderful and I’m so anxious to make a pair – but unfortunately I can say that about a dozen or so shoe styles, so I might not be making them soon. But I’ll always enjoy the photo, these men who appear contented making, and being together.

Fisher sandal variation

I am finishing up a small book on the “fisher” sandal for all lengths of feet from 3 1/2″ to 12″.  I believe it’s a sandal that can be made to fit everyone, providing lots of openings for cooling breezes to waft through, but also providing quite a bit of protection for the foot. I think it can be considered tropical/formal footwear or casual. Here’s a photo of  one of several sandals that a woman made for her family members – in this one, she covered the elastic with a piece of leather.

Tegan’s sandal

Leather carvers and stampers: make these flip-flops!


I get Footwear New via email, and what fun it is to see all the upscale footwear! There is an inspiration in every edition; in the latest, I saw this pair of flip-flops with a medallion attached, that I imagine a leather-carver or stamper couldn’t resist recreating with a decoration of his or her own making. If you are a leather-worker and don’t know how to make flip-flops, the process is described in my book Slow Sandals.

Flip-flops are especially simple to make if you order pre-cut burgundy straps from Landwerlin Leather (317)636-8300.




You make the straps, I’ll provide the soles…(or you can make those too!)

1/28/12: A fellow recently emailed me asking for sandal soles that can be used to make “capri” sandals. He provided me with the link http://www.canfora.com/en/content/4-the-capri-sandals.

I realized that even though I hadn’t known of these sandals, I do have all the tools and materials to make

denise's sandals

these soles. So, I have decided to offer them for sale. I have a die press to cut out the soles, a Danny Marlin groover to make the groove for the stitches on the bottom sole, and a Cowboy stitcher for stitching the soles together. The fact that the soles are stitched together makes them perfect for me to make, since I don’t use toxic shoe cements. The alternative cement I use will not hold a sole on by itself, so my soles are always stitched in their final stage.

I’m looking forward to putting the soles for sale on my etsy shop. www.etsy.simpleshoemakingshop.com.

My book Slow Sandals will teach you how to make the soles for yourself if you’d prefer that approach.

What is unique about these sandal soles is that they have two slits in the big toe and in the instep area, through which the sandal maker can insert straps that her or his customer chooses. Imagine a shop with all kinds of sandal straps on display. Jewelry makers, especially those who create with leather and stones, could create bejeweled straps similar to those made in Capri. Other artisans that I can imagine making straps would be, of course, leather workers and carvers (maybe the purchaser’s name carved into the strap?), weavers of bands, beaders, stitchers…

The designer can create sandals for the customer in just minutes.

loop sandal

These soles will supplement the sandal soles that I already have in the works – these have three loops on them, through which a long tubular piece of cotton or silk – or thin leather – can be threaded, then wound around your leg, just like the sandals I see on the feet of every model on the web (mostly in high-heeled versions) strutting down a runway.

I’m hoping these soles will make many small businesses possible.