Quotation from Albert Einstein

“If I had known they were going to do this, I would have become a shoemaker”

Albert Einstein, after the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 1945

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.

Brenden, the last shoemaker in Ireland

Through a mutual friend, I came to know of Brenden, who makes lovely stitch-down shoes that are sold in a craft shop in County Cork. He is perhaps the last shoemaker in Ireland, outside of those who make orthopedic shoes. That’s a pretty sad thought, since I am sure a generation or two ago there was at least one in every village. Perhaps the tide is turning, and local makers will again be sufficiently-valued, so that they will be able to sustain themselves and their families.

Brenden sent a few photos to me of his shoemaking process, and once I had the pleasure of asking him questions on the telephone. I modeled the “Irish Field Boot”, also known in Slow Shoes for Women as the low derby boot, after his boots.

I have scrutinized these photos, especially because I see some machinery that I do not have and wish that I did. One is an “out-stitching machine” that appears to let him stitch the sole t   o the upper very close in around the lasted shoe. The other seems to be a hand-made machine that puts pressure on the newly-adhered-sole, strengthening the bond.


A bit of my history – and why make shoes?


Why make shoes?

My shoemaking books are complete, and my shoemaking “to do” list has been pared down to a manageable number of projects (transform adult patterns into more patterns for children; make a video of the “Stitch-in” process; get my etsy shop up and running). It’s time to communicate directly with aspiring shoemakers!

There are so many different reasons why people are interested in making shoes: I have recently heard from two grandmothers – one has a teen-age granddaughter with feet so wide and short that she can only wear birkenstocks, and the other has a teen-age granddaughter who wears size 15 shoes! She would like to have some party shoes, which don’t come in the men’s sizes that she wears.

There are many voices now advising people to buy locally-made products, food being the most obvious, but any form of apparel, certainly footwear, benefits from the same consciousness. Richard Heinberg, who sends out a monthly email from the “Post-carbon Institute”, advised a student who asked what he should do to prepare for an uncertain future, to learn to “butcher meat and make shoes”. And tan the hide while you’re at it, I guess. Being a vegetarian I don’t get the butchering part, but I certainly get the “make shoes” part. There are many people who are able to grow their own food, build themselves a house, and sew or knit everything they need to wear – but don’t know how to make their own shoes. My mission is to complete their empowerment by providing them with the knowledge of how to make those shoes.

I started out making simple stitch-down shoes, relying on directions in a book from the 70’s by Christine Lewis-Clark (why is it that I always remember her last name?) entitled “”. This book encourages readers to mold shoes over their feet. Trust me, shoes that duplicate the shape of most people’s feet are far from attractive! I still make simple stitch-down shoes. But I’ve gone over to the other side, and instruct that making shoes over lasts is the only way to go. Using standard lasts – and even those that have been customized, allows the maker to proudly declare, “these shoes? I made them myself!”

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.

Why I love to look at fashion photos and watch project runway

This photo of a dress shown at new york fashion week by richard chai offers an example of where inspiration for shoemaking can come from. This dress has strips of leather sewn onto it, some of it shiny; well, i have so many leather scraps, a lot of it shiny – how cool would a boot look with a few rows of shiny leather stitched around the leg of it?! Or a vamp sandal with strips across – i love to discover ways to use scraps so this dress is an inspiration. And, a belt from this collection had big pockets over each hip; maybe i have some leather that would be perfect for making a facsimile of it for myself!

How to Make Favorite Moccasins – from high boot to low flat in one pattern!

And not a minute too soon; I just saw the moccasin in this photo for sale on ebay for $145.00 – it’s original cost – it was made by Prada – was $400.00! If you’ve got some bugle beads, suede, a piece of vegetable-tanned leather for the sole, and this book, you can make a reasonable facsimile for under twenty bucks.

My moccasin-making book will have the same format as my other books, that is, there will be patterns for making each style of moccasin in women’s sizes 6 – 10. Information on customizing is included. The styles in the book are: skimpy moccasin-flat with “maryjane” and t-strap variations, basic “loafer” moccasin, unique tie moccasin, and low and high-boot moccasin.

By moccasin, I mean that a piece of leather is cut out large enough for you to stand on, (I’ll call is the “body”) and the edges are pulled up around your foot. In the front of your foot the pulled-up edges are gathered around a “U”-shaped piece called the “plug”.

A moccasin can be made without an extra sole, or an extra sole can be cemented and stitched in place before the moccasin is stitched together.

I hope to have this book ready to sell in a month, along with a dvd of the moccasin-making process.

postcard of shoe styles

I came upon this postcard I had made maybe 10 years ago, when I was doing a lot of spplique embellishment on shoes. Here’s Mary Janes and dance sandals, each made unique by their colors and designs. I like it so much that I’m using it for my banner!

Cool topline


I received a photo of the pair of shoes that was made during the last shoemaking “‘tutorial” (I’ll call it that since I teach one person at a time) I offered, and am sharing it with you. It’s a strange thing, how something like a pleasing line can create such a flow of uplifting brain chemicals – I felt such contentment when I saw the curve of the topline. It seems that the same part of my brain as finds resolution in hearing a beautiful musical chord was stimulated. I have to admit that there was one aspect of these shoes, that the photo doesn’t show, where I wish I had asked Linda to do things differently; we buffed the turned-out edge after cementing the natural rubber sole to the vegetable-tanned leather topsole. The rubber got kind of bunged-up, as we were trying to put a nice shine on the topsole. I wish I had buffed the topsole before attaching the rubber sole, and hopefully will remember to do it that way in the future.

Oh, and she didn’t plan to have little triangular punched holes on her shoes, just the “square spiral”. However, when I was demonstrating the sanding process, I knicked a little surface on the toe. Using the attitude that I was taught in a workshop of “don’t call it a mistake, make it a feature”, we added the triangles, and for me, the error definately transformed into a “feature”!

Well, you might think twice about coming to me for a shoemaking tutorial, as I am always learning (and re-learning) and experimenting right along with the student. If that’s within your comfort zone, I’m the teacher for you!