How to Make Unique Custom Sandals

Recently  a beautiful pair of tooled sandals was posted on Leather Crafters facebook page. They were made similarly to the pair shown above that a student made, except the two bands were connected to each other. Readers asked how the sandals were made, and since I have experience making similar sandals, here’s how I would make them.

I am not making “real” sandals in this tutorial, my goal is to show the process; therefore, I am using thin scrap leather. Some processes are not explained in detail, because this tutorial is being written for a leather-worker facebook page. Either of my sandal-making books, How to Make Simple Sandals for Women and How to Make the Simplest Sandals for Everyone offer more in-depth explanations.

Once you become familiar with this process, you might like to look at my Pinterest Board, You can see many styles of sandals that can be made by similar processes. You can extend the masking tape up your ankle to create some of the gladiator styles.

I think a pattern could be made using a process similar to the one that I use for making custom shoe uppers, which you can see at:

When this sandal was completed, it fit me perfectly, although the outside edge was stitched back further than I would like. Just a slight shift in the alignment of tabs on the inside can send the outside askew, so please keep this in mind and check alignment frequently throughout the process.

1. It is very helpful to have an assistant to help you with this procedure.  Stand on a piece of paper and have the assistant draw around your foot. To make the sole pattern, straighten out the irregularities, add a small amount of toe room and make a nice shape in the toe area. Cut it out of thin cardboard. Cut another piece of cardboard bigger than the sole to work on.

2. You will be layering masking tape over your foot to create the pattern. Start by inserting the cardboard sole in a knee-high stocking, then place your foot inside the stocking, on top of the sole. Stand with your leg straight up and down. You will place masking tape strips over an area a little bigger than the area you want the sandal upper to cover, as you will eventually draw the sandal on the tape. DSCN0313

Begin placing masking tape strips diagonally across one side of your foot, extending them over the center line of your foot. Press the other end of the strip against the side of the sole you are standing on, with the excess tape continuing on to the second piece of cardboard. Overlap the strips about 1/4″. Cover the sandal area with tape.

You can’t complete the taping of the toe ring because the stocking is in the way, so just extend some tape straight out in that area, to fold down later.

3. Apply a second layer of tape going horizontally over this same area.

4. When two layers of tape have been applied, sketch your sandal upper on to the tape with a pencil, then go over it with a permanent marker. Also draw with a permanent marker along the bottom edge of your pattern, where the two pieces of cardboard meet. Mark the front and back edge of the sandal upper on the sole so you will know where to re-align it.


5. Now you should be able to slip your foot out. Cut the pattern off along the bottom edge where the two pieces of cardboard meet. Lay it out as best you can onto a piece of paper. There will be some distortion between the 3-D and 2-D patterns.


Note if you like the shapes of the edges of your pattern; you might want to fold one side of the instep edge over the other and redraw it, so both sides are the same.

6. With this upper, it would require lengthy slits along both sides of the topsole,  so I would divide the sides up, into tabs. I decided to cut the inner bottom edge into three tabs, and the outer bottom edge into two tabs, all extending about one inch into the upper. Tabs will be added to the bottom edges of the upper that will pass through slits in the topsole, then will be secured to the bottom of the topsole.

Once the pattern is complete, check your pattern to see how it looks over your foot, by adding pieces of tape to the bottom edge of the sandal.  Stand back on your sole, tape the pattern in place, and try it on. Bring the incomplete side of the toe ring down around your toe and mark where it touches the sole. Mark on the sole where the sides of the tabs are. Make any adjustments to the pattern that are needed.


7. To complete your pattern, extend the length of each tab 3/4 inch to fold under the topsole. Keep in mind that some of the length of the tabs will be taken up by its passing through the topsole.

8. Now that you have your pattern, use it to cut out your leather. Four-to-five ounce leather would be ideal, but other weights would work depending on the leather’s flexibility. If you plan to carve it, of course you would use vegetable-tanned leather. If not, chrome-tanned could also work, depending on its qualities.

9. Cut out the topsole – best cut from 9-to-ten ounce vegetable-tanned leather, using a utility knife.

10. Cut slits for tabs in the topsole, 3/8 inch from the edge, starting with the inside (you can insert the tabs and double-check the location of the outside tabs before cutting them). Use a pair of wing dividers set to this distance to make an indention in the leather. Punch out a small circle where the sides of the tabs would be. Use a utility knife to cut the slits between the circles.


11. I stitch all my upper pieces to the topsole, because I do not use shoe cements such as Barge. I use Ecoweld from Tandy Leather or Aquilim sg from I apply one of these cements to the bottom of the topsole and to the tabs. When the cement is dry, adhere the tabs on the inside of the sandal to the topsole.

If you like to pre-punch stitching holes even when using the stitching awl (I do) –  use a round punch to make them or the three-prong 1/8″ thonging chisel to make slits, then use a stitching awl to stitch a line about 3/16″ inside the tab slits, that catches all the tabs.


12. Use the stitching awl, working from the bottom of the topsole, to stitch the tabs on the outside of the sandal to the topsole, including the other side of the toe piece.


Make a line for stitching the tabs of the shoe upper and a line for stitching the other toe tab, insert the tabs, and punch holes or slits  3/16″ inside the tab slits. Make as many holes or slits from the top of the sandal as you can, then turn it over and complete punching.

Stitch the tabs to the topsole.


13. To complete the sandal, add a bottom sole. I avoid petrol-based soling, so I use natural rubber, 12-14 ounce vegetable-tanned leather, or layers of car or truck inner tube for bottom soles. If using leather, see 14. before cementing sole layers together. Cut your bottom sole out, apply cement to the top of it – there’s already cement on the bottom of your topsole- let it dry, and cement it to the topsole.


Draw a line 1/4″ in from the edge w/ wing dividers , and stitch the two sole layers together.

14. If both of your sole layers are leather, rub beeswax or other edge finishing substance over the edge and buff, either with a buffer or a paper bag. If the bottom sole is natural rubber, finish the topsole edge before cementing the layers together. After buffing, your sandals are complete.