Tip for making stitch-down shoes over lasts

Hopefully you can see a last under this sole. When making stitch-down shoes over lasts, the sole needs to be 1/4″ bigger all around than the sole of the last so the upper can be cemented, then turned out onto that 1/4″ that is visible all around the sole of the last.  Then, the sole needs to be nailed with a couple of nails to the bottom of the last, before the shoe is stitched together on that 1/4″ lip.

I can line the sole up correctly under the last, but then I need to grip the last with the sole below it so I can hammer in those nails. I try with all my strength to turn last and sole upside-down so I can put nails through the sole and into the last – but invariably I can’t grip it tight enough and it goes askew while I’m turning it over. It was a very frustrating problem!

I had a recent visit from a fellow who is an engineer – he suggested I try an approach that now I use every time I make stitch-downs over lasts. You can see the technique in this photo: first I drill a small hole in the bottom of the last at both the heel and toe. Next, I hammer a thin nail into these holes until 1/2″ or so extends from the last. I cut off the head of the nail and sand it smooth.

I took some soling I had to make a “washer” with a small hole in it. Then I made two marks on my sole patterns where the nails are located. After making the soles, I punch out those two holes in it. Of course the one in the toe won’t be seen inside a shoe, but the one at the heel is visible. I’ve decided it’s worth it!

When I place a sole under the last now, I slide the sole onto both of those nails, then push the washers in place. When I turn the last over, the sole is centered and there is a 1/4″ edge all around the last!

a shoemaking story by Rasmus Wennström

was There was a knock on my door. Not expecting a visit, I answered in curiosity. There stood an elderly man with silver hair. I recognized him as a neighbour from a couple of houses up the street. We had greeted several times, but never really talked. His hands held behind his back, he explained how he really didn’t want to be a bother of any kind, and I assured him that it was fine.
“I heard you were a shoemaker”, he said. He must have heard as much through the suburban grapevine.
“Oh, well, I try my best – but I’m really only a hobbyist”.
“Yes, yes, but you do make shoes?” There was an unmistakable glimmer of expectation in his eyes.
“Well, yes, I guess I do”.

It was the right answer.

He opened up in an instant, and explained how his cherished grandfather had been a shoemaker. His grandfather had passed away long ago, when the now silvery neighbour was only a little boy. The memories of the grandfather were left in short supply, but it was clear that old gramps had been loved.
“In any memory I do have left of him, he was always sat there with a last, working attentively”, said the neighbour. He continued with a nostalgic gleam: “To this day, I remember the joy in his eyes as he sat there, pegging shoes.”

He gave a slight sigh. “Now, of course, I have myself become the grandfather, with children and grandchildren of my own. But, not one of them has any sense to appreciate shoemaking!” That’s a real shame, I confirmed. “That’s why I thought I would bring this to you”, he said as he took his arms forth from behind his back, revealing a little artifact.

“I don’t know how long I have left”, he continued. Such honesty can be chilling. “When I go, I would like the memory of my grandfather to live on. My own children and grandchildren have no relation to him, and they cannot relate to the joy he got from shoemaking. They wouldn’t understand what this is.”

The artifact he revealed was the stub of an old shoemaker knife, ground down to the very end. Supported by a little piece of wood and with leather wrapped around it, the short length of the blade gave witness to years of use. “I think that you would understand what this is”, he said. “I mean… it isn’t just the stub of an old knife. It’s a testament to years of work, and years of joy. In all its simplicity, it’s almost like a little monument to life. I fear my own children wouldn’t know what to do with it, and I don’t want it to just get thrown away when I am gone. I’m actually sure it would only be thrown in the rubbish if I wasn’t around, although it means a lot to me. I loved grandpa. That’s why I would like to ask if you could be interested in taking it.” Toning down the pricelessness of the keepsake, and how he could pass it on to an almost stranger, he ensured me that “it’s that or the trash.”

Of course, I was honoured. His grandfather was likely born in the late 1800’s, and this heirloom is not just some useless stub. It’s a connection through time, and it is a monument to life. I post this story in an attempt to further proliferate the memory of this unknown shoemaker, who was loved by his grandson.

Flip Flop Facts: Find Out

I just put “Forever Flip-Flops” in my etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/listing/754206451/forever-flip-flops-ease-beach-and-ocean?ref=shop_home_active_1

This article will give you an idea of why I created a flip-flop that lasts forever. The sole is made of conveyor belt scraps and the straps are made from bicycle inner tube. However, the straps can be made of other materials, such as fabric and leather. If the inner tube straps wear out, I imagine that finding new bicycle inner tubes anywhere in the world isn’t that daunting of a chore.

Millions of discarded flip flops posing huge hazard to ocean life

by Robert Frerck

We have been posting a lot of news on the hazards of plastic waste in our oceans, but I bet you have not considered this everyday item that is posing a huge plastic pollution problem. Flip flops, like yours are ubiquitous around the world and millions are discarded every day.

“Over three billion people can only afford that type of shoe,” says Erin Smith of Ocean Sole. “They hang on to them, they fix them, they duct tape them, mend them and then usually discard them.” Smith adds that the average lifespan of a flip flop is two years. This very inexpensive footware is popular throughout Asia and the developing world, especially in tropical zones. (photo – CNN)

Most of us think of beaches along the east African coast as little visited and pristine, however Smith points out that is not so. “We are actually receivers of pretty much the rest of the emerging world’s marine pollution.”  And a lot of the pollution that is carried to the beaches of East Africa are discarded flip flops — approximately 90 tons a year, states Ocean Sole, a conservation group and recycling collective.

Kenya is part of the problem also, one Kenyan company produces 100,000 pairs a day and because of inadequate waste removal, many of those are destined for the ocean. The problem of flip flops littering beaches is not just aesthetic, but a health hazard to human and marine life. Read more on CNN World. Plus see our posts on how micro-plastics end up in our sea food


Did you know that flip flops are frequently seen bobbing around in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that enormous, Texas sized, swirling gyro of ocean waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.


Flip Flops Are Forever

The world loves flip flops, they are comfortable, cheap and don’t fall apart in the weather. However, that’s also a big part of the problem, when they are discarded they don’t go away. They stay forever in landfills or make their way into the ocean. Many of the older and cheaper ones are made of non-recyclable plastics, that contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and phthalates, cadmium and lead, everything together makes these sandals carcinogenic to humans and toxic to animals and plants. So, a lot of these plastic compounds cannot be incinerated because of health concerns.





How to Make Ecological Simple Shoes for Women is finished!

I think it was in March that I started revising my “Simple Shoemaking Handbook”, and thought I would complete it by, at the latest, July…now it’s cold outside (well, not where I am, a vacation in the Azores was perfectly-timed with the book’s completion.) Along the way I learned new processes, materials and tools, so I am pleased with the outcome, while not pleased with the delays.. I also had some feedback that the original book was confusing with terms like “nomoc” and “fomoc”, so I eliminated these processes and will put them into a separate small book.

There are directions for making three styles of shoes in the book – the center-seam flat, a one-piece flat, and the derby. They each have many variations, so I believe that once you’ve made these three styles of shoes you will have the knowledge you need to make an amazing range of footwear.

And each shoe is made by a different process: the center-seam is a “stitch-in” shoe made with a leather/rubber sole, the one-piece is a stitch-in with an all-leather sole and a variation with a flexible sole. And, the derby is a “stitch-down” made with a leather/rubber sole. Once you’ve sampled both processes you can use the one that works best for the project you’re working on.

One of the new processes that is included in the book is a process for cementing – instead of stitching – a bottom sole to a shoe. In the past I have recommended that bottom soles be stitched on, to eliminate the use of toxic shoe cements. But,  I have recently learned after watching a video on Lisa Sorrell’s site – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWqrAleYqL4 that there’s a method for cementing on some types of soling using the same nontoxic cement – Aqualim 315 – from Springfield Leather. Great news!

For more information on the book, please see: http://simpleshoemaking.com/wp/product/shoe-and-sandalmaking-books/

How to make Renaissance Faire boots using the duct tape and the stitch-down method



Years ago I obtained a photocopy of a book with directions for making Renaissance boots. It didn’t have a cover page, and no indication of who the author was. So, I’ve made a pdf of it, in hopes that the information might be useful to you, see link above.

It might be of interest to those of you who have seen people having their feet and legs duct-taped at Renaissance Faires and have wondered about the process for transforming the tape into patterns for boots – and then the process for transforming the patterns into some of the beautiful boots seen at faires.

I’ve used a different process, the stitch-down process, to make the  Renaissance-Faire boot  pictured here. “Stitch-down” means there is a little edge turned out where the upper meets the sole.

Of course you can make the boot-tops more ornate, higher, with more buttons, etc. I sell my directions and patterns for making the stitch-down Renaissance Faire boot in my store. Lasts are needed for making these boots, but I have developed a technique for making your own lasts from easily-obtained materials so not having lasts doesn’t need to be an obstacle. The patterns and directions for making lasts can be found in my store.

And, I’ll be adding my ren boot patterns to my store.




Shoemaking business

My fondest goal is to help people start simple, ecological shoemaking businesses everywhere! Frequently I get a new idea of a type of shoe to make that i think could be the foundation for a business, but of course I can’t pursue them all – so you can do it instead! For instance, someone told me that her family orders all their shoes from a German company, Wildlings, because they are minimalist – well, most all the shoes I make are minimalist! Hers had canvas uppers – so I was reminded of a young man who was a shoemaking intern a few years ago – he had lived in Thailand and admired the fabric shoes he saw there. He wanted to start a business here making them himself – here’s a photo of one of the pairs we made.

And, recently a young woman with a wonderful store in Turner’s Falls, Ma, Flourish, which is near me, showed me a vast collection of upholstery sample books she had – she said I could have all I wanted. I took one but hadn’t done anything with it – until today, when I started thinking that they might be nice for making minimalist women’s espadrilles. Well, each piece was big enough for one slip-on shoe, but I couldn’t see making the shoes with two different patterns, but I realized that I could make the front part of a pair of shoes from one piece, and have a harmonizing piece stitched at the heel end.

I’ll probably never get around to making these, but maybe you can! I have stacks of “idea shoes” (just the right foot) around my studio – and i’m soon to be 75, and I’m having some memory problems, so that is why I’d like to share these ideas with other people who might have a long career ahead of them. Please get in touch if this might be of interest to you.

“The Story of a Shoe” by John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning, excerpted from Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things

Editor’s Introduction: Since the days when Nike Corporation co-founder Phil Knight sold shoes out of the trunk of his car at track meets, his high-flying sports-shoe company has developed a reputation as one of the United States’ more progressive corporations. But this reputation – based on the company’s strong leadership in supporting equal participation for women in sports, for example, or on the wooded running trails it provides for its U.S employees – contrasts sharply with reports of its operations in Asia, where growing scrutiny has revealed wide-spread labor abuses.


By employing subcontractors in Asia to assemble shoes, Nike has made big profits – $800 million on sales of $9.2 billion in 1996. But the company’s success, and the disparity between its profits and the wages it pays is subcontracted labor force, has made it a target for critics who say the company has a double standard. Last spring thousands of Indonesian workers, complaining that they were not receiving the required minimum wages of $2.50-a-day, “ransacked” their factory. In Vietnam, where workers churn out a million pairs of shoes every month for a minimum monthly wage of $42,800 workers recently walked off the job to protest poor working conditions, Wages are nearly as low in China and Indonesia, where 70 percent of all Nike shoes are made.

Last year, in response to growing criticism Nike hired noted civil rights activist Andrew Young to draft a report on the state of Nike’s labor practices – though Young admittedly has no labor expertise. Based on a two-week, whirlwind tour through 12 different factories in Indonesia, China, and Vietnam, Young concluded that there was no “widespread or systematic abuse or mistreatment of workers” at these operations. But the leak of one of Nike’s internal human rights and labor assessments – documenting many unsafe conditions at a plant in Vietnam – has seriously called Young’s findings into question. In a sobering refutation of Young’s report in the New Republic, Stephen Glass avers that in order to soothe labor critics, “the world’s largest sneaker company did what it did best: it purchased a celebrity endorsement.”

Nike’s ability to reconfigure its public image through advertising and celebrity endorsements points to another troubling aspect of the company’s success. Perhaps as much a matter of concern as Nike’s exploitation of its factory workers, is the shoe company’s efforts to manipulate its consumers, the people who purchase and wear the shoes. The human rights organization Christian Aid estimates that the labor component of athletic shoes manufactured in Asia is roughly equivalent to 6 percent of the price. Nike pays for them, or about 3 percent of the price they fetch in stores. Since Nike spent $978 million on advertising in 1997 – more than 10 percent of its earnings – it appears that the company spends significantly more marketing its shoes than it does paying its labor force to make them. Along with countless other businesses and advertising companies, Nike is working to create needs, rather than meet existing ones – the satisfaction of which exacts unnecessary social and environmental costs.

As John Ryan and Alan Thein Durning have documented in their book Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, consuming goods has come to play a different role in our lives than anyone, even economists, ever imagined it would. For many, the consumer culture has become an ideology, “where buying things is believed to provide the sort of existential satisfaction that, say, going to church did,” as Thomas Frank puts it in an essay in the book Commodify Your Dissent.

I put on my sneakers – “cross trainers.” I guess they’re called – and got ready to go to work. I don’t “cross-train”; I’m not sure I even know what it is. But I do wear the shoes a lot.

Eighty percent of athletic shoes in the United States are not used for their designed purpose. As an executive for L.A. Gear put it, “If you’re talking performance shoes, you need only one or two pair. If you’re talking fashion, you’re talking endless pairs of shoes.” According to surveys, U.S. women own between 15 and 25 pairs of shoes, men 6 to 10 pair. Americans spend twice as much on children’s athletic shoes as they do on children’s books.

My two shoes weighed about a pound and were composed of dozens of different, mostly synthetic, materials. Like almost all athletic shoes sold in the United States, they were manufactured overseas by an obscure firm contracting to the company whose name and logo actually appeared on the shoes. Mine were assembled in a Korean-owned factory in Tangerang, an industrial district outside of Jakarta, Indonesia. But almost all the component parts were made elsewhere.

The shoe company in Oregon specified the shoes’ high-tech design and materials and relayed the plans by satellite to a computer-aided-design firm in Taiwan. This firm faxed plans to engineers in South Korea.

In the 1980s, South Korea was a leading exporter of athletic shoes, but economic reforms, labor unrest, and economic development resulted in shoe workers’ wage more than doubling in the four years before 1990. Shoe companies moved to cheaper pastures in China and Southeast Asia. Over the next three years, employment in South Korea’s shoe industry fell by three-fourths; nearly 400,000 Koreans lost their jobs.


Leather: My shoes had three main parts: the logo-covered upper, the shock-absorbing midsole, and the waffle-treaded outsole. The upper had about 20 different parts. It was mostly cow leather. The cow was raised, slaughtered, and skinned in Texas. Most of the carcass became human and pet food. The hide was cured with salt and stacked with 750 others in a 20-foot container and carried by freight train from Amarillo to Los Angeles. From there it was shipped to Pusan, South Korea. Most U.S. hides are exported for tanning: labor costs and environmental standards are lower overseas.

Tanning makes leather soft and keeps it from decaying. For centuries, tanning meant soaking animal hides in tannin from bark and vegetable extracts. Today it usually entails a 20-step process with large spinning drums and solutions of chrome, calcium hydroxide, and other strong chemicals. Chrome tanning (including unhairing, deliming, pickling, tanning, retanning, dyeing and lubricating) can be done in a day; vegetable tanning can take weeks.

Workers in Pusan loaded the tanned leather onto an airplane headed to Jakarta, while the tanning plant discharged hair, epidermis, leather scraps, and processing chemicals into the Naktong River. Much of South Korea’s tap water is not fit for human consumption because it is tainted with metals and other pollutants from heavy industry.


Synthetics: Except for the leather, my shoes were made from petroleum-based chemicals. The midsole was a custom-designed EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) form; a composite of several substances, each with its own valued properties. Ethylene made the mix easy to mold, vinyl made it resilient, and acetate made it strong and stiff. One of the most important building blocks for making synthetic chemicals, ethylene is a colorless, slightly sweet-smelling yet toxic gas. It was distilled and “cracked” from Saudi petroleum shipped in a tanker to a Korean refinery.

More ethylene was heated with acetic acid (the main ingredient of vinegar) and a palladium catalyst to form vinyl acetate. The acetic acid didn’t come from vinegar; it was synthesized from natural gas and carbon monoxide.

The ethylene and vinyl acetate were mixed with pigments, antioxidants, and catalysts; poured into a mold; and baked. During the ensuing reactions, millions of tiny gas bubbles arose to make a foam. The foam gives my shoes that cushy feel and protects my foot from the impact (two to three times my body weight) each time my heel hits the ground when I run.

Below the heel was my shoes’s only component manufactured in the United States: a small amber-colored poly-urethane bag filled with (market notwithstanding) a pressurized gas of secret composition, not air. (I guess “Pressurized-Gas Jordans” just wouldn’t sell like “Air Jordans.”)


Rubber: My shoes outer soles were made of styrene-butadiene rubber. The rubber was synthesized from Saudi petroleum and local benzene (made from coal) in a factory in Taiwan. The Taiwanese factory got its electricity from one of the island’s three nuclear power plants. Though tree farmers in the tropics still grow natural rubber, about two-thirds of the world’s rubber in synthetic. The rubber was formed into large sheets and flown to Jakarta.

In the shoe factory, a machine cut up the sheets and molded the grooved tread that I see on the bottom of my shoe. Like too much batter in a waffle-iron, some of the rubber oozed out the edges. According to Nike, this excess rubber made up the largest volume of solid waste generated by its shoe factories; it used to be sent to landfills. Now it is ground into a powder and put back into the rubber “batter” for the next batch of shoes. Nike reports cutting its rubber waste by 40 percent with this “Regrind” system, saving 5 million pounds of rubber annually.


Assembly: The factory in Tangerang manufactured shoes for Adidas, Nike, and Reebok. Mine happened to be Nikes – not terribly different from the others except for the logo and which athlete was paid to endorse them.

Powerful machines used pressure and sharp blades to precisely cut the leather and other tough materials into shoe parts. A Japanese-made embroidery machine speed-sewed the corporate logo on the sides of my shoes.

Though high-tech equipment helps, putting shoes together remains the domain of hand labor. On the assembly line, several hundred young Javanese women with names like Suraya, Tri, and Yuli cut, sewed, and glued my uppers and soles together to make shoes. The air smelled of paint and glue, and the temperature neared 100 degrees F. Like most of the workers, Suraya wore cheap rubber flip-flops. She would have to pay more than a month’s salary to buy the $75.00 pair of shoes she helped make for me. She earned the Indonesia minimum wage – 650 rupiah (about 23 cents) an hour.

Under the discotheque-like glow of black lights, Saraya brushed a sparkling solvent-based glue across the bottom of my midsole to attach it to my rubber outsole. The glue contained luminous dyes; under the black lights, Suraya could easily see if she had spread it evenly across the entire surface for a tight seal. Other workers glued the sole to the upper (using nontoxic water-based glues as well as toxic solvent-based ones), trimmed and polished my shoe, and inserted the laces and insole.

Discipline was strict, sometimes abusive, in the factory, which was run by ex-military men from Korea. But Suraya knew not to complain about the pay or the illegal, compulsory overtime she sometimes worked. She was replaceable – Indonesia has a huge surplus of cheap labor – and speaking out could mean getting fired, or worse. The Indonesian military routinely intervenes in the country’s labor disputes through interrogations, threats, and even murder. The Indonesian government believes that even at $2 a day, workers’ wages are too high for the country to compete with lower-wage nations like Indian and Vietnam.

Though solvent fumes caused health problems to some workers, the shoe factory generated little pollution and required little energy compared with the refineries, chemical plants, and tanneries that produced its raw materials.


Shoe Box: My shoes were hand-stuffed with light-weight tissue paper (made from Sumatran rainforest trees) in a shoe box. The box had been made in a “closed-loop” paper mill in New Mexico that recycled all its sludge. The corrugated box used 10 percent less pulp than one made of corrugated cardboard. The box was much improved over other designs: tab and slots, not toxic petrochemical glue held it together; its outside was printed with inks that contained no heavy metals.

Folded stacks of empty boxes were shipped west across the Pacific from Los Angeles; boxed shoes were shipped east in a super container ship carrying 5,000 20-foot containers. Each journey took two weeks. Shoes were the third largest cargo shipped to the United States from eastern Asia in 1995, after toys and auto parts.

As I laced up my shoes, I noticed a small tear on my big toe. At this rate, the pair wouldn’t last a year. That’s much longer than throwaway items like newspaper, but still, maybe I could find my old needle and stitch up the hole before it grew. Maybe I would make my shoes last longer, walk more softly on the earth, and save 75 bucks, too.