How to make simple stitch-down shoes for people with swollen feet

My own mother had problems finding shoes to fit her swollen ankles, so I had wanted to make her a pair. However, before I was able to, she moved into a nursing home and was not getting out of bed. So, I had some ideas in mind when I recently received a call from a daughter frantically trying to find someone to make a pair of shoes that her mother with swollen feet could wear.

duct tape mockup of mother's swollen foot

duct tape mockup of mother’s swollen foot

I suggested that she follow the directions in “How to Make a Custom Last”, a three-part video on my blog, to make duct tape “molds” of her mother’s feet. She sent me the duct tape molds, and I used them to make mock-ups in polyester felt. I sent them for her to try, and – I was a little surprised – no alterations were needed! She then sent the mock-ups back.. Her mother wanted a slip-on, so she marked where the topline of the “clog”  would be.

felt adjusted copy of mock-up

felt adjusted copy of mock-up

To make a shoe with such height at the toe, I decided to use a center seam style.

I had asked what color her mother wanted – brown, black – red, purple?! She wanted purple! I had a nice “dignified” purple, so purple slip-ons she will have.

I used the felt mock-ups as lasts, so I stuffed them with wool batting. They gave me the shape and height I needed to drape the upper over, while cementing the upper to the sole.

using felt mock-up as last

using felt mock-up as last


completed pair

completed pair

Once cemented, the shoes were stitched together, and I have my fingers crossed that they will provide the spaciousness and comfort her mother needs so she can soon walk outside – in her new purple shoes!

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

You Walk Wrong!

“You Walk Wrong!” is an article from the NY Times magazine ( that I invite you to read. It supports the simple way that I make shoes, with lots of space for your toes and thin flexible soling that comes as close as possible to duplicating the barefoot experience, while still protecting your feet.