Rhode Island School of Design Shoe Show

A few cold months ago, I had the pleasure of teaching a one-day shoemaking workshop to Rhode Island School of Design students who had just the previous day returned from a shoe-design trip to Italy. Kathleen Grevers, Senior Critic, Apparel Design, and Khipra Nichols, Associate Professor, Industrial Design, shepherded twenty design students from a variety of media on the shoe-design trip. They each created a shoe as a culmination of all they had learned.

I was so eager to see their creations, but unfortunately on the day of the showing New England had a major snowstorm. All was cancelled. So,I had not seen the student creations until a DVD of photos recently was sent to me.

What a delightful collection! I especially appreciated so many media being represented – you can guess who came from an apparel, metal-work, or industrial design background.

The album of shoes can be seen on my Simple Shoemaking facebook page:


So, which is your favorite, and why?

Which would you actually like to wear? (apparently wearability wasn’t a requirement!)

Baby shoes made from T-shirts!

There was a recent request on a forum I’m on for prom dresses for girls who need them, and my mind went to the “T-shirt wedding dress” I had seen in a book I frequently consult, “Generation T – 108 ways to transform a T-shirt”. Making things from T-shirts is my second most-favorite thing to do. When working with T-shirts I like to incorporate stitching techniques that I learned from the books of www.alabamachanin.com.

Visiting the facebook page of the author, Megan Nicolay, www.generation-t.com, inspired me to make a T-shirt baby shoe that I could post on her site. I had not made any “T-shirt baby shoes”, so, using the tutorial for the “First Walker” baby shoes that was recently posted on my blog,  I tackled this assignment and was pleased with the results, seen here.

Using Natalie Chanin’s stitching technique, the threads are knotted on the outside, and the running stitch is used by the miles.

I used three layers of T-shirts, from scraps left over from a dress I am making for my 4-month-old granddaughter Millie. Now she’ll be “matchy-matchy”! If I had some double-sided sticky interfacing I would have used it to give the shoe a little more “body”.

Here’s my creation! As usual with shoemakers, now I have to make another one. (And yes, those are spring bulbs breaking through the earth under the shoe – yay!)


alpargatas, espardenyers, espadrilles, and a German shoemaking manual!

What riches! Today I happened upon http://ofdreamsandseams.blogspot.co.at, where I discovered a “sole mate”! That is, a woman who is fascinated by all kinds of techniques for making shoes, and who no doubt finds solutions for shoemaking puzzlements while cogitating between 2 and 3am, as do I.

I like the blogger Katya’s moccasin-making technique; I planned to do something similar in making the “plug” (the part of a moccasin that goes over the top of the foot) with a friend who wants to make shoes for refugees who have wider ankles and feet than can easily fit in U.S. shoes. We will be making bellows tongue boots from How to Make Simple Shoes for Women to hopefully solve the problem. The leg of this style boot can expand or contract according to how tightly the laces are tied.  Hopefully these boots will be comfortable for the refugees as well as anyone who has swollen ankles.

katya's moccasins

I was delighted to see how she solved the problems of making espadrille soles – she has created a totally-natural sole that looks substantial and attractive.

Another great gift of her blog is this German booklet on shoemaking – how wonderful it would be to have it translated!

german shoemaking book


Here’s a traditional espadrille-making video, which I find especially interesting to view in conjunction with viewing Katya’s technique for making the soles ourselves.

This url goes to multiple videos about alpargatas; the dearest one is entitled “espardenyers”, with the most charming “thumb piano”  music.


Multi-color boots better than ever!


I made myself a pair of brown boots with laces several years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t make the pattern quite right, so even when the laces were laced as tightly as possible, the boots still had too much room in them. I didn’t like the way the sides slumped down, so one day I decided to cut the strips of leather off between the two rows of eyelets. At least then I could tighten the laces so the boots would fit!

However, they didn’t look too good with that chopped-off strip quite visible down the front of the boot, so I decided to put a leather flap across the eyelet area, which would snap to the boot. I found enough matching leather for the two flaps, so they were stitched in place.


That looked pretty good, except it became clear that one flap wasn’t enough, the thin edge between the eyelets was still visible higher up the boot. I thought a flap that fastened with buckles might look better than two with snaps. Then, since I had no more of this particular brown leather, I thought I would use another color – and I had a mauve-purple that looks good with anything I wear. So, the purple flap was installed.

I had been thinking for years maybe that I needed to make a black pair of boots to wear with my grey corduroys – brown just wasn’t the right footwear to wear with gray I had learned many years ago…. but why not embellish these boots in some manner that would bring a touch of gray into my brown boots – then I could comfortably wear them with gray pants! I devised a little “collage” of the purple, green and gray that I thought I would stitch to the brown flap (I also have a green pair of pants that would look “cool” if I had a bit of green on my boots – as “cool” as a 68-year-old woman can look!) In the photo below I temporarily taped the “collage” on the flap where I would have put it if RISD students hadn’t advised me otherwise, for you to see..(does anyone think they would have liked it this way?)


But the little mosaic look “contrived”… Since I was soon to do a quickie shoemaking workshop for a group of students at Rhode Island School of Design, I thought – I’ll present my design dilemma to the students, and ask for their advice as to how to best bring these colors into my boots!

And, I got a couple of really exciting suggestions that I have now incorporated and I’m so pleased with the results! One student said, “Change the color of the tab at the heel  to one of the other colors you want. Another student said, “Put colored leather strips around the edge of the lower flap.” I realized that their thoughts involved making color accents more integrated into the boot instead of being an “artsy” design plopped down onto the front of the boot.

So here’s how my boots look now. I love them, I wish I could do nothing but make these boots with custom color accents – but maybe one of you reading this will turn this idea into a thriving business!

derby boot w/color accents

Shoe Design at Rhode Island School of Design

What a joy it was to walk around the classroom and see the sketches of shoes made by Rhode Island School of Design students who had returned the previous day from a Shoe Design tour of Italy. I had the thought, “how can there be a fresh way of looking at footwear, as so many millions of designs have already been made”.

Well, I learned that there can be, I saw it in their notebooks.

risd notebookTake the average “derby-style” shoe; it usually has a clean curved line between the vamp in the front and the heel section. Well, what if that line undulated in and out between the two shoe parts – I can’t wait to see  it made.

I have to wait until February 8, at which time there will be a critical evaluation of the shoe that each of the twenty students will make as , and an evening presentation. I look forward to being there and taking photos so you can marvel at the results as well as myself.


I had some confusion about the purpose of the tour and the make-up of the class; I had imagined that the students were aspiring shoemakers who had learned how to make shoes “the Italian way” on their trip. I thought I was there to show them a “simple shoemaking option” they might use in making their presentation shoe. Instead, they were design students from many different fields of study, such as Industrial Design, who wanted to focus on shoe design as inspiration for a new way to look at projects they were already working on.

So, instead of teaching “simple shoemaking”, I took the audacious step of teaching “complex shoemaking”, meaning that the bottom edge of the shoe upper was made longer, then wrapped around the last to be cemented to the bottom of the topsole that had been nailed to the bottom of the last. I have almost never made a shoe using this technique, but with the simple materials that we were working with it worked out fine.

I brought children’s lasts for the students to practice pattern-making on; they were instructed to cover the lasts with two layers of masking tape lying in different directions for added strength, then to draw their shoe onto the tape. Once that was accomplished they used an X-acto knife to cut their pattern off of the last. They then attempted the task of changing a 3-dimensional object into a 2-dimensional pattern.

stitching shoe

After learning some basics of this process, they made their pattern, then a felt “mock-up” of their shoe. This required some ability to envision the finished project, and therefore put seams where the shoe parts overlapped so the parts could be stitched together, as well as to add the 1/2″ to the bottom edge of the upper for adhering the upper to the bottom of the topsole.

By the end of the day many cute little felt shoes began to materialize. For some of the students, creating a unique sole was an important part of the design of their shoe, so for that they will have to explore in other directions as I have no experience with making soles from anything beyond a flat sheet of material (usually natural rubber). Yet viewing the woodworking and other studios we passed through on our way to the classroom, there are ample resources at RISD for making just about anything that one can visualize. If only all the students in the American school system had access to such richness of materials and instruction for creative inspiration!

dragon shoe

new page: TUTORIAL: How to Make the Side-Seam Moccasin-Boot

After seeing “Stephanie’s side-seam moccasin” project in Martha Stewart Living magazine, I decided to make it using different materials and stitching. I changed it further by stitching a piece of material along the top edge of the moccasin, transforming it into a boot! The boot can be found in the Craft Manual of North American Indian Footwear by George M. White.

I have described my process of making the moccasin-boot in the first (of many to come) TUTORIAL that I have posted on my blog; if you scroll down under PAGES on the right-hand-side of the page, there you’ll see TUTORIAL: How to Make the Side-Seam Moccasin-Boot.

A pattern for making the boot is included at the end of the directions. I welcome feedback on how this tutorial works for you, what questions you have – and then I welcome photos of the unique boots that you have made!

Side-seam Moccasin-Boot

Side-seam Moccasin-Boot