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

What riches! Today I happened upon, 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

newsy bits: “workshop” at RISD, emails to my address book, working on shoes for people with swollen feet

1. I have my facebook business page functioning, so i was ready tonight to send out a one-time mailing, inviting people whose addresses are in my address book to take a look. I look forward to seeing who remains interested in simple shoemaking. Having a business page is still confusing to me, I can accept “likes” but I can only “like” other businesses, not people – so it seems I can’t show my appreciation for those who “like” my page by “liking” them back!  But I do so appreciate hearing from someone who has an interest in simple shoemaking… thank you.


2. On Tuesday, I am giving a “workshop” at Rhode Island School of Design to a group of students who are just returning from a design-trip to Italy! Each of them are using their design ideas to make a shoe that soon will be part of a group presentation.

This is so exciting for me – it’s like Project Runway (I never miss that show – and it starts again tonight) for shoes!  I plan to bring shoes I have made so they can see what the “stitch-down” process is like. I’ll also demonstrate how to make a shoe using Soles with an Edge, and using the traditional fully-lasted method (just a quickie; I don’t have much interest or experience making more complex footwear).  Then, I’ll show them how to make a mock-up shoe with felt, cardboard, and non-toxic cement.  I have a friend/photographer coming with me, so I expect to have a lot of photographs to share from this day – and then photos of the final creations.


3. Finally, my mother has ankles that swell, so purchasing footwear for her has become quite challenging. Imagining there are many other people with this problem, I’m working on a generic pattern that might prove helpful in making footwear for them. I’ll post it soon. If anyone would like to try it out during the “design stage”, please get in touch.

Shoes for Natalie

Shoes for NatalieI love the work of Natalie Chanin ( and how she has shared the details of her hand-stitching process in three inspirational books. Adopting her nonchalance, I no longer concern myself if the ends of my threads are visible on the outside of my work – which is a big boon to a shoemaker since knots left on the inside might irritate the foot. Transparency of the process is her way of working – and might that inspire us to reveal our inner process as well?

Above is a pair of flats that I made using Natalie’s process of reverse applique, note the dangling threads!

Home Depot stocks soling for kids’ shoes!

They didn’t stock this for use as soling, of course, but the grey hall runner (sku – 195-339) found on a big roll in the carpet department)

Multy Home Gray 2 ft. 2 in. x Your Choice Length Track Runner

looks like a good material to use as children’s shoe soling.  At $2.27/26″ x 12″, quite a few affordable soles can be cut from a piece just one foot wide.

Use it with the rubbery-side down and the fuzzy-side up; you might want to use a piece of leather or felted fiber over the fuzzy side if your child doesn’t like the feel of it.

It’s totally flexible, so a child can feel as if she or he has bare feet in footwear made with this soling. I am convinced this is so important for growing feet.

This soling has no ecological merit – it’s 100% polypropylene. However, if you are making footwear for your family and friends you are hopefully decreasing the importation of a much bigger quantity of this stuff, which would be used to make a typical child’s shoe sole – and maybe the entire shoe as well (crocs etc). There are so many ethical points-of-view involved that for me, using this would be OK. However, I do sell natural rubber sheets for those of you who would prefer for your footwear to be totally kid and earth-friendly.

And, convenience; how many of you are more than five minutes from Home Depot?!

rug runner from Home Depot for use as soling for children's shoes

rug runner from Home Depot for use as soling for children’s shoes

MUSINGS on my shoemaking journey



Dear Sharon,

Are you a “cobbler?”

Well, I hope that this isn’t too forward, but I was wondering I could just ask you a few questions about your livelihood. I am a craftsman and artist of sorts, having always been a little in search of what I am best at, and what can also help me support my family. I had a little light turn on in my head about trying out shoes, and see that you may be approaching it similarly to how I would like to.

Do you support yourself with shoe-making?

Did you apprentice or find your own way?

What was your most valuable resource?

Which of your how-to books would you recommend I begin with? I am a mother of two, and my husband and I are going to be growing our family with little money while “aiming” for a craftsman’s lifestyle (he would be wood-working and blacksmithing). I at least want to have to satisfaction of making a pair of shoes per family member!

Any help is appreciated, of course, and I understand if you are shy about helping. This would take me years to get sorted, so I can’t imagine I would be of any competiton on Etsy! 😉

Dance Sandals

Dance Sandals


Greetings, Well, I have never thought that I was a cobbler, but thought I’d check wikipedia before answering your question. Here’s what I found:

Cobbler(s) may refer to:

A shoemaker who repairs shoes, rather than manufacturing them (see cordwainer for a discussion of the distinction).

A cordwainer (or cordovan) is a shoemaker/cobbler who makes fine soft leather shoes and other luxury footwear articles. The word is derived from “cordwain”, or “cordovan”, the leather produced in Córdoba, Spain. The term cordwainer was used as early as 1100 in England.[1] Historically, there was a distinction between a cordwainer, who made luxury shoes and boots out of the finest leathers, and a cobbler, who repaired them. This distinction gradually weakened, particularly during the twentieth century, when there was a predominance of shoe retailers who neither made nor repaired shoes.

So who can say, I might be a cordwainer, (I’m even a member of the honorable cordwainer organization, although you don’t have to send in a shoe you have made to gain admittance!) I have never made a “fine” or “luxury” shoe, however, so perhaps I’m simply a shoemaker.

However, to answer your questions about livelihood, I now am devoted to the creation of more shoemakers in the world, not to the making of shoes. I am nearing 70 years of age, with arthritic hands, so it is time to pass on the knowledge and experience I have gained through the process of making “simple shoes” for almost 25 years.

I have never fully-supported myself through shoemaking. I have a husband who has never expressed irritation at supporting my constant but erratic obsession with shoemaking. I am hoping that the vending of pattern books, DVDs, and the teaching of shoemaking will start to pay back for all his support, during our “retirement” years.

The advice that I give every shoemaking student I have had who would like to start a small business is to not do what I did –  I would declare “this is it! this is the kind of shoe I want to make”, then skip to another style and proclaim “no, this new shoe is indeed the ultimate one”. and on and on…. I was recently showing a student a few pairs of the “dance sandals” I have made, with snap-on-straps of various colors. I have enjoyed making them so much for myself, and have sold more of them than any other style of shoe. I still think it’s a great concept – but I didn’t stick with it. I jumped to making shoes with little “pockets” into which one could insert various colored or embellished discs. I remember how long I worked on making that pocket, then tossed that idea aside soon after figuring it out. But, those years have left me with many file folders of patterns, which have been the foundation for my shoemaking books…

So, my advice is to hone in on the shoe you want to make, then stick with it for a while. a long while. Of course look at all the hand-made shoe shops on etsy (most of them are from countries other than the U.S.A., where I gather there are more shoemaking schools – there must be quite a few schools in Israel!) Make something simple, work with simple materials, come up with a terrific name and logo for your company, take fabulous photos of footwear on the feet of members of your family, and open that etsy shop!

I suggest that you start with my book “How to Make the Simplest Sandals for all the family with your own two hands”. Purchase the simple tools needed (see TOOLS AND MATERIALS LIST for “How to Make the Simplest Sandals” on my blog). Find pocketbooks or leather clothing at thrift shops to use for your first shoemaking experiments. The fisherman’s sandal is a great first project – you can cut strips with rotary cutter if you have it, maybe in a variety of colors; and with inch-wide colorful elastic available now, you can create very special shoes “for Everyone”!

My very best wishes for satisfaction, ease and insight (and financial reward!) while on your shoemaking journey.


Beautiful felted llama-wool boots

How could boots be more beautiful?! Marlice van Zandt made these by felting her own llama fleece, following directions in the video workshop ( offered by Jennifer Hoag of Northeast Fiberarts. They were made by the resist method, meaning that a piece of plastic is inserted between two boot-shaped piles of wool batting; once this is complete, it is rolled up, wet with soapy water, and agitated until it shrinks. Then the felter puts her foot in it and agitates some more so it continues to shrink, until it fits! (only experienced felters are encouraged to take the workshop series, so this explanation is from a non-felter to others who haven’t tried this before).

And for those of you in Colorado, Marlice will be offering a felting workshop at her ranch,

marlice's felted llama-wool boots

Interesting leather from Hide House

I don’t plan on ordering a piece as I don’t expect to be making many shoes, but it’s tempting.

M05 Forest Green Moose Sides 5-6oz 12-15 sq ft sides 

is available from It will probably be quite soft leather, not good for most derby-type shoes or flats, but might be great for moccasins or soft boots. Usually leather comes in “half-of-a-cow-hide” which is around 24 square feet. Here we have a moose – 12-15 square foot-sides – I guess that’s half-a-moose-hide. And 5-6 ounce leather is nice and thick, I may change my mind and order a piece, just imagining what great renaissance-faire-style boots I could make for myself – poor me, I don’t have any green boots!

Ask for a swatch if you consider ordering this leather to check its color, degree of softness, thickness, and surface treatments. In my opinion, you don’t want any surface treatment  (leather without surface treatment is called “naked” leather), especially in this sort of supple leather….

You could make maybe 4-5 pairs of shoes or boots from this piece of leather. That is assuming that a good portion of the leather is useable; belly leather and limb leather sometimes is so stretched and flabby that it’s not useable for any part of the shoe  – well, maybe it could be used for a topsole, especially if it were inside a boot and not visible. But for a topsole you want something smooth, not full of ripples and bumps.

So all in all, if you’re thinking of getting yourself some moccasin or soft-shoemaking leather, this smaller size makes it one of the most affordable ways to obtain suitable leather, you could easily spend twice as much on a nice piece of cow leather – especially if you purchase it from a “bricks and mortar retailer”.

I have enjoyed doing business with Most satisfying is the fact that they have a catalogue, so you can re-order and you will know you are getting something very similar to the leather you received in a past shipment – keeping in mind that leather is a natural product, full of unique signs of having lived a life, stretch marks, barbed-wire marks, a brand here and there…

I just checked out the leather on the hidehouse website, it is listed as $54.00/hide, so perhaps I got notice of the wholesale price. If you have a sales tax number, you can get the wholesale price also.

Price: $54.00 per hide
No. of Hides: