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.

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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