Maker Faires rock!

Last Sunday was a glorious-weather day at the Children’s Museum on the Boston waterfront, a perfect day for my first-time vending at a Maker Faire that was held there. Having my five-year-old granddaughter with my husband and me added to our joy – at seeing so many diverse, curious, imaginative, and inventive people of all ages having such a wonder-full time.

I brought samples of shoes that can be made in the shoemaking workshops that I offer, sandals like those that will be made in a workshop at Snow Farm Craft Center next summer, and pieces of First Footsteps shoemaking kits for toddlers, so customers could select the colors of leather pieces that they wanted in their kits.

There were computer-designed cotton socks from – I bought a purple pair with pink loops. And, Tertill: the solar-powered robot that weeds your garden was there —

Maker spaces in the Boston area were well represented, which I found inspirational, because I would love to offer shoemaking in a “launch space” being created at the Orange Innovation Center near me – and then at other maker’s spaces around the country.

There were marble run workshops, how to make a 3-D prosthetic arm, maker spaces for children, giant stamp rollers, D. Works Electrical fiddle-faddle – definitely not what is usually seen at your average craft fair!

Might your craft lend itself to a maker faire near you?!



Mountains of pain – and joy

I just received a facebook post from an extraordinary woman who lives near me, who has been selling cloth shoes for babies and young children in her etsy shop. She found that refugees living in camps on the Greek Island of Lesvos have vast quantities of deflated rafts and unusable life preservers, and that the children needed footwear.
She heard that it can get quite “mucky” in the camps, so she added motorcycle inner tube soling so the soles and stitched the inner tube up the shoes a few inches, creating “muck shoes”. (She says that they have now become the best sellers in her shop). She and volunteers made many pairs of muck shoes for the children, then her family (five-year-old twin daughters, 7-year-old daughter, and husband) decided to go there, deliver shoes, bring a stitching machine (which I don’t think worked) and help the refugees make footwear to wear and perhaps to sell. They left on July 4, and are still there.
I did my best to supplement her with sandal patterns and children shoe patterns in other styles, but I am gathering from posts on her facebook page that it became apparent that other items might be best to make from the materials at hand. I’m gathering that one of the best items she helped people make were soccer balls! The raft material was cut into soccer-ball components and were stitched (I’m not sure if this was done by hand or by machine), then stuffed with the layers of plastic foam from inside the life preservers. They are beautiful, and will never deflate – from what I hear about the popularity of soccer world-wide, these balls will be in demand!
Somehow Andrea found a functioning sewing machine, and once she got it running, the lines of people bringing items that needed to be repaired or re-made were stretched out the door of her tent all day.
You would think we in the USA could drop one less bomb over somewhere in the Middle East and use the savings to buy a few more sewing machines for these refugee camps.

She has found that mountains of donated clothing cannot be worn because the sleeves need to be long for Muslim women and it was hard to find something that fit. Andrea began teaching the refugees to make cotton dresses for the little girls, you can imagine how popular they are. Clothes were cut up and stitched to add to the length of the sleeves for the women.
Then she started helping the refugees cut the t-shirts into long lengths of “yarn”, must have made some big “crochet hooks” and got people crocheting bags, little rugs, and other items that could be made from crocheted t-shirts. I sent her a long list of projects that can be made from this yarn, can you imagine people in camps sitting around crocheting useful items from t-shirt yarn – everything from sleeping mats to poufs to sit upon?!
Following is the latest post from Andrea – if you’d like to read all of her posts, her facebook page is:

Friends, this is a very difficult post, so please don’t read further if you are very sensitive. This afternoon has left me feeling totally unqualified to be doing this work. My little workshop tent has been flooded with tears from me and some of my new refugee friends. Since 4 o’clock this morning, the Greek riot police has been raiding the Moria refugee camp and neighbouring community centres, making sweeping and arbitrary arrests of migrants whose asylum cases have been rejected on appeal. 60 people have been detained pending “immediate deportation”. The general climate in Mytilini is one of terror and uncertainty.

Also, I need to tell you more about the young man I introduced you to the other day. Remember the one who carried the fabric from his mother across 8 countries until he reached safety in Lesvos? Well, he has come back here every day to learn new skills and we have bonded over needles and thread. Today he felt comfortable enough to share more of his incredible story, and it cut me to the core. He has asked me to share it with you in hopes someone can help him.

Gabrielle is a member of a certain ethnic group from the country of Congo. This group is a minority and have been subjected to ethnic cleansing for many years. One night this spring my friend went to the toilet around 9 at night. As is common in Congo, the bathroom was separate from the house many yards away. He heard a noise and peeked out from behind the curtain. He saw men with machetes and machine guns enter his home and pull out his sleeping family members. While crouched down inside the bathroom he witnessed his sister and mother being raped and then killed, he also saw his father and brother violently killed. After sitting in shock on the bathroom floor for some time after the men left, he gathered up the surviving family members (his niece aged 3, his nephew aged 9, and Gabrielle’s own daughter age 4), then ran to town to get his other sister who was working at the family’s shop at the time. The 5 of them set off on their journey to safety. Their goal was to reach Europe. There was some chaos crossing the border into Burundi and Gabriel was separated from his sister and the children. He has no idea how to find them, but to do so would begin the healing of his shattered heart. He is suffering from severe guilt, has flashbacks, and feels completely alone in the world. If any of you know someone who could help begin the process to reunite this family, please message me privately. I have other specific details that could help in the search too.

I am sorry I have to pass a along such a horrific story to you. It is not an easy one to hear. I hope I can get back to spreading more smiles tomorrow
– I’m afraid I wasn’t very successful with that today.

Would you like to make some “magic” sandals?

I’m on a sandal-making journey, preparing for offering workshops at craft centers and “maker spaces” throughout the country. They usually require the instructor to accept up to ten students, so sandal-making is more manageable for me with this size group than shoe-making.  Proposing to teach at Snow Farm in Williamsburg, Ma., near my home, inspired me to create a workshop description. I’ll be teaching there June, 2018.

When I first sent my proposal to Snow Farm, I sent a photo of a solitary sandal – they asked if I could create a more appealing photo, so here it is, along with my workshop description:

In the seventies there were sandalmakers standing on Boston street corners, ready to draw around your foot and provide you with a custom pair of sandals in a few hours. Now you can’t find any sandalmakers in Boston, or most anywhere else.

This workshop is being offered to generate some new sandalmakers. We’ll make the “ultimate magic flip-flop” – I call it “magic” because when you look at the strap pattern it is puzzling as to how it could be transformed into a 3-D shape. I call it “ultimate” because of the way the strap cradles the foot.

And, it’s ultimate because the straps offer a prime site for embellishment – you don’t have to cover much area with it, yet it makes a great visual impact.

These sandals are stitched together so no toxic cements are needed to make them. Since the leather used is either vegetable-tanned or recycled, and the soling is made from a reycled material, these sandals are as ecological as you can get – next to going barefoot!








I was (beyond) thrilled recently when a little device I had asked a machinist to make for me actually worked: I screwed it into a drill, bolted the drill to a table, placed the sole and coaxed in around, and it cut a 1/8″ deep groove 1/4″ from the edge of my soles!

Ever since I stopped using toxic shoe cements, I have had the dilemma of how to attach bottom soles without it. My solution is to stitch soles on, but the stitches need to be recessed so they aren’t worn away. Stitches become recessed in natural rubber soles, since this material compresses when stitched. But natural rubber has drawbacks as it gets gooey on hot sidewalks, plus it’s expensive, and I have been reading articles about the horrors of the rubber industry. Fair trade natural rubber is available, but the minimum orders are beyond my reach.

The soling I am putting grooves in is ecological: I ordered it from I asked the company if they had anything that could serve as shoe soling, and they had sheets of – shoe soling! So, I ordered the sheets they had. I would not buy new petroleum-based soling, but once it exists and has no other apparent uses, I believe it is best to use it instead of sending it straight to the landfill.

I love this soling – it’s black, 1/4″ thick, flexible, and soft enough that my little “device” could cut into it. I’m now selling the soles in my website store, both with and without stitching holes punched into the groove.

If you order soling with stitching holes punched into the groove, the holes have the same placement as the stitching holes marked on the sole patterns in my books, How to Make the Simplest Shoes, How to Make Center-Seam Shoes, and How to Make Cinch-top Shoes for the Whole Family. Any upper in these books can be stitched to these “soles with a groove”, and the stitching holes will line up. Over the next year, I’ll be putting new patterns in my store (the first will be a “renfaire” boot, and all will have stitch holes marked on them that line up with the holes in the soles.

Since the upper turns out to be stitched, it’s best if the upper leather is 4 or 5 ounce in weight. Thinner leather will make a “wispy” edge. If you want to use thinner leather, it’s best to make nomocs, lomocs or fomocs.

Soling can be ordered in standard medium-width sizes women’s 5 – 10 1/2, including half-sizes, or they can be custom-made to the shape of your foot.

Shoemaking has never been simpler than this!


rock artist


While looking on pinterest for art projects to make with my granddaughter, I went to a “rock art” page. It led me to this remarkable example of rock artistry. There’s not a thing on this site that has anything to do with shoes, but I want to do what I can to spread the word about this artist’s work:

The site is in French, I used google translate to get an understanding of the Syrian artist’s situation, which apparently is not known..

First Footsteps toddler shoes made at Mothering Magazine office!

I am so appreciative of Agata at Mothering magazine for writing about my shoemaking kits on the Mothering facebook page:, also pasted below.

My goal has been to create a simple pattern for children’s shoes that makers could use to make footwear for family, friends and, if desired, as a small local business.

There are toddlers everywhere who need footwear, why not make them from thrift shop scraps and bike inner tubes – they’ll be ecological as well as healthy – and fun. If we want to make decisions based on how they will affect seven generations, I don’t think there’s a better way to begin than by making ecological footwear for the next generation.

Here’s the Mothering post: “Having fun in the office with this AWESOME “First Footsteps” shoemaking kit. I just made my first pair of baby shoes and am so proud!!!! We love supporting small businesses here at Mothering! Thanks @simpleshoemaking <3 You can get yours at:”


Look at these precious shoes, from the Japanese site You will definitely enjoy looking at its blog, there are so many beautiful leather creations.

There is a pattern for this little girl’s sandals in my book, “How to Make the Simplest Sandals”, although the heel piece is different. The patterns are for making sandals in all sizes, from small child to big adult:

These sandals from fungus workshop are particularly appealing to me–the way the straps are made is hard to figure out, they’re magical. Fortunately I have a pattern for them from Tim Skyrme’s Simple Sandalmaking book: love the stitching that anchors each strap, and the name of the maker that is embossed on the strap. And, the colors! These could be made with beautiful vegetable-tanned leather from:, or natural vegetable-tanned leather could be dyed. Sandal straps and topsoles are best made from “veg” leather since it has the stiffness needed so the straps don’t pull out of them.

Enjoy fungus!

Muck Shoes for Syrian refugee children

Imagine my surprise at reading the following article in the local Amherst Bulletin! It describes a woman who lives not ten miles from me who is making shoes for refugee children – exactly what I would love to be doing. We got together a few days ago, and I brought some of her patterns home so I can cut out pieces for her “muck” shoes. Muck shoes have thin rubber soles, and the rubber continues up the side of the shoes so children can wear them to play in muddy situations.

Since my children’s shoes can be made without machinery, I think there will be a place for them in this project as well  – hands being much more available in a refugee camp than stitching machines. Of course holes need to be punched to assemble my shoes, but as Andrea said to me, “If they have a nail and a rock to pound it with, they can make the stitching holes!”

I have been wondering why there were no mountain bike tire inner tubes available at local bike shops, that I use for soles for my all-recycled kit shoes, and now I know why – she is using the same material for soles on her shoes!

A step up: Belchertown business owner forgoes a month off to make ‘muck shoes’ for Syrian refugees

 BELCHERTOWN — Taped to the wall behind Andrea Boyko’s industrial Singer sewing machine is a picture of a refugee child without shoes.

The picture is one not unlike the countless others seen across television and computer screens, newspapers and magazines around the country as the Syrian refugee crisis continues.

“It’s easy to look away when there is a crisis that seems so big that there is nothing that you can to do help. This crisis in Syria, there is nothing I can do to stop it or help all these people leaving their homes,” Boyko said. “There is one small thing that I knew how to do, which is make shoes, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Since 2011, millions of Syrians have fled the country’s civil war hoping to find safety and new homes. Others have evacuated from major cities after their homes were destroyed but have been unable to get out of the country.

Formerly a teacher, Boyko has spent the last few years working full time on her business Bula Jean’s Boutique which sells handmade, recycled shoes and clothing items.

 Sitting in her basement workshop in her family’s Belchertown home the morning of Jan. 13, Boyko reflected on her decision to forego some well-earned rest so she could make shoes for the refugees in need.

“The families who are in these camps had to leave their homes,” Boyko said. “They didn’t have much time. They have just what they can carry on their backs. Kids grow, they grow out of their shoes, there are not as many resources as there should to be help them. This is just one small way I thought that I could help the kids there.”

Following the holiday order rush, Boyko normally takes the month of January off from her business.

This year, though, she is spending the time making her “muck shoes” for children halfway around the globe.

With an experienced hand at the scissors, Boyko said it takes about 15 minutes for her shop worker to cut the shoe materials. At the sewing machine, it takes Boyko about another 15 minutes to sew it all together.

To make the shoes, Boyko uses repurposed rubber from inner tubes from bike tires as the outer soles and a mixture of recycled and new fabrics and textiles.

Old shirts and sweaters in a rainbow of colors fill the shelves in the small workshop. The industrial sewing machine came into Boyko’s possession after the passing of a Springfield tailor who used the machine for decades.

Moisture-wicking wool serves as the sole liner for the shoes and T-shirts are transformed into a soft inner lining. On the outside, durable fabric from old sweaters and jeans or new water-resistant duck cloth form the outside.

“They should work well in the camps. If they get muddy, you just rinse them off and they dry really quick,” Boyko said.

“Because of the elastic, they stay on the feet even if they are all little big so they can wear them a lot longer than typical shoes,” she said.

Boyko has pledged 50 pairs of children’s shoes but is going to make as many as she can. Already she is nearing her goal.

In June, instead of the planned family vacation to Costa Rica, the Boykos will head to Greek island of Lesbos.

“I feel like the world has pulled us in another direction,” Boyko said.

The island, once a popular tourist destination, has become home to thousands of refugees who traveled by raft from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the International Rescue Committee, over 1 million people have traveled through Greece since 2015.

The plan is to spend an entire month in Greece.

“I have a feeling once I’m there, I’m not going to want to leave,” Boyko said.

While in Greece, Boyko said she will run sewing workshops in the refugee camps. In addition to teaching basic sewing skills, she’ll also share here secrets on how the shoes are made.

The benefits, she said, will be twofold — the sewing will give the refugees something to do during the day as well as give them a life skill that may be used to earn an income one day.

Once the first batch of shoes is completed at the end of the month, they will be sent to a woman who lives in Turkey, according to Boyko. The woman will then bring them to the Syrian border and deliver them to somebody who will then bring them to the refugee camps there.

A second batch of shoes will go along with Boyko to Greece in June.

Told of her work, Michael Kane, a member of the Valley Syrian Relief Committee, called Boyko’s efforts impressive.

He said work like hers and that of the committee are part of larger effort that is making a statement to the Syrian people that there are people in America who care very deeply for their lives.

“It’s sending that larger scale message — we haven’t abandoned you and we’re really trying to help in ways that we can,” Kane said.

Having exhausted her local bike shops supply of discarded inner tubes, Boyko said people have been helping her gather more.

“I had a friend who went to Boston last weekend and went to a couple of shops (to collect inner tubes),” Boyko said.

For those interested in helping, Boyko is still looking for more bike inner tubes as well as thick wool blankets that get used as shoe inserts. The blankets can be any size or color.

She is also accepting financial donations to cover the cost of shipping a box of shoes to Turkey as well as purchasing two or three industrial sewing machines for the refugee camp.

In the case of the sewing machines, Boyko is also looking for somebody in Europe to help get the machines as they would be hard to transport to Greece. She said the closer to the camps the machines already are, the better.

Boyko can be reached through Bula Jean’s Boutique Facebook page at facebook .com/Bula-Jeans-Boutique-183782958307742/ or by email at


This is your lucky day!

harem pants noeMy lucky day occurred a week ago, when Neda Hussain put a photo of a shoe she made for her son on It is beautiful, especially because the colors were so nuanced. I went to her web page,, and was quite stiff when I eventually got up off of my chair, because I had been “riveted” to her website for hours, until I had read all of her posts. I even read the ones on clothing, although I don’t sew much clothing – but I do “reverse applique” on recycled T-shirts. I learned the technique, as did Neda,  from books from I am going to make my little grandson Solomon a pair of harem pants for sure. This photo of Neda’s son in his harem pants, stenciled T-shirt (with silk neckline) and chunky hand-made sandals has set a standard for hand-made style.

So I ordered Neda’s e-book, How to Make Unique Leather Sandals, and was again enchanted. Even though I have made many styles of sandals, I have not decorated them with punches, stamps, or paint, as she does. I have been missing out on a lot! At this point I don’t want to invest in stamps, but I’ve got the punches and paint, it’s time to experiment. She can take a simple sandal shape, and add so much interest with her artistic eye. I am thinking of my two sandal-making books, I still feel really good about the instruction that they provide, and I now see how the sandals could be enhanced, using some of her techniques. I’m pleased that I have found a way to stitch soles to sandals and shoes, avoiding the toxic shoe cements.

I enjoy it so much when ideas are shared between people who are doing something similar, yet different. Thank you, Neda!