New tutorial: How to make warm boots for little cold feet

My one-year-old grandson needed a pair of warm boots. Out came the wool coat I had felted, the polar fleece from a thrift shop XX large pullover, and a wide bicycle tire inner tube. Since I decided to create a tutorial as I went along making his pair, I made the boots all by hand so people everywhere would know that, with just a few materials and a pattern, little feet could be warmed.

The boots needed to be cinched and I had some paracord (ties could be made from the wool coat if cord isn’t available) but didn’t want to purchase a plastic gizmo to cinch it. I googled “cord locks” and found a youtube video that showed how to make a “cobra knot” that would do the trick, but I couldn’t figure out what the heck the person in the video was doing. So i googled “cobra knot” and found a nice clear paracord bracelet-making video. Just two pairs of knots and a delightful little cincher was made. I’ll never use plastic again!

If there are any little feet in your life needing boots, please take a look at the tutorial under the “tutorial” tab.


I scored a triple today!


I visited with precious in-laws, viewed the magnificent exhibition “Shoes: Pain and Pleasure” at the Peabody Museum in Salem, Ma., then visited EXTRAS for creative reuse in nearby Peabody Ma. for the first time.

I enjoyed the presentation of the 300 pairs of shoes almost as much as I enjoyed seeing the shoes. (See some beautiful shoe photos at the link above). Visitors were welcomed by a massive shoe made from black shoe boxes – and inside the exhibit, the most memorable feature for me was the kraft-paper shoe boxes that were stacked everywhere on which shoes were displayed..I imagine this show will go to another museum, but if not I’d love to be around when the disassemblers try to figure out what to do with all those gorgeous shoeboxes–. And while I’m thinking of it, another highlight for me were the round shoeboxes holding shoes for sale in the gift shop – I recall the shoes were labeled “U” and the designer was Japanese..

Shoe-wise, I loved the way that modern shoes were frequently juxtaposed with an ancient shoe that may have inspired it.. There was the continual marvel that women’s feet were so small and narrow in centuries past.

Jocelyn at EXTRAS has done an amazing job of offering all kinds of waste, headed to the landfill, to members to use creatively. I met her at the life-and-product-transforming REUSE convention last fall. There she had a table filled with imaginative objects made from materials from her enterprise. She gave me a portfolio full of lovely leather scraps and a little last – on the side was imbedded “Robeez, size 4”.

If you have had children or grandchildren in the last decade, you know that Robeez are very popular soft footwear. And size 4 is the size I offer in my “First Footsteps” shoemaking kits. What a gift, to make future patterns over! And I found a few more lasts at EXTRAS today, that I will offer for sale in my store.

I left there with an ample bag of felt, that I will use for making shoe mock-ups. I also found so many interesting leather samples from nearby shoe manufacturers. They will definitely add color and texture to shoes made in my workshops.  And, I grabbed paint sample cards for my granddaughter to play with – I’ve included a photo of one of the hundreds of paint chip projects listed on Pinterest.

If you are within reach of this part of the world, the “Shoe: Pain and Pleasure” exhibition will be up until March 12, and EXTRAS is not far from the museum. If you don’t have relatives in the area, at least you’ll score a double!



Christmas tree from paint colour sample card. Could be fun kid craft.:

Have you seen any boots more beautiful than these?!


This url takes you to an amazing site. There, you’ll see the magnificent footwear Martin Moser has recreated from choice specimens from the 14th century BC to the 18th century AD.

The original Castelford boot was found at the site of a Roman fort – it is listed as being a boot from the late first century.

I’m surprised Trippen hasn’t duplicated the snazzy lacing tabs seen on this shoe, although I’m not surprised that they haven’t duplicated the soling, since it is decorated with hefty nails.

Note that this is a one-piece upper: the only seam is found on the inside of the boot. It would be enjoyable to re-create this pattern, the only problem being that you’d need big pieces of leather to make the one-piece boots from. And, I think I’d make each tab folded and double-layered, so not so much stitching would be required. After all, I wouldn’t have any reason for painstakingly re-creating the exact boot, as this maker has.

And the color! an early Timberland?

You’ll find more information on Mr. Moser and his processes on his facebook page:

Tonight I scored on Pinterest by finding this website and accompanying facebook page:

Although Martin Moser claims he is not a shoemaker, you will see some of the most extraordinary and beautiful recreations of historical footwear on his pages. I love this shoe (unfortunately he does not take square photos so getting a whole shoe into one of his photos doesn’t happen very often), it’s a half “nomoc”, if you’ve been following my terminology.. Another unfortunate thing is that he does not supply directions for recreating the shoes that he makes, but many of them are sufficiently simple, such as this one, that I could make up a tutorial for it eventually…

I realize this photo is tiny, but if you go to this page on his website you will see large exquisite photos of this – and many other – shoes.

And, the bit of carving or embossing on the vamp is sublime. I have much gratitude for your work, Martin!

dscn0607A friend discovered this hole punch at Michael’s craft store. It punches a tiny hole, smaller than the 00 punch I have been using. I recommend it for punching holes in leather, just put your thumb over the the end with the punch tube on it while pressing to give a little extra “oomph”. First, you need to remove the metal spring inside it with pliers.

Since my simple shoemaking techniques involve punching lots of holes before hand-stitching, this punch really comes in handy. Admittedly the punching tube is quite short, so it’s a little hard to see exactly where you’re punching – but it can be done.

The best part of this punch is that the little round pieces of leather are captured in a compartment on the other end of the punch – no more tiny leather circles all over the workroom!


“I’m on a roll”

I love to look up the etymology of phrases that enter my head such as “I’m on a roll” – I found that it’s basically the notion that “an object in motion tends to stay in motion”. I have indeed been experiencing “a prolonged spell of good fortune” that being “on a roll” implies.

img_0472First I went to the life-changing-Reuse Convention, then had a lovely shoemaking workshop in Maine. This weekend I taught at NewVestures, a new Makers’ Space in Lowell, MA. Makers’ Spaces provide all the equipment needed for people to start small businesses, as well as many other services. NewVestures is focusing on sewing, but it’s easy to see that the Director and Founder Diana Coluntino is open to supporting the making of most anything, that will contribute to the well-being of the community of Lowell.

I was so excited by Diana’s creative energy. img_0483Her in-process canvas pieces were first striped with masking tape, then painted, then the tape came off, then paint was applied with abandon, so much freedom–

I know I was observing freedom because I don’t really have it with paint – but I think she’s going to release me from paint inhibition.. I dream of offering a canvas scuff-making workshop, with her teaching the participants and me what is possible with paint – then we’ll do it! Afterwards, I’ll teach them how to transform their masterpiece into a pair of “bad-ass” scuffs!

Here are First Footsteps shoes made by workshop participants, everyone likes two-tone.


A mixed-technique shoemaking workshop


This weekend I’m having the pleasure of teaching a shoemaking workshop through Laura Glendenning’s “The Handmade Effect” in Portland Maine. I am working with a recently retired law-enforcement and forensics professor (I learned that if you want to get fingerprints from someone, offer them a Coke – the prints will be on the can) his prolifically-crafty wife (I think shoes are the only things she hasn’t made before) and their teen-age daughter.

He aspires to make muk-luks lined with felt – I suggest that they consider felting wool coats in the washing machine and dryer to make the liners. He says that boots that are loose enough for you to slip on are ideal for -30 degree temperatures – your blood vessels don’t get constricted (he knows – he’s led survivalist trainings at this temperature).  So we’re making a pattern that he can use once he has moosehide to make the outside of his dream boots.

This family is considering making footwear as a business, so Diane’s shoes will be stitch-downs. Since the uppers can be machine-stitched to the soles, they can be made much faster than the hand-stitched nomocs, lomoc and fomocs* that we usually make in workshops. Lasts are needed to make stitch-downs, so they are going to make a pair using Peltex and playdough, as described in my “How to Make Lasts” book, to get some experience in using them.

Daughter made a brown pair of nomoc basics, with a piece of turquoise leather inserted at the toe, as seen in the photo. I love patchwork, as it allows the use of smaller scraps.

And, Laura and I are unstitching, then adding a toebox to a pair of red shoes that her son made in a previous workshop, to obtain a smoother look in the toe area. I so appreciate connection – and shoes – that evolve(s).

This is my dream weekend – brain-storming, experimenting, problem-solving and laughing as we make by hand.

*These terms are ones I created to describe three techniques for making shoes entirely by hand, and that don’t require lasts. The directions and patterns for making them are found in my book How to Make the Simplest Shoes.

My experience at the Reuse/Conex in Somerville MA 10.17-18

img_20160831_221330521I was second-guessing myself as I journeyed to the Reuse Convention – would this effort and expense pay off – would I learn something or meet up with someone who could help my business thrive?

I re-use upholstery leather scraps and felted wool coats and inner tubes in making my shoemaking kits, so the chances were good that SOMETHING would happen.

The excitement was high among the vendors, presenters and conference attendees – clearly these are Reuse zealots – and, as I was to learn, for good reason. And, I’m more revved up than ever..and convinced that my shoes are needed in this world.

Speaker after speaker talked about the abundance of usable materials that is wasted when it goes into a landfill – wood, fixtures, steel girders from demolished buildings, furniture, food, textiles, electronics, limitless art project materials….. Each material had a champion who was working feverishly to raise the percentage of that material that is reused.

There were multiple vendors representing creative reuse centers – for New England residents there’s  in Somerville. (For those in Western MA there’s Their tables were exploding with beautiful stuff – arty materials and projects made from them. I saw a wood stacking toy about 18″ high with maybe a dozen most beautiful pieces of wood stacked on it, each a different wood and in a different shape…and so much more..

One of my favorite businesses created recycled latex paint. Every time I have tried to mix paint colors, it has ended up being a pink-tan-grey-color that I had to immediately discard. However, “recolor” paints ( are available in beautiful colors – a spokesperson said that they mix reds together, blues together, etc, 55-gallons at a time… They had a supply of chalk paint that they generously gave to inquiring persons like myself, so I accepted a purple chalk paint that I will use to make little chalk boards for guests at my granddaughter’s forthcoming fourth birthday party.

The little boards that will be painted with the chalk paint will come from Extras for Creative Reuse ( – this store in Peabody Ma. has some perfect-sized formica sample pieces, the store owner told me. She said that the store has not only these treasures, but a generous supply of leather samples, some of which she had with her and gave to me. I think this is the MOTHERLODE of shoemaking materials I was hoping to find at this convention! I’ll be stopping by the store on my way to Portland, Me., where I’ll be teaching a shoemaking workshop this weekend.

Then there’s Damon Carson from who accepts BIG things in his warehouses – he has 50 miles of fire hose used for fighting big wildfires in the northwest, giant chunks of concrete satellite dish bases that is now being used to provide ‘ballast” for empty trucks cruising across states like Wyoming with severe wind problems, and so much more. When I mentioned my interest in finding some material that could be used for shoe soling, he said he had just received a huge number of sheets of soling for bowling shoes! He’ll be sending me a sample, along with samples of conveyor belt and any other substance that might conceivably be used for shoe soles.

The epitome of reuse was found in Durham, NC. The reuse store there ( has recently banded together with other local businesses to purchase a vacant shopping mall. Most every kind of maker machine, equipment and instruction will be found in the building – welding shops, wood-working shops, sewing shops –  that everyone can use and learn in.  There will be a “repair cafe” where people can bring their non-functional appliances, lamps, electronics, etc and receive education and help on how to fix them. The Scrap Exchange is a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse. Now if we can just duplicate this model everywhere…

I am so grateful for Mary Ellen Etienne and all the volunteers who made this gathering so inspirational. I would bet that each participant is fired up to make REUSE in the “recycle, reuse, reduce” slogan more “sexy” than ever!

(shoes in photo were made from reused materials by Eliza Bigelow)


The joy of scrap-picking


dscn0062A few weeks ago a friend came to my house so we could design a simple scuff that her students could make. While here she mentioned that she had been to a motorcycle jacket-making factory in Fall River, MA, where they gave away their scrap leather. I started salivating, because I am making toddler and adult shoemaking kits using upcycled materials and am always looking for new sources.  So, yesterday I made the journey too.

The motorcycle jackets in the showroom on the first floor of the factory were beautiful – I had expected the leather to be quite soft and thin but it was not – it was maybe 4-ounce Italian leather (I saw an Italian address on a box), black with an amazing sheen.

At first it seemed it wasn’t a good scrap day, as I heard an employee say that they were cutting out a lot of small pieces from the leather. But as we traveled to the various stations, boxes of scraps appeared and I began to feel like I had won the lottery!

I saw scraps being added to a trash bag liner of a big barrel and asked if the bag was available; the person working there said, “You wouldn’t want this bag, it has food and other trash mixed in”. I said, “Oh yes I do”, and grabbed the bag. (The first thing I did when I got home was to clean that bag out, the scraps I got from it were well worth the effort (the leather scraps, not the food).

There was only one problem: since they were careful to use this valuable leather as completely as possible, the scraps were small. If I were in the key chain business this would be no problem, but I wanted to use this leather for my women’s shoemaking kits. On the way home, I remembered a pair of “kit” shoes I had recently made for myself. I had wanted to use up the last of a lavender hide to make my shoes but none of the pieces were sufficiently big – so I added extra seams, and pieced the shoe together.

So that’s what can be made from one of my shoemaking kits – black shoes with an extra couple of seams made from the finest motorcycle jacket scraps!