Making straps with buckles

Use these directions to make straps for “Mary Jane”-style flat shoes with straps or T-straps. The buckle is placed on the outside of your shoe, unless you have another plan in mind, such as securing the strap with velcro.

A great deal of variation is available in both the materials used for the straps and the manner in which they are secured. The simplest strap might be elastic, then there are various types of cords and thongs – thongs are thin strips of leather, about 1/4″, that tie,  eliminating buckles. Cut thongs the same way that you cut straps, with a rotary cutter.

You might punch three oblong openings in your shoe and weave the strap through them, as can be seen in the photo at the beginning of this section – it’s  the orange strap woven through the teal heel piece. First skive the end of the strap, then poke it through the slots down to the edge where it can get caught in the stitching of the upper to the sole. Be sure to anchor the strip with two stitches.

Attaching a buckle

After making sure that the buckle is lined up directly across from where your strap is attached (unless you want a different look), you may attach it to the shoe in the following ways:

Stitch it directly to the shoe, after punching holes in the shoe on both sides of the tongue of the buckle, above and below the bar. Tie the ends of the thread in a double square knot, then pound it flat, or melt the knot with a match, then mash the knot flat with a knife blade.

Extend the buckle from a piece of elastic. Make a hole in the center of the elastic by rotating an awl through it without breaking any threads. Poke the tongue of the buckle through this hole, fold the elastic, then melt the two cut ends with a match. Quickly mash them together with a knife blade. Rivet or sew the elastic to the shoe. Make the strap long enough so it hides the elastic when the shoe is buckled.

Attach a buckle to a leather strap. Determine its length, then add about one and one-half inches for the piece of it that goes behind the buckle, just long enough to catch with stitching or a rivet.

If the strap is at all thick, skive the underside of it so it is easy to fold.

Make sure that the buckle does not extend up over the topline of the shoe, where it can dig into your skin.

Mark the location for the buckle, centered one and one-half inches from the end of the strap. Punch a 1/2″ slot for the buckle tongue to pass through. There is an oblong punch for this purpose, or you can improvise with a chisel.

Thread the buckle on to the strap and poke the tongue through the slot. Make sure the tongue is pointing in the correct direction!

Attaching a buckle with a cross-stitch

Fold the short piece of skived leather behind the longer piece, then punch four holes through both layers and stitch a cross-stitch as seen on the elastic strip, to secure the buckle.                                                  

Attaching a buckle with a rivet

Punch a size 4 (5/32″) hole for the rivet to pass through.Interlock both pieces of the rivet through the hole, then pound the rivet with a rivet setter, struck by a maul or mallet. Or, you can smash the rivet flat – I have a piece of iron rod that is flat on both ends for pounding rivets in hard-to-reach areas.

Cutting straps for center-seam or one-piece “Mary Jane” shoes

There are several ways to cut straps. I use a rotary cutter with a plexiglass 
ruler and self-healing cutting pad. A utility knife could be used instead of the rotary cutter, best used against a metal ruler. Use your first cut to get a straight edge, then move the ruler so the strap will be the width that you want, and make another cut.

There is a strap-cutting tool available from

When designing a strap, plan it around the width of buckles you have. I usually cut straps just under 1/2″ wide, and use 1/2″ buckles. For a size 8 shoe I cut an 8 1/2″ long instep strap.

Stitching straps to shoes

To punch stitching holes through the strap and the upper, secure the strap in place with double-sided tape or contact cement. Punch stitching holes with a 00 punch or a thonging chisel, and make one or two rows of holes/slits. Use wing dividers or a ruler and a pointed object to etch a line where you want stitching to be, so it will be straight.

Use the two-needle running stitch, and tie the two strands of thread together at the end with a double square knot. Make sure ahead of time that your knot will end up at the bottom edge of the upper. Mash the knot flat and weave the ends under a couple of stitches, then clip.

If the strap covers any of the stitching holes found along the bottom edge of the upper, punch a corresponding hole in the strap.

Riveting straps to shoes

Determine where you want to place the rivets, and follow directions for riveting a buckle to a strap.

Attach the instep strap the same way
 you attached the buckle strap. When you have completed your shoes and are trying them on, bring the instep strap through the buckle and mark the length that gives you the perfect fit. Punch out a hole at this location with a #0 punch, from the underside, then punch at least one on either side of it, for the buckle tongue to go through.

If you are making a shoe with a T-strap, you can fold over the tip to make a channel, or make a wider T-strap and punch two slits in the end for a strap to pass through. If you are folding over the end of it, skive about two inches at the one or two holes in the strap and the folded-over end. With waxed cord stitch through the holes and around the edges, then tie the two ends together, pass the ends under the stitches, then clip.