What I learned while teaching a shoemaking workshop

I taught simple shoemaking at Snow Farm – The New England Craft Center – in Williamsburg, MA, recently. I had seven of the most congenial and creative students that could ever be hoped for. I wanted it to be simple and successful for everyone. And, that’s how it was for most participants, like Diane who made this red/brown pair.

DSCN1050I made nomoc variation* soles for everyone before the workshop (note the yellow heel piece on the sole, that says “UnkonvenTional shoes, handmade by emily”).

DSCN0572Five participants fit into standard sizes, but two had wide feet. For their custom upper patterns I asked them to measure their feet at the ball and at the half-way point so we could make the front half (vamps) of the shoes.  Then I taped a standard heel section pattern onto the vamp pattern. Well, the front parts – the vamps – of their shoes fit great, but the heel parts weren’t sufficiently ample.

DSCN0574I have never forgotten a piece of advice I received from a British workshop leader – “don’t call it a mistake, make it a feature”. So, we pieced and stitched, (the purple heel was part of the original plan, but the blue “inserts” were not!) and came up with these heels for one of the pairs of shoes.


I don’t stop teaching until everyone has what they came for…a pair of shoes that fit, and a pattern they can use to make more shoes on their own. So, after returning home I made a masking tape copy of this colorful shoe, then a  mock-up of it for the maker to try on. If it fits, she’ll have what she needs to continue shoemaking. If it doesn’t, we’ll try again.



In my next workshop, that will be offered in Maine in August, I”ll teach how to make center-seam shoes. We’ll make a masking tape pattern over one of the maker’s feet, using the process described in my video “how to make custom shoes and lasts”.


And, we’ll make “nomoc basic**” soles for the shoes in the workshop.

If you’re from Maine or nearby, please consider attending. Here’s a link to the brochure:


*nomoc variation soles – soles with bottom sole of natural rubber or thick inner tube, and topsole of leather that is 1/4″ bigger all around than the bottom sole. The topsole has holes punched around its edge, so any upper can be stitched to it.
**nomoc basic soles – soles with the same two layers, but both are the same size, and the upper is stitched to the sole through both layers.

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