Friday, June 14, 2013

Not very footloose, after all.

I took more pictures this time, guys! Now you can see all the struggling and woe that goes into making turnshoes. I promise not to share pictures of the bloody knuckle where the skin wore off from rubbing against the insole as I set my stitches. Consider yourself lucky. I know professional leather workers have special pads and protectors they wear on their fingers for various jobs, and now I know why. If I were going to be making a regular production of these I might look into that, but  as it's just one pair (and all the experiments that lead to those), bandages and duct tape will suffice. 

So here are the pieces, all cut out. I bought my leather from the scrap bin at the tack store and the two pieces I found that were big enough, while being the same leather, were from different places on the cow and so the dye was a little uneven. This picture makes the difference look a lot more pronounced than it actually is under natural light. And once I get them worn and scuffed, who's going to notice?

I wanted to sign my work, so I stamped this tiny leafy sprig onto the edge where the laces will go. It's only half an inch long and won't be terribly noticeable.

The stitching begins! I start at the toe so I know it will meet up correctly. I stitch down the short side, and then do the longer side. I tried pre-punching stitching holes in the sole, but it really didn't seem to make that much difference, so I gave it up. Later I pre-punched holes in the upper leather, and the difference was negligible, at least to me. Using the stitching awl gives me quite a bit of stitching strength. If I were going to sew with a needle alone, then punching the holes beforehand would be necessary.

Blurry one-handed shot of me stitching the heel. Almost done! Please notice my heavy duty workshop apron. It was a gift from Dave on my birthday, and I just love it. I feel like Mister Rogers when I come into my shop, take off my jacket, and put on my apron for work.

Turning the shoe after stitching was the hardest part. It took me about half an hour of struggling! I wet the leather to soften it, which made things easier, but it was still real work. I was certain that at any moment the stitching would tear somewhere and ruin everything. If you get leather wet, the oils and conditioners that were part of the tanning process will dry out along with the water. They must be replaced or you'll end up with a hard, stiff shoe that will crack and tear more easily. I used Lexol leather conditioner after turning to keep my leather soft and supple. (The toe is still damp in this pic, that's why it looks darker.)

There were some problems. The toe box is still very tight, and I think that I made the sole too narrow there. My mother sent me an email which said in part: "Way back when I was in high school the most in style shoe was a Capezio flat. That company also made ballet shoes. The thing was that when you bought them they had to hurt. The leather was very soft and within days of wearing they shaped to the foot and were very comfortable. So, my advice is this: Don't make the toe area bigger. If your leather is soft it will conform to your foot. Making it bigger may in the end end up being too big."

She's right, to an extent. If it were just tightness, I'd wear them a bit, maybe stuff some cloth into the toes, and see if the leather would work with me to get comfortable. But the problem is that the sole edge is under my foot, and when I walk, the leather upper comes in contact with the ground. That area will wear out more quickly as the softer leather is abraded.

Good heavens, my stitching looks terrible! This is another reason I want to try again.
Another problem was that I'd sewn the left upper to the right sole. The lacing opening was on the outside of my foot. This also made the upper twist to the inside, for some reason, and made the whole shoe feel strange on my foot. I cut a slit on the inside to see if that made a difference, and it did --as well as making the shoe easier to put on -- and I also widened the... the... the opening where the foot goes in. I've looked all over Google and can't find the term for that part of the shoe! 

Every time I try the shoe on, it feels a little better. I can see where there will be stretching, and the adjustments I've made have improved the fit. Already I'd say it's an impressive first attempt, and I'm thinking I'll take this one apart now that I've amended it on my foot, and use it to make my final pattern.  Here's one last picture of the project, on my foot, laces added. I think it's pretty darn cute -- now if it would just stop pinching my toes!


  1. They turned out really well - isn't always good luck to bleed on a project.

  2. I learned to sew the shoe together with a small strip of leather in the seam between the sole and the shoeleather, that will protect the leather from wear if it tends to come too close to the ground. Something to try out for your next pair?