Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Something's afoot!

Recent leatherworking experiments have rekindled my interest in historical clothing.  Turnshoes look pretty easy. I can stitch up a pair of shoes, I'm sure! To the workshop!

First I need a pattern. The internet seems to generally agree that Marc Carlson is the go-to guy for the sort of information I need. His "designs" are not patterns, per se, in that they are not drawn to scale, but they're an excellent jumping-off point. I decide to go with his side-laced shoe as a starting pattern, and make my own amendments (if needed )as I go.  I had seen pictures of handmade shoes that looked like fat leather bags tied onto feet, and I wanted to avoid that look. Many prototypes and experiments might be needed!

The sole. I put my foot on a piece of heavy paper and traced around it. I kept the pencil parallel to my foot and ended up with a very wide sole. I took a piece of heavy linen and fit it around my foot, tucking it under the leather sole I cut, to get an idea of the effect. There it was: the fat leather bag I was hoping to avoid! So that's my first tip: cut the sole in a bit under your foot's arch. Here's a pic of the sole's transformation.

The upper. Feet are very individual things. I knew just cutting out a standard pattern and hoping for the best would probably not get me the kind of results I wanted. Most websites I visited suggested putting on an old sock and covering your foot with duct tape to make a pattern. Some had very complicated pattern-making regimens involving string and math. I know that a foot in the air, crossed over one's knee while being taped, is a very different shape than a foot flat on the ground, not to mention the angle of the ankle. What worked for me was standing up and then shaping tinfoil over my foot. I drew lines with a marker to show my foot's centerline, the highest point of my arch, and where the edges should be. I flattened it out slightly, and there was my basic pattern.

I cut it out of heavy canvas and taped it to the sole I'd made.  Gently slipping it onto my foot, I found it was still too wide across my toes. I marked the sole and pattern accordingly, changed the lacing opening to the inside of my foot rather than the outside (easier to fasten!) and went to cut my pattern out of test leather.

The green leather I chose is a little lighter weight than I wanted, but I had a big piece of it and it was kind of shabby and dirty, so I didn't mind using it for experiments. Once I started stitching, I realized it was so dry that I could tear it with my hands. Definitely not good for shoes, but fine for trying things out.  

I used a stitching awl and heavy waxed thread. If you've never seen one, here's the exact one I have. They're inexpensive but work a treat once you get the hang of it.

I used the curved needle and did a edge-flesh stitch, which is where you go at an angle, coming out the side of the sole leather, rather than punching straight through. This brings the seam edge off the ground and prevents the seam from wearing through very quickly. I was excited about my work and forgot to take a picture. Here's the idea. (I stole the pic from the forums at Dagorhir.)

After an hour of stitching, a few swears, and wearing a blister onto one of my fingers that constantly rubbed against the rough side of the sole, I had made this: 

 And the bottom. 

And on my foot. Don't mind the athletic sock! 

It's the tiniest bit snug through the toes, so I'm going to add maybe a quarter of an inch there when I make my final shoes.  I picked up some reddish leather that will be perfect, so stay tuned and in a few days (hopefully) I'll post pictures of my cute new shoes!

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