Sunday, August 25, 2013

Shoes - I did it again!

Street shoes. Real street shoes made by me.

I am so proud - even though this pair might look a little less professional than the first one, but those were made in a course and these here all by myself, at home, without the help of a teacher and without many of the special machines and tools.

So yes, it is possible! I will show you pictures of the making-of-process, though not nearly with every step of the way. It is a bit too soon for a tutorial - right now I am just gathering information and experience for that to come up at some later point.

However, I am going to give you a lot of pre-tutorial-information about what tools and materials I used, so you know what you definitely need and what you don't. For me, that was the most important thing to know, just so I could get started... You will be surprised how few specialty tools you need, and how you should be able to find most of it in regular hardware stores...


For this kind of shoe you need a last - actually a pair of lasts, a right and a left one. I am stressing that point because they are sometimes sold separately as decoration-objects, so don't go for those. You can find old lasts on ebay - usually wooden ones (make sure the detachable center piece on top is included!), newer ones are hard plastic. Both is fine.
The last determines how high the heel can be. There can be only one specific hight of heel for a last, because of the shape of the arch. Read on for more information about the right hight of the heel...

Heels and insoles for flats are a easy to come up with. You can make a stacked heel (layers of leather glued on top of each other) and you can make the insole out of leather or any other sturdy material.

For higher heels it is all a bit trickier. I was lucky to score a box full of wooden heels on ebay, but they are rarely sold. What you can do is find an old pair of shoes that has the right hight of heels (and a shape you like) and deconstruct it (deconstructing a shoe isn't that easy without breaking the important elements, so I will post a tutorial on that at some point, too).

And while you have started de-construction on that old pair, continue and take out the insole. It has a metal enhancement which you really need to have on shoes with a high heel, and it is very hard to find seperately. The insole has to have the right shape for your last, or you can trim it a bit to make it fit.

...lifting out the insole...

The right hight of heel allows your shoe to have a "spring". This means that when you put the last on the heel, the toes are off the ground just a little bit (about 0,5 - 1cm), while the ball is touching it. If you look closely, should see that in the picture below. Also, the last needs to rest flat on the heel, and the heel flat on the floor. If anything is wobbly, maybe you can sand it down to the right shape and angle. Spend a lot of time on getting all of that right, or else all your work that follows won't be worth it!

I made the pattern by putting masking tape over the last and drawing on it, later taking it off, sticking it on paper and flattening it out. Here were my pattern pieces, lining included...

I have a Vigorelli sewing machine which can sew upholstery and leather. Of course you could hand-sew everything, too. I am not completely happy with my seams, they are a bit wobbly and uneven in places, but at least it worked...

What I am also not completely happy with are the toe- and heel-stiffeners. I used cardboard, which isn't really the way to go. As you can see in the later pictures, the edges from the stiffeners show through the upper quite strongly, which isn't so great. A better solution would have been just an extra layer of leather.

The leather I used for my uppers wasn't quite right either. It had the right thickness, but was too soft. Thickness isn't as important as the sturdiness. It should feel a bit more like cardboard than like fabric to be suitable for shoes. Maybe you could deconstruct a sturdy leather bag like a briefcase! The lining leather on the other hand can be quite thin and soft, like fabric. In fact, you could also use fabric...

My not so professional cardboard stiffeners...

In the picture above you see the metal enhancement on the insole of the shoe on the left, which is so important... On the shoe on the right on the other hand you see the edge of the toe stiffener showing through...

Below, you see the tools I had used thus far. Simple! (Actually, you don't need the gaffer tape. Just a masking tape will do. The tin can next to the tapes is glue. Under the knives is a block of styrofoam with a piece of leather glued to it, with diamond paste on it - used to re-sharpen the knives. Also not a must - you can just change the blades...).

Not in the picture: a sewing machine or a hand-stitching awl and thread.


A pair of lasts, an insole, something for the outer sole (thick leather, rubber, even old tires...), material for the upper (here leather) and the lining (also leather in my case, but thinner than the upper...), whatever closure you want to put on your shoes...

I got very excited when I had my shoes all done and taken off the last. So I decided to put on real rubber soles. I ordered the materials from Langlauf Schuhbedarf in Germany (they also have an ebay store), but your local shoe maker would have it too, or other online shoe supply stores. I used black ones, but took a picture of the brown... a piece for the front (thinner and softer, and a special rubber for the heels, thicker and harder):

I also ordered some other cool supplies and tools...

...but you could also just use a lot of elbow grease and sandpaper, or a Dremel (which I also used for detail work...).

Last but not least I waxed the edges (also with the specialty supplies) and used leather paint for the rest of the soles (the black hides the imperfections much better!).

You can go ahead and zoom in - there are plenty of wobbly looking spots on these shoes, but they are special to me anyway...

It's definitely a dream come true to have made my own shoes in my living room. I am by no means a pro at this, and any suggestions and corrections are welcome. I am learning by doing and very happy to share my experience with others, so feel free to comment! Also let me know if the bold print here and there is annoying you - I think it makes the long textblocks a bit easier to follow. Yay or nay?

All the best to you, and thanks for reading!


  1. Great stuff, Katja! Thanks for posting so many of the details. I think it's fascinating. Can't wait to see what you post next about shoe-making.

  2. Your shoes are fabulous! I can't believe you made them!! I've linked to your post over at Craft Gossip:


  3. Those shoes look great!

  4. Ich bin sehr beeindruckt. Ich war immer der Überzeugung, Schuhe, da sind dem Selbermachen Grenzen gesetzt... Du kannst sogar grossartige Schuhe herstellen. LG Ottilie

  5. I LOVE this pair of shoes!!! I volunteer to wear them for you, anytime, anywhere!!!

  6. Ich bin auch sehr beeindruckt. Überhaupt, dass Du Schuhe machst, aber auch von deinem Entwurf - sieht sehr gut aus!

  7. Oh my gosh, those are insanely amazing (and gorgeous!!). I can't believe that anyone can make shoes like those by hand!! Excellent job! :) Lisa

  8. So impressed with the quality your including. My Grandfather was a shoemaker who once had a shop on Yonge Street in Toronto back in the 30s. He never got over "plastic" shoes! hahah...
    The 20s style of the shoe your making is so stylin' and one of my absolute fave styles. Congrats on learning a quality skill that obviously still has great potentials.

  9. Ich knie hier grad vor dem Pc! :-D
    Fantastische Arbeit!!! ...dein Blog muss ich mir merken... ;-)

    Lg, Evelyn!

  10. In the mood for CoutureSeptember 27, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    Amazing work! Nothing can stop you, keep creating shoes, they are so funny

  11. INCROYABLE!!!! j'adore un grand bravo faut que je fasse mes propres chaussures
    splendid and incredible so nice kiss

  12. BRAVO!Exelent and creative job!Pretty design:))I am your new follower.Kiss from Serbia

  13. WOW! Nice work.

    I'm so impressed, I can't even thing what to say. You are kind of cool. :)

  14. Katja, your new shoes are gorgeous! I've also got abscessed by shoe making, just in the beginning of my shoe making odyssey. Good luck! :)))

  15. Hi, I like the way you explain us and also every detail with explanation, I have a question, what kind of stiffener should I use for my heel, I heard that normally with hinterkappen which is leather, do you know what is better? or I can use and get here in Germany, thank you