Shoemaking / Shoes

First attempt at shoemaking

This first one was really more of an experiment than anything. Without any access to a teacher or much in the way of detailed instructions I figure that the best way to learn is to just start making them and learn from my mistakes. As with doing pretty much anything for the first time, the learning curve was pretty steep. I can’t even count the number of little frustrations that I encountered and lessons that I learned from this and it makes me excited to start the next one.

Unfortunately I didn’t take terribly many pictures during the actual construction process but I did capture a few of the key steps.

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These are all of the tools I used, plus a sewing machine for sewing the upper.

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The leather patcher (sewing machine) and the cat

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This really made me appreciate the different grades of leather. The dark brown piece in the middle is what I used to make the shoe and it has an almost muddy appearance. I’m definitely going to look into getting better material down the road.

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This is just after I attached the upper to the sole with contact cement.

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The cement is just to hold everything in place so that I can stitch the two parts together. Contact cement is pretty strong but it doesn’t really hold leather together all that well.

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Some pictures of the stitching process.

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For the heel, I cut out some oversized rectangles of 12 iron leather and then rough cut them to the shape of the heel.

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Next, I assembled the heel lifts using contact cement, as before, to hold everything temporarily then I nailed them all in place.

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And the finished product. I wasn’t very careful when cutting out or handling the sole so it wound up pretty marked up and scarred. But it cleaned up ok in the end.

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There were some issues with my pattern that caused the material to bunch up around the instep and around the heel.
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Other than that I’d say it turned out ok for a first attempt, definitely very pleased with the aesthetic of the last. For the next one I’m thinking of experimenting with a Vibram sole and maybe a toe cap.

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8 thoughts on “First attempt at shoemaking

  1. Pingback: First attempt at shoemaking | Men Fashion Advice

  2. Great looking first shoe! I made my first shoe last year, but had problems eliminating wrinkles when glueing down the top to the sole.

    I see that you used a Chinese patching/sewing machine to sew these. How do you like it? Is it smooth to sew with it? These machines seem inexpensive and I was wondering how well they work for making shoes.

    • Thanks! I’ve had my own share of wrinkle problems too. I really want to try using a thinner leather next time and see if that helps.

      As for the sewing machine, I’d give it a solid 6/10. When it arrived the bobbin timing was off and the threads kept getting bound up. Of course, at the time I didn’t know anything about bobbin timing or the problems that it could cause (much less how to fix it) and I just thought it was broken for a while. It turned out to be pretty easy to fix; largely because of the fact that the action of the machine is so crude / simple yet efficient (kinda reminds me of a bolt action rifle) that it wasn’t too hard to figure out once I started poking around. After that it ran reasonably well. My only lasting issues with it are that the presser foot is jagged and serrated (it can scratch the surface of anything that goes through it) and the feed is not very smooth, which makes it hard to sew straight. That said, it sews well and it allows me to sew my uppers in just a few minutes as opposed to the hours / days that it would take to do by hand!

      • Thanks for the feedback about the machine. I’ve never seen one in person, or heard much in the way of feedback from those to have purchased them. They are inexpensive and I had been on the fence whether to buy one of these, or pay a bit more and get a used patching/sewing machine, like a Singer 29.

        Regarding the sharp serrations of the presser foot, I see that users of the Singer 29 (and other patching/sewing machines) often have the same concern; they either 1.) file down all sharp edges on the presser foot or 2.) coat the bottom of the presser foot with a liquid plastic or liquid rubber compound (such as is made for dipping the handle of tools). This prevents the foot from scratching the leather.

        I had been wondering if feed on these Chinese machines was smooth. It’s good to hear your experience on this. To me, the flywheel seems a bit small for sewing heavier leathers. I’ve also seen that some vendors provide them with “lightened” flywheels so that the international shipping on the machine is less costly. I once saw a video of someone using this machine; I could see the machine jerk slightly each time the needle pierced the leather.

        If you ever make a pair of shoes with thinner leather, I would be interested in hearing if the machine’s feed works better.

  3. Hi,
    Great idea on deconstructing shoes! Can get expensive.
    I have a couple of questions on George’s boots; is his method’s typical of u.s. made boot makers? lastly, would you purchase his footwear?
    Keep up the great work!

    • George’s boots are about as atypical as it gets. The overwhelming majority of boot & shoe manufacturing anywhere in the world is automated and done by machine, whereas George does just about everything by hand. Interestingly enough, even though George’s boots are handmade, that’s not really what George himself wants. When I was there with him he would often times complain about how much he’d like to integrate more automation into his process but he just couldn’t afford the machinery. He’s such a (lovable) curmudgeon that he even gripes about the very thing that makes his business a success: the fact that his boots are made by hand.

      And yes, I would absolutely buy a pair of George’s boots. If I had an extra $400 to spend on boots, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

  4. Top of the day and how are you? I’d say, your “walking art” turned-out out great for a first timer. I too will voayge on the path of shoe making; however, I’m challenged with where to purchase materials such as soiing nails, welting ring, lining, and the leather to make heel and sole. Could you please point me into the right direction of supplies?

    Thanks!

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