Shoemaking / Shoes

Shoe #2: experimenting with heel and waist shape

After finishing my first shoe a few weeks ago I couldn’t help but fixate on a handful of irritating characteristics that I wish had turned out better. The sole was probably the worst of these. Not really knowing what I was doing, I made a few dumb mistakes like attaching the outsole to the last with nails and not cutting a groove for the sole stitches to lay in. Beyond that I was generally pretty rough with it, which all resulted in a banged up, scuffed up outsole that was full of nail holes. Furthermore, I didn’t really pay any attention to the overall shape of the sole. When I trimmed it I just maintained a certain margin around the seam and hoped for the best; which is not what I got. The shape wound up being hardly recognizable as a shoe (you’ll see what I mean). The second problem that bothered me was less of a result of my poor craftsmanship and more of a common construction/ styling attribute that I wanted to tweak: the broad heel. Even when I look down at my own pair of well-made CDB’s I can’t help but think that the stitch around the heel area looks too bulky. I’ve always been a fan of a narrow waist and heel and wondered how the chukka style boot would look with a tucked heel (i.e. 270 welt) so I decided to give it a shot with this one.

Those were pretty much my objectives in making this shoe: to make a decent-looking sole and to experiment with narrowing the waist and heel.

Step 1: I traced the pattern out with a scratch awl. I find it easier than using a pen because I can hold it at any angle and I don’t really have to worry about stray marks; most of them can be buffed out.

Shoe 2 (tracing pattern)

Next, I rough cut the pattern with scissors and then did the precise cuts on a table with a knife. The scissors are great but they compress the leather as they cut, which can distort the color around the edges so I just use them to do rough cuts.

Shoe 2 (clicking)

The next thing I do is last the vamp. I’ve seen plenty of video demonstrations and read a fair bit about how to last a shoe and almost all of them talk about lasting the completed upper rather than just doing the vamp first. But the chukka’s design presents a unique situation in that the quarter (the heel / ankle portion) is almost entirely unstructured and doesn’t fit snugly enough around the last to really benefit from lasting. So, I just last the vamp and attach the quarter later. As before, it was an absolute pain to get all of the wrinkles out of the instep; which I was never able to do successfully. It’s very likely just because of my lack of skill but I can’t help but feel like the leather is just a tad too thick. It’s also possibly because I didn’t make sure that the leather grain was running in the right direction when I traced out the pattern and I was trying to stretch it against the grain (I’ll definitely have to experiment with that later).

Shoe 2 (lasted vamp #2)

I then attached the quarter to the vamp with contact adhesive, removed the upper from the last, and sewed them together.

Shoe 2 (complete upper)

Since I was experimenting with tucking the heel in, I needed an insole to attach it to. So I cut out a piece of suede that’s roughly the same thickness as my upper and trimmed it to the shape of the sole. It’s not exactly a traditional method but I used a staple gun rather than nails to hold the insole in place because they make smaller holes in the last and they’re much easier to work with.

Shoe 2 (insole)

I then put the upper back on the last and attached the vamp again to hold it in place while I worked on the heel.


Next, some contact adhesive on the insole and the underside of the quarter…


…Aaand pull it down. Again, this leather is pretty thick and I don’t quite know what I’m doing so the folds ended up being pretty big. Regardless, the next step is to trim them down so it’s all ok anyways!


The trimming actually worked out pretty well. You’re trying to get the flattest surface possible to attach the sole to and it turned out being flatter than I expected.


Another shot of the trimmed waist / heel.


Then more contact cement for attaching the sole. I know it looks like this shoe is going to be held together with cement but it’s really just helping to hold everything in place so that I can come back and sew it later. Nothing on this shoe is ultimately held together with contact cement.


Next comes the difficult and dangerous task of rough cutting the sole. Once it’s attached to the shoe it’s a little more manageable to work with but when it’s part of a big floppy piece of leather it tends to flex and warp unpredictably, which could send your knife flying off into your hand or leg if you’re not careful. Also, the cat batted that scrap of leather around the room like it was her job.

Shoe 2 (cutting out sole)

I then detached the edges of the vamp from the last, flared them out, and attached the (very) rough cut sole.


I marked out where the stitches would go and then defined a workable margin so that I could cut off the excess.


…and started to stitch down the vamp.


It’s kinda hard to show it, but once I stitched all the way around the vamp I brought the thread up through the sole and stitched the heel area through to the inside.


I somehow can’t find the pictures of me attaching the heel, but anyways this is the (mostly) finished product. Hopefully the whole “narrow waist and heel” bit makes sense now but let it be known that I really didn’t mean to taper the heel itself. It sort of just happened as I was trimming the heel lifts. It’s easy to cut them at an angle because of the way that you have to brace your cutting hand against the heel while you’re doing it.

To be honest though, I’m happy it turned out that way. Even though I’m not sure that I like the cowboy-boot-lookin’ heel, it is interesting to see my idea carried through to an extreme. I wanted a narrow heel area and this is pretty much as narrow as it gets. I felt that the first heel was too broad and it made me appreciate a narrow one, but now I have a heel that’s too narrow and I feel like it helps me understand what I like about a broad heel. Aside from that, I certainly like the wrapped heel and narrow waist, especially in contrast to the stitching on the vamp.

Shoe 2 (unfinished heel)

Here’s a few more pictures of the two shoes taken in better lighting. It’s pretty interesting to see them side by side and it really helps me to pick out what I feel to be the successes of trial #2. Anyways, let me know what you think. I’m very interested to get everyone’s feedback about the design and overall look.




I was almost too embarrassed to include this picture. It wasn’t until I saw the two side by side that I realized just how sloppy the sole of #1 looked. But that’s why I’m doing this after all, to try and get better and this definitely represents an improvement. Also, for anyone wondering, I don’t have any of the stain used to dress the edges of the sole and heel so I just used shoe polish. I thought it might help to minimize the marks and scarring on the sole of #1, but it just ended up making it into a glossy, muddy mess. And as you can see with shoe #2 I’m still experimenting with it.



(left: #2 / right: #1)


Heel of #2


Heel of #1


Sole stitching of #2


Sole stitching of #1


Wearing #2

Shoe 2 (fit #1)

#2 again

Shoe 2 (fit #2)

left: #1 / right: #2

Shoe 2 (fit #3)

left #2 / right: #1

Shoe 2 (fit #4)

3 thoughts on “Shoe #2: experimenting with heel and waist shape

  1. Pingback: Just finished making my second shoe. I changed the design quite a bit from the first one and I'm interested to see what you guys think. | Men Fashion Advice

  2. I do like the one that has the shorter stitch length. But they both look good. Did you make your own pattern for the shoes. How comfy are they wearing. I may have to try making a pair that is somewhat like this design. I have been making my shoes using my own foot as a last. I just recently found a gal over in Lithuania that makes lasts. I ordered one and it should be here tommorow or the next day so I can use it instead of my own foot. I will make the shape a bit better and easier to form around.

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