More handmade boot pics below – but first a brief history:
I decided I wanted to make a pair of boots about two years ago, as I was inspired by the book How to Make Your Own Shoes that I posted about HERE. As suggested in the post, I did ask for that book for Christmas, and I got it (thanks Santa!). Technically I had made 2 pairs of shoes previously but I didn’t really feel that they counted.
I applied the techniques that Mary Wales Loomis outlined in her book but I found it a bit difficult to apply to making boots. For one thing, Mary suggested that you cast one of your pairs of pumps to use as a shoe form, so I went ahead and poured some plaster in my favorite old busted up pair of boots…only to realize after cutting the leather off the plaster that if you made your boot on this plaster form, the boot would never come off. However I did now have a cool set of plaster boots.
Moving on I tried to adapt Mary’s patternmaking techniques to bootmaking to no avail, but luckily I had this cut up pair of boots with chunks of plaster stuck to them. So I pulled all the layers apart to make patterns and to try to make sense of all the materials that were used in the boot, some of which were quite different from what Mary had suggested using. Mary spoke of a helpful man at a shoemaking supply store, so I sauntered into Kaufman’s shoe repair supplier on Bleecker after a tip from a friend. I can’t say that anyone working there was particularly jazzed about helping someone who knew absolutely nothing about shoemaking, but I managed to get more or less what I thought I needed. It was no small bill either, I might add. Fast forward to me sawing through incredibly thick compressed sole leather with a weird knife, hurting my wrist and afraid I’d cut my foot off if the knife slipped (note: sitting hunched on floor working with sharp tools you don’t know how to use must be avoided). I also attempted to created a stacked heel by painstakingly cutting out several different layers and sizes of heel shapes, gluing them together, and sanding them BY HAND (yikes). (I didn’t end up using those heels btw.)
After I finally finished cutting them and dying the edges of the soles, I came to the realization that they were waaaaayyyy too thick to be useable soles, and several of the other structural parts I had concocted were sketchy as well. I decided to put it aside for a bit and consult the pros. So I finally took a shoemaking class at FIT (Footwear Design and Construction I). What went down in that class is kind of another story, as I made two pairs of shoes that I feel proud of but not eager to wear. They each had their issues, the first being a mule (yuck) and the second being a bit ambitious and confused gold bootie. I don’t have a decent photo of either, and that says a lot. All the while, I was eager to apply what I had learned to the ole pair of boots that was still awaiting construction. I went back to the leather upper, which I had already stitched together, and made some changes. The rest of the materials I totally remade – the innersole, counters, toe box, sock lining, etc. – while I made my second pair of shoes in class.
Shortly after the class ended I lasted my boots, or molded them onto the shoe form, which I didn’t have when I was attempting the boots for the first time (note – it’s impossible to make a pair of shoes without a last unless they are simple sandals or uber baggy freeform type things). The only thing left to do was deal with the sole, so I got a belt sander and sanded away…much to Collin’s dismay as I accidentally coated everything in his studio with teeny leather shreds. I augmented a pair of heels with Sculpy to make them fit the last a bit better and covered them in suede. But I still lacked the dye and wax to properly finish off the sole and couldn’t find the right products at Kaufman’s. Luckily my friend Kirsty from shoe class (who also makes really nice girls dresses) helped me get the job done. So I can finally say that I have achieved this goal of making a pair of handmade boots. Wooooooooooo!
Before embarking upon this adventure, I had wondered to myself why you don’t find more readily available information online or elsewhere for making shoes. And I learned that the reason is that it has a million different steps, which change drastically depending on what type of shoe you are making, and that it’s difficult to learn without taking some sort of class. There are a few books out there but they cost a bundle, and I think it would be difficult to learn the techniques without having access to the tools and seeing them demonstrated.
Hopefully I’ll be able to set aside some time in the future to make another pair, but it’s tough without access to the shoe lab. For now, I’m just going to enjoy this pair. I already wore them out once in celebration of my birthday, and not only did they not fall apart – they were actually comfortable! So cool.
See thumbnails below, and the entire set on FLICKR.