Simple and Elegant Handmade Sandals – “The Kristins”

October 3rd, 2015

In my 44 years on Earth – I have learned a few things about sibling relations. An older sister is really not going to dole out compliments to a younger sister nor will she acknowledge that anything the younger sister does is very cool.  Ok – at least that’s how it is in my family, which I (as the younger sister) accept and simply turn to other people to feed my need for approval…

Yet, despite understanding the nature of our relationship, and knowing what I was in for, I decided to make my sister a pair of shoes.  I figured – if she hated them – at least I would get some solid cobbling experience.

Inspiration struck at a fabulous boutique in downtown Denver, CO.  I fell in love with a simple, black, leather slide.  I felt that even with my limited cobbling experience, I could make a similar shoe.

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For my sister’s pair, I made a few changes.  I stained the leather inside a deep burgundy as I felt it would add nice contrast to the black straps.  The shoes were actually pretty simple to size.  I just borrowed my niece’s feet who wore the same size as her mom.   Once again, my dad helped out on the trimming and the sanding at the end.

I was actually pretty surprised by how easy the whole process was.   But I was even more surprised by how much my sister liked them.  She’s even told me that she’s ready for her next pair!

"The Kristins" - made for my sister.

“The Kristins” – made for my sister.

My first pair of handmade mens flip flops

September 11th, 2015

handmade mens flip flops

The flip flops I made for my brother-in-law

After attending Sandal Making 1 at the Chicago School of Shoemaking, I decided to try to make some shoes on my own.  And what better way to get a project done then to have an impending deadline… like my brother-in-law’s birthday.

My brother-in-law is the perfect recipient for custom handmade shoes.  He’s a bit of a clothes horse and he likes stuff other people don’t have.  So – I thought my custom shoes would fit the bill perfectly (despite the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.)

I started by stealing a pair of his flip flops which I used to determine the size of the insole and the sole.   I cut the insoles out of leather, then stained and sealed them.  I sewed the main straps from some upholstery fabric and fashioned the piece between the toes from a grosgrain ribbon.  And to give it a personalized touch – I monogrammed the ribbon before stitching it all into place. To connect the straps to the insole, I punched holes in the leather and fed the straps through, glueing them on the bottom side.  Finally I glued the shoe tops to the vibram soles.  My dad stepped in at the end for help with trimming and sanding, but I put on the fishing touch of painting the edges with edge dressing.  And what a difference this makes – it gives the edge of the shoes a nice clean look.

I have to admit – I was pretty impressed with myself.  He really seemed to like them too.  Too bad they are a little loose.  ugh.


Learning to Make Handmade Sandals at the Chicago School of Shoemaking

August 6th, 2015


Very proud of my new sandals!


Yes – I need a pedicure. Ignore the toes.  Focus on the shoes.

When you pitch a “how-to” article to a magazine – it’s probably a good idea to actually know “how-to” do the thing you are pitching.  But, like a complete idiot – when I made my pitch to Creative Embroidery Magazine – I had no idea how to make embroidered shoes.  Machine embroidery – yes – I knew how to do – but making shoes?? Are you kidding me?

Somehow though – I managed to pull it off.  But in the process of Googling “shoemaking techniques” (and many many other similar phrases )- I stumbled upon the Chicago School of Shoemaking – and that is when the fantasy began.  I mean – I could actually go to a class that would teach me how to make shoes?  Are you kidding me? Nope.  They are totally for real. And I actually finally got my chance to go.

I attended the Sandal Making 1 class and lucky for me there were some last minute cancellations and I ended up with a private lesson.  We began by tracing around my feet and making a cardboard sole.  Then I played around with paper straps to design the sandals of my dreams.  We stained and sealed the insoles, punched slots, cut straps, finished their edges and, finally attached and trimmed the soles.   8 hours later – I had a pair of sandals.  I learned so so much in that short day at the Chicago School Making –  but most importantly it gave me some skills and inspiration to make more shoes.

Making Shoes for Creative Machine Embroidery Magazine

June 4th, 2015

My shoes on the cover of Creative Machine Embroidery Magazine

My shoes on the cover of Creative Machine Embroidery Magazine

One of my passions (besides shoemaking) is machine embroidery. Like shoemaking, I blog about machine embroidery and even have a line of designs available for sale on Etsy. If you are not familiar with machine embroidery, designs created in the computer can be loaded into a machine and the machine stitches out the design. Anyway – about a year after I started my blog, I was contacted by the editor of Creative machine embroidery magazine who asked me if it would be okay if they featured my blog in the magazine – um… yes! Then she invited me to pitch some ideas for articles. And for some reason I was stupid enough to pitch an article about making embroidered shoes. What did I know about shoemaking? Nothing – which became frightfully apparent to me after they accepted by article and the deadline was looming. As Tim Gunn would say, it was truly a “make it work moment.”

The type of shoes I had proposed were a pair of ballet flats with an embroidered detail. So the first thing I did was to buy some ballet flats and start taking them apart. This helped me establish a basic shape to which I added my own modifications.

The fabric I chose for my shoes was a black duck cloth. It seemed thick and durable and the appropriate shoe weight. I also created a whimsical flower embroidery design to stitch out on the toe. The wine colored cotton lining tied together the embroidery with the rest of the shoe. Writing the instructions was easy as I recorded steps and took a lot of pictures along the way.

A major challenge was finding appropriate soling material. Other web sites that teach shoemaking offer a soft sole that is really only appropriate for indoor wear. I wanted to be able to wear my ballet flats outside but there wasn’t a readily apparent solution. I considered rubber tires and rubber mats but it was way too heavy. A chat with my local shoe repair man, John, led me to Vibram soling sheets – which was just the ticket. It’s way to cut, and easy to sand. The only downside is you have to buy it in large sheets – which is way more than what I needed for my one pair of shoes (which is why I offer it in pieces on my web site.)

Pattern grading was another challenge. I studied dimensions of other shoes and simply used those dimensions for my various sizes. And I turned to other PDF pattern makers to learn how to grade patterns using Adobe Illustrator.

All in all this was a fabulous learning experience an the shoes don’t look that bad. In fact – the editors at CME magazine liked them so much they put them on their cover. The biggest benefit, however was in stoking my curiosity for shoemaking.