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Adventures in Shoemaking: Desert Boots at Art & Sole Academy

I haven’t been sewing much over the last month – between travelling to Prince Edward Island and Boulder, Colorado, I’ve really only had time to work on some gifts I had put off making. I did get in some great shoemaking, though – and it was the real deal this time.

For a long time, I had been wanting to take a class at the Art and Sole Academy in East Toronto. Eitan and I started by taking the Shoemaking 101 class, a quick 2-hour intro to the process of making shoes. It isn’t a class where you get to make anything, but you learn all about the materials and tools that make a shoe. I knew during that class that I HAD to take a proper workshop and make something. After a bit of nudging, Eitan agreed to take the Intermediate class with me starting at the end of June.

At Art & Sole, the classes are pretty small, and each student works on their desired “intermediate level” shoe – we had one student working on heels, three working on Oxfords, and I was working on desert boots. Jen, our wonderful instructor, would spend the class guiding each of us along individually, depending on what we were working on. The class was 5 sessions, but all but one of us needed to come back for several hours (fortunately, Jen includes this time in the tuition). That leaves you with a total of 35+ hours of shoemaking. Phew!

These are Eitan’s lasts – I forgot to take a picture of mine!

We all started off the same way – by making our pattern. This process actually took almost two sessions. You tape up your last (the wooden form on which the shoe is built) with masking tape, and then peel it all off and put it on card stock. You divide that into pattern pieces, and those are the pieces you use to cut out your leather.

I bought some lovely kid suede at Perfect Leather on King St., and lovely magenta lamb skin for a contrast lining. I had to cut pattern pieces from both of these, and then sew them together on the sewing machine.

Then came a process called lasting, which is basically stretching the leather over the last, and hammering it down on the bottom. Then you glue it all down where you nailed it (shoemaking involves a LOT of glue). Since all the leather gets built up and lumpy on the bottom, you have to do something called skiving. This involves taking a knife and shaving away the leather so the bottom is nice and flat. I struggled with this a bit, and my knife slipped and made a nice little slice in my arm. Luckily Jen had a first aid kit on hand, and she and Eitan bandaged me up.

My uppers before lasting

Anyways, I wasn’t letting a cut stop me! After lasting the lining and a layer of toe and heel stiffeners (a small piece of vegetable-tanned leather that helps keep the toe and heel of the shoe nice and strong), I had to glue on the midsole, which for a desert boot, you cut out extra large and cut away the excess after stitching is done. After glueing on the midsole, I had to glue the upper leather (the suede) to the midsole, and then I had to stitch it down. I did this stitching by hand, using a handy little stitching tool and waxed thread.

 

 

Hehe – they look like they’re being served up on platters.

Then I had to glue on the heel and the rubber treads. Using a belt sander, I sanded all the edges of the sole smooth, did a little cleaning up, added foam insoles, and they were done!

I tried them on, and they were a touch snug, but Jen told me that an easy solution is lightly wetting the insides and walking around in them for a bit. Leather becomes very malleable when wet, and will mould to the shape of your foot quite nicely! The only thing I don’t love about my new shoes is that the soles are a bit thin – I think just one more layer of leather would’ve made them perfect. As is, I can feel the heel through the bottom of the shoe. Still, pretty impressive for a first time shoe-maker!

I am already thinking about which classes to take at Art & Sole next! I would love to make sandals some day (which is easier than making shoes), and I’d also love to make ballet flats. I have the knowledge now to make shoes again on my own, but the tricky thing is that shoemaking involves a lot of tools (I may have a sewing machine and x-acto knife, but I don’t have a belt sander…). Lasts are also pretty tricky to find, and are integral to making structured shoes. But, maybe one day I’ll invest in a pair of lasts and sort out some way to make some shoes at home. Until then, I’ll have to stick to Sneaker Kit or going back to Art & Sole Academy!

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Comments (2)

  • Andrea Cordonier 3 months ago Reply

    How fabulous! The idea of making shoes intrigues me but it’s also intimidating. I will admire your handiwork and look forward to the next pair.

    Rebecca 3 months ago Reply

    Thank you so much, Andrea! Yes, it is indeed very intimidating – I fortunately had the privilege of having an experienced teacher take me every step of the way.

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