So… there have been a few people in the world of sewing blogs (notably Carolyn, Sue and Jodie) who have ventured into making their own shoes. It’s kind of a natural progression from making your own clothes, except it isn’t, because you need an entirely different set of materials, tools and skills. Still, inspired by the work of Carolyn, Sue and Jodie, with the appealing idea of having custom made shoes in whatever colour/fabric I choose, I did a little research. There are some resources available online for making shoes – I know Jodie took an online class at Shoemaking Courses Online and rated it highly – but there wasn’t much around for free. And most of the stuff I found on Youtube required a full setup of specific styles and sizes of shoe lasts and specialist hand tools, not to mention materials and hardware that are not available for easy purchase by total amateurs. Rather than do the sensible thing and invest time and money in skills, tools and materials, I continued to research shoe making with the idea of attempting to make a wearable pair of shoes from household objects with only basic tools. (Ambitious? Moi?)
I probably should have started with sewing a rope washing line into a pair of espadrilles or something, but frankly, I have never worn espadrilles… my summer shoes are more the 6″ tottering wedge variety. Still, sandals are simpler because that eliminates the need for toe puffs and heel counters (specially shaped pieces of plastic that help the heel and toe hold their shape), and the lasts are not as critical to the process. Flat sandals would probably have been a good option (I considered both Greek style leather sandals and Pakistani style Khussas – I may yet make both of these) as they don’t need the metal shanks and heel hardware you need for high heel sandals, which are really hard to buy anywhere. Also, considering it from the refashioning/recycling angle, options for refashioned shoe projects are minimal if you’re not keen on wearing pre-loved shoes (it’s so hard to clean them!). One option was to butcher an old pair of shoes for the hardware, but without the lasts to help you put it all back together again, it was going to be tricky. I thought cork wedges would be a good compromise as they don’t need the metal shanks, and cork is easily available. Another idea was clogs or some kind of wooden soled shoes, but that would have required a lot more in the way of carpentry skills.
Of course, I googled “how to make shoes out of cork” and straight away came back to Shoemaking Courses Online, which looks like a super site. They have a whole course on how to make cork wedges, and the course description page has a breakdown of the steps involved along with video stills from the lessons. I should note here that I did not purchase the course, but looking at those few images was enough to make me believe that it could be done with minimal tools, and to give me the basic steps. So what follows is in no way a review and is not a reflection on the quality of the course, just to be clear, though it looks excellent.
I gleaned three key pieces of information from the course page. One, you can build up the 3D shape of the wedge by glueing layers of cork together. This allowed me to use abundant, cheap cork placemats instead of going for more expensive items such as cork yoga blocks. Two, you can shape cork easily by hand using a file. And three, you can use the file to take a fairly simple extrusion of a sole shape into a more complex 3D object that looks like an elegant shoe (I was finding it hard to visualise this initially).
I started by gathering raw materials. First, one packet of IKEA cork placemats. There are four and they are 42 x 32cm and 3.5mm thick. Compare this with the materials in the online course – hers looks to be about 1cm thick which means a lot fewer layers and therefore a lot less work, but this is what I had.
Next, some fun fabric for the uppers. This top I bought several years ago in the Marie Curie shop in Middlesbrough. I recognised the fabric immediately as Minerva used to carry it – Clare made a stunning dress with it at the time.
This was £4.00 and I snapped it up with the intention of wearing it as-is, but it was just a bit too big to be flattering.
Lastly, another type of IKEA placemat which I earmarked for the shoe soles. These turned out to be not terribly suitable, but read on to find out why…