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New Kicks: The Making

I love how moccasins afford so much freedom of movement with a tactile experience with the ground. I noticed a significant difference in my strength and balance when I started wearing toe shoes, (Vibram FiveFingers), and wanted to experience a similar sense of freedom paired with warmth for these chilly days.

When I set about to make these shoes, I researched a lot of styles, and settled in on a traditional moccasin shape, with a modified ankle rise so it could lace shut more like a sneaker. I like the utility of Chucks, but their soles are just so heavy!

So these drawings informed the cutting & stitching of my new kicks. You’ll notice some key lines: an upper horizontal, marking where the widest part of my toe knuckles were, and the actual half-way line of my foot, which is right where the foot transitions upwards, becoming the ankle. These guides help inform where the stitches should go, or how the shapes should conform.

There was a sweet old pair of leather pants that I had been hanging on to for years, for just such an occasion, and I cut into the legs gleefully with these pattern pieces. I had also stocked up on various leather paints, because–you know–it’s always a good idea to have gold leather paint, right?

I started to blend my favorite colors of the moment–turquoise and gold–and was LOVING the effect they were making together. I was starting to feel like The Little Mermaid, when she gets custom shoes made for her after trading her flippers for an opportunity to dance on the land. These were going to be the most beautiful dancing and running and walking and lounging shoes around!

With the paint dry, I could now glue on the sole of my shoes. I had this awesome, thick leather that my brother had actually started making into his pair of thongs, and the shapes worked out perfectly so that I could cut out my own sole shape out of the large pieces! The funny thing was, that I had sketched a shape that was larger than my foot shape, because I thought that I might want extra space on my soles, but when I clipped the shoes together with binding clips, emulating the fit as if they were sewn, and placed the sole underneath, it looked rediculously large! So I marked the lines for my original foot shape, and trimmed off the extra. Aligning and gluing these to the bottoms was easy, thanks to the marked center lines for the heel and midway points. Yes, yes, yes to pattern markings.

Next, I set to figuring out how the ankles were going to sew themselves shut. I had already planned for a strip of leather to cruise up along the seam, visible from the outside, because I wanted that part of the shoes to look cool. More like Chuck Taylor’s than moccasins. I love that stripe–it looks so sharp and so tough. So athletic and so designerly. It’s cool.

So I figured out how I could cut a curve along the back heel, on the left and right arcs of the straight strip, so it would allow the heights of the left and right sides of the ankle portion align perfectly with the length of the strip. Clipping the pieces together with binder clips, I began punching holes with the awl, then stitching (with two needles and thread) the seam shut.

This technique worked so well, I wish I would have done this for my leather jacket that I made a few years ago. What a cool-looking seam–it looks just like the baseball stitch! Maybe I should have left the design without the strip of leather on the outside, so I could look at this awesome stitch all the time! But I’ll do that on another project. For this one, I kept on with my plan, knowing that a little gap would allow for the laces to go through, acting as a heel cinch.

Bing, bam, boom, and it seems like these shoes really were sewing themselves shut! I was kindof astounded, I just kept looking at them and smiling! Excited to sew up the foot box, I needed to figure out where to place the holes. Thank God for math. I decided that I wanted the holes on the top piece of leather to be 1/4″ apart,  then placed the edge of a fabric measuring tape on top of that piece of leather (in just a bit, close to 1/4″) where the holes would fall, curving it around the widest points of my toe knuckles. This gave me the total length for the arc in the top piece of leather. Using this length, dividing it by 1/4″, I arrived at the total number of holes to punch.

I then took that total number of holes, which would also be the desired amount of holes for the bottom piece of leather, which was larger and had a bigger curve. I repeated the steps, laying the edge of the fabric measuring tape in a bit from the edge of the leather, where the holes would fall (close to 1/4″) along the curve from the widest points of my toe knuckles. With this length now determined, I divided it by the total number of holes to arrive at the distance needed between each hole. It was a very decimal’d number, which I marked on the fabric using a jig (a piece of paper with the distance marked out, so I could just use the shape of the distance as a spacer between hole markings) instead of measuring the actual decimals, every time, for every hole. This technique worked out well, allowing each “wrinkle” from the larger curved piece to align with the internal curved piece in a very even, precise manner. I loved this.

Stitching the side sections proved much easier, because it was a 1:1 hole ratio. I used 1/4″ gaps between the holes from the toe knuckle points until the midway points. From there, the tongue and ankle portion would do the rest of the work of holding the shoe in place on my foot.

I have never loved eyelets more than now, and setting them into the ankle portion of the shoes was SO satisfying! Since the leather was already painted, shoes also now stitched together, the eyelets looked like shiny finishing touches, making them look officially like shoes! I was so excited, I could hardly handle it.

I quickly got to work making laces so I could wear these things already!

I took a piece of the pants leather, and painted the edges in a manner similarly to the shoes. (Blending the gold and turquoise). With this dry, I cut thin strips around the edges of this length, creating big, long, spaghetti-style strips with some uneven widths. I realized these were perfect opportunities to cut them again, creating slits within the internal widths, and splitting the ends for tassel-like effects. I created 4 total laces, 2 for each shoe, all with split ends and some internals.

It took me a good little while to decide just how I wanted to lace these puppies! I knew that I didn’t want to tie them in a bow, I really don’t like tying and untying shoes (which is precisely why I wear moccasins so often!!) so they needed to lace in a way that allowed them to stay on while on, but slip on easily so they were still fun & comfortable to wear. Hmmmm. Nailed it.

Starting from the front, laces going in, towards the tongue. Cross, out. Laces in towards the shoe. Cross, out. So, like a normal shoe. Except, with the laces going in, towards the shoe first, it keeps a natural tension on the fold-over, on the half-way mark of shoe. This section can remain tight enough to hold down the midpoint of the shoe, while having a looser, untied upper lace system. It’s awesome. Especially with laces like these, which are thick and take up the entirety of the eyelet, and have smooth & grippy portions of the leather, so there just is no slippage.

Then, with all of the extra lace, I wrapped the ends around the ankle, looping them through the gap I had left in the back strip (the cool, Chuck’s strip!) so they could cinch the heel down. The extra lace bits, I then fed through the top eyelet, and bingo–they fit (and stayed on) soo well!!!

I wore them around the house for a couple of days like this, just enjoying the fact that I had shoes that were so comfortable and I could stretch my toes out when I walked and my ankles were warm… wait. They were kindof chilly still. Especially when I sat at my desk for too long, which is often. And it hit me! Like a lightbulb! I have so many fur scraps, so many! And I went to my scraps drawer, and I saw this lovely mink stole that was a gift from my sister-in-law a few years ago! SO beautiful! So rich and brown! So soft! So warm! Mmmmm. Yes. This was going to be perfect.

Knowing that there are some certain rules to working with fur, primarily, working with the direction of fur in a manner so it lays how you want it to lay, I chose to use the ends of the stole, instead of just cutting from the end and the middle. After all, they already had been paired to have grain direction going the same (opposite) ways! It would be perfect, even if I had to mend the hole left for fastening the stole.

Who knows how old this piece of fur was, but it felt amazing and was in such great shape! It was so fun to work with. I cut a scrap of lovely purple fabric for the backing, because it’s a poly-blend and won’t stretch, and feels like brushed velvet with a bit of a tooth to it, so I knew it would grip the suede-side of the inside of the shoe so wonderfully, holding it in place while I walked or moved my foot inside the shoe.

Following the normal rules of inside-out stitching, I sewed all around the edges, aside from a 1″ gap, where I turned the whole piece inside-out. Finishing this gap with stitching that is mostly hidden, sealed the piece. By the way – when sewing fur, part of why it can look so beautiful when it meets up with another fabric, is when all the little baby fluffs stick out so nicely and smoothly in such stark contrast! If strays are tucked back into the seam, there are little loops of fur sticking out, and they look pinched. The seam looks hurried, and it’s uncomfortable to look at and touch. I much prefer clean seams with lovely, sudden contrast between “inside” and “outside”, when it comes to working with fur.

So, seeing this lovely piece turn out so well, it became clear that it needed a bright sparkly glint of color! I had also realized that I wanted to add a rubber sole to the bottom of my leather sole, because the leather was SOOO slick & fast on the carpet around the house! These shoes were perfect for spinning in circles, but would be a lot nicer with traction if I were to go venturing outside.

The rubber I ordered for the soles is bright red, Vibram rubber, used often on designer heels. I love the stark look of red on the bottom of a shoe, and I thought it would be great to have that pop of color on the bottom of these little delights 🙂 I especially thought it would be so wonderful when the peek of red showed when I took steps, and have that complimented in the border/trim color of whatever trim was now coming to mind!

So I set about making some lovely trim. I have a lot of DMC thread from a stint in making friendship bracelets a few years ago, feeling the joys of childhood as an adult at all the music festivals & concerts I was playing, and loved the color combinations that I was now looking at. I have so many favorite colors! I chose 5 lovely colors and decided I would do a five-strand braid. Not having braided a five-strand braid before, but being a master of the normal three-strand braid, I figured it couldn’t be that hard. I was also obsessed with looms a number of years ago, and made a large loop-loom on the floor of one of my offices using pegs & nails, and learned the value of having whatever you’re weaving bundled up in a workable, small shape, so it is easy to navigate the shape in and out of the other threads.

For this five-strand braid, I wound the ends up into tight little balls & clipped them with binder clips, so they were not only contained, they were also weighted, and gravity could help me braid with consistency in the spacing. It worked so well! I loved it! I braided and braided all the way until I ran out of thread! I think I may have braided about 3 feet of this lovely trim, and had more than enough for this project. When I placed the trim next to my fur pieces, I was IN LOVE with how beautiful it was! SOO PRETTY!!!

I did a little blind stitch with the trim, so it appears to be perfectly flat on the back of the fur piece. I just love it. It lays so nicely, around the curves, and on the flat sections, and I really loved the idea of having the “ends” of the trim stick out like long little trails from the back. Beautiful little rainbow-filled sparkles of color blowing in the breeze and tickling my heel with every step I take. All while peeking out to say “hello” to the red soles of my shoes.

Oh this was coming together so well!

As soon as the rubber soles came in, I looked at the wear patterns I had developed on my soles, comparing them to the foot imprint I had taken at the start of my project, and decided where I wanted the break in the soles to appear. Right above my heel, so that my arch can still flex and bend, and in an elongated shape upwards towards the ball & front of my foot so that the hard edge of my foot had traction as well as the ball. What I loved the most, was realizing this was going to leave little exclamation points everywhere I went! I loved it!

Cutting out the rubber shapes was so easy, I just love Xacto knives. Gluing these shapes down onto the heel was much easier once I didn’t follow the instructions 🙂 Normally, it’s a good idea to have part of the barge glue down on each side, so it can become tacky, then place it & hammer it down, so that it sticks really well. BUT, it was actually very difficult to place the piece this way, since it had to align very precisely. What worked better, was applying another thin layer of glue, and while it was still wet, aligning it down so it had a little bit of wiggle room. This allowed me to maintain the final location, while applying pressure until it set, then hammered the bottom to get all the air bubbles out. (Which were very, very few).

By the next morning, these were ready to wear, and I could hardly wait to get outside! These work so well, they handle like a dream in a run, in a walk, in a tippy-toe up on the curb’s edge, in a full-flat-footed feelgasm in the grass. I LOVE these shoes, and actually am so excited to make my next pair. I want to make a more durable pair that can handle water better, because I want to wear these on the BART or out on the wet sand or in a slushy parking lot. These shoes are a bit delicate for that, especially since the pants leather was a topgrain, very flexible and comfortable (thin) leather. I think a fullgrain, thicker, maybe stiffer leather would be a better option, and I want to build up a different sort of sole, like a gum rubber sole around the front/side edges. All while maintaining a flexible foot bottom. That’ll be a fun one to figure out 🙂