Simple Shoe Making Materials

LEATHER

Since leather doesn't unravel, it is perfect for making stitch-down shoes. Having it rather thick (4 - 5 ounces/square foot) is ideal. Chrome-tanned leather is almost universally used for making footwear, since it can be dyed in infinite hues and is soft and malleable. ("Vegetable-tanned leather" is the alternative, but it is most often rigid and flesh-toned or dyed in natural colors; I recommend using it for top soles.) "Ecopell" is an exception - it is a German vegetable-tanned leather that is so soft, it's almost too soft, for shoemaking - but makes wonderful - and non-toxic - shoes for babies, as shown in this photo.

SHEEPSKIN

Warm sheepskin can be used for making simple shoes. You can either "turn the bottom edge out" to make stitch-downs (you might want to cover it with seam binding) or attach the boot you make to Soles with an Edge!

To make sheepskin footwear, add just a little less than the length of the wool to the edge of all the patterns you are using. For instance, if the wool fiber is about 1/2" long, add 3/8" to the edge of the patterns.

I have a video that shows how to make your own Soles with an Edge! It involves more stitching, but might create the look you are seeking.

FELT

Those who don't want to work with leather, or who love to have warm feet, or who love to make and/or embellish felt, might find felt to be an ideal shoemaking material. Felt boots can be made as stitch-downs, the turned-out edge of felt would probably withstand the elements and wouldn't "unravel", although it could look pretty beat-up over time, depending on how thoroughly it was felted. However, felt boots are perfect for use with Soles with an Edge! Having a "bumper" of suede around the bottom edge of a felt boot can give it much longer wear, and a nice look.

HANDMADE "WET FELT"

Amazingly-beautiful felt can be made by a process called "wet-felting". And I believe using it to make warm and unique footwear is a fitting purpose for such a labor-intensive material. This process requires placing a multitude of tufts of wool roving on a mat, perhaps creating a pattern as you go. When the pile of tufts is thick enough it is folded up, wet, and agitated. Voilà, you've got felt! (Easier said than done).

There are two ways to make wet-felt that can be used to make felt footwear:

Making felt using the resist method: Traditionally, wet-felted boots were made by the "resist" method, in which a great big boot is made by the process briefly-described above. It is made by slipping a boot-shaped piece of plastic into the middle of the pile of tufts. After it is felted a bit, the big boot that forms is put over the wearer's foot and leg and agitated for a long time until it fits. Or, instead of being put over the wearer's foot and leg, a reasonable facsimile of said parts can be made from duct tape. See my video on "How to Make Custom Lasts". You can imagine how much easier this facsimile is to work with. Boots made by the resist method can be attached to outdoor soling by both resist-made felt boots the stitch-down and Soles with an Edge! processes.

How to make stitch-downs from boots made by the resist-method: To make your boots into stitch-downs, try to make the boots with a distinct 90-degree angle that delineates between the sole underfoot, and the sides of the boot. Cut (I know it's painful to do so, sorry!) the sole out of the boot, so that the sides of the boot have 1/4" available to turn out onto the sole. Use the sole you have cut out as the insole inside the boot.

Using Soles with an Edge with boots made by the resist-method: It's sometimes challenging to find that line described above, where the sides of the boot end and the sole begins. The boot is all kind of rounded. You don't want to put the boot in crooked and get some of the side in where the sole should be or vice-versa. So, planning ahead so you have a distinction between the side and sole is important. I recommend that you put a thin flat rigid piece of something waterproof under your foot while it's being agitated, then that "sole line" will be more distinct. I also recommend that you make custom-lasts to work over instead of over your feet. Your body will thank you. This photo of resist-made boots finished with Soles with an Edge is from a workshop that was offered by www.northeastfiberarts.com


Making footwear from flat wet-felt: I believe the making of flat wet-felt, then cutting it up according to patterns to make a variety of styles of boots, is a process that has not been used much until I started collaborating with felt makers to provide workshops in which this process is taught. The blue and white boot below is made from flat wet felt. The book How to Hand make Simple Shoes for Women has a multitude of patterns for making boots, clogs etc, that can be made from flat felt. With these patterns it is no problem discerning where the line is between the sides and the sole, because they are separate pattern pieces. However, I do hear from many felters that their main goal in life is to never have a stitch a single seam, so the flat-felt-thing would not work for them - or for you, if you're one of them.


The main advice I have for you if you decide to venture into the world of making flat-felt for boot making is MAKE MOCK-UPS FIRST from inexpensive fabric store felt. (Although I am sure you can find someone who would love to have it.) This boot was made using the "Snugg" pattern.

How to make stitch-downs from flat felt: When making stitch-downs from flat felt, you use the felt as if it were leather; simply cut it out according to the pattern you choose, stitch the pieces together, drape your upper over your last onto the sole, stitch your upper pieces to the sole, and you've got one amazing boot! Now all you need is one more.

Using Soles with an Edge! with boots made from flat felt: These soles were originally made to provide outdoor soling for boots made from flat felt. It used to be heart-breaking for me to see beautiful felt boots with little pieces of suede sewed to their undersides to serve as soles, or glued-on soles. I believe that using Soles with an Edge does justice to your beautiful felt. If you purchase the soling, especially with built-in-heel support, you will be making boots that will endure with you a very long time, in great comfort and warmth.

COMMERCIAL 100% WOOL FELT

Another way to obtain felt is to buy it: there's some beautiful felt on www.aetnafelt.com, the colors are amazing. I get it in the 3/16" thickness. You could make some awesome boots by appliqueing, reverse-appliqueing, needle-felting, embroidering, or beading on the pattern pieces, then stitching them together to make your boot.

FELTED WOOL COATS and BLANKETS

Or, you could go the felted wool coat or blanket direction. It's quite affordable, maybe even free if a friend has an unused one in her closet, or if you do - and there are a lot of wool coats in thrift shops that no one is anxious to wear - if it's somewhat stiff and thick, all the better. I like to work with army blankets, I love the color (different in different countries), but usually ending up quilting it because it's a bit thin. (I get sad imagining all those soldiers hovering under these blankets). Wash your coat or blanket in hot water with a little detergent on the longest cycle of your washing machine, then dry it in your dryer for even more density. It should be quite a bit smaller, and more dense. If it's not sufficiently dense, maybe quilt two layers together. Or quilt it to polar fleece (best obtained at thrift shops also - buy extra-large men's pullovers - the quality of fleece in commercial clothing is much better than fleece you buy at a fabric shop). Once you've made your felt, follow directions for making footwear from flat felt.


KNIT/FELT and CROCHET/FELT BOOTS

A new phenomenon is the number of patterns that are being published for the knitting or crocheting of huge boots. After the knitting or crocheting is completed, these are felted down in the washing machine to nice, warm, fitted boots. You see a lot of boots like these being sold commercially, so if you are an avid knitter or crocheter (I say "avid" because you do have to knit pretty big boots, although on big needles...) make yourself some boots!

How to make stitch-downs from knit/felt or crochet/felt: Since your goal is to wear your boots outside, if you make these boots sufficiently-dense they could be made by the stitch-down technique. It would be best if the sole of the pattern was knitted or crocheted separately from the upper part. It would then be simple to discern where the bottom of the sides were, which you could turn out onto the soling. You wouldn't need to knit soles, you could use a thick piece of wool felt instead and slip it inside the completed boot.

Stacey Trock's patterns are made with separate soles, so they could be used to make stitch-downs. She has made both knit (Yuki) and crochet (Calli) boot patterns. They are modeled after my bellows-tongue boot pattern, so they can cinch snugly against your leg when you lace them up. You can thread the laces through the felt, or order "rings" (actually bra slides) from me for that purpose. Or, make little loops yourself for lace to pass through. Below is the Yuki boot. You can find Stacey's knitted/felted and crocheted/felted boot patterns at http://www.freshstitches.com/patterns/.


Cheri Yarborough
Cheri has also made a pattern for crocheting boots,
you can purchase it from my etsy shop: BUY NOW

How to use Soles with an Edge! with knit/felt or crochet/felt: Again, Stacey Trock's patterns can be used. Simply stitch the knit/felt or crochet/felt sole you have made to the upper part of the boot, or stitch a piece of felt of the correct size to the upper. Proceed to attach it to Soles with an Edge. as described above. Many people have made successful outdoor boots using Fiber Trends Alpine Boot pattern and Soles with an Edge. Jennifer Hoag of www.northeastfiberarts.com sells a pattern and a kit for making "Felt Boots". This boot was knitted and felted by Ann Murray of Minnetonka, MN. The pattern was designed by Anne Burgeson.


FABRIC:

Rugged fabrics can be used for simple shoemaking, that is upholstery fabric, canvas, recycled denim etc. They work well with Soles with an Edge, since their edges would unravel if turned out. Even so, they could be made as stitch-downs if you covered the turned-out edge with seam-binding. The boot shown here was made with the bellows-tongue pattern.


You might want to make Soles with an Edge yourself, using the same fabric that you used for the upper, or another fabric that provides a nice contrast. If you make the soles yourself you could make the edge the height that you want, and perhaps do some simple but decorative stitch to attach the upper to it. I think these boots would be great made in crazy-quilt style, the edge could be made of black velvet and a "crazy" stitch could be used to attach the boot to the sole edge. Here's a little shoe made from recycled denim, showing how a stitch-down looks finished with seam-binding.