I don’t talk about my job on here a lot – I may have only mentioned it once a while back but about a year and a half ago I quit my job at a medical software company and I bought a shoe repair business. The previous owner taught me how to repair shoes but up until this point I have just been repairing and never made my own shoes. I’ve wanted to make shoes for a long time but I’ve been working a lot and I haven’t necessarily wanted to spend more time at work. The other thing that has been holding me back is that while I have 90% of what I would need to make shoes I don’t have any shoe lasts. Lasts are shaped like feet and the leather upper is stretched around the last to help form the leather to the shape of the foot/last. The good news is that you don’t NEED shoe lasts in order to make sandals (although I do think it would have made the process slightly easier). I also just don’t know how to make shoes and I was putting off making them because I felt unqualified. I spent a lot of time on instagram looking at how other people were making shoes and I finally decided that the only way I was going to learn was to just start doing it. This pair of sandals is not perfect but I learned a lot while making them and that is kinda the point.
This is by no means going to be a “how to make sandals” instructional post. This is my first pair of sandals and I didn’t stop to document everything I did and unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures during the process. Also because of my job I have access to a lot of materials and machinery that most people do not have access to so what I did probably won’t help anyone trying to make a pair of sandals at home. To make these shoes I took a foam insole (mens size 11) and I traced around my foot. I then traced the insoles on to some insole board and glued the insole board to the insole. I took that over to my sander and smoothed out the edges and tried to get the right and left insole/board to be as close to each other as possible. I then traced the insoles on to some pigskin leather with about an inch of extra all the way around. I glued the leather to the insole. The bottom of the insole had a lot of extra leather. Once the glue dried I sanded the excess leather off to make the bottom flat. I’ll now refer to this as the “footbed.”
The next thing I did was to make my pattern. I cut some shapes out of construction paper and wrapped them around my foot to check them out. I used two long rectangles for the front straps and for the ankle strap I started with another straight line with two lines coming out perpendicular to the first strap. I then basically was using the tissue fitting method with the construction paper to figure out where I needed to take the strap in and contour it in some places.
I then cut my pattern pieces out of leather. I taped the straps in place and used a grease pencil to mark the location of the straps. I then adjusted the straps as needed until they felt comfortable. This was the most frustrating part because the tape I was using wasn’t very sticky. I was using painters tape from the hardware store to minimize any damage to the leather but basically any time I adjusted a strap I had to start with a new piece of tape because otherwise the tape just kept coming up.
Once I had the straps where I wanted them I went ahead and glued them in place. Once the glue was dry I went back over to my belt sander and I sanded the edges of the straps on the bottom of the footbed to taper them slightly. This is to help with the gluing process so that there aren’t little gaps where the sole can’t attach to the footbed.
I then picked out some buckles and sewed them on with a sewing machine at my work. I wasn’t able to put the sewing foot down but I basically did a zig zag stitch with no length across the bar in four different spots on each buckle to hold it in place. I punched some holes on the other side of the strap.
Then I was ready for soles! I wanted to use this sole material because it is very durable and I wanted my sandals to hold up over time. However, next time I think I’ll use a material that is softer for more comfort than durability. Once I glued the soles on they went back over to the sander where the soles got sanded down to match the footbeds, more or less. I then gave them a quick polish and they were done!
These are pretty good but next time I’ll do some things differently.
- I already mentioned that next time I will use a different sole material to make them more comfortable.
- I also made the straps a little too loose. The leather is pretty soft so the straps are definitely going to stretch out over time and become even looser (at which point I can shorten them). They already feel like they slide around a little while I’m wearing them and this is only going to get worse. the ankle strap is also a little saggy.
- I might add a lining stitched to the outer next time. This will help the leather hold up better over time and also the nylon thread will help the leather to keep its shape and not stretch out as much over time.
- I would make the leather that is behind the buckle a little bigger to fully cover the buckle. Because the strap is the same thickness the whole way across the buckle is slightly bigger than the strap behind it.
- I might do something to burnish/seal the edges of the leather next time. I just left them raw this time but I think they’d look a little more polished/less homemade if the edges of the leather were finished.
Despite all of those notes about what I’d do differently I am really happy with these. They are definitely wearable! They are comfortable and I think they came out pretty cute!