One of the joys (to me) of making my own footwear is that the creative process does not end with the production of a wearable pair of shoes. While I’m wearing what I’ve made, I try to notice what works well, and what doesn’t.
Things that work well (like my “tozafoot method” single welts) get put on the inclusion list for new pairs. Things that don’t work well are put on the avoidance list. And if I’m lucky, I can bring the shoes back to my workbench to be improved.
Speaking of bringing things back to the workbench, I just modified a pair of “ballet” or “court” flats that I originally made a couple of years ago. They were only the second pair of welted shoes I’d ever made (having taught myself how to stitch a “double” or L-shaped welt). And they were my third attempt at lined shoes: they have an upper that consists of a 2.5oz black calf-leather, lined with 2oz vegetable-tanned, undyed calfskin.
I am quite hard on shoes, often walking a mile or several at a time on hard surfaces like tarmac or concrete sidewalks. Also, when I made these shoes, I was still very new to learning about leather grain and thickness. So perhaps it is not surprising that through a combination of hard use, and sub-optimal positioning of the pattern on the leather, these shoes stretched so much that I felt I needed to modify them somehow to keep them wearable.
The question was, what kind of modification would be (a) simple, and (b) not too unsightly?
I could immediately think of two options for adding fastening across the midstep:
- A lace
- A Mary-Jane style strap
Since I did not know which would work best, I decided to add buttons just forward of the ankle bones, to which I could attach either laces or a strap, depending on the occasion. To find where the buttons should be sited, I experimented with holding laces and straps against my foot, and used a silver pen to mark where I thought the best locations were. I then checked that these were underlain by the thick, vegetable-tanned heel/counter stiffener that I had put between the lining and the upper when I originally made these shoes. I needed this to be present where I was going to make the stitch holes for the thread holding on the buttons, because the upper and lining material alone would not be heavy enough to hold the stitches.
I had already some robust metal buttons in my sewing drawer. So once I had worked out where to put them, it was a simple matter to stitch each on with 1.0mm Tiger thread (three stitches each, over a distance of about 1cm).
Adding laces was easy, and I had a bit of fun experimenting with lacing styles from the very simple…
…to the more complex:
While this definitely worked well to hold the shoe on for vigorous walking, it wasn’t very formal. I wanted to see if I could add a strap to make the shoe “prettier”.
First, I used some spare scraps of goatskin to work out what dimensions of strap would be suitable.
Having decided on strap length and width, I decided to make the strap out of the same black calf leather as the upper, but doubled over for strength. Luckily, I had a few large enough scraps left over that I was able to cut the patterns for two straps, while ensuring that the grain ran across the straps, so that they would be less likely to stretch along their length.
While I felt the double-thickness leather would work well as a strap, I was less confident that it could cope with the point stresses inflicted by being pulled repeatedly onto a button at either end. I worried that if I were to reinforce the strap enough to hold a robust button hole, it would become too wide and stiff to be pretty. I may think of a better strap design in future, but for now, I have used the strap as a base for a lace.
That is, I have cut a slit in each end of the strap, through which to pass a loop of lace. This lace then loops under the buttons and can be pulled tight and tied on the top of the side of the foot.
I have to say that I am fairly pleased with the result. I have worn these modified shoes for more than a mile’s walk without them loosening or chafing at all.
But they are a little fiddly to fasten in the first place, so I may experiment with making a pair of new straps that fit directly over the buttons. Perhaps with a bell-shaped end, or maybe a colored flap to hide the button and add visual interest. There are many possibilities, and each will make my little black shoes look like a slightly different pair.
As I said at the start, I love the many opportunities for creativity that shoemaking affords!
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