Friday, December 23, 2016

Sewing Less in 2017

Sewing problems:

  • Spending more than 2 hours on Pinterest having forgotten what you came for

  • Trawling the internet/insta/blogs for the most perfect pattern that never quite seems to match the precise image in your head of your next project

  • Trawling through fabric site after fabric site trying to find some elusive fabric type/print/colour/texture that absolutely MUST go with a pattern you’ve decided you MUST sew immediately

  • Seeing a post on insta, following the hashtag to the pattern they used, trawling through every version on the hashtag, stalking the pattern company’s website to see if the design lines are going to be as great on you as they are on other people, finding another pattern that’s also awesome and might just work for the fabric in your stash, pulling apart sewing room to find said fabric and patting it whilst trawling through hashtag on insta of new pattern crush, finding blog reviews of pattern that suggests other patterns that are similar and might work for your body type better, investigating all reviews and pictures on hashtag of even newer pattern crush, wondering why your phone now has 18 tabs open, 3% battery left and your sewing room is a mess

The problem with these sewing problems are that they’re actually not sewing problems. They don’t feature any sewing. At all. Not one stitch.

And therein lies the problem for me.

I’ve spent the last year and a half consciously and mindfully slowing my life down. You may have read about my Konmari fervour here and my review of Konmari 6 months later here. I spent a lot of time decluttering my house in order to sell off things that didn’t bring me joy anymore. I’ve also made an effort to slow down my consumption and be more mindful to everything that makes it’s way into my house. It’s the reason I’ve cut out a lot of refined sugar and packaged foods and switched to all natural beauty products. I’ve been waging a slow and incremental war on plastic through replacing plastic toothbrushes and razors, saying no to plastic bags at every opportunity and sewing up produce bags. This whole mental shift for me is about reconnecting to the things I own and buy as well as saying no to Being Busy, clutter and things that don’t sit with my values.

You may also know that things got a little shaky for me towards the end of this year. Anxiety took over and I was in a state of constant panic with regular panic attacks for weeks. I took 6 weeks off work and only returned part time for a couple of weeks before going back to my full time hours for the last two weeks of the year. One moment it was October, I was in a constant state of overwhelm and by the time I resurfaced it was mid December and Christmas was already upon us. That's not to say that a whole lot of things didn't happen between October and December, they absolutely did, but my participation in reality was suspended for that time and it seemed a surprise when I re-entered my normal world of work and routine. Time had passed without me being present. 

The thing about being in crisis and being so far removed from your daily life and routine is you get to come back with fresh eyes that evaluate where the busy-ness and stressors really are in your life. Obviously my biggest stressors had absolutely nothing to do with my hobbies, it was all very work centric but going through the experience of a breakdown was what enabled me to see my hobby as just another way of Being Busy.

Let me explain by sharing my favourite quote from a book I read back in May this year.

Big Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert

I firmly believe that we all need to find something to do in our lives that stops us from eating the couch. Whether we make a profession out of it or not, we all need an activity that is beyond the mundane and that takes us out of our established and limiting roles in society. We all need something that helps us to forget ourselves for a while - to momentarily forget our age, our gender, our socioeconomic background, our duties, our failures, and all that we have lost and screwed up. We need something that takes us so far out of ourselves that we forget to eat, forget to pee, forget to mow the lawn, forget to resent our enemies, forget to brood over our insecurities. Prayer can do that for us, community service can do it, sex can do it, exercise can do it, and substance abuse can most certainly do it - but creative living can do it, too.
Perhaps creativity's greatest mercy is this: by completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir - something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.

You see the last 6 years of my life sewing has been my creative outlet. I don't just crave it, I need it. I need a creative outlet otherwise I feel restless. I start to feel that creative energy pile up physically within me if it's left unexpressed. This is why I sew. 

I’d love to say that my hobby is about pairing a fabric with a pattern and spending numerous hours lost in the flow of creativity sewing whilst listening to music, podcasts, my dog snoring and eating snacks. But this is only a small window of what it means to sew.

I spend sometimes two, three or four times as much time wandering around in creative inspiration as I do physically sewing and it’s exhausting. It’s just like having 18 tabs open, draining my battery down to 3%, looking around at the mess I’ve made. While my hobby was always about being lost in that creative flow that I crave, that takes me out of the ordinariness of my everyday life, so often it was manifesting as Being Busy trawling the internet and social media. I never realised how much overwhelm I felt trying to narrow down the infinite choices of pattern, fabric, fit and style.

I now understand that there are two aspects to my sewing now. The actual sewing, which is the real reason I’m here, and the creative inspiration hit. I noticed that my creative inspiration hits are at their worst when I’m busy, tired or stressed. If I don’t have time or energy to sew, chances are I’m going to spend that downtime reaching the bottom of the internet to get a creative inspiration hit. I might buy a new pattern, convinced it will make me feel better when I have time to sew. I might spend ages pairing fabrics in my fabric stash to an entirely new-to-me pattern on the internet by pinning tons of stuff on pinterest. I might spend ages on Bloglovin or Kollabora my mind pinging with inspiration of things I can sew when I finally have the time. But all of these things are just about Being Busy. 

The irony here is that Being Busy with creative inspiration hits all the time has been adding to my overall sense of Being Busy in life which is part of the reason I’m too exhausted to sew in the first place. Too busy Being Busy.

I can now see that any time I’m spending far too long obsessing over the creative side of sewing I’m actually just distracting myself and I’m doing absolutely no sewing.

So next year is about More Living, Less Sewing.

And by less sewing I mean not relying on a creative inspiration hit to make me feel like I’ve done something creative when actually I’ve not sewn a thing.

I might find that I physically sew less or that I sew just as much but I limit the energy and space that is occupied by my mind on the creative inspiration hit rampage.

To combat this I’m widening the net. Creativity need not only come in the form of sewing. I have such a thirst for knowledge that doing anything else that’s creative and allows me to commune with inspiration and still create something is equally as satisfying. I want to live a creative life that’s not limited to one or two hobbies but find ways to be creative in the time and space that I have that will still give me the same hit.

It might come in the form of classes, borrowing books from the library on new things to learn and create or simply looking at the things I do in my day to day life more creatively.

Whatever the case I’m going to work on releasing myself from the Creative Inspiration Hit in 2017 and see how living a fuller, creative life allows me to flourish in different ways.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

How My Handmade Shoes are Ageing

I'm back today to talk you through my little collection of handmade shoes and how they're ageing. Thankfully because I blogged them all I know that the blue ballet flats were made at the start of March this year, almost 8 months ago. The Tan Sandals were made just a few weeks later, also in March, so close to 7 months ago. The Derby Shoes were made at the end of August so about 2 months ago.

This post is to check in on how they've been wearing and what I've been learning whilst having them on my feet.

Blue Ballet Flats

Firstly these were made from the same hide as my Leather Tote Bag so they were automatically a win in a lot of respects. I set myself a goal when I bought that hide to make myself a handbag and a pair of shoes from it so being able to fulfil that was pretty exciting all in itself.

I spoke in the post for these shoes about how I had, for the first time on my shoe making journey, made shoes that actually felt like shoes. I'd made shoes prior to these that sneakily looked a lot like shoes but depressingly felt a lot like slippers. The biggest difference with these shoes was getting the stiffeners right. By the way if you want a comprehensive list of what materials/tools I own and use you can read about it here. The stiffeners I used for these shoes were thicker than what was recommended so I did have to thin them down in general and most especially on the edges. This was to make sure you couldn't see the line through the leather of where the stiffener starts and ends. Can you see where they're positioned in the above picture? Me neither! I got that bit right. So one of the biggest lessons I learned making and now wearing these shoes is that I like them to feel firm and structured. I like a shoe that holds it's shape without a foot in it. Even after a couple of hundred hours of wear these shoes are holding their shape pretty much like the day they were made. Success.

I also spoke in the post for these shoes that I couldn't actually sew the neckline together because the combination of leathers was just too tricky for my sewing machine. I suspected this would be a problem as the blue leather and the lining leather were just glued down to each other and were going to take a LOT of wear as I walked. Turns out that neckline unpeeled itself basically on the first wear and by the third wear it's as if I had never even attempted to glue them together. They were just sitting however they wanted and there was nothing I could do about it. This would have been disheartening if this was something that people could see when they looked at the shoes. As it turns out although the leathers aren't attached in any formal way the topline still manages to remain folded down no matter how much I wear them so although they look terrible off my foot you can't even tell when they're on my foot. Winning??

As you can see from the pic above there's a pretty obvious hole in the back seam of the right shoe. This is where you nail the leather to the last to keep it in place while lasting because you need a bit of tension to last the leather into shape. The teacher did say you need to use a tiny little nail for this job and I used a small, but obviously not small enough, nail. You could barely even see this once they were finished but it's created a weak spot and is pulling on that seam in strange ways so I'll know to use a tiny nail there next time. Although I quite like the idea of nailing into the lining above the upper leather so I may just nail the lining to the last in a couple of spots to secure it next time and avoid this problem altogether. Also there's the tiniest gap between the heel and the bottom of the shoe appearing there. This is just from wear but has been that way for some time so I don't think it's likely to affect the sole in any way.

And to finish off here's a pic of how the leather soling is wearing. Quite good, no complaints.

These sandals have most definitely had the most wear of all 3 pairs of shoes I've made. They've probably been worn twice as much as both other pairs combined. Which tells me I'm going to need some more handmade sandals in my life soon.

You can see from the picture that the area under where my heels sit is the most worn of all the shoe. It's scuffing and I also suspect that it's got a touch of water damage from not having enough leather dew applied in the beginning. I assure you that I went at these so thoroughly with leather dew but I think for my next pair of sandals, knowing how exposed to the elements they'll be, I'll let them dry then repeat the same process again before I even think about putting them on my feet.

From above you can see the upper parts of the sandal are all holding their shape very nicely. This is mostly because I worked with very thick and hard to work with leather. It was worth the struggle so that the shoe could keep it's shape without a foot in it. I'm seeing a pattern here.

The most disappointing part of these sandals is the way they wear at the side front. The midsole/sole curves up around the side of my foot. Just a little on the my left foot but a whole lot on my right foot. I suspected when I made these that having a layer of leather as the midsole and having leather soling attached wouldn't be strong enough and unfortunately when it comes to the front of the sandal I was right. They could have done with some texon board sandwiched in there to give it more structure but that would have meant hiding the edges of the texon board because I wanted one nice neat finish on the side.

I think I've got a resolution for this problem as it's come up again (but in a different way) with a pair of shoes I started a couple of weeks ago. So I'll try that fix and assess whether that will give me the structure I want to keep the soles of my sandals flat and professional looking.

The leather soling is wearing just fine on these two and is showing evidence of just how much I wear (and love) them.

Derby Shoes

Here are my 2 month old Derby Shoes looking the oldest of the lot. I have to say it's been a love/hate relationship with these shoes which I never expected when I was making them. In the post on these shoes I talked about making a dressy shoe that conversely had a relaxed feel to them. I wanted to experiment with what a shoe would look like and feel like without all the stiffeners in them. Would they be soft and supple and cool to wear or would I not like that? Back then the question was driving the process.

As evidenced in the above photo although I've only worn these for about 100-200 hours they have very visible crumple lines which I don't love. They look a touch better on my feet than they do sitting footless on a piece of wood but still they're a little sad looking to me. The structure of them, not the whole shoe.

Unfortunately on the left shoe I had an issue with the soling. The soling for the right shoe went on like a dream. I bashed it with a hammer in all the right places and it responded by becoming a sole that was attached to a shoe and never once threatened to move. The left one however is still driving me a little mad. You can see the front of the sole gaping from the toe and that's AFTER I've already peeled back the sole and tried to reglue it. It's the sole that will not be tamed. Currently it's not really affecting the wear of the shoe so I'm still wearing it out occasionally. Part of me hopes that it will peel back far enough that I can resole most, if not all, the shoe and be given the chance to start again. Ahhhh contact cement you fickle thing you.

On the plus side the back of the shoe is holding it's shape really well. Remember how I was all worried about how thick I'd made the back of the shoe because I'd wrapped one piece of leather around another piece of leather? Well, my friends, turns out that gave my heel the perfect amount of structure for it not to cave in like the toe has. Problem no more.

The leather soling is ageing quite well so all is well there.

I probably sound quite ambivalent about these Derby Shoes because they've been a little disappointing and also the laces broke on the right shoe (thankfully before I left the house so I could replace it). But I still really, really love the look of them and the combination of the leathers. My curiosity will drive me to wear them until they literally fall apart because obviously that will give me a whole new topic to analyse. What fun.

All in all I think for my first 3 pairs of "real" shoes I've done exceedingly well and I'm learning from the process of shoemaking as well as from wearing them. Also I've never been so interested in my feet until now. That's something new and different.

A little while ago I entered a competition with these shoes and managed to win second prize. I won half a cow hide - that thing is literally as wide as my arms and far taller than me. I also got a smaller hide, a box of leather making projects, leather working tools and a t shirt. This shoe making thing is all a bit fun!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Derby Shoes

I made a pair of derby shoes! I had another 2 pairs of shoes that I was working on in my head deciding which one to make first when I spotted this blue, metallic, laser cut leather and fell in LOVE. So naturally that bumped itself to the top of the queue and I had to make shoes with this leather IMMEDIATELY.

I'm a little off script from my classes on as she offers an Oxford shoes class not a Derby class. I just couldn't bring myself to love Oxfords even though it would have been easier to follow her instructions than make up some of the pattern making and construction steps. Also I'm pretty sure I've been talking about making Oxfords this whole process when really I've been making Derby's. I've always used these terms interchangeably and I now understand they mean something different.

I'm kicking this off with a whole bunch of progress pics and then a bit of a discussion on what went right and what I learnt from these shoes. I could write out all the steps but I'd be sick of repeating the words gluing, skiving, hand stitching (swearing, bleeding...) etc.

Pattern pieces cut out for upper, feature leather and lining.

Glued, skived and hand stitched together.

More glueing before more hand stitching.

Faintly resembling a shoe.

Lasting the leather with nails all over the joint.

Blurry photo, whoops. This is the bottom of the shoes after sanding them all down flat ready for soles.

Sole and heel pieces cut out and ready to wrangle into place.

Soles attached, glued and hammered into place/shape. Starting to shape the heel to make it perfectly level.


I have to say I'm incredibly proud of these shoes! Since taking classes on shoemaking I've seen a huge jump in what I can create but now that I'm getting the hang of some of the skills involved they're starting to come together a little easier. Each part of the process comes with a set of skills and when you first start you're trying to learn them all and be good at them all at the same time. It's nice to repeat each step on each new pair of shoes and feel your knowledge and experience go a little bit deeper each time.

The aim in making these was to have a dressy pair of closed shoes that conversely had a bit of a relaxed feel to them when worn. I mentioned when I made my Ballet Flats that I had hit upon the right amount of structure for my shoes (as compared to the ones I was trying to make pre-shoemaking classes) and while that hasn't changed I wanted to experiment with what my shoes could feel like without a toe puff and heel counter to give it shape and structure. The safest bet for these shoes was to make them from a pretty thick and strong leather to start with so that would create all the structure and shaping I'd need without needing to add to it. As chance would have it this thickness of leather was perfect for what I was going for. They feel a tiny bit lighter and definitely more relaxed than my ballet flats after trying them on. I'm keen to feel how they age and stretch as they get worn.

So I got the leather weight spot on. That was already half the battle. I don't feel like I quite did the right thing wrapping this feature leather around the black leather because it's too thick and sticks out too much at the sides for my liking. But had I thought about my process before getting excited and jumping in I could have skived the black leather pieces down nicely and made it sit closer together on the overlap. It's definitely not the end of the world and if you look at my shoes you'll probably laugh at how much I even care about that detail but at least there's room for improvement.

I feel like I'm getting better at getting a consistent result across the toe. It's one of the scariest parts in shoemaking for me because if they don't sit nice and flush around the toe people will notice every lump and bump. I think this one comes down to practise as well as really understanding how to use my lasting pincers better each time I last.

I'm a bit bummed about the hand stitching on them though. When I was at Birsdall Leather I found some thick waxed thread which looked perfect for hand stitching shoes. I thought it might give the shoes a bit of a different look to a thinner thread. Turns out I hated how thick it was as soon as I started working with it. It's hidden really well because the feature leather is quite busy so it's far from a disaster but I'll know for next time that a thinner thread is actually my preference.

Also we need to talk about that heel. When I made my ballet flats I was a bit overwhelmed learning all of the different skills and just getting through the sheer amount of steps to get from start to finish. I got shoe fatigue (if that's a thing) so I ended up just gluing the sole on and gluing a heel straight over  the top which was cheating. This time I really took the time to rewatch her lessons and set an entire day aside just to do the soles and heels. And it REALLY paid off. My Dremel got the workout of it's life and I was covered head to toe in leather dust but I got that heel dead level. I really think this is the most impressive part of the shoe this time. I mean that feature leather is awesome and all but having a handmade shoe with a heel that looks smooth and level really takes this pair up a notch compared to my last ones.

When you look up close the heel is still quite lumpy and bumpy which comes down to adding a bit more width and length to my heel pieces so I can be sure to sand it off to the same level. I think it would also help if I put a bit of dye on the sides (and maybe the whole sole?) this would make the sole and heel look uniform which could definitely elevate the sole and heel a bit more. I may look into that for my next pair to see how it turns out.

All in all though I'm absolutely stoked to have ended up with something that looked how it did in my head prior to starting. It's not easy to learn a new hobby and see so obviously the gap between your vision and your skill set. I'm closing that gap ever so slowly and having a big vision to work towards will only mean greater looking shoes in the future.

If anybody wants me I'll be walking about staring down at my new shoes hoping not to bump into anything!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Me Made May 2016 recap with handy dandy infographic and collage!

For those of you who don't follow me on instagram - surprise! I pledged to be a part of Me Made May this year for the first time ever. Every other year I've had to wear uniform so it was nice to finally get involved. I wear me-mades most of the time and while I know there are gaps in my handmade wardrobe I wasn't sure exactly where they were. This was a fun way of finding out.

Because I'm that kind of gal I've created a handy dandy infographic to fill you in on all the fun. Plus I'm throwing in a bonus collage of my instagram selfies AND a dot point list of my discoveries. What a post. Much excitement.

Note: I made this infographic last night so it only chronicles 30 out of 31 days but you get the picture.

So the infographic compiles the most noteworthy data on it. The only bit I forgot to put in was the most amount of me-mades worn on the one day - 7!

As promised here's the collage of my selfies. Confession: I'm absolutely terrible at selfies and I'm not entirely sure how to take a selfie of myself in a mirror without the phone being directly in front of my face. This is the reason you only get one face-on selfie below. It was a bit of yoga for the mind to get that picture lined up, and in the work bathrooms no less. Top tip - the internet has heaps of articles and videos on how to take a good outfit selfie. Turns out if you google this on day 2 of the challenge you can calm your worried mind about how you're going to survive the whole month. Ask me how I know.

So the whole point of Me Made May was to discover how my handmade wardrobe functions in my everyday life. Here are some things I discovered:

  • I thought I wore a lot more clothes in the one month. I'm surprised that I rotated the same 30 items throughout the month. Especially seeing as I was generally wearing about 3 handmade items a day.
  • I wear a lot of black and blue. I'm like a fashionable bruise.
  • I wear my grey Jenna Cardi far more often than I ever thought. I should definitely make another one to give it a rest.
  • I wear more separates than dresses. I thought it was the other way around.
  • I thought my biggest wardrobe gaps were pants and jackets because I've never sewn them before. What I'm actually really lacking is clothes to wear around the house.
  • I used to think that my favourite items I've ever sewn were some of my dresses. I used to think they expressed something about me I couldn't explain in words. Turns out it's my Leather Handbag that's far and above my top worn and loved item I've ever sewn. Closely followed by my handmade shoes. This tells me that leatherwork is something really important for my future.
And there you have it folks my Me Made May all wrapped up in one fun and informative post!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tan Leather Sandals

Today's a big picture heavy post about the making of these Tan Leather Sandals. As you may know I signed up to a 3 month membership to for Christmas and after buying all my materials I've slowly been working my way through endless hours of content learning how to make a ton of different types of shoes. I have to admit I was a bit puzzled when I saw Sveta had only offered an asymmetric unisex sandal course on her website. The style of them is not for me but I downloaded the classes anyhow just for the learning. However I poked around a bit more and found she had a stand alone class you can buy just to make the patterns for T Strap Sandals. They were the exact shape that I wanted to make so I jumped in and bought it immediately. I went back a day later and found that my membership had expired (it's been 3 months already?!) and then realised I'd only downloaded the first couple of lessons on the asymmetric sandal course so I had no idea how to last my sandal once I made the pattern. I figured I'd watched enough content and absorbed enough of her wisdom to give it a good try so I forged ahead.

I drew my pattern onto my last with a little bit of help from a pair of shoes I have that look a bit like this. Then I pulled off the masking tape and made my pattern following her instructions. I ended up with the pattern pieces you see on the right which I tested out in paper and cardboard to make sure the fit was good. This time around I got to try the pattern on my last and my foot which was reassuring as generally with shoes you don't know what the fit's like until you've finished and put it on your foot.

Once I was sure about the pattern and the placement of the upper on the midsole I cut out my leather. I bought this leather from a fabric destash market a couple of weeks ago. It's really thick, like about 4mm thick, and was difficult to cut and work with but I loved the colour and how sturdy the shoes would be once made so I forged on. It had quite a few imperfections which I couldn't entirely cut around but this was why I was using it in the first place, if the sandals didn't work out I wouldn't have wasted really good leather making these. 

Because I wasn't sure how to last these I puzzled over the order of construction and finishing for a while. As you may be able to tell those midsoles in leather above are enormous. I originally cut them out with a 2cm allowance around all sides to fold the leather around my texon board I use for midsoles. However once I started working with the leather I knew it was going to be impossible to get this thick leather to bend let alone fold around a texon board neatly. So after much thought I decided to leave out the texon board altogether and just have this leather midsole glued straight onto the leather soling which is already extremely stiff. I hoped this would be sturdy enough to feel comfortable and supportive.

Then I faced the conundrum of how to last these sandals. Because I wasn't using a midsole with a covering like I did in my ballet flats I couldn't just hammer nails into the last to shape the leather. That would put holes through my midsoles which would be on show for the life of the shoes. No thanks. But I knew this leather was not going to be wrangled into place just with glue and pliers so I had to work out a solution. I ended up sticking masking tape to the soles and drawing out where the straps would sit and the upper toe part would sit. I nailed the straps onto the last just as they were but I soaked the upper toe part in water so that I could stretch and form it over the last and nail it into the right place so that when it came time to glue them the leather would "remember" where it was meant to go. I was a bit worried abut submerging the leather in water in case this caused any lasting damage to it? Would they dry out and crack in the future? Would the underside be affected and not look how it should because they'd been soaked? The choice was to wet and form them or not make the sandals at all because there was no other way I could think to do it. 

The result was much better than I expected! When I lasted my ballet flats and eased two concave curves into each other I had ripples or folds of leather I had to wrangle into place, nail and glue down and then skive and sand back to get it flat. When I lasted this leather onto the midsole just with glue and pliers it automatically laid flat as you see here - no folds whatsoever. This was great because it meant I had less skiving and sanding to get that layer of leather flat against the midsole once everything dried. Hurrah!

The last step was to glue the soles on and they were done!

So let's talk about how they fit and feel. Firstly they're super comfortable. The width around my joints is perfect and doesn't squish my feet like all other shoes do so that's already a great win. However we need to talk about sandals and lasts. I bought lasts specifically for making flat, closed shoes. They're perfect for making ballet flats, oxfords and ankle boots but they're not designed to make sandals on them. You can make sandals on them but the sandals aren't going to be perfect right from the get-go. A sandal last is wider around the toes so that you're feet lay flat on the midsole and are not being held in by the sides of shoes. The sandal last is also flatter at the toe end of the last to mimic how thick your toes are. I knew all this before I started and I'm ok living with imperfect sandals but I'll point a few things out to you in the below photos so you understand. The biggest reason I got away with this was because my toes are almost completely enclosed so they're being held in place as I walk. However if you look closely you'll see that the open toe part is sitting much higher up than my toes because it's been formed to mimic the shape of a ballet flat toe not a sandal toe. This is much more noticeable in real life than in pictures but I knew it was going to be this way so at least I was expecting it. I believe that sandal lasts are also slightly longer to accommodate the length of your foot as it rests on an open midsole. As you can see my feet literally just fit onto the midsole and could probably do with a tiny bit more length seeing as my feet move very freely in this type of shoe. Again not complaining, I knew this would be the case but it's interesting to notice the difference a last can make on the final pair of shoes.

I'll most likely buy myself a pair of sandal lasts for next spring/summer seeing as it's Australia and I wear open toed shoes for a lot of the year. But for now I'm ok with the limitations of these lasts. These pictures were taken a day after wearing them for the first time so this is 9 hours into their wearing life. As you can see in the photo on the left they're starting to curve up at the sides of the outer foot - it's much more noticeable on my right foot than my left. I'm sure this is because I let the texon board go and it's just two layers of leather glued together. Very stiff and strong leather but leather all the same. I think my next pair of sandals are going to need texon board and maybe even a shank to keep their shape properly for the life of the shoe. I don't just want to make shoes anymore. I want to make shoes that last me years. Part of my shoemaking journey will be about monitoring the wear and tear on them and feeding that back into the making process to ensure I'm focussed on longevity not just how pretty they look.

All in all I'm absolutely stoked with them. I'm amazed every time I look down at my feet and think that I made them with my own hands. The hand stitching looks great, I love the buckle, I love the width of straps I chose and I think the proportions work pretty well for my feet. The proportions aren't perfect but for my first sandal they're far and above what I expected of myself and I can't even begin to tell you how good that feeling is. It's like the beginning of sewing again. I wear them out of the house and wonder if anyone is going to look at them or check that I made them because they look handmade or something. It's a weird feeling.

So what next? I have some black leather calling my name which I was going to turn into another pair of ballet flats. However on passing through Myer yesterday these shoes below caught my eye and now I'm obsessed and can think of no other shoes. I have leather hole punches and an entire course on making oxfords. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Blue Leather Ballet Flats

About 6 months ago I bought a whole hide of leather from The Fabric Store with the dream of turning it into a bag and matching shoes. Here I am today to tell you I'm living that dream.

I blogged about the making of this Leather Tote Bag about 6 months ago when it was hot off the sewing machine. It has since been carried out the house with me every day for 6 months. It's the single most used and loved bag I've ever owned and it's such a great feeling that I made it with my own hands.

As you may know I started a course through ShoeMaking Courses Online at Christmas time and I've been slowly acquiring all the required shoemaking materials to begin learning from Sveta. My lasts arrived around 2 weeks ago and I got stuck straight into her lessons, starting with making a pair of ballet flats. I was so confident after watching all Sveta's lessons that I dove straight into making these shoes from this leather knowing there was no turning back if anything went wrong. I'm so proud to be sharing the successful outcome with you today. FYI there are tons of pictures in this post but it was hard to cull them all down!

Let's start by looking at the shoes and the fit before zooming in on some of the...quirks.

Firstly the fit. They're hugging my feet in all the right places and they're wide enough to completely encompass my flat feet. I mentioned on Instagram that when I originally started shoemaking I had no idea about lasts. This course has an entire class dedicated to lasts, their measurements and measuring lines to make sure you know where to start from. She also includes some charts to work off to make sure you choose a last that's the right size for you. This is when I learnt that even though I generally fit into a size 39 in the shops that is not the size last I should buy. I was in complete denial when I measured my feet and found out I'm actually a size 37. There's NO WAY my hammy feet would fit into a size 37 no matter how much I tried. However the charts also revealed I have the widest feet you can account for without having to buy fully customised lasts. This makes sense seeing as I have wide flat feet. So although I technically went down 2 sizes I went up a whole bunch of sizes in the width and TA DA! Magic.

They're a tiny bit tight at the moment - like that feeling you get when you buy new all leather shoes that need a little breaking in before they fit your feet. Also I learnt in the making of these that I like my shoes to have structure to them, to be firm and support my feet. I knew when I was trying to teach myself to make shoes (see here) that I kept making shoes that felt like slippers and I just wanted them to feel supportive. I really feel like I've achieved that with these shoes. They have the exact amount of flex and support that I like in a shoe. I can't believe my luck really.

You can also see in the photo below how much coverage of my feet they provide. I've spoken before about how I can never cover the sides of my feet because my feet are busy pushing the sides of the shoes under my foot. These shoes are really encasing my feet in a satisfying way. I think I'll fix up the neckline a little to dig out a couple of millimetres around the outsides of my feet but other than that the neckline is pretty spot on.

So let's get into the details of how they've turned out vs. how they're meant to turn out once you're adept at making shoes (which I'm clearly not yet). You can see below that while the neckline is really holding it's shape without a foot in it it's also quite messy. I really tried to topstitch the upper and lining together on my machine around the neckline but my machine just couldn't do it. This means the upper is simply  folded over and glued down and the lining is just glued to it. This is meant to be a bit neater once the stitches are there to hold everything in place. It would also give me a clearer guide of where to snip the lining which is a little hacky looking rather than neat. Something to work on.

I absolutely love the way the sole looks once it's attached. She talks you through skiving the edges so it softly follows the curve of the shoe. However the heel could be attached a lot neater. I'm currently doing all my sanding by hand so it looks quite rough but I think I will buy a dremel at some point so I can get a good, clean, polished edge on the sole and the heel.

You can see below that I accidentally put the right sole (pictured left) on a few millimetres further back than the left. This was a happy accident to find out that if the heel layer hangs out over the sole layer you can sand them back and make them look like they're one piece. However the left sole was put on a few millimetres more forward so I ended up with a gap between the layers that no amount of hammering would bring together. I'm glad I made this mistake on one of them so I could learn for next time.

From this angle you can also see that I left glue on the edges of the shoes when applying the soles. You're meant to rub an eraser over excess glue to get rid of it but that didn't seem to help so I'll be more careful next time and maybe apply masking tape around the edges to make sure it doesn't extend beyond that point.

Also this is just a sensory thing but they make a really satisfying sound when worn. Like they're actual shoes. I love that I've switched to working with veg tan leather for the soles. It's easier to work with and has such a great finish.

All in all I'm super impressed with how much I've learnt. My first attempt was successful because the instructions are couture-like. Detailed, considered but still accessible. I've really learnt just how much each millimetre affects the final shoe and the fit. I was miles away trying to teach myself but I feel like I could make just about anything now.

I have plans to make a pair of ballet flats in black that I can wear to work all the time plus I'm really keen to make sandals before the hot weather ends. Then I'm excited to make boots once the cold weather arrives. So you can imagine my head is spinning with possibilities. Just like the beginning of sewing I'm now only limited by my imagination. It's a wonderful place to be.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Starting with Shoemaking Courses Online - Gathering materials

As promised I'm back talking about Shoemaking!

As you may know I signed up to Shoemaking Courses Online as a Christmas present. I got the Gold Membership for 3 months which allows you access to every course streamed online or downloaded to your computer to watch and refer to later. 

To give you an idea of what shoes she's teaching you to make here is a list: ankle boots, slingback pumps, oxfords, sandals, knee high boots, high heel pumps, ballet flats (leather), ballet flats (fabric), wedge cork sandals, T strap pumps and moccasins. Plus she has specific courses for learning to measure and use lasts, make midsoles, make outsoles, make stacked heels and there are more courses on the way all the time.

I really can't recommend this course highly enough. It's like you're there in the studio of an expert shoemaker getting a bird's eye view of how to make shoes. Plus she talks you through common beginner mistakes as you go so you know what not to do and what to look out for. 

It's not, however, a casual hobby. Making shoes Sveta's way involves specific tools and materials that can be hard to find. So if you're going to learn to make shoes you need to commit. That's why I'm sharing my materials below. I would just love a group of people to learn shoemaking with so I hope this helps in some small way to those who want to give it a go but don't know where to start.

What's missing from this list is good shoemaking glue. I tried to source Klebfest which is non toxic and no odour shoemaking glue but I couldn't get it. It also comes in larger portions branded as Renia Aquilim but I can't seem to get that shipped to Australia. Instead I'm trying different brands of contact cement which are all highly smelly.

I haven't found topline tape that can be shipped to Australia yet. I also haven't decided on what to buy to skive with. I'm currently using my cutting knife to do it which is achievable but it would be better to invest in a tool that's designed to skive.

Materials I'm using which I already have:
- Mineral Turpentine
- Clear plastic bags
- Foam sheet
- Tack hammer
- Cutting Mat
- A3 paper and cardboard
- Masking tape 5cm width
- Pacer
- Compass
- Eraser
- Metal ruler

I think that's it in the way of materials. I started following the lessons a week and a half ago and if you're following along on Instagram you might have seen the below pictures. I've learnt to make my own ballet flat pattern based on the shape of my last. I've cut the leather and lining, skived it, reinforced it and glued it together. I've prepared the patterns for the midsole, counters and toe puffs, cut them out and I began lasting my first shoe on the last today.

It's hugely detailed work and every millimetre is well considered to ensure the right end result. I'm really enjoying the pace of it as I'm learning so much at each step.

With any luck I should have finished wearable ballet flats within a week - woohoo!