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Shoe Making 101: A shoe is born

Louis soles cover the sole and heel.

This week we return to my shoe making journey that is coming to an end and my shoe is born. With heels fixed we attached our soles. These are known as Louis soles as they cover the bottom of the shoe and wrap around the inside of the heel. The shoe is then finished with a heel cap.



I’d like to take a short aside here to note that I chose a kitten heel which is about 2″. The heel height is determined by the last, but you can push the height a bit giving you a range of heel options. My last was made for about at 3″ heel. My choice of 2″ heel gives my shoe more toe spring, meaning the toe angles up a bit. I personally like the look and feel of a bit more toe spring so this is a win for me.

shoes complete
A shoe is born

With the lasting complete, we can take a good look at my pumps and see how I fared. You can really see the metallic leather wrinkling. That leather just did not want to become a shoe! This was a great lesson for me about hides and leathers. There are so many places where leather can go wrong. The animal could have had a poor hide. The tanning process could have contributed. The finishing process (adding the metallic) could have contributed. I was too far down the road in a structured class to fix it, so I will wear them proudly. I don’t think anyone will be on the floor checking them out that closely.

So ends this shoe making journey and my time in Ashland, Oregon with Bonney & Wills. I can’t wait to get into my studio and practice.


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Shoe Making 101- Lasting

One of the hardest things we learned was lasting. I definitely need some practice with this. Between my carpal tunnel and tools that just didn’t fit my hand, I was flummoxed. I am happy to say that Bill also had a tough time lasting my shoes too, so I didn’t feel defeated. In fact, I came right home and prepared a last for practice. Then life got in the way…Maybe this week!

3 even toe pulls
3 even toe pulls

Lasting is the method of connecting the upper to the insole, sole and heel. In essence, the upper is pulled around the last very tightly and secured to the insole. It is where the shoe takes real form. Bill’s trick to getting the last right is to do 3 big pulls around the toe. You can get most of the excess in these 3 pulls.



One of the first 3 pulls
Toe pull one.

Lasting itself is quite difficult. You have to hold the shoe firmly against your thigh. Then you must pull the leather tightly around the last and hold it with your non-dominant hand. With your dominant hand, you have to insert a tack and then knock it in with your hammer without holding it. It is a foreign and uncomfortable process. I think it will take some real practice to get it and get comfortable doing it.



smoothing the pleats
Smoothing the pleats

As I’ve noted, my leather didn’t want to be shoes, so Bill suggested I use a leather guide strip to help flatten the pleats on the edge. Since you are tacking through the thicker strip, your shoe leather is less susceptible to tack holes that may be too close to the edge.




Leveling cord for the sole
Leveling cork for the sole

After lasting the upper, we prepared our heels. We roughed them up, glued and trimmed the leather. Then they were screwed and/or nailed to the shoe. We removed the lasting tacks and lastly we added some rough cork to the bottom to even it out for the final soling.

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Shoe Making 101- The Toe Puff

toe ready for reinforcement
Ready for reinforcement!

Each of our shoe designs needed various reinforcements throughout the making process. Mine needed tape between the liner and upper around the top line and the heel. ALL of our design needed reinforcement in the toe box, so enter the toe puff. The idea is similar to using interfacing in apparel. It is placed around the toe between the liner and upper to provide shape and support in the same way one might add interfacing at a collar, cuff or armhole.



placing and shaping the toe puff
Place and shape the toe puff firmly.
shaping the toe puff tightly
Shaping the toe puff tightly

The toe puff is a basic toe shape that is impregnated with heat activated adhesive. We placed them in a toaster oven to activate the substance and then placed and shaped the reinforcement over the lining. We worked quickly to get them placed and set without wrinkles. The adhesive sets fairly quickly so you have to place it properly the first time and then quickly shape it around the toe.



shaping the toe puff part one
Shaping the toe puff-watch the wrinkles

For those just learning and less adept at the first try, there is a way to remove them and start again. One thing about the entire process is that it is fairly forgiving. Many things are reinforced with glue which can be removed with solvent.




gluing toe puff
Gluing the upper to the toe puff.
trimming the toe puff
Trimming the toe puff
toe glue part 2
Gluing the upper to liner.

Next the puff is trimmed on the underside of the shoe. It is always important to trim to reduce bulk and increase comfort. Finally, the upper is glued to the puff and then stretched around the toe and glued to the liner.

All set and reinforced! The shoe is really taking shape. Next up is my nemesis –  LASTING!



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Shoe Making 101-the Pump insole

The insole is an extremely important part for the fit of the shoe. Most shoe makers buy the pre-made insole that goes with their chosen last, not Bill. A pump traditionally includes a structural support spanning from the heel through the arch. Most often that structure is provided with a metal insert, but we learned how to do this with fiberglass.


The process begins with an insole component that runs the full length of the shoe with an insole board that spans from the heel to the curve of the sole. These components will eventually be covered. You are viewing the side that will be inside the shoe.




cutting fiberglass
Cutting the fiberglass
prepping for heat
Prepping for heat

Next we cut the fiberglass and prepared it. With our insole tacked to our lasts. This consisted of cutting the fiberglass, connecting it to the insoles with epoxy and adding foil to protect the insole from the heat gun. Restaurant grade foil was stapled onto the insole from the edge of the fiberglass out.




shoe at ther ready
Shoe at the ready
heating fiberglass
Heat applied to activate fiberglass

Our last step was to heat activate the fiberglass to bend it to the insole shape. This took several minutes. When done the insole and lasts were wrapped with elastic and left to cure to hold the shape. Note-several of our fiberglass pieces didn’t take, most likely from a faulty mix of epoxy. In these cases (mine was one) a metal shaft was used for the sake of time. So I have on shoe with the fiberglass shaft and one with the metal.