The moment of truth finally arrived, and I know the suspense must be killing you (it was certainly killing me)- but I have good news! The shoes fit!
Not only do they fit, but by all accounts they look almost entirely normal and not at all like they were wrought into existence in a small apartment in central Auckland by someone who’d never made shoes before!
Friends, I made shoes, and I can wear them! I’m equal parts surprised and elated that this worked out so well for a first effort - sure, there are loads of things I want to improve next time, but the fact of the matter is that I, from start to finish, made a pair of shoes and can now wear them! In fact, I’ve now worn them about 12 days in a row! (I did swap them here and there for parts of days, but my aim is to give them a very thorough test run, and that is certainly happening!
But first - let’s catch up. When we last spoke, My shoes were still in their lasts, and there was one additional bit of drama I ended up needing to overcome before I could wear my precious new shoes. As I was removing the lasts (thankfully made fairly easy by the side zipper) - one of the heels popped right off the shoe! I am glad this didn’t happen when I was actually wearing them! Apparently, the contact cement didn’t adhere well at all to the tread side of the rubber I’d run up the sole (remember I wanted that black line at the top of the heel?) so I cut a little window in the center of the rubber, filled it with more scrap leather, and re-glued it like that. The advantage of the leather is that it’s porous, so it gave the heel a better surface to adhere to than the rubber. I also (as planned) added several nails from the top of the heel, and it seems, so far at least, like this was enough to permanently attach the heel. I pried the other heel off (it was suspiciously easy!) and did the same thing on the other side.
Unfortunately, that little adventure put me a day behind being able to wear my finished shoes - but hey, better to wait a day and not have the heels falling off!
Last step was to cut a foam foot shape for the inside of the shoe. Initially, I just slipped the foam inside and tried it on (to check the padding) and was so completely infatuated with them that I didn’t take them off for the rest of the day! I wore them like that for a few days, but the foam kept slipping around inside the shoe (especially when I took the shoes off) so I glued a few layers of foam to the arch area, and then glued the padded layer to the bottom of the shoe. Not only does this make for a very comfy shoe, it also protects the insole board, which is not particularly abrasion resistant.
Finally, I sprayed them with the NZ equivalent of Scotch-Gard - a clear waterproofing spray for suede, so the water just rolls right off of them. The shoelaces were a lucky find, too - Jon had gone shopping a few weeks prior and bought a pair of shoes with grey laces, and these laces came spare in the box! If he needs new laces, I’ll buy him some, but the color match was too perfect to pass up!
My shoes’ first day out was a trip to the Zoo for Jon’s birthday - It was a LOT of walking and I am so pleased with how well they held up! I will absolutely admit to rather constantly checking they still looked alright, but nothing terribly dramatic happened and my feet were very comfy all day as well!
I have thoroughly enjoyed the looks of surprise I’ve been getting from people when I tell them I made these shoes - although for the particularly curious ones I end up taking a shoe off so they can look at it up close, which is still a silly experience! With anything I’ve made, I always find the questions that pop into people’s heads to ask really interesting - with these shoes the most common questions seem to be around the soles - what are they made of, what are the layers - and how I made the rand, because it looks like real stitching!
I am, of course, already plotting the next pair. I’ve chosen a particularly difficult patent leather to challenge myself a bit more, and the only thing that’s holding me up now is deciding whether I’d like another flat pair using this last, or if I’d like to try a 1” heel instead. I will keep you posted!
For my next pair, there are definitely some things I want to work on. Here’s a bit of a list of the things that are not quite perfect about this pair:
The heel darts on the uppers! They’re crooked! It’s a really hard thing to notice when they’re on, and I can’t feel it if I’m wearing them, but gosh darn it I messed something up somewhere in the pattern and those heel darts aren’t centered. At least they’re symmetrically crooked. It’s really obvious in the photo right above - but interestingly as I wear them more, the ankle area is moulding to my foot a bit more so those wrinkles have nearly vanished. Leather is so cool!
The ankle opening is a bit narrow. I narrowed it on purpose compared to my inspiration shoe, because it was always loose (snow used to fall in, though I don’t think I’d have that problem here!) - but I think I may have over-narrowed by about 2cm. Also not noticeable to wear, especially since the leather is shaping so well to my foot with wear, but I can tell because I calculated for a 1cm gap between the two sides of the uppers at the front (under the shoelace) and the actual gap when I’m wearing them is about 3cm. It causes a tiny bit of distortion, but really nothing any normal human would notice. Just me.
Heat gun! I did my thermoplastic heel counters and toe puffs (almost entirely successfully, I might add) with a hair dryer to heat them up, but a heat gun would have been a heck of a lot quicker and easier, and I wouldn’t have ended up with that one ripply spot right on the top of the right shoe’s toe. Also, I suspect a heat gun would have allowed for a smoother lasted edge - you can’t tell with the rand and everything, but my feather edges are not quite perfect.
The smoothness of the sole edges. I (rather fortuitously) now have access to a full wood shop, including a belt sander, which is going to make future soles a lot easier, but this one, cut only with the utility knife and buffed by hand with some sandpaper, is definitely one of the rougher parts of the shoe. I could also use a dremel, but mine is currently a bit sad about life, and I need to fix it before I can use it.
Small wrinkles at the base edges of the tongue where it meets the vamp. I suspect this is due to not clipping enough at these edges when I was constructing the upper, and oddly enough they completely disappear when the shoe is on my foot, but I can see them when it’s off and they bother me, so I’m going to have to do some research to figure out how they ended up there and how to prevent it from happening on a future pair.
The lining. The weight of the lining leather was perfect, but I now understand why people usually use pigskin for linings. The lining leather is pretty slick, and until I got the padding in the bottom juuuuust right, my foot ‘sloshed’ around in there a bit. Suede, I think, would help it stay in place. I intend to use pigskin to line all future pairs, not only for the suede grip, but also because pigskin is about $3.34 per square foot, and the leather I chose for this lining was about $9 per square foot. I’m going to save the rest of that leather for a project where it will be visible, as it is a really nice piece of leather!
Overall - even with that list of places there is room for improvement - I just cannot explain how excited I am that these shoes are wearable! I certainly would be very nervous to have any expert shoemakers looking at them - there are probably things wrong with them that I don’t even know about! That said, though - they’re mine, and I made them, and now I can say ‘yep, even the shoes!’ when people say “Really? You made everything you’re wearing?” and although that’s not the point of the shoes, it is definitely frosting on the cake.