Create Space Adelaide

How to adjust your sandal pattern so it fits your feet perfectly

Create Space Adelaide

One of the best things about learning to make your own shoes is that you can make sure they fit you perfectly. And as you'll see below it's not difficult to do!

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Just like the shoes that you can buy ready-to-wear in the shops, our shoe patterns are based on a set of standard shoe sizes. While some of us may be lucky enough to fit into those sizes exactly, many more of us are going to need to make some minor adjustments to get the perfect fit (in much the same way that many of us need to make adjustments to sewing patterns to get a good fit when making our own clothes). To work out what adjustments, if any, you might need to make, just follow the 3 steps below:

STEP 1. MEASURE THE LENGTH OF YOUR FOOT

To do this, place a blank piece of paper on a hard surface (such as tiles or floorboards, not carpet), and then stand on it. Trace around your foot, making sure to keep your pencil vertical as you do this (if you find this awkward to do, ask a friend or family member to help you). Then use a ruler or tape measure to measure the length of your foot from the back of your heel to the end of your longest toe. 

By checking this measurement against the sizing table in your pattern instructions, you will be able to choose the size of pattern to work with (and be aware that this could be different to your normal ready-to-wear size - it's important you choose your pattern size based only on the length of your foot).

STEP 2. CHECK THE WIDTH OF YOUR FOOT

Now you need to check whether you need to make any alterations to the width of your pattern. To do this, print a copy of the pattern size you identified in the previous step (remember to print at 'actual size'/100%). Place the page (do not cut the pattern out yet) onto a hard surface and stand on it, positioning your foot so that it sits as centrally as possible on the insole pattern. The ends of your toes and the back of your heel should be inside the pattern outline.

Now check whether or not the ball of your foot and the width of your heel also fit within the insole outline. If your foot fits neatly within the outline, you won't need to make any alterations to your insole pattern and you can move on to Step 3. 

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If there is any part of your foot that is touching the paper outside the insole outline, mark that area on your pattern. (Remember it is only the parts of your foot that are touching the paper that are relevant to this step.) Take your foot off the paper and then adjust your insole outline so that you have a nice smooth outline that encompasses your whole foot.

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You will also need to adjust the positioning of any slots that are in the area where you have widened (or narrowed) the insole. You can see in the example above that the insole was widened slightly near the joint under the big toe. This meant that the lower part of the strap slot also needed to be moved. (You can see the changes highlighted in the image above.)

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You then need to transfer any adjustments you made to your insole outline to your sole pattern outline. Now you're ready to move onto Step 3.

STEP 3. CHECK YOUR STRAP LENGTHS

The final step to ensuring you make a well-fitting shoe is to check the length of your straps.

To do this, use your new adjusted insole pattern to cut out your actual leather insole (your pattern instructions will guide you in doing this). Then cut out your strap pattern pieces.

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Put the paper strap through the slots in your insole and hold them in place using masking tape on the underside of the insole. Try it on and adjust the length of the straps as necessary. When you are happy with their position, mark the new strap placement line on your pattern piece. 

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It is also important at this stage to measure the length of strap that is folded under the insole (known as lasting allowance). The pattern is drafted to have 2cm lasting allowance on each end of the straps. If you have less than that after adjusting the position of your straps, you will need to add extra to the length of your strap pattern. In the example shown above, 1/2cm has been added to each end of the strap. 

If you are making the Brighton Sandals, it is also worth checking the length of the ankle strap pattern piece. You will find instructions for doing that in your pattern booklet. Similarly, if you are making any of our other sandal patterns, I recommend working through this process for all straps before cutting into your leather.

You are now ready to cut out your upper leather (or faux leather) and make a great fitting pair of sandals!

Tips for sewing leather on your regular home sewing machine

Create Space Adelaide

Have you wondered about how to sew leather at home without an industrial machine? 

The good news is you don't need one - using the tips I'm sharing with you below, a regular home sewing machine should work just fine for the thicknesses of leather that we'll be using to make shoes and accessories (I should note here that I'm talking about the sewing you'll do to create your leather clutch, sandal straps or shoe uppers - not insoles or soling).

And if you're looking for step-by-step guidance to help you get started on your first leather sewing project, try our downloadable Learn How to Sew Leather tutorial.

 

Use a leather needle

leather needles

The first thing you'll need to do to prepare your machine is to install a needle that has been designed specifically for sewing leather. They should be available at your local haberdashery, craft store or sewing store, and come in a variety of sizes (the ones I use are 100/16). The end of the needle is shaped differently to regular needles (it's often described as being spear shaped) to help it pierce cleanly through the leather. It's a good idea to change your needle regularly so that you're not working with a blunt needle.

 

Try changing your sewing machine foot

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I have to admit that I don't actually use a special foot when sewing leather at home, just my normal basic presser foot and it works just fine. However, if you find that the leather feels like it's sticking a bit to your presser foot or isn't feeding through properly, there are a couple of options you can try that may help. 

Firstly, you could try a teflon foot. These are sometimes also referred to as a non-stick foot or an ultra-glide foot. They normally have a white appearance and being made of (or coated with) teflon they allow the leather (or faux leather, pvc and similar textiles) to glide through without sticking to the foot. 

Secondly, you could try a roller foot. Depending on the brand you're using it may be plastic, metal or a combination of the two. The rollers (there are normally three - one larger one at the front and two smaller ones towards the back) help to control the movement of the leather and guide it under the foot as you sew. 

Thirdly, you could try a walking foot (pictured above). Sometimes called an even-feed foot, this one has its own feed dogs that work in combination with the machine's feed dogs to grip the leather from both the top and bottom and feed it through the machine evenly as you sew. 

 

Use a polyester or nylon thread

The type of thread you use in your machine is also important when sewing leather. Polyester (regular or upholstery)  or nylon threads are most commonly used for this purpose. I was taught not to use cotton thread, however, as it can be affected by tannins in the leather and may perish as a result over time. 

 

Use a long stitch length

It is a good idea to use a large stitch length when sewing leather. I set my machine at 4 which is its longest stitch length, but that may vary on your machine - just try to ensure your stitch is at least 3-4mm long. Shorter stitches can perforate the leather causing it to tear. 

 

Hold your leather in place without pins

Although pins are commonly used in sewing to hold the layers of fabric you're sewing together, they are not suitable to use with leather - any holes you make in leather, including those from pins, are permanent. Instead, you can use fold back clips or binder clips to hold your layers of leather together. Just make sure that there are no sharp edges on them that will cut or scratch your leather (it's a good idea to try them out on a scrap of leather first). 

Alternatively, you can use double sided tape to hold your layers of leather together. While you can use this in long strips, multiple short pieces spaced several centimetres apart also work fine. Just make sure not to place them directly under your stitching line as the glue on the tape can get caught on the needle and be fed into your machine which isn't a good idea.

 

Secure thread ends with a knot

When sewing leather it's best to secure the threads at the beginning and end of each row of stitching by tying them in a knot (as opposed to backstitching if you're used to doing that when you sew with fabric). Sewing back and forth over one piece of leather as you do in backstitching can cause perforation and potential tearing or splitting in the leather. 

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Also, to help you get a nice smooth start to each row of stitching, you can hold the loose ends of thread at the beginning of the row with your left hand (hold them slightly taught and out towards the back left) just until you're a few stitches into the row, then you can let them go and allow the machine to feed your leather through as you continue, with your hands guiding the leather as you would if you were sewing with any other fabric.

 

Take your time

Finally, just remember to take your time and concentrate on sewing accurately. Unlike sewing with regular fabric, sewing with leather can't just be unpicked and re-done without leaving holes from the original line of stitching. By being careful and taking your time you're much more likely to achieve a result you're really happy with. 

I hope these tips help you feel more confident about sewing with leather. If you have any questions please feel free to get in touch. And if you're looking for a fun project to practice your leather sewing skills, the basic leather clutch (pictured above) is a great first project. It only involves straight sewing and a simple zip insertion, and our pattern booklet gives you detailed, fully photographed instructions to guide you step by step as you make your first leather bag. 

Or if you're looking for something a bit different, try the Brighton Sandals - the strap uppers and lining are sewn together on a regular home sewing machine so it's a great chance for you to put these tips into action, and you'll get to enjoy the satisfaction of wearing your very own pair of handmade summer sandals!

What to look for when buying leather

Create Space Adelaide

It can be pretty overwhelming walking into a leather store and seeing so many different colours, thicknesses and types of leather to choose from. To help make it a little easier for you, I have listed 5 questions below for you to ask yourself next time you're trying to choose which piece of leather to buy:

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1. What type of leather is recommended in the tutorial/pattern/project instructions? 

There are two main categories of leather that you will use in shoe and accessory making - chrome tanned and vegetable tanned leather. The names obviously refer to the tanning process (the process through which an animal skin is preserved). Leather tanned using chromium salts (hence the name chrome tanned leather) tends to be softer, more supple and more flexible than veg tanned leather, and is available in a wide variety of colours, prints and finishes (some of which you can see in the photo at the top of this post). These characteristics make it very useful for making shoe uppers, bags and other accessories.

Leather tanned using plant matter (known as veg or vegetable tanned leather) tends to be stiffer than its chrome tanned counterpart and is generally a light tan colour. It can be dyed, stamped and carved.  It can be used to make stiffer bags and belts, and in shoemaking is suitable for insoles, toe and heel stiffeners and even soling (although this is a special version of veg tanned leather that has been compressed to make it strong enough for soling). 

Another option is faux leather, sometimes called pleather. This is a synthetic alternative to leather. It is generally sold on bolts (like fabric) so you can purchase the specific length you need (whereas leather is usually sold per skin or half skin with the actual amounts varying depending on the size of the animal it came from). 

 

2. how strong is the leather?

The strength of a piece of leather, and therefore what items it is suitable to make from it, can vary according to the animal whose skin was used to make the leather. The most commonly used leathers in shoe and accessory making are from cows as they are generally quite strong. Kangaroo skins can also be used in footwear as they are very strong, but they are less readily available. Sheep skins tend to be softer and not as strong so this type of leather is often used for linings. You may also see sheep skins where the wool has been left on - these can be used for sheepskin boots and slippers. Faux leather varies greatly in strength, so you need to feel it, try stretching it, and see how it moves, much as you would if you were selecting a piece of fabric for a sewing project.  

 

3. What thickness of leather is recommended in the pattern?

Just as fabrics come in different weights/thicknesses (for example, cotton drill is a heavier weight fabric than cotton voile), leather too comes in different thicknesses and it is important to know which thickness is appropriate for your project. Obviously, thicker leathers tend to provide more structure to the item you are making whereas thinner leathers tend to drape more. Depending on where you are purchasing your leather, you may find the thickness indicated in millimetres, inches or irons.

 

4. Does the leather have any markings on it?

When you are shopping for leather, it is worth examining the skin you are considering to see if there are any obvious markings that will interfere with the look of the item you are making. The types of marks you might find are scars from scratches or bites, or in some cases even branding marks. Think about where your pattern pieces might fit on that particular piece of leather, and whether or not you can work around any obvious marks, or perhaps even use them as part of your overall design (having marks on your leather item isn't necessarily a problem, it's just a matter of personal preference). This shouldn't be an issue for faux leather, but it always pays to check the piece you're buying to make sure there are no faults in the fabric. 

 

5. Does the appearance of the leather fit the overall look you are trying to achieve?

Finally, and this may seem pretty obvious, ask yourself if the piece of leather you are considering suits the look and feel of the item you are planning to make. Does the colour, texture and/or pattern on the leather fit the look and feel you are wanting? Remember that any thicknesses or other characteristics suggested in the pattern are only recommendations, and while they are recommended for a reason it is also okay to vary from that slightly if the leather you like or have available is slightly different. There is usually a way to work around the effect a different leather will have on the construction and functionality of the item you're making. Similarly, if you would prefer to use faux leather for your project, just look for a piece that has characteristics as close as possible to the type of leather recommended for the project, as well as having a look and feel that you like. 

 

Hopefully thinking through each of these five questions will help you purchase the perfect piece of leather for your next project. And remember, if you have any questions please just let me know. 

Where to buy shoemaking supplies

Create Space Adelaide

While many of the tools, supplies and materials you'll use to make your own shoes and accessories can be purchased from your local craft or hardware stores, there are some items that will need to be obtained from more specialised suppliers. Below is a list of some of the suppliers I have purchased products from. Please note that I don't have affiliate links with any of these companies. I am just listing them to help you find materials and supplies you can use to enjoy making your own shoes and accessories at home.

 

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Leffler Leather:

You can purchase most of what you'll need from Leffler Leather including leather, tools, adhesive including Renia Aquilim), hardware, soling and more. You can visit their warehouse in person (171 Kensington Road, West Melbourne VIC 3003), phone them (1800 337 006) or order online (www.leffler.com.au).

 

D.S. Horne:

This shop sells leather, hardware, adhesive and tools (including the Tandy range). While you can view some of their products online (www.dshorne.com.au), you will need to phone them (08 8261 7377), email (info@dshorne.com.au) or visit in person (113 Muller Road, Hampstead Gardens SA 5086) to purchase your items. They're happy to deliver Australia wide.

 

Adelaide Leather and Saddlery Supplies:

You will find a large range of hardware for shoe and bag making in this store as well as some leather, tools and other supplies. You can purchase online (www.adelaideleather.com.au), phone (08 8410 9313) or visit in person (221 Waymouth Street, Adelaide SA 5000).

 

Tandy Leather:

This online store (www.tandyleather.com.au) sells many of the products you'll use to make your shoes and accessories, including leather, tools, hardware, adhesive and more. 

 

Algeos

This UK store sells a range of supplies used for making footwear, including soling materials, adhesives (including Renia Aquilim) and hardware. Although they mostly supply the podiatry, orthotics, prosthetics and physiotherapy industries, they will also sell to the public. You can register to purchase on their website (www.algeos.com), call (0151 448 1228) or email (sales@algeos.com). 

 

S & K Leathergoods & Fittings

This shop has a large range of fittings/hardware for shoe and bag making, as well as other items such as elastics. Although they have a website (www.skfittings.co.uk), it's best to visit in person (Unit GB, Leroy House, 436 Essex Road, London N1 3QP), email (info@skfittings.co.uk) or call (020 7354 4435), and they are happy to ship around the world.

 

JT Batchelor

If you are in London this is a great source of leather, tools and hardware for shoe and accessory making. They are located at 9-10 Culford Mews, Islington London N1 4DZ in a cobbled back street just off Balls Pond Road, without a typical shopfront. You can also call on 020 7254 2962.

 

What glues can I use for making shoes?

Create Space Adelaide

The question above is one of the most common questions I am asked by people who are wanting to make their own shoes at home, and understandably so given that the glues most often used in industry are generally only available through specialty suppliers (as well as being highly toxic). However, there are options that are accessible for people wanting to make their own shoes at home, as I'll share with you below.

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Firstly though, I need to clarify that my comments below relate to a particular method of shoemaking known as cement lasting or cement construction. This simply means that glue (cement) is used to attach the sole to the shoe upper. It is the method I was trained in, and therefore the approach to shoemaking that I use. There are other methods of shoemaking that use different types of glue or even no glue at all, but the information presented here relates to the cement construction method. 

So let's begin with a glue that you are probably quite familiar with - PVA (common brand names include Aquadhere and Elmer's). It's the white glue that dries clear, and is commonly used for crafts and woodworking, and is often found in schools. When you look at the label on a PVA glue bottle you're likely to see leather and fabric among the list of materials it is suitable for glueing, and this is true - you can use PVA for glueing two pieces of leather together. For example, you could use it to glue the upper and lining straps together when making a pair of sandals. You just need to remember to lightly sand the surfaces you are glueing together so that the glue can adhere properly to the leather (this is necessary regardless of which type of glue you use, otherwise the smooth waxy surface of the leather can prevent the glue from achieving a strong bond). However, this type of glue is NOT strong enough to permanently attach insoles to your straps or shoe upper, or to attach your soles (even when your insoles and/or soles are made from leather). PVA can be found in your local craft or hardware store. 

The glue I was trained to use, and which is widely used in industry, is called contact cement (sometimes also called neoprene). This type of glue is only available through specialist suppliers. It does provide a very strong bond, but is also highly toxic so I no longer use it. If you do choose to use contact cement, it is extremely important that you follow the manufacturer's instructions, use it in an open, well-ventilated area, and wear a protective mask or respirator designed to protect you from chemical fumes. If you are pregnant, or might be, do NOT use contact cement.

Because of its toxicity I was keen to find an alternative to contact cement, and I now use a waterbased adhesive called Renia Aquilim. It's available from Leffler in Australia (product code RNAQU500) or Algeos in the UK (product code RA1167). It is made specifically for bonding materials used in making shoes, prosthetics and orthotics. It has been effective for me in providing a strong bond for attaching leather uppers to leather lining, leather straps to leather insoles, and leather insoles to resin soling. It does take a little longer to dry than typical contact cements, but it is definitely worth it to me to not have to be exposed to the toxic fumes of regular contact cements.

The instructions for using the different glues can vary so it is important that you need to read the label of your glue carefully and follow the instructions it gives you when making your shoes.

I hope this has helped to answer some of your questions regarding shoemaking glues, but if you're still unclear about something or you have any other questions regarding shoemaking, then please email me and I'll do my best to help.

6 basic shoemaking tools

Create Space Adelaide

Although there are many tools and specialised pieces of equipment or machinery that can be used when making shoes, you'll be happy to know that very few are needed to get started making your own shoes at home. 

If you would like to put your own beginner's shoemaking toolkit together, here are six basic tools to get you started:

 

1. Protective gear (mask/respirator and safety goggles)

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Wearing a well-fitted mask or respirator is important to protect you from the dust, particles and fumes that you may be exposed to when making your own shoes. Your local hardware store should stock a variety of masks and respirators - make sure to choose one that protects you from both fumes and dust (a basic dust mask is NOT sufficient). You should also make sure to protect your eyes. Your local hardware store should stock safety goggles suitable for this purpose. 

 

 2. A utility knife

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With its blades changed regularly so that it is always sharp, a utility knife works very well for cutting out your leather and soling materials. For thicker substances such as veg tanned leather and soling, you may need to run your knife along the cutting line several times. Just be patient with it, and remember to always cut parallel to your body (not towards yourself, in case the knife slips). Utility knives can normally be found in hardware and craft shops.

 

3. A cutting mat

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If you sew or do other crafts, you possibly already have a self-healing cutting mat among your supplies. If not, they are available at most crafting and sewing supply shops. The mat will protect the surface you are working on when cutting out your leather or soling. 

 

4. A hole punch

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You can purchase individual hole punches that each cut a different sized hole and require a hammer to punch them. However, a rotary punch is a great alternative for most purposes, enabling you to punch holes in a variety of sizes using just the one piece of equipment. You can also use the hole punch in combination with your utility knife to cut slots for sandal straps. Basic rotary punches are available at most hardware and craft stores.

 

5. A glueing brush

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Any basic craft or painting brush will work for applying glue. I normally use one that has bristles approximately 1.5cm wide, but whatever size you find comfortable to work with and have available is fine. Be aware that the glue can ruin your brush, so choose one that you're not going to want to use for another purpose afterwards. 

 

6. Sandpaper

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It's useful to have a couple of grades of sandpaper in your shoemaking toolkit. A rougher grade can be used to prepare leather and soling for glueing, and a finer grade sandpaper helps to smooth and give a nice finish to the edges of your insoles and soles. 

 

While there are many other tools that you could use in shoemaking, the basic tools listed above really are enough to get you started making your own shoes at home, and they should all be readily availably at your local craft, sewing or hardware store. Happy shoemaking!