Making shoes is such a fun and rewarding DIY project, whether you're looking to create a unique pair of shoes for yourself or start your own shoe-making business. While making shoes and boots requires a few basic hand tools and materials, it’s much easier than you’d first think and definitely something that anyone can learn from home, with a little practice and patience!
No matter the style; whether it’s a pair of sandals, boots, or anything in between, there’s a simple formula involved in making a pair of shoes from scratch which I thought I’d share with you…
Before making any style of shoe, you’ll first need a pair of shoemaking lasts. These are moulds or forms which we use to make shoes on (the shoemaker’s equivalent of a dressmaker’s mannequin). The use of lasts is a critical part of the shoemaking process because they help ensure that the shoe fits correctly and is comfortable to wear. The last determines the shape and size of the shoe, as well as the length, width, and height of the heel.
Shoemaking uppers are the part of a shoe that covers the top and sides of the foot. They are typically made from leather or other materials that have been stitched or glued together The design of shoemaking uppers can vary widely depending on the desired style and function of the shoe. Some shoe styles require fairly straightforward designs (such as sandals and slippers) whereas others may require more complex uppers with intricate designs e.g. boots. The choice of materials can also have a significant impact on the look and feel of the shoe, with leather being a popular choice for its durability, flexibility, and aesthetic appeal. Once wrapped around the last, the uppers are then attached to the insole board.
Depending on the type of shoe you’re making, you may have flat insole, a mid-height insole, or a high-heel insole. It doesn’t matter what kind of insole board you have, as long as it matches the pitch of your last. (The pitch of a shoe refers to the angle between the heel and the sole of the shoe). The insoles serve as the innermost layer of the shoe that comes into direct contact with the foot. At this part of the shoemaking process, you will want to make sure that the insoles are covered in your material of choice.
We use two main types of stiffeners in shoemaking, the first being ‘toe puffs’ which helps reinforce the shape of the toe box area of the shoe, particularly for shoes that have a pointed or curved toe. The second being ‘counter stiffeners’ which provide structure and support to the back part of the shoe, particularly for shoes that have a closed back or high heels. Counter stiffeners also provide additional support to the foot.
If you’re making a strappy sandal or an open-toed shoe, more often than not, you just won’t need a pair of stiffeners at all.
The sole is pretty self-explanatory, it’s what goes on the bottom of the shoe and hits the ground when you walk. Before attaching a sole, you’ll need to make sure that you have a nice flat surface on the base of your shoes for the sole to stick to. You can do this by cutting down the leather on the base using scissors or a very handy tool called a ‘safety beveller’ (this can be found in our shoemaker’s tool kit). There are a few different materials you could use for the soles but we typically use resin soling as it’s easy to cut and sand to achieve a smooth finish. Soles are attached to the bottom of shoes using solvent-based shoemaking glue.
Soles can vary in thickness and shape, depending on the specific style and intended function of the shoe. For example, athletic shoes often have thick, cushioned soles to provide shock absorption and support during physical activity, while dress shoes may have thin, leather soles for a sleek, polished look. If you’re making a pair of flat shoes, you may want to build up a little heel tip, just go give a little bit of lift off the ground
Unless you are making a pair of flat shoes, at this point, you’ll need to attach a pair of heels. The heel is typically made of a sturdy, durable material such as plastic or wood. Heels help to distribute weight evenly across the foot and promote proper posture and alignment. They can also play an important aesthetic role, adding height and creating a more flattering silhouette for the wearer.
Some heels may be ready to attach straight to the shoe whereas others may need covering in your material of choice before attaching. The heel gets drilled in through the pre-covered insole board and that’s what attaches it to the main body of the shoe. Most heels come with a heel tip, which must be attached at this stage.
7. Insole sock
The insole sock or ‘insock’ is an additional layer of material that is added to the insole of the shoe, covering up any screw holes that we may have from drilling in the heels. Insocks also provide additional cushioning and support to the foot, and can also help to improve the fit and comfort of the shoe. You can download our free PDF insole sock pattern here.
And that’s it! Each and every type of shoe has a lot more steps to it but they are all made up of the same core instructions and that is how you make a shoe!
learn shoemaking for yourself
I created a free 40-minute online course called 'Introduction to Shoemaking' to show how easy home shoemaking can be and to give you a little taste of what I Can Make Shoes is all about.
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If you are wanting to dive a little deeper into the world of home shoemaking, my online Footwear Masterclass is one of the most popular shoemaking courses in the world!! 🌍 (Casual brag! lol) The course covers how to make shoes from scratch including heels, flats, boots, sneakers, sandals, and more. The thing that really sets this course apart from others is that it's specifically designed for total beginners and requires very little in the way of tools & equipment, there's even a bonus module on how to start your own shoe brand.
To make getting started even easier, the course comes with a FREE Shoemaking Starter Kit, delivered to your door, anywhere in the world! 🌍
We are a tight community and regularly limit our intake to ensure the best experience for our students - so if our enrolment is closed I would recommend you sign up for our FREE Introduction to Shoemaking course while you wait.
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