Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Expanding Shoes

I made this pair of shoes for my mother, who is having trouble with swelling feet. These shoes will fit her no matter what the current state of the swelling.  I started with Ghillies for inspiration, but the resulting shoe is very different.

The tools for this project are very simple, there is no sewing involved.  I picked up an ordinary hardware store knife with replaceable razor blades.  The punch is from my mini punch set.  (If using a wider lace you may need a wider punch from the maxi punch set or an oval punch.)  The wooden mallet is from my Basic Leathercraft Kit.  A rawhide mallet would be better.  You can use an ordinary hammer, but will shorten the life of your punches.  I also used a pair of ordinary scissors for cutting the masking tape and finishing lines scored with the knife.  The knife is more useful than the scissors when transferring patterns, as you can keep the leather flat while you cut.  My punching surface is a heavy piece of stone tile, covered with a cutting board, covered with a piece of scrap leather.  This multilayer surface is sturdy but preserves the edge on the punch.
Thankfully Mom and I have the same feet, and this pattern is not horribly picky, so I used my own foot as the model to spare her tender feet the fitting process.

To make the pattern, cover your foot in plastic wrap or some other disposable, pliable covering, cover that in masking tape, at least two layers deep. Be sure to step firmly on the tape and then wrap loosely around the top to capture the full weight-baring expanded shape of your foot. Draw the shoe you want on the tape. For this pattern I drew the top line above the ankle bones, a center line down the top of the foot to the center of the toe box, and then radial lines going from the center line to the sole, making sure the last line went backwards to the point of the heel. Cut the tape on all the lines. (Be careful not to cut your foot!)
Depending on your skill level and how much extra leather you have in case you mess up, you can transfer this directly to the leather or make an intermediate pattern on several sheets of paper taped together.  The second and third flap from the ankle overlapped, so I eliminated the third flap and made the available leather curve into the fourth flap.  The next three areas I had traced out turned out to be very tightly together, so I left them as a single flap, more like a regular shoe, less like a ghillie.  I traced the outer curve from all the outer points, and made score lines from the inner points to the midpoints between the outer points.  Then I made parallel sided tabs out of the points.  I then punched holes in the ends of all tabs.
That's it, that's the shoe.  Although it takes knowing how to lace it to make it wearable.  Start by passing the lace (ribbon, leather cord, etc...) through the toe tabs all in the same direction (front to back in this case).

Now center the lace and draw up tight.  If the tabs collide instead of stacking, rearrange them into a flat stack.
Put over your foot or last, and expand as necessary to get a good fit over the toes.
Then lace the rest of the way up like a normal sneaker or dress shoe.

Uh...  No, I don't think you can help with this one pup...

Done!

This time around I was lazy and flipped the right shoe over to use as a pattern to make the left shoe.  If your feet are different, you may want to make a separate pattern from your other foot, copying over only design details from the first foot.

Optionally, take a tracing of your foot and transfer to a rubber soling sheet.  Scuff up the leather in the area to be glued with a wire brush, apply Barge Cement to both surfaces, set for 5 minutes, add more cement to leather if it has absorbed the previous, set for 5-10 more minutes, then press together and let sit under a flat weight overnight.  I'm still waiting for my Barge Cement to come in the mail to complete this step, although I've done this with leather soles before.  Use a similar procedure to add a new layer of leather sole if the original gets thin or develops a hole.

Initial impressions: They are very comfortable and form fitting, and easy to lace.  I have not gone running in them, as they're not really mine.

Possible enhancements to next revision:  I'm thinking instead of the ankle flap, of bringing the leather straight back from the second flap and making a moccasin heel.  This might however require additional lacing, as moccasins usually have a tie going behind the heel.

P.S.  I am looking for alternate retail options for soling sheets and barge cement.  There are three suppliers I know of that are all owned by the same company, which has very slow customer service.  (Although I've so far always eventually gotten my order.)  If you're only making one pair, a sandal kit from Invisible Shoe or Luna Sandals is good, but when making several pairs, a whole soling sheet is more economical.