Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Cost of Custom Shoes

Sometimes people complain about the cost of buying custom fit moccasins.  The average price is around $300 for just a plain brown pair of lowtops. 

Doing it yourself is very rewarding, but for only one pair of shoes it is not any cheaper.  From October to June, I have spent $212.36 on tools, and $372.62 on materials.  Now I've gotten a lot more than one pair of shoes out of it, but I bought my leather by the hide, so that first pair has a pretty saggering cost, with dimminishing costs of each following pair.  If you look at just the tools and the materials for my first pair of shoes, that's $155 plus the hours of labor to make them.  I was however able to use those same tools and materials on an additional pair of shoes and two resoling jobs, and I still have a bunch left.

If you're handy, and you want more than one pair of minimal shoes (maybe boots, sandals, running shoes and dress shoes...) then I encourage you to go ahead and try making them yourself.  I estimate if I use all the leather I have on hand it will end up being less than $70 per pair of shoes, about what I would have paid for decent sneakers previously.  If you've got a supply of scrap leather near you, you can probably make out even better. 

If you're not handy, or only want one pair of custom fitted minimal shoes, you might take a second look at the price tag and consider how much healthy feet, knees, and hips would mean to you, and take the plunge.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wear Patterns

While preparing to re-sole my moccasins for the second time, something interesting occurred to me.  My old heeled shoes always used to wear out first on the outside of the right heel (on the side with my painful hip.)  My moccasins developed their first hole on the ball of my right foot (my strong side.)  Upon realizing this, I made a careful inspection of the wear pattern on my left shoe.  Not only has that shoe not worn through on the left outer heel, the wear pattern was even and showed full even usage of my whole foot.  This is pretty conclusive evidence that my change in footwear and activity has indeed changed my stride pattern in a healthy way.

June Update - 6 month results!

It has been quite a journey!  Back in December, I started this blog with a post about my minimal shoe experiment, and set June for my target date for judging experiment success.

The Test:
  • In June of 2011, when I'd normally be buying another pair of sneakers:
  • Will I still be wearing these or other minimalist shoes?
  • Will I have hip, knee, arch, or heel pain?
  • Will I be able to increase my activity level without putting on arch supports?
  • Will my other fibromyalgia symptoms decline when I reduce this alignment stress on my body?
  • Will I be able and willing to walk the dog all the way around the block at least once a week instead of just walking him in the yard all the time?
The Results:

  • I am still wearing minimal shoes.  My first pair of moccasins have been resoled twice, I've made a pair of huaraches, my husband has gotten his first pair of moccasins, my mother's new ghillies are ready to come out of the gluing press
  • I still have pain, but much less.  Most of my remaining pains are forms of stiffness, and I can do exercises to loosen up.  Stiff feet wake up with a little jogging in place, stiff knees loosen up when I do squats.  The hip only bothers me when I wear non-minimal shoes, I can just walk barefoot for a bit to loosen that up.
  • Arch supports?  Hah!  Friday night, I ran 6 laps around the track for the first time (1.2 km total) and sprinted twice!  Shoes with arch support bother my hip.  Sure, the arch in my right foot is occasionally sore when I overdo it, but as long as I increase slowly over time my arches can keep up with the rest of my increasing capability.  
  • I still have some issues with tiredness, but I've not had any severe bouts that caused me to go back to taking my medicine.  Usually just going to bed early a couple nights fixes me up.  I am sleeping better with less pain, and better able to heal up after overdoing it on the track or in the garden.
  • I have two dogs now, and one is highly reactive, making the full circuit around the block difficult.  I do walk them around the neighborhood more than I did before, but we're not yet on a regular schedule.  The short distances I've been doing with the pup I could manage daily once we get out of the gardening season.
Overall, the experiment is a success, and I'm quite happy with it.

The most visible improvement this year has been in my gardening.  I am working on a community garden at church, raising food for a homeless shelter and some decorative items for the church.  There are very few volunteers, and I've put in a large part of the garden myself.  I've scheduled 2 hour sessions multiple times a week, and I've never once gone home because my muscles and joints were failing me.  (Yesterday we were working close to noon and turned it in because we were getting too much sun exposure, usually we leave due to dusk, weather, or other plans.)  In past years my tiny little garden didn't get fully planted because of my limitations.  This year I have planted a surface area larger than my entire yard at home!  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Foot Shape Survey

Please participate in our foot shape survey!

If you have unusual feet, take the survey to help prove that shoe manufacturers have it all wrong.  If you have normal feet, take the survey to prove that I'm just a freak who should stop complaining about the shoe industry.  :)

The survey will require some measurements, have a piece of paper, a pen, a cm ruler, and a helper handy.

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...


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.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Free Sandal Givaway

If you're not handy enough to make your own shoes, you might be interested in this: Free Sandal Giveaway.  Entries open until 6/27/11. 

Huaraches are a great shoe for letting your toes spread, feeling the wind keeping your feet cool, but not feeling every little pebble on the ground.

I'll make a secondary plug for Luna Sandals, as being worth buying if you don't win the contest to get them for free.  Huraches are great, and Barefoot Ted (who runs Luna) runs the minimalist runner discussion group I hang out on.