This project is absolutely near and dear to my heart, because I have long been lamenting over not being able to embroider my own shoes. Well Marna Jean aka Wickedstepmother1969 has outdone me today, because she had the same thought, but instead of sitting here daydreaming, she went out and learned how to make her own shoes!
Yup, you read that right. Something most of us only picture being made by elves in the dead of night, she went out and learned how to do. Being able to make her own shoes also meant she could pre-embroider them, so she could add any stitched decoration she liked! Marna joins us today to share a very thorough walk-through on just how she made these shoes, and all the interesting challenges along the way.
Lets start with shoemaking… how did you get into this?
I have been a Victorian dressmaker for many years, and the one thing that always drove me NUTS was the fact I couldn’t get good shoes to go with my creations. I have a friend Lisa Sorrell who is a bespoke bootmaker who makes the most AWESOME cowboy boots — the inlay is just incredible. Then her daughter Paige started making shoes. I kept drooling and longing, and started taking apart old shoes and haunting the Met Museum’s website. My husband finally took pity on me and arranged for Paige to teach me a class on making simple flats when she was free on spring break. You can’t believe how excited I was!
What was it like learning this technique?
I found that a lot of my sewing skills transferred over to shoemaking. I still am “skiving challenged”; skiving is the thinning of the leather with a special knife (you can actually do it with a sharp X-Acto) at joins and overlaps to reduce bulk. It takes a practiced hand, and it’s something I am still working on.
Once Paige showed me the basics my mind kept jumping three steps ahead of where I should have been. Right now I just work in glued construction shoes- one day I hope to learn welted construction (sewn on soles) as well. I think the best description of learning would be “liberating” — my first pair of shoes I made I chose purple kid leather; if I had been just purchasing a pair I would probably have gone with something more basic black. Once you understand what parts go into the making of a shoe and why they are there, then the techniques become adaptable to your imagination.
Did you always have the idea of adding embroidery to your shoes? Or did this come later?
I think I always had it in mind I would embroider shoes. I’ve always loved embroidered shoes, but the challenge comes with working on an already constructed project, and some of the embroidered shoes available can be disappointing. I have a pair of cowboy boots with skulls embroidered on them, but when people comment how much they love my little owls on there … well, it makes you want to do it yourself. You would not believe the amazing things embroidered on Victorian era shoes. These shoes from the Met make my heart jump every time I look at them.
What I wasn’t sure was whether I could embroider on leather, but I jumped on that one after I saw the leather embroidered bracelets on your site. So when I knew I could embroider them BEFORE they were shaped — well, I was pretty much set! I decided to use the light stitching Sweetness skull.
What were the kinds of considerations you made when choosing your design? Was it tricky embroidering on the material for the shoes?
I knew for a leather shoe I needed a lightweight pattern (fewer stitches) because too many would cause the leather to become weak from piercing. I also needed a design that would fit where I had in mind on the toe of the flat. Thanks to the magic of temporary fabric adhesive, hooping was not really a problem — I hooped the stabilizer and sprayed the back of the leather. The hardest part is placement and mirror image placement on the opposite shoe as I had used an asymmetrical placement. The best advice I can give is check and recheck placement before you start. Also, start with a full bobbin- once leather is pierced its best to not have to go back over it.
Talk about the awesome touch you added to the bottom of the shoe… how did you do that?
I got the idea after seeing this great pair of shoes that had been laser etched. Now since I don’t have a laser lying around in my workshop, I decided I could get the same effect by using a wood burning tool. I dampened the leather down, used a ball stylus to trace over the pattern, and then wood burned the lines. To darken it up I rubbed some extra shoe polish down in the grooves. I started out trying to center the design, but decided to put it right at the arch or waist area of the shoe, kind of peaking around. I’ve been glad I did because after wearing the shoes the image has remained unworn.
So, is this the first pair of many shoes? Is this the start of a business? Or just a really awesome hobby? What are you going to tackle next?
This was my 4th set of shoes, and the second with an Urban Threads design on them. When I started, I never really intended for it to be the start of the business, but I could see it becoming one as I become more confident in my abilities. Right now I consider myself a very enthusiastic amateur.
My next pair is in progress as we speak — a pair of steampunk booties with the Urban Threads cogs designs on them. I also have a pair of cloth flats laid out with the “runs with scissors” design — I really think a seamstress needs a pair like that!
If you want even more depth on the whole process, you can see an even more detailed version of her process here, which pretty much amounts to a tutorial if you’re feeling extra brave and have some shoe forms around. I have to say I am so blown away by this process, it’s always such a treat to see someone take their love of embroidery and their mad skillz in other areas and combine them into one amazing process. If you decide to take these into the business world, I’m sure it won’t be long before the orders fill up — after all, where else can you get shoes like these?
Thanks so much for sharing your shoes and your process with us Marna, you’re an inspiration to the brave when it comes to diving headlong into a challenging process, and now you have some fantastic shoes to show for it. I can’t wait to see the next creations you make.
Do you want to have your project featured on StitchPunk? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or upload your Urban Threads stuff to our flickr group!