143 hours…


is the number of hours I spent working in the studio to make my modern Mary Janes.

I’ve been home since Friday evening. I’m mostly recovered though my hands still ache. I averaged 13 hours a day in the studio and worked up until the last possible moment.

I would have loved to post my progress as it unfolded, but it was an  intense two weeks.  Returning phone calls and emails, heck, even checking them, fell by the wayside. Eating and sleeping cut into my work time, so I limited those activites to the absolute minimum. I did try to document the process with photos though missed a few steps along the way.

When I last wrote, I had taped up my last and was about to transfer the design to the tape. That tape was then removed and laid flat on kraft paper to create an initial pattern.

initial pattern pieces (cork platforms in foreground)

I then cut out the kraft paper pattern pieces and transfered them to stiff card stock where I added seam allowances. Each shoe had 9 pattern pieces for the upper not including the straps, buckle tabs, lining, platform and insole covers or the sock liner.

final pattern pieces ready for leather (platform and insole in background)

At this stage, I started making detailed lists of things to accomplish each day. The entire process is very methodical and though it’s tempting to jump ahead, you have to complete certain steps before it’s possible to move to the next.

Once I had all the pattern pieces cut out in leather, they needed to be assembled. I opted for machine stitching for all the critical seams even though no machine in the class, including my own that I brought from home, was behaving as it should. The leather proved tricky even with leather needles, but my trusty little maching managed to stitch through as many as 6 layers of leather in some spots.

upper is machine stitched (skiving knife at center, trusty list to right)

The only jumping ahead I did was to sample various details that I hadn’t yet decided on. I knew I wanted to add some hand-stitching and had brought along pink waxed linen thinking it would work nicely. Turned out that even after stripping a considerable amount of wax off the linen, it still picked up too much black “fuzz” from the sueded side of the leather and looked dirty and totally unacceptable.

I changed a bunch of details along the way. Long before the class started I imagined a simple flat platform shoe with an ankle strap. But that seemed too plain. I then set my heart on a traditional pair of lace-up brogues thinking that would give me the opportunity to learn the most. But panic set in on day one of class, brogues seemed overly ambitious. I quickly merged my brouge and flat platform ideas into this modern Mary Jane. I’m so glad I made that change. Not only did I design a shoe that is totally me and something I’ll wear, but I was right to panic because not everyone in the class managed to finish their shoes.

hand-stitched detail, other detail samples in background

After sampling the pink waxed linen and both pink and white nylon upholstery thread, I gave red a try. Even when my heart was still set on pink details, I had decided to use some red leather for the sock liner inside the shoe. That decision led to several others that worked beautifully. I used red for the hand-stitching and made a small red tab to attach the buckle. I then sampled red straps with black stitching, but the black ones with red stitching won out.

buckle detail

With all the upper pieces sewn and assembled it was almost time to start lasting the shoes. This wasn’t going to be a closed shoe and so the insole would show in the finished shoe. To make sure every detail was finished properly, I needed to cut a narrow strip of leather to cover the edges of the insole.  Then the shanks, stiff metal or in this case fiberglass inserts are glued to the bottom of the insoles under the arch of the foot and then covered with thin lining material.

covered insole tacked in place (shank covered with pigskin lining)

ready for lasting

If this had been a closed shoe, the entire upper would have been in one piece and lasted at the same time, but I started with the toe section first, tacking it into place on the last along the lining that will ultimately be trimmed back out of sight.

lasting the upper

The lining and innermost layer is lasted first, by stretching and tacking it into the bottom of the last. Once the lining is pulled taut and is entirely smooth across the toe, the tacks are pulled out in small sections and the lining is glued in place.

lining lasted and inner layer of upper tacked in place ready for glue

The lasting process is cruel on the hands. With one hand you have to pull the leather with pliers (I used these flat jawed pliers though lasting pliers would be the best choice) and then tack it in place with the other hand. Let’s just say I’m still taking Aleve.



lasting the counter or heel section

As each section of the upper is lasted in place, the folds of leather need to be trimmed back so the sole can be fitted in place without any additional bulk. The leather is trimmed away with shears and a skiving blade which is just a wicked as it sounds. 

preparing for the sole

Once the lasting starts the entire process becomes really exciting because you can see your shoes start to look like shoes, but I’m still far from the finish line.

Not only do I have a sole to add, but also platforms and a flat heel. I had cut out the cork platforms early on using my insole as the template. I spent hours shaping them to fit and tapering them for style, then covering them with the same leather as the upper.

Now that the shoe is lasted and I’m ready to attach the platforms I can see that the addtional thickness of the leather from the upper wrapped around the last has rendered my platforms too short from toe to heel. It’s a setback, but a minor one. I peel the leather off the platform praying the glue won’t pull off chunks of cork  and glue a new strip of cork to each heel end and let it set-up until the morning.

The next morning starts the final full day in the studio. My first order of business will be to reshape the cork platforms and cut new leather to recover them.

platforms are reshaped with wells cut to accomodate shanks, ready to be covered

I cut soles and one layer of the heel from stiff soling leather and a second layer of the heel from rubber. After sanding the soles to fit the platforms, I glue the heel sections together and then to the soles and do a final sanding before dying the edges black. It’s close to midnight on our last night in the studio when I glue the heeled sole to the covered platform then glue that entire component to the bottom of the lasted shoe. Finally I tie it all tightly with strips of muslin to hold it all in place overnight while the glue sets.

I’m fried. I miss the end-of-session auction which promised to be a good one, but the odds are in my favor that I’m going to have a finished pair of shoes to take home with me. A beer is well-deserved even if it’s only an almost cold one.

worthy of a small celebration

The next morning I get to the studio by 7:30am and have until 9am to do whatever is left to finish. I untie the muslin, crack the lasts and slip my shoes from the lasts. I love them, but will they fit? I haven’t mentioned that I’ve been dubious of them fitting through this entire process. This is the moment of truth. I slip them on my feet and they fit like, well, someone else’s shoes. They’re huge, probably a full size too big, but I won’t be defeated, I will wear these shoes.

After nailing the heel section in place, I cut several layers of foam cushioning, adding them to the toe and heel sections to fill up all that extra space. I cut an additional sock liner in black to cover the unsightly foam and then glue it all in place along with original red scallpoed sock liner I had planned. A few holes punched for the strap and I’m proudly wearing my new shoes.

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11 Responses to 143 hours…

  1. Kerrie says:

    So Very Impressed … and they’re cute, too!

  2. Karen says:

    Love, love, love them! And I’m very impressed to boot! You’re amazing, Kim.

  3. Kim says:

    …”to boot”, how punny ; )

  4. Patti Thomas says:

    Are you nuts? Only you would make shoes…and have them be quite cute. You never cease to amaze me. How are you?

  5. Eileen says:

    I am in complete awe. They even remind me a bit of my favorite shoes from Fleuvog. Have you seen his shoes? To die for. Here are my favs

  6. Kim says:

    I do know Fleuvog’s, but don’t own a pair and I’m very flattered. Thanks : )

  7. Such a cute design!! I’m so impressed!

  8. Katie says:

    I’m so inspired by your story of shoemaking. I’ve messed around a bit with sandal making and would love to take a shoemaking class at Penland- it’s so great to see your process. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kim says:

      It was a great class and everyone was so excited by it. I’m pretty Penland has a 2 year wait before instructors are invited to return to keep things fresh, but I’d be willing to bet they invite Malika Green back to teach the class again.

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