Bootmaking by hand

Final steps involved gluing a rubber base onto the sole, trimming and grinding it, and applying dye and wax to the edges of the sole. And then, they were done!

Between knitting and sewing, I’ve made a lot of what I wear on a daily basis, almost from head to toe – hat, scarf, shirt, sweater, dress or skirt, socks – which got me to thinking:  could I make my shoes, as well?  As luck would have it, I found an incredible instructor here locally in Portland (you can check out his website at www.laughingcrowe.com).  He offered both classes and private lessons – I opted for the latter, to give myself more flexibility in terms of time and project.

We scheduled four days in a row, 9am-5pm, for the lessons.  In the end, we were able to move faster and I was able to stop an hour or so early on most of the days, and we needed only a few hours the last day, but it was still an intense and time-consuming process.  I learned an incredible amount, not only about how boots are made, but about their history, why they’re shaped the way they are, about leather and how it’s made and used, and a plethora of other information that I never even thought about.

The process itself required both machinery and a variety of hand tools – more gluing and less sewing than I expected.  Many of the steps were challenging physically, and I would have done better if I had more than a passing familiarity with using hand tools.  However, none of it was impossible, and my instructor did an excellent job of letting me do most of it, but stepping in to help if needed to keep me from ruining the final product.

Here’s a photo journal of the process – I didn’t take pictures of each step, by any means, and there are a lot more steps than I expected!

The first step is to make a 3D cast of my foot out of duct tape. I wanted the boot to reach about halfway up my shin, so we ran the tape up a ways.
The first step is to make a 3D cast of my foot out of duct tape. I wanted the boot to reach about halfway up my shin, so we ran the tape up a ways.
We drew the design elements I wanted on the duct tape cast, then cut it apart and traced it to make a 2D pattern. This step involved a lot of math and measuring to make sure we had all of the dimensions and seam allowances correct.
We drew the design elements I wanted on the duct tape cast, then cut it apart and traced it to make a 2D pattern. This step involved a lot of math and measuring to make sure we had all of the dimensions and seam allowances correct.
Here we're preparing the sole - we've cut grooves into the outer perimeter with a hand tool, and now we're drilling the stitch holes.
Here we’re preparing the sole – we’ve cut grooves into the outer perimeter with a hand tool, and now we’re drilling the stitch holes.
I chose the color and texture of leather I wanted, and decided to have the counter (the part the wraps around the heel) be a contrasting color. I also chose colors and materials for piping around the upper edges and lining the inside where the eyelets will be.
I chose the color and texture of leather I wanted, and decided to have the counter (the part the wraps around the heel) be a contrasting color. I also chose colors and materials for piping around the upper edges and lining the inside where the eyelets will be.
One of the most challenging steps is skiving - we did this with hand tools, and it involves scraping away some of the thickness of the leather in certain places so that your seams and joins don't end up too bulky. These thin leather strips are what are scraped off when you're skiving.
One of the most challenging steps is skiving – we did this with hand tools, and it involves scraping away some of the thickness of the leather in certain places so that your seams and joins don’t end up too bulky. These thin leather strips are what are scraped off when you’re skiving.
After gluing the pieces of the upper together, I used an industrial sewing machine to sew them on, as well.
After gluing the pieces of the upper together, I used an industrial sewing machine to sew them on, as well.
Hand stitching the sole to the upper was fun once I got the hang of it, but challenging to get the stitches pulled tight enough.
Hand stitching the sole to the upper was fun once I got the hang of it, but challenging to get the stitches pulled tight enough.
Just some of the hand tools involved in bootmaking.
Just some of the hand tools involved in bootmaking.
Final steps involved gluing a rubber base onto the sole, trimming and grinding it, and applying dye and wax to the edges of the sole. And then, they were done!
Final steps involved gluing a rubber base onto the sole, trimming and grinding it, and applying dye and wax to the edges of the sole. And then, they were done!  Entirely handmade, and (pretty much) made by me 🙂
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One comment on “Bootmaking by hand

  1. Oh, wow! I’m so impressed. All your work is amazing. These are truly beautiful, and how great to know you actually made your own boots! Fantastic!

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