Saturday, June 14, 2014

Shoe success - for now

After a little bit of a setback I think I'm actually on the right track with these.
So there is the sad sketch of what I wanted. The green leather on top, blue underneath and accents. Trust me it looks fabulous in my head. 

And so I tried. 
The first thing was to figure out what the blue leather part was going to be over the top. After hours of fiddling I finally decided it would just get sewed down, with no padding - just a turn in.
I had hoped I could do it with my sewing machine but, no. Not strong enough. So I used buttonhole silk, and punched the holes myself to sew the turn over. 
I hope that this seam will not pose a problem. I don't want the sewing to come unraveled.

The next step is to anchor the bottom accent. The blue leather that would go around the base of the shoe, and hide any imperfections of the upper.
What seemed a good idea at the time was actually...not.  
I went to fold over the blue leather and tack it down in place  - and it bunched.  No Good. 

Also - I made some booboos. At the back and three in the toe:
I don't really think I need to explain how problematic something like this is. 

All of this was very discouraging. I left the shoes on Wednesday in a huff, thinking I had done a bad thing. But today I decided to remove the blue leather accent by the base of the shoe. And I think it was a good decision: 
I am still a bit concerned about the kind of leather I've used. I'm not sure it will hold up to a lot of wear. However, I figure, it these don't work out, I can always replace them with something else. The wood needs a nice coat of polyurethane and then I think it will be lovely.
Yep - not so bad, eh? Let's see how many wears they will survive...
Must make the other shoe first!

and Garden News....
sigh - it's lovely.
We've had a week of warm rain so there is good news and bad news. The bad news is, the weeds went crazy - I have to weed the brick walkway (frowny face). The good news is - everything else went crazy too (smiley face). I have raspberries to pick by the handfuls, tomatoes are finally turning red, herbs are exploding, shasta daisies are blooming (!), garlic scapes are ready to harvest, sunflowers are doing beautifully, melisse is growing rampant and the bees... Matt came today and said the bees are doing so well they starting making their own combs in the top part of the hive boxes!  He will come tomorrow and add more "supers". Looking forward to that honey!
Because EVERYTHING is exploding I also had a poison-something-or-other scare the other day. I went to cut melisse for some pesto and noticed a lot of weeds. I yanked them out before thinking and then couldn't understand why I was so itchy all night. I'm not sure if it is mosquitoes or poison ivy or poison sumac. None are a good thing. Mosquitoes are one thing - but the poison other stuff is not fun. The next day I went out in the wet sweltering heat in pants, long sleeve shirt, rain boots and gloves and scoured the area.  Miss Mary, from next door, caught me and asked what I was doing. Today Mr. El told me he could tell me what "poison-ivory" looked like. Great! He came over and we did find some. Nasty stuff. I also am pretty sure I yanked up some poison sumac the other day. I am treasuring these moments of learning from Mr. El. He has been diagnosed with throat cancer. He won't talk about it but Miss Mary keeps me posted. He is 75, in great shape, (good) but smokes too much (bad). He goes in on the 30th for major surgery. I am very sad about this. I am hoping for the best for him and Miss Mary. If you have room in your prayers or whatever you do - please say a little prayer for him. He is a good man.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Shoes and Strawberries

The strawberries in Pennsylvania became ripe yesterday. I have always wanted to pick my own. There used to be an Amish farmer who held a farm stand every Saturday around the corner from me. Sadly, he has not been there since January. He used to bring the most wonderful strawberries and make me a deal. But this year, with no fresh yummy local berries in sight, I resolved to pick my own. I found a place out in Chester county that was reasonable and headed out. It was a gorgeous day. Warm, but not too hot. I was so excited I forgot to take pictures. I picked for an hour and came home with two giant baskets of berries. That's enough for two double batches of jam and then - Ice cream? Pie? or just plain eatin'? Not sure yet.  I already made one batch of jam but ran out of lemons. Tomorrow - tomorrow more jamming.

In order to follow my quest for oodles of strawberries I had to put my newest passion aside - the shoes had to wait. Thursday evening I had started the hard, and a little bit scary part; designing and making the shoes. I have two designs I am trying simultaneously. The first is a new clog. Let me back up though... I have been scouring the Internet for help on how to make shoes. Pinterest is my new fascination. People collect all these pictures on the same subject! You can find anything, Handmade Shoes Tutorials, for example.  It was on this board I found the true gold mine, this blog: It is written by a shoe maker in Georgia and he actually shows you - really shows you - how to do this stuff! I need to find time to sit down and start from the beginning and read it all the way through. As for now, I just poked around and found the things that apply directly to this project. But after reading what little I did, I have decided two things: 1. Making shoes is just as tricky, complicated, and a practiced craft as bookbinding, and 2. It is so similar to bookbinding - it's like a different dialect of craft of the same language. And of course - in both cases you are actually putting a binding onto something that has to move... anyway - I'm full of respect for shoemakers and completely understand why shoes cost what they do.
Now - back to the clog! 
My plan is to use a blue leather underneath this lime green leather with the holes:
In my head these look amazing! But now that we've started... I'm not so sure. They are very green. I keep looking at them and thinking I would have given my right eye-tooth for these when I was 20. I don't know if I can still pull off this kind of flamboyance.
From the fabulous blog I learned to make a paper template. I traced the original leather upper and left extra around it. You can always make things smaller, can't make them bigger.
The next step is to fit the last into the upper. 
I decided to use the plaster lasts because they are the right shape. I can't use the casts of my feet because I don't want the clogs to be feet-shaped. Ahem. That would be weird. I need to research on how to make my own lasts that fit from the casts, but that is a project for another weekend.
Once the upper is in place you have to secure it. Ordinarily you do this with leather nippers and nails. Since I can't nail into the plaster, I had to come up with plan B: sewing.   

 The holes are already there. And there has to be quite a bit of pressure on the leather to get it around the last. 

  The fabulous blog says that the leather has to sit for a while to adjust to the new shape. I don't know how long the while is, but I figure over night should be right. And in this case - it gets 2 overnights.

I don't know... what do you think so far? 
 Okay so that was shoe #1. 

The second shoe I want to replicate is this sandal I bought in on Tenerife (Canary Islands) which has seen better days.   
These are my absolute FAVORITE flip flops ever. They were gorgeous when I bought them.  Not only that but they are very comfortable.  I'd love to have another pair.  
The first thing to do is figure out how to make the woven top. I scanned the shoe and printed it out extremely large so i could draw on the strips to see which way they went. This is working semi-well. I've got the two thin straps figured out. They are a four part braid, something I used to do to my sister's hair all the time. No big deal
The detail:
 Using dividers, I "measured" the width of the strips of leather.
 I really want a blue pair of these, but in bookbinding you always have to make a mock up. Make your mistakes there - then you can do it right on the final piece. So the same must be true of shoes. 
I chose a piece of burgundy scrap leather I had left over and punched the holes so that I could cut even strips.
 Leather is also a big question. We use leather in bookbinding too - but is it the same kind of leather? I'm not sure, some types look similar, others don't. Clothing leather seams wrong as well, but as with the last-making, the leather investigation will have to wait. I'm using this book leather goat skin. We'll see how it goes. 
I pinned four strips to a board clamped to my studio table. I also decided to get the strips wet. We work with wet leather in bookbinding, but so far it doesn't look like that's true for shoes. In this case it was very necessary.
 Looks like a pretty good match. Okay - I've got some practicing to do to get it as even as the original, but so far, so good. 
 Hammering it lightly with a [book] backing hammer helped achieve the right look as well.
 Then onto the longer strap: This one went much more smoothly. 
 And now the real challenge, figuring out the rest of the weaving! That will have to be tomorrow - after another batch of strawberry jam.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


The roses over my front porch have bloomed. 

Yesterday I walked out my front door to find a woman with her iPhone out taking pictures of the roses. 
I'm glad other people are enjoying them as well. 

And shoe projects continue... I have lasts, leather, and two "soles" wooden bases.
Now I just need a design....

Monday, June 2, 2014


You know, I have not mentioned what a gorgeous spring we've had. We have had nothing to complain about weather-wise. The season has seen a gentle rise in temperature, plenty of rain, and mild humidity. Really wonderful - so of course no one mentions it! But in trying to be mindful about the now, I must say, I am grateful for this lovely spring. What a nice reward after such a brutal winter.
The garden is flourishing. I am in between blooms of things at the moment - sort of. The roses have exploded. Yet somehow in my mind- they don't count! Because I didn't plant them? They just came with the house? I'm not sure. Mr. El told me that a lady stopped and was just staring at the roses over my front porch. He talked with her and told me she just gushed over the roses. And they are gorgeous. A riot of magenta.
Coming soon... Shasta Daisies (above), Echinacea, garlic scapes, raspberries and tomatoes!
In the mean time - more busy bees 
 and grass for Swee'pea.
 Yep, had to make a pot of wheat grass for him. He was pilfering my thyme.
Not the basil, no no, the thyme - that is the good stuff. He seems to be satisfied with his little garden. 

Now! - on the the new obsession - 
To sum up:
1. I want to make my own shoes.
2. I don't want to ruin any I currently have.
3. I think this will be very involved. 
4. I made molds, lots of them, of my feet.
5. I'm working on making usable lasts. 
6. Plaster is fragile, but whaddayagonnado? 

Okay - 
I made a lot of casts of my feet:
Plaster casts from the Alginate mold (the one where I could stick my whole foot in and still get it out!) But I also decided plaster is too fragile to try to use a hammer on it. 

Next I cast these with some other miracle material that is a combination of paper pulp and plaster. These were made from the plaster wrap-molds I made of my feet (where I had to add the heals). Sounds good right? No. The stuff never dried even after a full day of letting them sit in a 200F° oven. They are finally starting to harden a week later. hmf. While not fragile, it is not going to stand up to any kind of beating.  
Also! The thought has occurred -  making a pair of shoes from feet-shaped lasts doesn't seem right. I don't want my shoes being the shape of my boney feet - I want them to be nice and smooth.

On to the next bright idea!

Find a pair of shoes I didn't mind sacrificing to the last-god.  I wish I hadn't taken apart the clogs with the torn toe from the previous post. But as I am now obsessed with this project, what about casting in a protective way from shoes that I really like?
The lovely red clogs would be perfect. They fit - I like the shape they are comfortable - problem solved, except for how to keep them from getting ruined by plaster. 


Makes perfect sense, right? Fill a balloon with plaster, like a water balloon, it will expand and as you fill it up you can just put it into the shoe and it will take the shape!
I still didn't want to ruin the red ones - or the pink ones - on the off chance my balloon theory was a bust. Rummaging in my closet and vast shoe collection I stumbled on a pair of my favorites - the brown ones in the middle.  I bought these - goodness knows how many years ago - in Seattle - 15 at least.  But they have seen better days. The leather is cracked and flaking and they just look generally shabby. I don't wear them anymore because of how shabby they look.  
Ergo - they are perfect for this project. 

 Back to the balloon theory...

It actually takes quite a bit of pressure to fill a balloon. Just pouring plaster into it isn't going to do it. I experimented with pouring water into the balloon and had to pull on the balloon to "inflate" it with the water. Conclusion #1 - this is either impossible or at the very least, a 2-person job. Conclusion #2 -  inflated balloons that are let go are fantastic cat toys!
And you can forget the cling wrap altogether. It doesn't cling to shoes. 

Final Conclusion: I must sacrifice the shoes entirely, in the name of my art.

First I coated the inside of the shoe with a mold release agent. (I suspect it's just a glycerine dish soap. Sure smells like one.)
Then I lined the inside of the shoe with plaster strips I could press in place. This is much more difficult that you'd think. It takes a lot of patience and a rubber spatula.
 Once the shoe is lined, you can pour the plaster in. I decided to add a pair of left over chopsticks as a handle to help me release the last when it was done. Turns out this was a very good idea.
I used the chopsticks to wiggle the plaster until it gave away.
But as always there is a learning curve and the first one I made just wasn't quite right. The second one (the left one) was much better. I had no choice but to cast that right shoe one more time. Thank goodness I hadn't already demolished it to get at the wooden base. 
Here they are! All three.

And here are all the other trials - all six (seven). 
 The final pair that I will use as soon as I can procure the right leather!
But they are plaster you say!? Yes. I decided to brave the plaster. I have coated them, first with PVA - which never quite dried for some reason. And then with an acrylic matt medium.  That seems to work well. I might even cover them with some buckram just to hold them together. Then if they break, at least I won't have a bunch of bits and pieces. 

I have salvaged the bases of the clogs for future use. They need a lot of sanding. 

But I think, it can be done.