Wholecut loafers

February 7th, 2012

My husband hates taking the time to bend over and tie his shoes in the morning, so he practically lives in his Kenneth Cole Black loafers during the week.  Now that I have taken a pattern-making course, I decided to test my skills on a pair of wholecut loafers for my husband.

My husband has a strange aversion to brown shoes for some reason, so he wasn’t super happy about the tobacco color I had picked.  Of course he didn’t know that I had picked that light color for these shoes as I had purchased some antiquing stains and were going to try my hand on a darker patina for the finished product.

On the first fit test, my design came up too high on the sides and he was not even able to fit his foot through the opening to test the fit; the second fit test was a tad too loose (in full disclosure I also changed Lasts between the first and the second fit test and had to start the taping of the Last and the design all over again).

The final result fit him well, and even though there were some nicks and cuts along the way, I am fairly happy with the outcome of this pair.


Upper Making Process: The MEAN Form

January 19th, 2012

In my previous post, I provided bullet points of individual aspects of a MEAN Form diagram.  This post outlines exactly how that MEAN form was created.

Upper Making starts with pattern making.  Pattern pieces for shoe upper making come from what is called a “MEAN form”.  Traditionally, an upper maker would receive a “MEAN form” and a “Technical Specifications” drawing.  The MEAN form details all of the lines needed for cutting out pattern pieces, while the Technical Specifications drawing provides the guidance on materials, colors, stitching, and any additional hardware or design elements needed.

Both the MEAN form and the Technical Specifications drawing can be extremely complicated, depending upon the type of shoe being made and/or the complexity in the design.  For this exercise, I will be providing examples of a simple high heel pump that covers manyl of the basics.

In creating a MEAN form, first the designer will tape up the Last that they will be using to make the shoe with (see attached picture).  It is very important to use the exact Last as even small variances in heel height, toe box design, width, etc. can drastically change a pattern.  Once the entire Last has been taped, the center line down the back of the heel and the center line down the vamp are marked.  In men’s shoes, there are many more points that are marked before the designer starts “designing” but for the purposes of this exercise and for this example, only the heel height and vamp position are needed.  For most average women’s sizes, the heel height is marked at 5.5cm up from the feather edge of the marked heel center line.  Men’s is typically 6.5cm, but as with anything there are sometimes exceptions.

It is important to tape the entire Last and not just one side, for some lasts are not symmetrical and therefore your pattern pieces for the lateral and the medial side might be different.  For upper making, only the sides of the Last need to be taped down to the feather edge.  The shape of the sole is not needed for Upper making.  It will be needed later for the actual shoemaking.

As the Last that I am using is considered a symmetrical Last, and this pattern was intended to be symmetrical, the MEAN form for this pattern only has a slight difference in the length between the lateral and medial sides in the center of the MEAN form.

Now the designer can draw their design directly onto the taped Last.  Once the designer is happy with his/her design lines, it is now time to convert this 3D model into the 2D MEAN form.  *It is also helpful to go ahead and draw the medial center seam placement line onto the design while the tape is still on the Last because it gives the designer a better idea of where it might be best hidden from view while wearing the shoe on the foot.

Using the marked center lines cut the tape with a sharp knife, both at the heel and down the center of the vamp.  Slowly pull off both sides separately, starting at the heel.  Trying to preserve the form as much as possible, flatten each side of the tape to a piece of cardstock or poster paper.  The heel line, center vamp line, and design lines are most important to preserve and not wrinkle.  Smooth out with a bone folder, ruler, handle of knife, etc.  The areas outside of the design lines of the shoe are less important, so if there are wrinkles, they should be directed there as they have no bearing on the formation of the patterns.

Mark each side with the Last model name and/or #, the size of the Last, the name of your design if applicable, and the date.  Now cut out both sides that have been flattened on the poster board and mark the medial side with a “^” somewhere along the lasting allowance line.  Never mark a pattern with any tick marks on the design itself.  Indicating which piece is the medial side will be very important later.  Do not cut completely out, but rather cut 5-6cm lengths of the drawn design within the cut out side portion of the 2D taped Last model.  These cut out lines will be used in the creation of the MEAN form and later in the pattern pieces.  Make sure that the 5.5cm heel height and center vamp lines are clearly marked on both pieces.  These two marks will be used as guidance in creating the MEAN form.

Get a clean piece of card stock, slightly bigger than one of the taped last pieces so that you have enough space to include lasting allowance around the bottom and toe area, and to slightly modify the heel lines.  Trace one of the taped last pieces onto the card stock with a pencil, making sure to mark which one is the medial side with the tick mark “^” noted earlier.  In addition, trace all of the cut design lines (use the tip of your lead pencil or any thin and sturdy object – but also dull so as not to cut the cardstock – to open up the cut lines so the lead pencil will fit through the hole and make a mark).  I prefer to use colored pencils at this stage so that it is easy to detect the lateral side lines from the medial side lines.  Once all of the lines have been copied, flip the other taped Last piece over so that the toes are facing the same direction as the piece previously traced, and line up the back heel height point with the center of the vamp center line point and trace all lines like before.

At this point, one must take into consideration the materials chosen for this design before altering the lines.  For example, leather stretches and has some give whereas tape does not.  Therefore, it would not make sense to use the same lines everywhere as we want to use of this stretch to our advantage and not end up with excess material that could cause wrinkles in our final product, nor do we want to end up with excess waste.  However, if a non-stretchy material such as satin was chosen for the upper, then the lines would need to more closely mimic the lines drawn on the tape.

First, create your new heel line.  The standards that I have learned are to divide the heel line from the feather edge up to the marked 5.5cm heel height (not the top of the Last) into thirds.  At the heel height, measure 2mm up and 2mm in.  This is your new top heel point.  The first third line down from the heel height stays the same.  From the 2/3 line, measure 2mm out and mark this measurement.  These are your new heel curve points.  Draw a new heel curve, connecting those new three marked spots and from the 2/3 point down, exaggerate the curve slightly more than the original shape of the Last itself.  Extend the curve a minimum of 14mm to account for the Lasting allowance.

From your new top heel point, draw a straight line at a 90 degree angle from the heel curve and measure 4-5mm in.  [Later, you will use this line to create your new design line.  The purpose of the 90 degree angle is so that the patterns do not come up at a point and the line wraps smoothly around the top of the heel. ]  Also measure 7mm in from your new 2/3 line.  Draw a straight line connecting the two points and then continue the line following the curve of the outside heel, but slightly in.  This is your Liner back heel line.  It is not the same as the Upper heel line due to the orange peel effect and an additional layer between the Upper and the Liner that will be added during the shoemaking process.  [During the shoemaking process, another layer of leather will be put between the upper and the line, known as the heel counter.  The heel counter is used to provide additional support for the shoe.  This is the reason why the measurements between the Liner back heel line and the Upper back heel curve are so different.  One must account for the additional layer of materials.]

Now we must create an axis point at the vamp.  Extend the line out past the toe at one end and into the design line at the other.  This is the reason why women’s high heels need that medial seam.  If we tried to make the pattern as one piece, it would be impossible to cut out the material for the two sides of the pattern overlap at the design line area of where the axis point is created.  Therefore, the medial seam needs to be somewhere inside the axis point line in order for the pattern not to overlap (see picture for example).

Now draw your lasting allowance lines from the feather edge lines.  Lasting allowances should be no less than 14mm at the heel, up to 18-20mm at the center, and back to no less than 12mm at the toe area.  In order to reduce waste, two separate lines are drawn at the center for lasting allowances as the medial side is typically longer than the lateral.

For comfort reasons, the Liner pattern is typically designed to not have a back seam, so as not to irritate the heel when walking.  Therefore, these lines must be incorporated into the MEAN form.  The heel portion of the liner is also typically flesh side out for more grip on the heel area when walking.  The rest is typically grain side up for better ease in slipping your foot into the shoe.  In order to only have two pattern pieces for the Liner, the heel liner design lines need to be inside the vamp axis line previously drawn. [In some instances with men’s shoes, and entirely new axis is created for the Liner pieces as Liner leather tends to have more stretch than Upper leather and therefore can have a deeper axis line].

Finally, you can now redesign the original design lines to be one symmetrical line for each side (as in this example) or keep two sets of lines – one for the lateral side and one for the medial side.  This is needed for the finished shoe to look symmetrical if the Last is not symmetrical.  The Last used in this example is symmetrical so it is ok to use one design line for both sides.

After all of the new lines have been created, make sure to go back and clean up all of the lines that you no longer need.  [This is why the use of a pencil vs. a pen is important].  The feather edge line that was used to create the lasting allowance line is no longer needed.  The only time a feather edge line would be important in pattern making is if there is some design element created alongside the feather edge, which is extremely tricky to do, and therefore not recommended.

Once the old lines have been cleaned up, cut out the form with the bottom edges being your lasting allowance, the top edges being the top design lines, and the new heel curve.  In addition, cut line marks for all of the additional Liner, design, seam, and medial/lateral lines drawn but be careful not to completely cut out the shapes from the main form.  Label this form as the MEAN form and also with the same info marked on the taped pieces from before (Last model name/#, Last size, design name, date) and open the cut line marks so a pencil can fit through.

This is your MEAN form and now you are ready to make your patterns.

Skulls are for girls too

November 16th, 2011

I stumbled across these strands of colorful turquoise skulls beads at my local bead shop one day and immediately scooped up all they had.

I could easily design an entire collection around these beads.  I even made myself a necklace with them that I am always getting compliments on when I wear it.

First prototype

These sandals have been through many different designs and failed prototypes.  The first finished prototypes would slide off my feet as I wore them; the second, the wiring holding the beading together broke and skulls went everywhere in a parking lot on the way to a party (good thing I always carry a spare pair of flip flops in my car); the third had strap placement issues; the fourth are finally wearable but still need a little tweaking.


What about you?  Would you wear skulls on your feet?

MEAN Form Diagram

November 8th, 2011

This is a MEAN Form for a basic high heel pump, from a symmetrical Last:

This is a Diagram of the making of the above High Heel Pump MEAN Form:

  1. Red lines are the medial side of the taped Last.
  2. Blue lines are the lateral side of the taped Last.
  3. This is the vamp axis point.  In pattern making, the MEAN form is only one half of the shoe and therefore the center of the vamp must be a straight line in order to fold the MEAN form over to convert the half to a whole.  It is OK that the axis point is underneath the vamp lines at the toe for there is enough stretch in leather to compensate for the additional portion needed.  If the axis was above the lines there would be excess material, resulting in potential wrinkles and/or excess waste.
  4. New heel curve to use for the Upper pattern.
  5. New Liner heel curve to use for the Liner pattern.  These lines come in more due to the orange peel effect and the natural stretch of leather.  The top two thirds is a straight line as this pattern piece does not have a back seam.  To make the pattern piece, you would fold a piece of cardstock and make 2 symmetrical sides as one piece.
  6. The seam line for the joining of the two Liner pieces.  The original blue line had to be greatly modified because it was outside of the axis line and therefore the pattern would overlap in those areas that the seam was outside of the axis line.
  7. The medial seam line for the Upper.  This line is inside the axis line to ensure the long pattern piece does not have any overlap with the shorter pattern piece.
  8. The final design line for the shoe.
  9. The lasting allowance line for the lateral side.
  10. The lasting allowance line for the medial side.
  11. Feather edge of the Last.  This is where the side edges of the Last meet the sole edge of the Last.

An explanation of my silence and how that may benefit other novice shoemakers

November 1st, 2011

A predominate reason why I have not been posting to this blog lately is that I have been actively working on creating my first collection.  Part of that journey includes trying to find an upper maker to sew my designs so that I can make the samples and prototypes for trade shows.

A great shoemaker is not necessarily a great upper and/or pattern maker.  I think it’s important to know how to do them all, but perfecting them all is very rare.  I suck at sewing, and quite frankly do not enjoy it at all.  Therefore, I NEED a good upper maker.

Independent Upper makers do not exist in the US anymore.  Most of the existing shoe manufacturers still in operation in the US employ their own upper makers in their factories or have the work done abroad.

Just being an accomplished sewer does not make for a good upper maker.  First of all, working with leather is difficult and many seamstresses never even attempt it.  Second, upper making requires a precision that is second to none.  Just go take a look at your favorite shoes and examine the sewing.  In some cases, it is less than 1mm from the folded edge of a topline.  Third, due to the 3D nature of a shoe upper a special post sewing machine must be used.  Just imagine trying to sew around the topline of a pump with a flatbed sewing machine.  It’s virtually impossible to see what you are doing at points when the heel of one side is curved around the head of the machine.

With all of that said, I spent a great deal of time working with small sewing contractors who had previous experience working with leather to teach them some of the basics and nuances of shoe upper making.  I’m not an expert (yet) so I am sure there are holes in my explanations, but I figured that regardless I would share this information – that I have spent many hours compiling -  with those that follow me.  Maybe it could help fill in gaps for some that are struggling with certain aspects of the process.

I have not decided how many posts I will split this up into, but I will start off with a diagram of the MEAN form, a simple explanation of creating a high heel pump MEAN form, and the pattern making of that high heel pump from the MEAN form.

A lesson in sketching

October 24th, 2011

Confession:  I’ve never considered myself a “creative” person.  I’ve always been good at crafty things that require dexterity of the hands, such as bracelet making, hair braiding, crochet, beading, etc. but I was never even mediocre in sketching, drawing, or painting.  I could always look at a sketch of mine and know that it wasn’t right, but had no idea how to correct it.

In June, I went back to Budapest for a Design and Prototyping course.  I was dreading this course more-so than the shoemaking one, as I was so embarrassed of my attempt at sketching.  A requirement of the course was to submit sketches of your prototype that you wanted to be made.  My original sketches looked like this:

During the course, we had homework every night, and the very first night our assignment was 100 sketches of 4 designs.  That’s 400 sketches for 1 assignment!  It sucked – and those first sketches of mine were horrendous – but after a while my lines became better and my eye for correcting my lines became better.

Now my sketches look more like this:

I still obviously have room to grow, but in a few short weeks I was able to make drastic improvements in my sketching simply by repetitive practice.  I am also planning on taking a Photoshop course so that I can digitally sketch my designs, which will help when working with the manufacturers, but hand sketching is still very important in the initial process, I think.

Lesson learned:  Practice does make perfect.


Not your ordinary everyday espadrilles

July 5th, 2011

Finished Navy/Silver Espadrilles

I’ve had the material for these navy espadrilles for a long time and have wanted to make a pair of wedges since the day I got it.

My first thought was to build up a wedge with veg-tan, but the weight of the multiple layers was heavier than I had envisioned for this shoe.

Then I tried to build up a wedge with some rubber pieces that were left over from an exercise mat that my husband had purchased.  It was much lighter, but the structure was not firm and/or sturdy enough.

I also thought about using cork but in the end decided to experiment a different way.

The interior of the wedge is a standard plastic high heel with the steel rod reinforcement.  I cemented and screwed the plastic heel to the pre-fab inner sole as I normally would with a regular high heel model.  I then molded a thin piece of veg-tan around the heel to create the wedge shape I desired and cemented that piece around a pre-cut sole piece from cork that I designed.  Finally, I wrapped the wedge with the navy espadrille material.

I was originally just going to use a black rubber sole but felt that the design needed a little something more so I wrapped a piece of veg-tan in the metallic silver and then cemented a thin piece of black Vibram rubber to the bottom.

There are definitely some improvements that need to be made to this design, including the choice of the liner (it rubs a little more than expected) and the placements of the straps for a more comfortable fit.  It was also a little tricky getting the braided espadrille layers to fit perfectly without the veg-tan peeking through anywhere and to line up the braids themselves.  My cushioned inner sole piece ended up being slightly bigger than I anticipated after I wrapped the thick gray liner around it so the finished product is slightly too big for me.  Good thing I have enough material for another pair!


Handmade Colorful Sandals

May 28th, 2011

Handmade colorful sandals just in time for summer!

Handmade Colorful Sandals

I love flip flops and sandals in general so it is only natural that I have all kinds of ideas for different designs.  Many of my designs feature braids of some description.

The 5-braid strap on the yellow and black sandals was fun to construct and the wider strap provides additional comfort. The toe piece is also a narrow traditional 3-braid.

The natural-looking sandals are a leather that was stamped with a basket weave pattern. Initially, I was worried that the pattern would feel uncomfortable on a person’s foot but it’s actually quite nice. There are no sharp indentations on the leather so even though you can feel the basket weave pattern, it is very smooth.  The stamped pattern did provide difficulties when sewing the upper sandal vamp piece as the material was not smooth on the underside.  This caused the material to have a tendency to bunch up and curl when I would attempt to sew the varying groove thicknesses in a straight line.  I am still working on ideas to correct this going forward without adding unnecessary thickness to the piece.

The blue and brown braided flip flops are the same pattern from my previous post about the first flip flops that I made seen here (and still wear ALL the time) but with slight variations to the pattern and the placement of the straps.

These are just a few of my simpler designs.  I am working on many more that include beading, jewels, and/or other fun accessories that add just the right amount of flair.

Little Miss Sunshine

May 13th, 2011
Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

Yes, it’s more baby shoes!!!

One of my best childhood friends is having a little girl and she has been so encouraging to me about my shoe empire aspirations so of course I had to show my appreciation for her support.  At first I was a little bummed that I did not have any pink material to use, but then again mommy is not much of a girly girl, yellow *is* my favorite color, and it’s just so bright and cheery.  The shimmery yellow ribbon that I found was the icing on the cake.

Taped lasts

May 5th, 2011

What patterns will become of these?

Taped lasts (top view)

Taped lasts (top view)

Taped lasts

Taped lasts

The possibilities are endless. . .

Any suggestions?