New High Tops

Determined to get the pattern right once-and-for-all I have been slaving away on a new pair of shoes.  As a matter of fact, I think these shoes are completely slave-labor-free.  The leather upper and mid-sole are oak tanned leather (Hermann Oak), and the rubber soles were cut from SoleFlex sheeting.  The laces were made from brain-tanned elk hide I processed myself.

The gent’s shoe as worn.

Outside heel stiffener.

Trousers cuffed to show height of shoe.  I live where the plants are unfriendly to bare skin.

The pattern was created without a last based on previous turn-shoes and a mock-up done in heavy canvas.  The shoe has no heel or shank as I am very used to walking barefoot or in sandals and moccasins.  A little more on shoes I have made here at: Footwear.  And some other leather work here.

12 thoughts on “New High Tops

  1. Wow! I am very impressed and I want some like that! I have dabbled on the odd occasion with making mocs but wasn’t really happy with the result, except for use when out walking on my own where no one but myself could see them… But these are something else. If I may ask how did you come up with the pattern and how did you get the shape of the foot if you didn’tuse a last?

    1. The pattern came from several poor-fitting shoe attempts. My last pair were fairly close so I took one apart and modified it. Essentially the steps are: get an outline of your foot, in a sock, make a corresponding midsole from thick leather that is about 1/2″ bigger than you foot tracing and about 1″ longer in the toe. Then, create the upper from two pieces as you need to make the transfer from a vertical form around the heel to a horizontal form over the instep. I mocked this up, based on an older turnshoe, from canvas. Sew heel to instep piece, lace it up and put it on your foot. Now the tricky bit. Get a friend to pull down the upper and mark where the upper connects to the sole. It should be snug around the heel, almost tight at the arch, and somewhat roomy at the toe. Stitch down, trim excess, mould the upper by dampening and presto, its done. I know it doesn’t really do it justice but maybe I can track the next pair and make an Instructible. I didn’t do a step-by-step on this pair as I didn’t actually have a lot of faith that I was going to get the fit right. A little experience and a little luck saw me through in the end. One pointer I have is to go with good, not too thick, oak-tanned leather. It shapes well and stretches when wet. Once you are done, it can be oiled or waxed.

  2. Thank you, Paleotool. I appreciate your answers. I have another couple of questions, if I may. You say “sew the heel to the instep” do you sew the whole heel piece to the sole, including the heel stiffener? or is the stiffener added afterwards? Is the vertical angle of the heel piece, when you look at the profile of the shoe, square to the sole or does it lean forward a bit? Finally, when you say “not too thick” what do you mean? 5oz leather?

    I’ll be having a go at that very soon, and will credit you and your site on the few forums I belong to.

    1. The way I sewed it was the stiffener to the back, with about 1/2 inch extra to create the stitch-down, then both layers were sewn to the sole. It was made to stand close to perpendicular to the sole but in actuality, leans forward a slight bit. I don’t remember exactly what this hid was but I’m fairly certain it was a 5/6 oz hide. I think a 4/5 is appropriate. The sole on mine is cut from a 12 Iron full sole. I picked some up from Panhandle Leather pre-cut for traditional boots. That’s also where I got the sole rubber from.
      Good luck! Don’t be frustrated if they don’t fit the first time. Mine didn’t. I would love to see them when you get some made.

      [EDIT] I just realized you are on the wrong side of the pond! There’s obviously somewhere closer than Texas for you to get leather!

      1. Indeed I live in the UK. I already have some 1/4″ thick leather I’ll use for the soles, doubled up, I think. As to the rubber, I’ll have to find something suitable, although I have already had a search for the one you mention with no luck so far.

  3. I’m super excited to have found your blog through Keri’s Smith’s mention. I’m also pleased to see that you have Rachel of 6512 and Growing in your sidebar, I’m a huge fan of hers and her DIY husband, too. I checked out Hermann Oak and am wondering which leather one would purchase for shoes-as some of it seems rigid and none of them come right out and say, “use this kind to make your own shoes”. I have a pair of mocs made with custom buffalo leather that is super soft, but I’d like to foray into making my own. I’ll peruse around here some more before I inundate you with more questions… Yay! Digging that Vardo, too.

    1. Thanks for all the comments. Shoe leather varies a lot but I recommend going with a thin vegetable tanned to start (in my opinion). I avoid the chrome tanned stuff and usually avoid imported vegetable tanned after hearing that there may be some sketchy chemicals used in some processes in some countries. 4/5 or 5/6 oz is about right for me but you can even go lighter. Thinner is a lot easier to bend, shape, and sew. I think your buffalo hide mocs are probably chrome tanned (the normal commercial type). It’s a cheap and easy method of tanning but is “significantly less toxic” than older commercial methods.

  4. I found your blog looking for other people who make shoes and am so impressed with your shoes! I made some shoes that are quite similar but they came out rather clown shoe-like. I used scrap leather in white, purple and lime green and made the fronts way too wide and rounded. I plan to make another pair with some nice reddish-brown leather similar to yours. I used patterns from the Simple Shoemaking website. The patterns don’t quite fit my feet but serve as a useful base to start with. Shoemaking is a really difficult skill. I’m not sure I could ever make shoes for anyone else but me.

    1. I agree that they are difficult. Much more so than anything else I’ve done in leather or textile. Getting the size just right, the heel to fit well, and the toes to be just big enough is a huge feat.

  5. Hi there – I’m just starting out making my own shoes and recently finished a pair of moccasins. Right now they don’t have a hard sole, but I’d like to add some soleflex to the 4oz leather used for the basic boot construction. How did you find working with the soleflex material? What type did you use and how did you cut it? I really appreciate your insight – it’s a lot harder to find info on this than I’d anticipated!!



    1. Hi Rachel, there seems to be very little information on the web. I have mixed feelings about the Soleflex and probably won’t use it again. It’s very easy to use and cuts cleanly with a utility knife as long as you have a fresh, sharp blade. It feels and looks good and provides great traction. However, I have concluded it is really meant for smooth floor walking only as hiking in the Southwest really destroys them fast. They nick easily on sharp stones and wear out very fast on rocky terrain. This, in itself isn’t the big deal because I’m willing to re-sole every couple years. The bad part I found is that the Soleflex ir difficult to remove because it tears so easily and takes hours to slice it all off. I’m now trying (and liking) some smooth Vibram soling over a thin mid-sole. I think it’s working better and is certainly tougher. Good luck! Send photos! I love seeing and hearing about this stuff.

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