Expect­a­tions on Start­ing Out Mak­ing Shoes

The thing I say to people con­tem­plat­ing their first pair of shoes is that all they need to do is go on your feet and last long enough for you to make your second pair. It doesn’t mat­ter if they’ve got things wrong with them. A pair of peri­od shoes that didn’t quite come out right is still far bet­ter than wear­ing mod­ern shoes with medi­ev­al cloth­ing, and wear­ing the shoes is really the only way to find out how well they fit and hold up in use. If you make a pair and the second one works out much bet­ter than the first then you can always remake the first one. Mak­ing three shoes and get­ting two really good ones still beats mak­ing two full pairs.

This is one of my first pair of shoes, taken before I dyed them black. They were made from chrome-tanned uphol­stery leath­er, sewn up with waxed poly­es­ter thread with a lapped side seam. The heel came out all wrong, and there wasn’t much peri­od about them, oth­er than the vague shape and the fact that they were turned but I was, and still am, pretty proud of those for a first pair of shoes.

By the time you make your second or third pair you will be get­ting good enough at it to have some­thing that will last a good long time. The second pair of shoes I made las­ted me at events for 3 years. They were a bit crap, didn’t fit ter­ribly well and as you can see from the pic­tures of them in a pre­vi­ous post, I really should have replaced them about a year and a half before I did, but I made them out of good mater­i­als and they did Ok. I advise start­ing on your next pair before your cur­rent ones are com­pletely unwear­able. Hav­ing to rush to fin­ish a pair for the next event you’re going to is both stress­ful and likely to res­ult in mis­takes. It’s also true that if you come back to shoe­mak­ing after a long break of no prac­tice you’ll have to relearn things, and the les­sons of the pre­vi­ous pair won’t be as fresh in your mind.

Please don’t let all this put you off though. There is noth­ing to say that if you are care­ful and do a bit of research into what makes a good shoe before you start out, that your very first pair can’t be per­fectly good shoes. Hav­ing someone who can help in per­son is a huge help, so find out who else in your group makes shoes and see if they will show you. It’s much easi­er to pick up the basic tech­niques when you can see them being done than it is just from words and pic­tures.

The most import­ant thing is not to get put of when things don’t go accord­ing to plan. It can be frus­trat­ing as hell to put hours of work into some­thing and have it not come out right, but if you can sit down and think about what went wrong — get a note­book and write it down — then you can learn from your mis­takes so that you don’t make them again.

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