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Handmade Ankle Boots--from Design to Finished Footwear

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

Step-by-step (with some skipped steps) process from design inspiration to final pair of custom handmade ankle boots

I'm using my favorite style of ankle boot, the Derby Golosh. I really like the efficient use of leather with golosh & tongue cut in one piece, with the quarters added on to form the boot. Shoemaker-speak.

I am attracted to pattern-on-pattern or pattern-within-pattern but have a difficult time translating that into shoemaking.

I used the decorative sgraffito elements of a building I saw in Segovia, Spain, as the basis for an overall cutwork pattern in the quarters (lace-up panels are called quarters because there are four of them in a pair of shoes). I chose a heavy and glossy brown leather for the uppers: they work well to allow for intricate cutwork, and will be sturdy enough for an everyday walking boot.

More about the design inspiration: these are walking boots, made for travel. Sturdy, supportive, custom-made to foot measurements. In this current period of worldwide coronavirus and non-travel, I wanted to stay in my studio and travel in my brain with these boots.

I usually do not bother with a refined 2d sketch when presenting ideas to clients: I prefer to sketch it up in 3d in paper "on the lasts" so that clients have a better idea of how the eventual shoe or boot will look. However, with this pair of boots, I was allowed to do what I wanted. Yes, I sometimes use old commercial wrapping paper for sketching.

After making the paper pattern, I traced the design onto the leather and began cutting. Here I am using a combination of hole punches and a chisel needle without thread on my sewing machine. This leather pattern piece is called the vamp -- this asymmetrical cutwork design will be at the toe of the boot. I really like the slightly serrated edge that I made with the chisel-needle.

Quarters have been cut, design added and now I have stitched an underlayment (thin kangaroo leather) to serve as the backing of the cutwork. Eyelet holes marked for future cutting.

Below, the finished "uppers" (this is what they are called as opposed to insoles, soles, and other parts of footwear). Fully lined in leather, with blind (not visible on the outside of the boot) eyelets.

Boots "on the lasts" (the molds that footwear is made around are called "lasts"). Uppers have been pulled onto the lasts and tacked in place, ready for welt stitching.

I am now sewing through the leather insole and upper leathers to the outside of the boot--this will be visible as a decorative braided-look stitch. Note the faint hash-marks in the peachy-flesh-colored leather insole at the bottom left of the photo--these are marks made by the awl going through the insole channel. I'm using synthetic thread here, one of the few synthetic materials I use. It's just plain stronger than traditional linen thread, and I want these stitches to be strong. The tacks here are removed as the uppers are sewn to the insoles.

An inside view of the leather insole at the toe. I wrap the inside stitches here so that they are stronger around the toe and heel. Holes are punched using a curved awl through the insole leather and upper leathers.

The second row of stitching--here I am using one darker brown thread for more visual texture.

I always enjoy seeing photos worn footwear!

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