Making shoes from leather :~
I wrote this tutorial a few years back for OSS , and since someone just asked about pirate boots, I thought I would post it here.
I don't have much to add after a few more years experience since I wrote it except that you don't have to sew uppers to soles : glue can do the job well enough .
Miniature leatherwork does need a proper outfit of tools and materials : itís no use trying to do this with modern chrome leathers ( the shiny coloured ones used for most modern stuff , typically handbags ) and blunt knives .
You will need :
Thin( 2mm or less ) vegetable tanned leather (calf or goat ), from Rio Rondo ( nice leather , but very small pieces : you want the pale flesh-coloured stuff , not the coloured , which are chrome tan ;
or other suppliers : I use Le Prevo , of Blackfriars , Stowell St., Newcastle NE1 4XN , who do an excellent mailorder service if you are in the UK . http://www.leprevo.co.uk/
Their vegtan goatskins , described sometimes as Morocco, are ideal for 1/6th , and not expensive. One will last you for years .
Linen thread , a little beeswax to rub on the thread to make it pull through holes smoothly, and suitable needles ( glovers needles which have a sharpened blade tip are often handy , from le Prevo ), and very sharp new knives : Scalpels are adequate in this scale .
You will also need an awl to make holes with : I made mine by backing a largish needle into a suitable wooden handle , then grinding the tip to a sharp point .
A cork tile is a really useful board to work on , since you can pin things to it , as you see in the following pics.
Otherwise itís best to use a very smooth piece of MDF board or similar to work on when cutting leather .
The point about using vegtan leather is that itís plastic whilst wet : you can stretch it and shape it amazingly to make shoes and holsters . It also takes false stitching and decoration very well : itís the leather used for all tooled work in 1:1 , such as Western gunbelts and saddles . Chrome leathers cannot be shaped in this way : you can stitch them into flat items or cut straps from them satisfactorily , but beyond that they are useless.
To make shoes 1/6 succesfully you are following a simplified version of 1:1 shoemaking , but leaving out a layer ( the insole ) which makes things easier .
The first requirement is for a last ( or a pair of lasts to speed things up ) to mould your shoe around : I make mine from Sculpey , but an epoxy putty would do just as well if you donít have a suitable oven for the Sculpey.
You need to compare for size it to the foot of the figure you are dressing , and also to the shape of the particular style of shoe you are trying to make .
In this article Iím making mid-seventeenth century shoes for English Civil War figure , but the principles are much the same for later styles , ACW brogans for example .
The last needs to be big enough , and Iíve found itís wise to err on the larger side , since the leather will shrink very slightly on drying.
Before the mid-19th century , shoes were ďstraights ď , that is , the same for both feet , and made on the same last : no wonder people had to break them in !
You'll find that your figure has laft and right feet , so you have to make some accomodation for that when modelling the lasts ,
Here are my pair of Sculpey lasts : almost identical , with square toes .
First use these to roughly mark out an oversize sole , and pin the sole to the board:
The cut the fronts of the uppers : the piece of leather should be roughly the shape shown :
Soak it in water , then , with a blunt tool ( I use a spatula ) gently work it to fit over the front of the last , taking particular care to get the ďweltĒ you are forming with the tool well under the bottom of the last : the further under you can get it , the better the fit of the shoe .
Leave to dry : the dry leather will stay in shape.
Once dry , you can make stitch holes with your awl going through the upper and the sole :
Take a needle , with a waxed thread , and sew the upper and sole together . This can be a bit fiddly , but so long as you keep the holes matching , it should work out in the end . I use two needles ,
saddle stitching as itís called , but you can go round and back with one needle if you prefer:
Wet the welt and burnish it all to shape again.
Then the backs ( in the originals , the backs are actually in two pieces , but itís quite possible to make them in one in 1/6th ).
Notice that the back is quite curved : this is essential to make it deep enough for the heel , yet tight enough at the top to lie close to the ankle.
Repeat the procedure as with the front : the back slightly overlaps the front on each side:
You might want to add another layer to the sole : simply stick on ; the same for heels , which are stacked from as many pieces as you want :Here I've placed the sewn shoes on another layer to make the outer soles : once glued ( use any good glue : it could be white glue , or Bostik ) I'll trim round this and add the heels :
[ HISTORICAL NOTE : despite what you might think from countless
ď medieval ď films , heels were not in use in Europe until 1600 : they come in almost exactly with the new century , probably after influence from Eastern Europe and ultimately the Turks , who seem to have been the first people to use them .
Late medieval/ renaissance shoes did have attached , welted soles ( after about 1460 ) , and there was often a thickening lift towards the rear , but they never had separate heels until after 1600 ......
Any European figure before 1600 WILL NOT HAVE HEELS ! ]
Dampen and burnish again , and your shoe is finished apart from the lace holes and colouring.
Once you are happy with the shape , gently ease it off the last , and finish with a colour wash of acrylic , and some suitable laces:
Here are some more types I've made this way : Shoes from 1600 , with a raised but integral heel :
Some round-toed shoes from around 1630 :
And some ACW Brogans ( forgive the trouser legs ) :
GLUING instead of STITCHING :
Itís quite possible to use this method using a last , but substituting glue for the stitching ; but the leather will have to be really dry at each stage, or the glue wonít take on it . I havenít tried it myself , preferring the ď scale ď stitching ; and the finished item is going to be a little less strong if you use glue ; but Iím sure itís possible if you donít fancy the sewing .The stitching can be faked with the awl once the glue is dry : dampen the leather again and scribe the stitching into the leather .
Once you have some vegtan leather ; all sorts of improvement to commercial items becomes possible . You are only limited by time and skill . Itís well worth replacing Pleather straps with the real thing , since it eliminates the woven backing which often shows with pleather items. You can make leather holsters as well .
Vegtan likes acrylic paint , which it soaks up , so itís possible to turn it any colour you like ( experiment on a scrap first ); There are also a good range of spirit based leather dyes you can get from suppliers .You can use wax to get a shine after , or even use boot polish .
The same technique can be used to make tall boots , for which you will need a full-height last , modelled in this pic in Sculpey again:
The pupose of the last is again to enable you to accurately shape each section before assembling it.
Start with moulding the wet leather to make the foot , then the leg . You have to glue or stich the leg to the foot portion . Itís ESSENTIAL not to close the rear seam until you remove the last , or you will never get it out :
Once all the sections are joined , remove the last :
Using some other cylindrical object without a foot on it as an internal support , you can now either stitch or glue the rear seam ; here Iím butt-stitching the two edges together with a pair of gloverís needles threaded on the same thread : saddle stitching , in other words, but with the edges being brought together rather than overlapped. This is exactly how the real boots were made:
The finished boots , after staining with a spirit-based leather dye :
I also used an identical technique to add some legs to the DiD officerís boots , to make the Staff Officersí boot shown here . The gaiter leg was moulded on the last , then glued to the boot , then both boot and gaiter were painted with acrylics :