Boot making at the London College of Fashion – part 1

You may remember I have been dying to do a shoe making course for ages. And lots of readers have been cheering for the shoe making, especially Aida who has made some super shoes herself. But I had not found a suitable opportunity. Then I discovered a short course to make a pair of boots over six Sundays, and Nick and I signed up. This takes place at the London College of Fashion.

The first class involved designing our boots and making a pattern.

We were told that we could make black, brown or tan boots, for men (flat) or for women (high heel boots), with elastic or zips. A little bit limited but for a first attempt at footwear I guess it is best to focus on techniques without too much freedom.

I must admit when I realised that we would be making high heeled boots I was a bit fed up as I hardly ever wear high heels. But then I thought –  if it is all about the learning then learning how to make heeled boots is quite an exciting prospect, even if I rarely wear them.  During our lunch hour I found a roughly acceptable design on the internet and while I started with an unusual shape for the elastic insert I changed this later on in my design. Also my boots will be dark brown rather than black. Nick is of course making men’s boots and is quite happy with the limitations imposed (although he had lace ups in mind before we arrived). I could have had knee (or even over the knee) boots, and had a flat version been possible I should have gone for that. But with the heels I thought a shorter boot to wear with trousers was more suitable.

The first thing we did was use masking tape to cover a last in our size. This is then marked up in various ways and removed carefully after cutitng along the centre front and back lines.

Once the sticky tape was carefully cut off and stuck down onto paper we had to press it down firmly, given it was quite contoured. As a relatively experienced patten cutter I was interested in this technique, one I have seen in Pattern Magic. When we made our bodices with cling film Pia showed us how to use the darts to flatten the pattern. In this case there were no darts – just squishing the 3D masking tape onto a 2D surface. Once the masking tape pattern is complete we drew around the inside and outside pattern and made a new line between the two – the mean of the two lines effectively. There is an extra piece of pattern at the instep (on the inside) and this is left but the shorter outline is also indicated for the outside. You can just see this on the base of my basic “block” pattern, known in shoe making as the Mean Forme. You may be able to see what look like balance marks or notches – at the Vamp Point (where a court shoe would dip down to), the instep (where our lacing would start), a back height mark and also marks for the widest part of the shoe.

Finally we turned the mean forme (block) into a pattern for our boots. The Standard Last Length is determined by your shoe size, and we used aliquot parts to determine some of the dimensions. We also took lots of measurements including of the foot and leg itself. In the photograph you can see Nick creating his pattern. Can you see the toe cap? And the side zip?

creating a boot pattern from the Mean Forme
Nick with his boot pattern

Finally we separated the pattern pieces, added seam allowances (although there is a different terminology required which I may recall after six weeks, but cannot at the moment). The leather will be joined in various ways as it is not really possible to get the shoes out of one huge piece of leather. Half a cow’s worth of leather will only make four pairs of boots so it fairly demanding on the raw materials.

Next week we will cut out our leather and start sewing it up.

So far so good. It is such an exciting process – closely related to what I already know but also totally foreign. I am finding a bit easier than the complete beginners (although I have never made shoes of any description before), but there are only four students so we are getting lots of advice and support.


29 Responses

  1. Toya

    Looks great- though I would feel exactly the same as you about the heels! I might have gone for men’s shoes instead…

  2. Mary Funt

    This is fascinating. I think it would be such fun to be able to make your own shoes. I’m with you about the high heels but as you said it’s a learning experience. Please do more posts as the course progresses so we can follow along. Hopefully you will receive a resource list as I imagine some of the supplies aren’t easily available.

  3. claire couret

    Thanks, I learned a whole cow could produce only 4 pairs of shoes….what sustainable product could we use instead??

    • fabrickated

      In a sense because so much meat is eaten leather is the ultimate sustainable product. Pig, goat, sheep and even fish, snake and alligator skin makes good footwear. And actually a good pair of shoes, regularly maintained and repaired, can last a life time.

      Artificial leathers are mainly made from oil, which is a declining natural resource.

      In the second world war, and of course in many impoverished communities today, people use wood, cork, rubber (from tyres), wool, and fabric.

  4. Ruth

    Enjoy your course, it looks really interesting and the fact that you’ll actually get a finished pair of boots too. Just – no Make your Own Boots Alongs please – LOL!

  5. Sue

    This is something I’ve had a passing desire to try, but don’t want to teach myself. It must be wonderful to go to a proper class with equipment and expert advice. Very excited to see what you make.

    • fabrickated

      There is something about going in as a beginner and knowing you can avoid quite a few mistakes, and learn some wonderful short cuts and techniques from a master, that makes going to classes really special.

  6. Barbarags

    I have a question. You stated that you ” use masking tape to cover a last in our size”. How was the correct size determined? Was it correct both in length and width? I ask this because I have difficulty finding comfortable and stylish shoes and have long thought of trying to make my own. I have come across a couple of classes but the technique seems to be to make to a pre-determined last rather than one that deals with the individual foot. My assumption is that one would have to make your own individual last first. Am I wrong? Or maybe I should wait until you have finished your course to ask questions. I look forward to seeing the finished result and reading your analysis of the course.

    • fabrickated

      Yes. We are using standard shoe sizes, just as you might (when you started dressmaking) using a commercial pattern or standard blocks. I was asked to try on a s38 of a ready made court shoe. The last that had created that shoe was the one I covered with sticky paper. It was more or less correct in length and width – in the same way that a size 8 RTW blouse will more or less fit me. Some small changes will be made during the construction – but these would be a few tweaks you might make to a RTW item eg shortening the hem or making a few design changes to a commercial pattern.

      I am on a short beginners course (36 hours in total) and I am mainly learning the technique from making a pattern to making one pair of shoes (boots). This is really quite enough for me at the moment (there are 150 stages!).

      I guess if one got serious one might want a custom shoe last, just as eventually we may want a custom dress stand. Mine mannequin is not exactly the same size as me as I bought it second hand. I take this into account when I use it.

      I hope this helps. The course is professional and the equipment is fabulous but it is nevertheless an introduction. I will let you know how I feel about this at the end of the course.

      I did of course joke with Nick that he will have to make me a perfect last in his joinery workshop but that may be a highly unlikely project Barbara!

      • Barbarags

        Thank you so much for giving me more information about how this course works and I hope your resulting boots will be great.
        I met my partner (also named Nick), over 30 years ago, at a course of evening classes and we have just finished a month on the only other course we have attended together. Maybe we should try and do it more often as we had such a great time on both courses.

        • fabrickated

          You are welcome! To be honest Barbara one of the best things is doing a course with Nick. We both have some of the skills but not all of them so it is interesting to learn new skills alongside each other. Also to do something together each week – it is nice to have it to look forward to. I hope we can continue to do this as it is really enriching. What course did you meet on and what have you just finished>

          • Barbarags

            The first one was Creative Writing- this was not my first choice but the Bicycle Maintenance course was already full. I still am hopeless at bicycle maintenance but I introduced him to bicycling and now he has 3 bicycles, whizzes up hills while I puff and pant behind and he does all my bicycle maintenance. The one we have just finished was spending 4 weeks camping in the bush learning how to indentify the wildlife and track and stalk animals- just amazing to be so close to nature and learn about your surroundings.

  7. Annieloveslinen

    Great stuff! The course is just long enough to be engaging but not too long to lose interest and you’ve already designed your patten, that’s awesome.

    Earlier this year I went to the craft and stitching event at the NEC and talked a while with the cobbler from
    his shoes are reasonably priced and very comfortable. Im not sure where he’s based, there aren’t many of his kind left.

  8. Abbey

    What a wonderful opportunity this class is for you! I love that it’s boots as well, rather than sandals (I feel like I see a lot of those types of workshops for shoe making): much more practical, in my opinion! Can’t wait to see how you and Nick progress through all your lessons. Hopefully you each end up with a wearable pair of boots in the end!

  9. Aida

    your smile says it all Kate, I’m so glad that you’re doing this and experiencing yourself how cool shoemaking is! Looking forward to see your boots!

  10. mrsmole

    Amazing, amazing…for you and your hubby to find a cool class to learn yet another craft…After your crocheted granny squares, this is a real switch to something thicker and stiffer. Looking forward to lots of photos and ignore Ruth as we know that girl can whip up anything she sets her mind to. Is there any way you can customize your boots? Embossed logo perhaps?

    • fabrickated

      There is a chance to embellish or customise the boots Mrs Mole. One of the girls is doing fake lace ups with eyelets. Another students was going to put rivets on his, but in the end I think we are all sticking to a fairly classic approach. Consider this as the first apron you made in Dressmaking 1 as a primary school kid! I have used navy leather and brown elastic. I may just use a bright colour for the tab at the back, just to mark them out as bespoke!

  11. Chris

    I love reading about the courses you take, shoemaking is something I would love to try out. I had basketmaking on my to-do list for years and seeing your posts on the various classes that you have taken inspired me to finally book a class during the summer. It was a one-day workshop and so much fun! Your crochet skirt looks great and I am looking forward to seeing your boot making results 🙂

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