These Shoes Were Made for Walking (in Time and Space) pt.2

Or, Kitty’s continuing shoe adventures, TARDIS edition, Part 2 of 3

Last time, we made it to the point where all the boot pieces were cut out, everything that needed gluing was glued, and I was ready to start painting.

Painting leather isn’t quite as simple as painting canvas.  Before I even got out the brushes, I had to strip everything from the leather’s surface – any residues, oils, and finishes which might keep the paint from adhering properly.  If you skip this step, all your hard work will likely chip or rub off rapidly.  I used this deglazer, because I had it handy.  Next time, I might do a little research to find a less toxic alternative, because it was a bit hairy.

Evil-Smelling, but So Useful

Note the scary blue gloves. The deglazer is wildly volatile, evil-smelling, and also flammable.  I should have taken it outside, only it was snowing, so I ended up with a chemical-induced headache instead.  Yes, I tried the vented glue table, but I think these fumes are lighter than glue fumes, because the vents didn’t suck them up quickly enough.

But hey, it did the job. I don’t know how well you can see it in the photo, but the only the right-hand piece was deglazed; it’s much less shiny and more porous-looking. . It also smoothed out the work surface nicely.

Before & After De-Glazing

When I was done coughing my lungs up after inhaling deglazer exhaust, I finally set about painting.  I used paint especially formulated for leather, not regular acrylic craft paint.  The leather paint costs a LOT more, but it has much better durability and stays more elastic after drying.  Remember, dear kittens – leather STRETCHES.  If your paint doesn’t, it may “craze”, or form lots of tiny cracks, and eventually chip off, when your foot moves and bends during walking.

This (below) is after I put in the basic galaxies.  I swirled on five or six colours with round brushes, blending out any hard lines with a cotton rag.  It took longer than I expected to get everything the way I liked, but nobody wants stick-figure galaxies.

Next, I added stars. The key here is to add points of different sizes and concentrate them more near the hearts of the galaxies.  I used brighter white stars as well as duller gray and beige ones to add a little depth.  Finally, I drew in the TARDIS. Painting crisp lines on the pebbly surface of the textured leather proved trickier than anticipated, and my draftsmanship has never been my strength, but it’s the suggestion of TARDIShness that counts! 


I decided to put the TARDIS on only one shoe, because, after all, there’s only one out there.  The foot without the TARDIS was given the consolation prize of a shooting star and an extra half-galaxy or so.  

Once everything was well dry to the touch, it was time for the topcoat.  I could have left it as is, but after spending the better part of five hours painting, I was &*$# well going to make sure my work sticks around. The finished seals and protects the paint and helps make it more weather-resistant.  This is the kind I used:


At this point, I had to wait for everything to dry completely before hand-sewing it all together, and also for Felix to cut and polish the outsoles, so I could actually wear this in the real world.  There were a LOT more steps to this process than I had realized before I started.

But next time, these funny-looking puzzle pieces get turned into actual, wearable boots!   And then it will all be worth it, right?  Right?

These Shoes Were Made for Walking (in Time and Space)

Or, Kitty’s continuing shoe adventures, TARDIS edition, Part 1 of 3

We’ve done a TARDIS corset.  We’ve had fun with a variety of attempts at shoemaking, for a given value of fun.  And now we’re going to put those things together and see what hatches.

I mean to recount the process step-by-step, so this entry will be broken up into three parts, so as to avoid having a novel-length blog.  But eventually (maybe by the end of Part 2?), we’re going to get to this, which is the painted, but not yet assembled, top of my future TARDIS ankle boots.  And of course, the finished boot, assuming I haven’t lost a finger and given up by then.

TARDIS on Leather Shoe Vamp

First, I started with boots rather than my latest Kitty Paws, because it makes a larger canvas for painting. This is one of the ideas I tried out on my search for workable designs, and it has a nice flat expanse across the top of the foot, which can accommodate an entire TARDIS, along with a few galaxies.

Soft Black Leather

Next, the leather.  I chose this lovely soft black hide with quite a bit of texture.  This texture made it harder to paint crisp lines, but camouflaged mistakes.  As anyone who’s met me knows, I am not a creature of patience or precision, so it was a trade-off I’m willing to make.

Next, we needed some kind of midsole.  This black substance is a flexible but insanely hard-wearing mystery material I can sew through and cut with industrial-strength shears, to which the actual sole of the shoe can later be attached.


I glued the midsoles, now cut to shape, to the shoe sole pieces.  You’d think the midsoles would be a tracing of my feet, but nothing in shoemaking is ever that simple.  One of the most annoying things I have learned as I stumbled along is that your shoes are in fact not the same shape as your feet.  The sole is NOT the outline of your feet, the finished shoe does NOT measure the same around as your feet, but it’s all related mathematically through some kind of arcane mystery you have to solve as you go.

Anyhow.  The glue went on both the midsoles and the shoe’s sole pieces.  Getting the glue inside the lines is a fiddly, persnickety job.  But thou must stay within the lines, or thou shalt be cast into the seventh level of Shoe Hell.

Persnickety Glue Work

If you’re wondering, the glue is contact cement, which forms a madly strong bond if you use it correctly. You apply it to both surfaces you want to stick together, then let them dry until barely tacky BEFORE shoving them together.  And you had best get it right the first time, because contested divorces are easier than prying them apart once they touch.  

Oh, and contact cement fumes are nasty.  Felix built a glue table with a suction system that vents out a window, so we can glue indoors when the Great Canadian Outdoors would freeze the glue (and also fingers, which would make it difficult to stay within the lines). 

Doesn’t Everyone have a “Glue Room” at Home?

Next, I stitched the midsole onto the shoe sole piece, despite the aforementioned strength of the contact cement, because overkill is a thing we do around here.  I wanted to be able to run on gravel in these without worrying if the soles might come off.  

By the way, in case you were thinking it, do NOT NOT NOT attempt to sew through midsoling without an industrial sewing machine, and you should wear safety goggles, because a shattered needle fragment in the eye is a realistic option here.

Industrial Sewing Machine vs. Midsoling

Then, after tracing and cutting out all the other pieces of the boot, I had to individually mark, then hand-punch, figuratively quintillions (and literally hundreds) of stitching holes.  This is a task only for those with strong wrists and a masochistic desire for a repetitive strain injury.  I wish I could think of a better way, but no luck so far.  And remember, each of those holes represent hand stitches later down the process.

After all that, it’s time to paint!  Well, almost. Next time, we learn that even painting when it comes to leather isn’t as simple as all that.

Is There a Name For This Concept? Anyone?

(Or the Evolution of Kitty Paws, Part 3)

There must be a name for the phenomenon in which making a tiny change to one part of a system results in a multitude of unpredictable and seemingly unrelated changes to occur elsewhere in the system.  You know, Somebody’s Law or the Principle of Something.  Does anyone know what it’s actually called?

Last time, we were at the point of fitting a preliminary design to the foot. Kitty’s foot, to be specific – narrow at the heel, wide at the ball of the foot, shorter in the toes, and quite muscular (yes, toe length and muscle density really do make a difference in shoe fitting).  

If you feel like your shoes always pinch at the front of your foot but the heel still keeps slipping off when you walk, you may have this general foot shape (or you may just have poorly designed shoes.  We’ll get to that, eventually, though not in this blog).

So I made multiple versions of the test shoes until the fit was right, or as right as I could get it without smashing my own head in with my rubber mallet.  Take it from your Aunt Kitty: fitting is the most frustrating part of making anything you intend to wear on your body, wherever you intend to wear it.  Here’s the latest version:

These shoes were comfortable, nothing felt too loose or too squeezy or raspy or weird, and I could break into a jog without losing them.  However, my feet did keep sliding to the rear, so I ended up walking ON the back of the shoe.  This was because they did not have a “counter.”  A counter, in the shoe world, is a piece of stiff material that acts the way boning does in your corset; it keeps the centre back standing up, so it doesn’t flatten into an extension of the sole when your heel slides back against it.  Most of your shoes have one, even if you can’t always see it.  

Anyhow, I asked Felix, who has tools and deals with any leather too heavy for my sewing scissors to cut, to make and insert counters.  This is what the counter looked like, once we put one in there:

He put an outsole on it, too, so I could technically wear this outdoors now, if we didn’t have a five-foot snow pile in the driveway.

Once the counters were in, my feet stayed put and stopped sliding backward. BUT….

I swear, that big gap at the back was not there pre-counter!  Somehow, inserting the counter made the shoes go from lovingly clutching my ankle to creating a space big enough to keep a hamster.  It was flabbergasting.  Adding stuff to a space isn’t supposed to make it looser.  

But now my heels are flip-flopping out the back with every step, which drives me barmy (that’s British for crazy, if you were wondering), so probably I won’t…. Or maybe I will, because these things are STILL more comfy than any store-bought shoes I ever owned that weren’t huge baggy athletic sneakers.  

There WILL be another version – just as soon as talk myself into believing that I can come up with something genuinely wearable, oh, say, the very next try.  

Felix, the former engineer, thinks he can fix the gap via architectural design, using stiffened and custom-shaped leather as scaffolding (or magic, which is fine by me).   Upon reflection, I think that maybe the glove-soft leather I’ve chosen to use makes the mouth of the shoe stretch rapidly – but that stretch is essential to making future shoes comfortable for as many people’s feet as possible, because realistically, I can’t make sixteen pairs of prototype shoes per size per colour to carry around for you to try. Stretch is comfort, which is why you’d rather be wearing your yoga pants right now and not suit trousers.

So next on the agenda: Felix does something magic with the counter problem, and Kitty finds a way to stabilize the shoe opening while retaining stretch in the toe box area. And someone will tell us the correct technical name for the Whatever Effect.

It Gives One Paws…

(Or, The Evolution of Kitty Paws, part 2)

Last time, I felt we had a proto-shoe concept that looked promising.  

They look a little rough, to put it kindly, but they’re just prototypes, the light in here’s awful, and my feet are really not photogenic, so it’s not entirely the shoes’ fault.  They seemed like a decent starting point for what I’m after, which is as follows:

  1. Soft lightweight shoes that feel as though I’m barefoot.  I want to be able to walk five miles and never spare a thought for how my feet are feeling.  I want to be able to break into a sprint if I feel like chasing a pheasant, or stand on a concrete floor for a 12-hour shift and not wish for death.  
  2. Versatility.  I’d like these shoes to be a chameleon that can change to suit different purposes depending on design details and embellishment, so a fairly basic shape would be best.
  3. Reasonably attractive shoes I can wear with most things, including skirts and dresses, keeping in mind that I am a pathologically introverted resident of a small town who only talks to people at mandatory events.  I am not a fashionista, and I think high heels are for the deranged or very brave.  So do consider the source when I say “attractive.”

If you’re a fan of glamorous-looking, unyielding shoes with lots of built-in shape, Kitty Paws (as I’m currently calling these mythical shoes) won’t be for you.  You’ll probably loveFelix’s shoes.  What we’re talking about here are shoes for people who really don’t like wearing shoes, who’d prefer to go barefoot if it weren’t for fear of what you could step on.


These shoes looked simple. I tried to make the shape simple, as I am not an experienced shoemaker, and I wanted to be able to grade for different sizes and modify for different shapes fairly easily.  But of course, they were anything but simple.  

Shoes are weird. Changing one tiny part seems to cause a butterfly effect-like, chaotic, ever-expanding mass of changes to every other part.  I made several slightly different versions of the basic idea, each time changing a very minor detail, and each version came out completely different in look, fit, and feel.  Take these two:

The black shoe on my right felt too wide at the ball of the foot, so I tapered the sole a little – no more than a quarter of an inch — before making the green one on my left (please ignore the bits of fabric dust and fluff; I’m still in full sewing production here while dabbling in shoemaking.  Also, these are just the midsoles, not the soles you’d be walking on – those go on later.):

That meant I had to reduce the vamp (that’s the upper part of the shoe) pattern a little to make it match the reduced sole, once again by a minuscule amount.  The finished shoes are visually undistinguishable in size. But they don’t FEEL remotely similar.

The original black shoe feels like they might fall off if I started running, just too loose all over.  My toe doesn’t touch the toe of the shoe on the inside.  There seems to be excess leather pooling near the toe.

The fit is not uncomfortable, exactly, just tight, but I think that’s because the green leather is very stretchy.  Speaking of which….

The green ones feel quite, quite snug, and a good deal shorter, even though I made no length changes whatsoever.  The toe area is gently squeezing my toes, and you can actually see some pull lines from the tension.    

There’s another variable factor I’ve discovered in shoemaking that wasn’t really a thing when making clothes: leather.

Sure, different fabrics affect the look and fit of clothes, but once you’ve worked out how a particular material handles for a specific design, it’s done and dusted.  Leather NEVER behaves the same way twice.  You can a left shoe out of a hide and cut the right shoe out of the exact same hide an inch away, and the two can behave completely differently.  Bits are more or less elastic, thicker, thinner, stiffer, floppier, spongier, crunchier – you name it.

I’m starting to be able to guess how each bit will behave with better accuracy as I gain more experience, so hopefully this problem will solve itself.  This is relevant as a lot of you have said you’d be interested in this sort of footwear.  If we ever get this to a stage where we feel comfortable offering prototypes for ready-to-wear, it should be a non-issue anyway, as people can try them on first and just pick the fit they like best (I love a stretchy-but-snuggish fit, but you might prefer a looser or more structured fit).

Next time, I will be dividing the difference and making a version somewhere between these two iterations. I’m also hoping to refine the look subtly in the interests of arriving at a future product that does not look like waders.  Though it may be my feet that look like waders, in which I’m going to have to test the design out on some of you to see what it looks like on normal feet.

Next time: more iterations that look just like all the others, but are progress all the same.

Are Comfy Shoes Rocket Science?

(Or, the Evolution of Kitty Paws, Part 1)

As someone who’s made her own clothes since dinosaurs walked the earth, I take certain things for granted. Deep, capacious pockets in skirts, pants that never ride up, perfect-fitting underwear, a corset in Ravenclaw colours – I can have whatever I want.

Kitties by Kitty

Until it comes to shoes.

Why are shoes so hard? By which, of course, I mean practical, comfortable, pretty shoes that cuddle your feet and make you feel like you’re walking on marshmallows.  Aaaaaaand — here’s the hard part —  that you can wear to a variety of occasions.

I do NOT mean those ethereally beautiful, utterly insane designer thingies that look more like jewels than shoes, because a broken ankle often offends.  I also don’t mean hiking boots or running shoes.  I adore those cushiony-soled trainers as much as anyone, but even I would not wear them with a nice summer dress.  Or with my Steampunk dominatrix outfit, or to a funeral.  

Then there’s the one-size-fits-none syndrome you’ve all encountered when buying clothes.  Feet, like bosoms and hips, some in different shapes as well as sizes.  Apparently, according to shoe manufacturers, no one else in the whole of space and time has feet like mine, because I have to buy shoes three sizes too long to squeeze my paddle-like paws into the toe box.  This is patently bonkers, as when I started actually measuring lots of people’s feet, I found mine are statistically LESS wide than average. 

So we have embarked on a multi-year crusade to make sane, sensible shoes that are also at least somewhat attractive.  It really has been years.  And it’s REALLY not like making clothes.  

Felix has taken up the proper kind of shoemaking, with lasts and scary hardware and four kinds of hammers. It involves a lot of maths and gluing and pounding in dozens of tiny deadly-looking nails before yanking them all out again.  This, I found, is not for the Kitty.  I don’t do maths and hammers have an unholy attraction to my thumb.

But he does makes gorgeous shoes and boots.  Here are some of his recent efforts:

They’re lovely, and shockingly comfy, and I plan on offering all kinds of indecent inducements to get him to make me a knee-high black steampunk number next.  

But I also want the other kind of shoes.  You know – soft, dreamy, lightweight shoes I can wear to pop out to the shops, to a summer wedding, or to go dancing in a Jane Austen costume ball and never once need to think about my feet.  I want shoes that feel like I’m barefoot.  

These shoes don’t exist, at least not for my feet, so I’m in the process of creating them.  One of my new year’s resolutions (other than eating more fish and petting more dogs) was to try to get over my fear of technology enough to blog semi-regularly, so here it is: Entry the First.  I hope this project will get somewhere quickly enough that I can have some prototypes to test at CCEE in April.  

In the meantime, I’ll be posting more entries on the upcoming iterations of the Kitty Paws project. Right now, here’s where I’m at after a few months of experimentation:

(1) An early attempt based on a moccasin concept.  Comfy, but looks like bedroom slippers.  I’ll probably use them as bedroom slippers.

(2) Tried making them pointier-toed in an effort to make them look more delicate.  They now look like more delicate bedroom slippers.

(3) Yet another try, making the toes even pointier and reducing the underwrap portion in an effort to refine the look a bit.  I actually kind of like these and may develop them further later for walking shoe type-thing. In the meantime, my bedroom slipper collection is growing.

(4) Attempted to change directions in the hopes that a boot style might work better.  Once again, these are exceedingly comfortable, far more so than anything I’ve ever bought.  But they’re booties.  Once again, I may develop these into something later. 

(5) Maybe my standards are falling, but this one is starting to feel like I’m getting somewhere. There are definitely bumpy bits, but I may run with this and see where I can go with it.  Also, I’m not used to this much hand sewing (with an actual needle and thread!) and I’m starting to get blisters.

Wish me luck, and I hope to return soon with wearable Kitty Paws.