Making miniature 18th c. shoes

In my last post I announced that my next project would be a shoemaker’s shop. Before going into full research mode I made a pair of shoes just to see that I could, and all the skills and time the shoemaking would require. As they are probably going to be one of the more technical elements of the set, whether I could make them dictated if this project could go ahead or not. Now that I’ve made a few pairs and experimented with structure and materials, I feel the time has come to document my progress. This is my journey through miniature shoemaking.

The focus here is mainly on the structure. I’ll talk more about the historical aspects next time.

I had a look at this post by Adele Po as a starting point and tweaked it to fit with my requirements. The first obstacle was making these shoes removable, as she simply glues the uppers and soles directly to the doll’s feet. Luckily it was simpler to solve than I thought. By having two soles instead of one, I could sandwich the excess fabric of the upper between the inner and outer soles. The other changes I made relate to the style of the shoes, making the uppers and heel look more eighteenth century.

I like to start with making the heels. The first few pairs I made with card, as Adele does. However, most of my heels are higher than hers, and each layer of card added increases the time it takes to make each heel. The difficulty with card, is that the layers separate during sanding quite frequently. Since I need to do a lot of sanding to get a waisted shape, this was a bit frustrating, and time consuming as I had to keep gluing the layers back together and waiting for them to dry. So, I’m now experimenting with cork, and it’s definitely easier to work with.

brocade shoes_ making cork heels

To make the heels, I started by cutting a slice of cork (width of the slice = height of the heel). On the sliced disk, I placed one of the outer soles, traced two heels and cut them out using a craft knife. still using the knife, I trimmed off the corners then smoothed down the sides with sandpaper, always checking to make sure the two heels are as even as possible. Next, I sliced a small wedge from the top of each heel (2 mm at the thick end).

I sanded the freshly cut edges, lining them up every so often to make sure they were even. To give the heels their waisted shape, I use the knife to shave off slivers of cork from the central area of the curved sides and straight, inner edge (image 5 above), then accentuate the curve by sanding the grooves.

brocade shoes_ heels

To get a better shape for the heel curves, I took a small piece of sanding paper, and rolled it around a kebab skewer. A small, sharp pair of scissors is also good to have for trimming the edges at the bottom of the heels to make the bottom of the heel a smaller version of the top of the heel.

Before covering my heels, I decided to cut out the uppers (applying PVA to the fabric first, to avoid fraying). As I’m using a patterned fabric, I needed to choose sections of the fabric that look roughly the same for each shoe, this pattern is quite busy, so I’m mainly looking at the colour combinations as opposed to shapes. Cutting out the uppers first gave me a better idea of what sections to choose for the heels.

For covering the heels, it’s important to use the fabric on the bias. It has more stretch to it and fits better around the curves of the heels without puckering. I don’t use a pattern for this, as each pair of heels I make tends to be slightly different. Instead I just apply PVA to the heel, then stretch the fabric over it smoothing out any wrinkles. I cut away the excess fabric bit by bit, peeling some of it back from the heel to cut if needed. This is quite a thick fabric, so I only covered the curved side of the heels. However, if I was using a thinner fabric, I would glue the outer sole to the heel and leave a little excess fabric to glue over the outer sole, incorporating it into the heel, so the outer heel is not seen between the heel and covered inner sole. In this case I used a different method to hide the gap.

brocade shoes_ covering the heels

To finish the heels I cut some thinner bits of white card to fit on the inside curve of the heels, and a thicker bit of card to go on the bottom of the heels. After a few coats of brown paint, I glued them on.

Moving on to the inner soles and the uppers, I applied glue to the top side of the inner soles, then placed them over a different fabric ( I liked the look of this pink), and cut them out. To attach the uppers, I bent the edges over and roughly molded them into shape (the glue helps them hold their shape). After bending the inner soles to accommodate the heels, I held them up to my doll’s feet one at a time, and placed the upper over the inner sole and the dolls foot, holding the two components in place with one hand, I used my other to dab glue to the bottom of the inner sole, and to stick the edges of the upper down over the bottom of the inner sole. I then did the same with the back part (quarters) of the shoe (I forgot to take a photo of the quarters, they are similar to the ones in Adele’s post, except that I added longer straps at the front).

brocade shoes_ uppers

Once all the fabric parts are in place, it’s time to glue on the outer soles. I had previously painted the soles brown, except where the heels go. As you can see the outer soles are a bit small this time, I’m not sure why, it could just be down to the bulk of the fabric. It actually works to my advantage in this instance, as you will see. I placed the outer soles closer to the front end of the shoes, letting the upper overhang a little, then glued the heels on right at the edge of the outer soles at the other end.

brocade shoes_ attaching heels

As you see there is a gap between the heel and the top part of the shoe, created by the outer sole. To cover this up, and make the heel and upper blend seamlessly, I used about six small strands of burgundy thread, glueing them along the gap to fill it in. I glued two strands at a time so they wouldn’t get twisted. to cover the raw edges of the upper, I used the same burgundy thread, as seen below. The white thread edging the front part of the shoe is a historical inclusion, more of which next time.

brocade shoes

The tongues of these shoes are a bit shorter than they should have been (I didn’t compensate for the shallowness of the heel), but otherwise they came out quite well. If you compare it to the first pair I made, below, you can see the heels have much more definition, although the toe is not as upturned (the thick fabric makes it difficult).

Well, I hope this has been interesting, I know my explanations can be a bit convoluted, but hopefully the photos help explain things a little better. Next time I’ll be comparing my shoes to history, and showcasing all the shoes I’ve made so far!

brocade shoes_ comparison



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