October 17, 2009
I have a pair of moccasins that I found on sale a few years ago. They are short boots with a zipper on the side and thin soles. I have ended up wearing them so much that there are tons of holes on the bottoms, and little rocks are constantly rolling around my toes. I decided that I needed a new pair and did some asking around, and found that the prices for hand made shoes seemed a little high. So I ended up making some. Several friends and I ordered an elk hide online, and I looked online, in books, and at several pairs of moccasins to come up with these shoes. A great reference was Back to Basics: A complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition, by Abigail Gehring. If you do want to make a pair, let me know and I would be happy to answer any questions that might come up.
elk hide (Elk hides can be found online, and one hide should be enough for several pairs of shoes. It is handy to have the whole hide so that you can use the thicker parts for soles, and thinner parts for the tops and backs of the shoes.)
waxed linen thread (can be purchased at knitting stores or specialty stores. I have mine from a family vacation 14 yrs ago to Door County, WI. A spool will last a long time..)
leather punch, or sewing awl. (I used a leather punch, but would like to try the awl for my next pair)
Neatsfoot Oil (purchased at farm supplies store)
jars and sticks for mixing
a large brown paper bag
Make a paper bag shoe
Make a prototype with the brown paper bag. Trace foot onto piece of paper and then measure 1″ evenly around and cut out. Measure top of foot from widest parts and add 1/4″. The top part should be a little wider at the instep, narrower at the toes, and as long as you want it to go up your leg. It can be short if you are making shoes rather than boots. Punch holes and sew the parts together, taking care not to rip the paper. Try on and see if it fits (the fit should be snug as leather does tend to stretch) If the shoe doesn’t fit, take it apart and make the necessary adjustments.
Take the shoe prototype apart and trace the shapes onto leather. Cut out leather pieces, taking care to make a left and right bottom piece. I made the top pieces pretty much the same size and it seemed to work out well.
Pieces to cut out
Top (2) the widest part, in the middle, is about 1/4″ inch wider than your across instep measurement.
Sole (2) Traced 1″ around your foot.
Straps (quantity 4) Straps need to be long enough to wrap around your moccasin several times and tie. They will stretch out with use. I made mine by cutting up scrap pieces back and forth, to create long strips.
Mark holes onto leather
The holes should be closer together on the top and back, and further apart on the sole. This causes the sole to gather around the tops of the shoes. I used the following proportions. The holes on the top and back should be 3/8” apart, and 1/4″ in from the edge, and the holes on the sole should be ¼” apart, and 1/4″ in from the edge. To make the measuring easier, use a piece of cardboard with the measurements marked on with a sharpie.
Start sewing from the toe and heel of the moccasin and work your way around to the sides.
** Note: How to sew the seams. **
The sewing technique is one that I found on an existing pair of shoes. Align the materials so that the sole is on the outside of the top piece. Insert needle into wrong side of top piece, leaving a long tail, and send it through both pieces of leather. Bring needle up and around the outside of the sole piece and back down into the top piece, same hole, and pull thread tight (not super tight, but nicely firm). Then, on underside of work, move to next hole and repeat. Continue in this manner until you have reached about 6 stitches before then end of top piece.
Make sure to position the strap so that it is directed towards the toe of the shoe. That way it will wrap around front, and to the back, and around again..
Sewing the straps into the main seam.
Finish the whole moccasin bottom with Neatsfoot Oil. Apply a good amount of Neatsfoot Oil with a cloth, rubbing it in as you go. Then apply beeswax mixture (recipe follows). Make sure to wear gloves with this step, and work in a well ventilated area! I applied the beeswax more thickly to the soles, but also added some to the sides as well. The beeswax helps with waterproofing, as well as protecting the leather!
You can warm up the beeswax in a little pan, but be careful to have it far away from the turpentine (which is highly flammable)! Pour it in a jar, let it cool a bit, and add a little turpentine, bit by bit, as the beeswax cools. The turpentine keeps the beeswax spreadable as it cools. I keep mine in a little glass jar with a lid, and stir it with a stick whenever I need to apply a coat.
I have applied it three times so far to the bottoms of my shoes, and it is building up a nice and sturdy finish. Keep applying finish as it tends to wear off, especially when shoes are worn on cement or other rough surfaces.