No Business Like Shoe Business: Introduction, Materials, Terms


It's no secret. I spend a FORTUNE on doll shoes. As you all know, clothes are only part of the overall fashion picture. Our dolls need, at the very least, coordinated footwear. But when it comes to buying footwear, here’s the problem. For the most part, doll companies don’t sell footwear. And, within any given company line, there are several different sizes and elevation of doll feet. Outside of the shoes that come with the doll at the time of purchase, you are left at the mercy of sellers on Ebay or the few crafts people on Etsy, many of whom do not specialize in 1/6 scale. And even when you find something interesting, chances are, prices are prohibitive.

Convinced that I could not make shoes, I did a post on “spats,” boot uppers that slide over existing Barbie footwear. When blogger, BlackKitty saw it, she asked why didn’t I go ahead and make shoes. After all, she explained, the uppers are most of the work. But for me, the problem has always been the soles. I could not successfully make high heels soles and have never been able to find ready-made soles. Last month, however, a most generous collector on the W-Club forum, shared a tip: use a self hardening clay called Ayres Apoxie Sculpt to create the heels. For me, this was a game changer. So this summer, I decided to take a month off with the hope of making a decent pair of shoes for my divas.

I studied a number of different tutorials including those found on the blogs of Fashion Doll Shoes and BlackKitty's Multicrafteral Lab. I experimented with techniques and materials. I made many pairs of footwear (nearly 30 so far) and made MANY, MANY mistakes. I took the time to figure out what and why things went wrong. I went way out of my comfort zone as this is NOT my specialty.  The challenges I faced were 1) controlling my own impatience, 2) making uppers that fit the feet without the doll sliding off, the shoe, 3) making soles that conform to the curvature of the doll’s foot 4) making high heels or stilettos and attaching them to the sole 4) and assembling all of this into a decent looking shoe my dolls would be willing to wear. The hard work has paid off and I am now pretty happy (not to mention pleasantly surprised) with the results. My dolls are having shoe orgasms. No more fighting over shoes (imagine that!). But I may have created monsters.... they are all sketching ideas for shoes they want me to make!!!

What I am presenting here is far from perfection. Still, they are MUCH better than Barbie shoes AND the more I make, the better I get. And I am getting faster at making soles. The lesson learned: what you put into this project is what you get out of it. I learned to be patient, and organized in terms of respecting the proper order of  steps needed to make a proper shoe. I will warn you… there are no short cuts. Nothing is fast and easy. There are a lot of little pieces to these shoes and let me tell you…. You need all of them. Will I ever buy shoes from 3rd party sellers? Yes and no. I won’t be buying any more Barbie shoes and as far as the FR footwear is concerned, I won’t need to sit around and hope to find basic shoe in the color I need. Instead I’ll be able to invest in that very special shoe or bootl! In the meantime, I’ve been working on creating shoes in all the specific colors (white, beige, silver and gold) I need! And a few in colors and materials I don't need.

Over the next few weeks, I would like to share what I've learned with you in the form of a multi-part series of tutorials--a shoe making workshop of sorts. My aim here is to help you make a few basic pairs of 1/6 scale high heeled footwear that you can adapt to your own dolls and aesthetic styles. I will not be covering mold making which means that each shoe will be slightly different. That's to be expected. Working on this scale will be difficult for many of you as it is for me. But still, if you are sincere about making your own doll shoes, I urge you not to give up. It will really pay off.

So that those of you who will be joining me on this project are prepared and ready to go, in this, part one of this series, I've devised a list of materials as well as a breakdown as to what I will be covering over the next couple of weeks. Though this looks like a lot of stuff to gather, much of it is pretty inexpensive or even things you probably already have. The major investment here is the clay needed to make the soles. However, until you decide whether you are REALLY committed to making shoes, you can always opt for the oven-bake variety which is not only inexpensive, it is easily found all over the globe. The results aren't as great, but it is a good place to start.

Materials Needed
  1. Self hardening, epoxy/clay modeling blended clay. This I highly recommend for the best results. In the United States look for “Ayes Apoxie Sculpt” (available on Amazon.com). At roughly $20 or 32 Euros for a 1 lb set of this material, it is more expensive than oven-baked variety such as Sculpey or Fimo (about 3 Euros). But it lasts a very long time and, given the tiny amounts used for each pair of shoes, I figure there are hundreds of pairs of doll shoes in each jar.
  2. The epoxy clay consists of two separate compound that when mixed together, activate the hardening agent. You will need two separate sticks or spoons, one for each element, to scoop out the clay. I use popsicle sticks for this that I label A and B.
  3. I have included oven baked modeling clay on this list only for those of you who cannot find or afford the epoxy clay. If you have never made a pair of doll shoes before, the oven baked clay is a good medium to start out with. I have made shoes with this. But be aware that it is harder to get a smooth finish. There is a tad bit of shrinkage that occurs while it is baking in the over. And it dries brittle and often will break at some point. This was the most frustrating thing for me. If you do opt for this clay, do not get the Fimo “Soft” clay! It’s lovely to mold with your fingers, but the finished shoe will break!
  4. Disposable gloves. One pair is all you need. If you are not allergic, go for latex rather than the plastic ones. I wear gloves while I am kneading the epoxy clay in the beginning of the process when the clay is the most sticky. Afterwards, I use my own fingers. You can mix the two elements together with your bare hands, but you might want to slather hand cream on first. 
  5. I like to keep a small container of water on hand. For the epoxy clay, water serves as a smoothing agent. The clay is, in effect, moldable glue!
  6. A receptacle to pour the water in. You’re working small. I use the cap of an orange juice container.
  7. A sharp pencil
  8. Toothpicks. These serve a variety of purposes. You can use them as high heels or use them to spread glue.
  9. Wooden dowels: 5/1,6” 3/16 (7mm, 5mm) These are used as tiny “rolling pins”
  10. Tools with curved or finely pointed heads (for smoothing). I found this marvelous tool that is curved on one end and has a blade on the other. You can also use a pick for shelling nuts. (It's usually sold along with a nutcracker.) I also use a dental “gum stimulator.” The pointed rubber tip is great for closing miniscule gaps behind the heel and the soles of the shoes you are joining together.
  11. Exacto-knife. This gives you more precision for cutting out such tiny pieces. If you use it, be sure to invest in a “self healing cutting mat.”
  12. Sharp scissors (for the rest of us)
  13. Single edge razor blade. I use this for scraping the clay away from the surface after it has been kneaded. I also use it to cut portions of it for use. After you have finished your shoe making for the day, you can use the blade to scrape hardened clay off smooth surfaces. 
  14. Sanding block or emery board for smoothing after the clay has dried and hardened. I really like emery boards because they enable you to sand surfaces in tight spaces.
  15. Strong glue. I recommend a clear, gel type, industrial strength glue for joining layers or gluing outer soles to inner soles. I don’t recommend “superglue” because I find it doesn’t always hold together what you want, yet will stick together things you don’t want like fingers! I also use rubber cement to join the shoe lining to an insole. 
  16. Acrylic paint. Small round bristle paintbrush. Clay comes in a variety of colors. But all you have to do is to buy white and paint it any color you want. 
  17. Pie Tin (optional). Though you can make your soles with cardstock, I like to use the aluminum cut from disposable pie crust tins. This gives my shoes extra structure and hold its shape while I am working with soft and sometimes wet clay.
One more thing.... you really need to work with some sort of magnifying glass. As good as you think your eyes are, a magnifying glass is what you need to really see the details of such a tiny object. If you can afford it, I highly recommend one of those visors with the magnifying glass built in (top photo). They are available on line as well as sold by most crafts stores. If you can neither afford nor find one, prop up a glass high enough to slip your hands underneath (bottom).

Materials

Whatever you choose, remember…. KEEP IT THIN! Paricularly when it comes to leather, be it real or faux. Super thin, kid-glove leathers, thin faux leathers, DIY vegan leather and other non-woven fabrics. You can use fabric but you will have to line or at least turn down all exposed edges. You can also think about using ribbon, yarn, thin elastic bands. You will also need cardstock for your soles. Bristol board cardstock 147 g is a good weight to work with. But if you get a lot of junk mail through the mail, you can probably repurpose some of the flyers arriving in your mailbox. Finally, let’s talk about the surface you will be working on. It should be smooth, easy to release clay from and easy to clean. I use a piece of glass, a window pane that I keep in its packaging. You can also use Plexiglas or Formica.

Organization

There are a lot of moving parts to this project. So I like to keep my workplace organized. I keep everything I need for work in its own box. Pattern pieces for shoes are miniscule. So I keep them in tiny plastic baggies. There is a separate baggie for extra soles as well as the foot lasts.

Clean up

Soap and water is all you need. However, if your fingers are still sticky, rub on a little fingernail polish (acetone). And be sure to use hand cream after all is done.

Shoe Speak
So that we are speaking the same language while we work, I’ve provided the following lexicon of terms we’re likely to encounter.

Upper. The entire part of the shoe that covers the foot.
Insole. The part of the sole that sits directly beneath the foot.
Midsole. Layer between the insole and the outsole. I use this for fabric shoe uppers so that the adhesive stick better.
Outsole. The exposed part of the sole in contact with the ground.
Heel. The part of the shoe that raises the rear of the shoe in relation to the front.
Vamp. The section of uppers that covers the front of the foot as far back as the joint with the quarter.
Quarter. The rear and sides of the upper that covers the heel behind the vamp.

Preview of Coming Attractions

Think of this project as a workshop. There is way too much information for a single tutorial. So over the next couple of weeks, I will be departing from my usual format by posting a series of instructions, separated by subject matter. They will be posted as soon as each one is finished and ready to upload. So what should you expect?

No Biz Like Shoe Biz: Introduction, Materials and Tools. (this post)
Shoe Biz 2: Sole Mates: Construction of inner soles, outer soles, stiletto and high heels; platform shoes.
Shoe Biz 3: High Heel Strappy Sandals. High heel sandals with one piece uppers, ribbon gladiators
Shoe Biz 4: Mules (Backless shoes). Closed toe pattern; close toe with straps
Shoe Biz 5: Stocking Boots. Converting our stocking pattern to high heeled stocking boots
Shoe Biz 6: Using the Spats pattern to create boots.
Shoe Biz 7: Pumps and 2-piece shoes

Coming up immediately: Sole Mates. How to make a high heeled sole using both the Epoxy Clay as well as the oven baked variety. This includes creating insoles and adding on  the high heel.



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