Back in March of 2020, I suddenly found myself in a Groundhog Day loop—along with much of the world. Working from home is something I have always wanted but never thought was possible. So, when the shift came to remote-working—and it happened practically overnight—I wasn’t really prepared. At first, it felt like a snow day, pancakes and pajamas all day—it was great! After a short while, though, I craved the feeling of being my normal self. I had a similar feeling during my winter maternity leave. The snow and cold temperatures kept me inside for days on end, but dressing the part of a normal person made me feel like one.
I remembered reading an article online that mentioned a tip for interviewing for a job over the phone—even though no one will see you, get dressed as if you were going into the office. It will give you the right mindset and cause you to hold yourself more professionally than if you were still in your pajamas—and this professional mindset will come through your voice.
I quickly started getting back into my former morning routine. Everything would be great until I got to my feet.
We are unofficially a no-shoes house, so it felt odd to put on real shoes (but really, why would you put on real shoes if you have no intentions of leaving anyway?). Wearing my worn-out fuzzy slippers instantly felt like I was undoing all the hard work of putting on real pants, doing my (albeit, light) makeup and hair, and putting on earrings. Going barefoot kind of worked, but I felt like I needed something a little more official—something I didn’t have, nor could I find to buy.
I have been working in the footwear design world for over ten years, but it wasn’t until this moment that I realized I should try making house shoes for myself.
A few years earlier, I got into making things with the leather that I would save from the scrap bins at work. Fortunately for me, I work at a company with one of their own sneaker factories in the building. It was a great, low-commitment way to try out this new craft. Plus, it was really fun to see exclusive, sell-out sneakers being hyped online and know that I have a wallet or clutch made of the same materials.
Making a Shoe Pattern
The process of coming up with this new type of footwear for myself involved a lot of trial and error. I had some basic knowledge of patternmaking for shoes, but I didn’t have all of the tools and machines I would normally need, and I certainly didn’t have the actual hands-on experience of building a shoe from scratch.
This whole process of being allowed to try something on my own, fail, and then improve is really therapeutic—and so fulfilling.
I first started with the shape of the sole. I wanted these house shoes to have a little bit of a classic vibe, so I made the forefoot just slightly wider, flowing into a pointed toe. Then, I wanted to make the upper feel like a smoking slipper. To get the right fit for these pieces, I had to tape up my foot with masking tape and then draw the design directly onto my foot. Next, I flattened the tape onto a piece of paper to start working on my 2D pattern. Once I had a pattern out of paper that felt right, I cut out the leather to stitch it up. After a few revisions, I had something that fit my feet well, hugged my heels, and had a flattering look.
This whole process of being allowed to try something on my own, fail, and then improve is really therapeutic—and so fulfilling. Often in a work setting, we don’t allow ourselves the space to take risks and experience failures. It saves us at the moment, but it also hinders important growth and excitement. Even though I technically get to be creative in my job, I am still designing for a client (my employers), which means my work isn’t really my own. I am happy to share, but sometimes it feels good to have something that is just mine.
So, whenever I need a creative recharge, I carve out some time for myself in my home studio and get to the real work. Some days after spending precious hours in the studio, all I have to show for it is an idea of what NOT to do. Some days I make no progress at all. Some days I come out with something that has me so delighted that I have to share—like these house shoes. And when I’m wearing them while also working in my studio, I don’t just feel like my normal self, but my best-self.
A House Shoe How-to
Sizes 6-10 are included in the PDF version of this issue of Seamwork. Seamwork members can download the PDF to print the pattern pieces at 100% scale.
Print out the pattern in the desired size on cardstock, one-sided, 100% scale. This should be a snug fit and are meant to wear barefoot. If you are between sizes, I suggest sizing down.
Prep pattern. Cut pattern pieces out—right in the middle of the print line. Punch out the stitch holes (circles) on each piece. Use a larger setting on your leather punch (2-2.5mm).
Trace pattern. Make sure to have the leather (or other material) laying smoothly on a hard surface, front (right) side down. Try not to stretch the leather. Feel free to use small weights of some kind to keep pattern pieces in place while tracing and marking the holes. Use a pen to trace around the pattern pieces on the leather's backside and mark all the stitch holes. Flip over the pattern piece and repeat. For each pattern piece, you will need to trace a Side A and Side B. Be sure to carefully hold down the pattern. The paper will migrate easily around the leather as you trace around it
Cut pieces. For the upper and sole pieces (anything except the lining) cut just inside the line. You will want 1-2mm between the cut and the line drawn for the lining pieces. I recommend practicing cuts on a few scrap pieces first. It’s a good idea to mark each piece's medial and lateral sides on the wrong sides of the pieces.
Cut out the heel lining. I like to use leather with a little texture, like suede, so that it really grips the heel of the foot.
Punch all the holes with the second smallest hole setting on your puncher. Optionally, you can use the smallest setting for the lining and a larger setting for the sole. Test out punching some of the leather first to get a feel for it and make sure the holes aren’t too big.
Pair the pieces. For each part of the shoe, match a Side A upper with a Side B lining (heel, vamp, sole) and vice versa. You will want the back sides of the pieces touching when you stitch.
Stitch the upper. Start with the heel pieces. Cut an 80 centimeter (31 1/2 inch) piece of cotton thread. Stitch these together along the top edge only (the edge without the triangle notches). Double back so that you stitch over all the gaps. Trim the excess thread.
Attach the vamp to the heel. The vamp upper Side A/vamp lining Side B pieces are paired with the heel upper Side A/heel lining Side B (this is the left shoe). Sandwich the finished (already stitched) heel piece between the vamp upper and lining. Stitch the top line only (not the top edge that attaches to the sole). Cut a 140-150 centimeter (50-59 inch) piece of cotton thread. Start on the 10th hole from the edge on the medial side of the vamp upper (the arch area of the foot).
Start stitching by bringing the needle from the backside of the leather to the front on the 10th hole from the bottom edge. Leave a tail of string between the vamp upper and lining.
First stitch toward the heel, capturing the heel piece (they come together on the 8th hole from the edge). Work the stitch line to the last hole, then double back and continue stitching in the other direction (toward the toe area), filling the gaps. Don’t forget to attach the other side of the heel when you get to the 8th hole from the end. Double back again once you have reached the end on the lateral side. Once you stitch all the way back to the string tail, tie off.
Repeat for the right foot (upper Side B).
If you are using the foam, attach the foam to the backside of the sole leather with the self-adhesive, making sure to clear the stitch holes.
Layer the sole, foam, and lining pieces. Make sure the backside of the sole and sole lining is touching (right side out).
Attach the upper to the sole: Cut a 250-260 centimeter (98-102 inch) piece of the waxed thread. Thread a needle on each end of the cord. Start attaching these pieces by lining up the upper and the sole pieces using the heel notches as a guide. Put a needle through the hole next to the medial heel notch at the heel of the shoe. Pull the thread so that there are equal lengths of thread on either side of the stitch.
Your first stitch will lock in the medial heel notch—make one stitch with each needle, making sure to pull tightly so that the triangular notch closes. Continue stitching with one needle for a few stitches, and then catch up with the other needle.
Take turns doing a few stitches with each needle until you go all the way around the shoe, reach the starting point. You should have a neatly stitched piece with no gaps between stitches.
Tie three knots in the thread as closely to the base as possible, then slide the needle between the sole lining and heel lining to bring the threads outside of the shoe. Trim the threads closely and stuff any visible tails of thread between the leather edge pieces. This prevents any irritation from the waxed thread ends rubbing your heel.
Repeat with the other shoe, and you are finished! Hooray!
Did you find this tutorial inspiring? Browse the Seamwork archives for even more DIY and textile projects.