26 October, 2009

Another +1 Networking Point

Sometimes all it takes is the right question posed to the right person at the right moment for doors to fling open for you.

As I was leaving my local cafe today I ran into the owner in the midst of a conversation with two other arty looking men. I happen to know that the owner has a background in furniture design and woodworking. Since I've been reading up on materials I might use to make heels for my prototype shoes I asked him if he had a moment for me to pick his brain about using wood for heels. He said he'd not only love to talk to me, but then introduced me to the man standing next to him. Turns out I interrupted a chat between woodworking designers. They were kind enough to give me an overview of what sorts of wood I could use, and the sorts of tools I would need. Then, this designer I just met offered to help me knock together some prototype heels if I brought him sketches and specs.

Just like that!

Looks like I'm growing a group of designers and teachers and mentors to help me as I start off on this shoe design thing. And it seems to be going pretty well.

24 October, 2009

Making Shoes

I just completed the last week of my shoe design course. During these final five days we were going to attempt the realization of a shoe design we'd worked on before leaving for Italy. For beginners like myself, five days to see a design all the way through from sketch to actual shoe is a pretty bold undertaking- especially considering the sort of designs a couple of us had in mind. I had three designs sketched out, and they were all very science fiction-y, but I settled on the one that was most complex in terms of pattern drafting. My teacher encouraged me to challenge myself.

Since I plan on actually making the other designs at a later date, I will only share those with you later. For now, here is the design I started with when I began to make the shoes:

Several changes would be made due to practicality and time, but the essence of the sketch stayed the same throughout the process of making. And now I'd like to take you through a very quick run through of my last five days, from that sketch to the actual (nearly) finished shoes.

So first we had to make a pattern. Using a last (the wood or plastic foot form), we began by taping them up and drawing on the form. We then carefully cut the patterns off and flattened them before tracing them off, adding and refining and finally creating something that would fit the foot perfectly. (I left a large block of fabric where the heel would be because at the time we weren't sure the shape of the heel I would be using.)

After much crankiness and confusion over my colors and materials I settled on a deep navy patent leather and found a beautiful warm mustard vegetable tanned leather for details. The project began as a (warning: pretentiousness ahead) "meditation on duality", so the mix of shiny and craftsmen-style leather suited my concept perfectly.

So now it was time to start making the shoes. First up, the veg tan leather toe caps. Veg tan leather is very stiff and difficult to work with. The trick to making the toe caps was to soak the leather in luke warm water and shape the toes around the lasts to let them dry.

While they were drying I began sewing all my pieces together. Adding stiffeners, shaping tape, and all the bits and bobs required to make the shoe upper and lining. I chose the bright blue suede lining because I thought it would brighten the shoe and make it look luscious and luminescent. Once the little toe caps were dried (aren't they cute?) I saw the colors and the pieces beginning to take shape and only had to put the whole thing together.

First I lasted the blue suede lining, as you can see below. Then I did a similar lasting technique to the upper (the outside layer), before gluing it all together. Next I had to shave all the edges of leather down to create a flat surface to walk on. As you can see I then filled in the bottom with a cork/acetone mixture that helps to even out the bottom surface of the shoe.

After everything was sewn up, nailed down, glued together, and attached, I began to worry because I hadn't found a heel. My original design called for a wedge, so I began to carve one out of very dense cork. In the end I realized what I really wanted was a heel and later scrapped the cork, but not before I'd put a fair amount of blood and sweat into hand shaving layers of this very very hard cork.

So the shoes were nearly finished, short of finding or carving a new heel for them. Because of the lack of heel, the big block of leather was still hanging off the back of the shoe when I presented my design to the panel of teachers on the last day. They didn't seem to mind. All in all, I have to say I'm pretty damn pleased with myself. This is only the second pair of shoes I've ever made, and I didn't even get to design the first pair.

Unlike fashion, I found to my surprise that I actually enjoyed the process of making the shoes. I loved the craft and the detail and working with the variety of materials. I loved working with tools and making a mess. Shoes are amazing. I want to do more. And more. And more and more.

I learned so much about shoes during this project. I've come to see that although I can use some of the skills I picked up in my fashion training, shoes are a different monster. For example, when pattern cutting and planning clothing, you can anticipate and use gravity to your advantage. But in footwear, you don't have points of the body to hang fabric off of, such as shoulders or hips. You have to work against gravity because the bulk of the shoe is at the bottom. So a shoe designer/pattern cutter has to think upwards instead of downwards.

I also began to appreciate how difficult it is to line things up perfectly. I realize there is a margin for error in shoes- I mean, when's the last time you stared at the stitching on your mass-produced shoes to see if it was perfectly aligned- but I have noticed that my toe caps are about 2mm different and it annoys me! On top of all of that, I have a new appreciation for working with difficult things like patent leather. That wasn't an easy choice for a beginner.

I have been getting a fantastic response about these shoes ever since I began showing them around. Even my teachers complimented my design, and I have the utmost respect for my teachers and their work. That was high praise.

My plan is to focus on making the rest of the mini-collection I designed during this class with the help of my FABULOUS teachers and mentors, and we'll see where things go from there...

What do you know- I have finally found something I love doing.

20 October, 2009

Back From Italy!

This has been the most incredible couple of weeks for me. Italy was a fantastic series of adventures which I will detail in another blog entry when I have more time. But let me just say a quick word about Italy. Although I only saw two cities, my impression can be summed up in one of the photos I took wandering Florence:

Warm light, vespas, beautiful, but a little grim around the edges, and gated. That is the Italy I saw.

10 October, 2009

Marcello, Come Here!

Monday morning, at the ungodly hour of 5am I will be setting off for a week of design work, studying, drinking, dancing, a party or two, visiting Polimoda, and then more design work in the sunny country of Italy.

It will of course be exactly like a Fellini film, kitten, fur wrap, disillusionment and all:

06 October, 2009


In the last two days a lot of things have turned around.

I began a three week footwear design and production course today and I'm already working on a collection. Tomorrow we're seeing the shoe museum and visiting a couple factories, and then next Monday we fly to Italy where we will attend Linnea Pelle and visit Polimoda.

Strange timing makes this upcoming visit to Polimoda very important to me because I was just invited to apply for my MA in shoe design there. One of my shoe design teachers also teaches at Polimoda and spoke with them on my behalf, and encouraged me to apply despite not having finishing my BA. So, next week I'll not only be in Italy for the first time, but I'll also be viewing a university I hope to attend in 2011.

A number of other interesting opportunities have also popped up out of the blue as well. Things are finally looking up.

I am back in the game people. No more moping around the house and watching bad movies. I'm back in the library and doing research. I am traveling, teaching, and generally wearing myself out.

I forgot how much I hate/love dragging myself out of bed early in the morning to carry paper-heavy bags on the overheated underground, sweating like mad after bundling up against the sudden downpour, and craving coffee like a madwoman.

This is good. This is all good.