12 September 2014

Adding a sole to your shoe! (Leather Sole)

Hey guys I have to share with you the coolest thing I have just learned! I learned how to make a channel in a leather sole to attach it securely without fear of ruining the stitches by walking on them, and not having to do crazy extra amounts of sewing a welt and all that stuff.

I didn't intend to make cool legit awesome soles for my moccasins. I was content to keep the thin vegetable tanned soles I had glued on simply as a slightly stronger protection from the outside ground, side walks and the like. I had wanted more-so to protect the super soft deerskin of my shoes than to protect my feet. I was going for a natural as traditional as possible style with these shoes.

Unfortunately the dang sole kept coming unglued. Annoying, but I was committed to keeping the protection to my soles so I just glued them back on every once in a while.  It seemed though, like every time it rained, the soles came unstuck again.

Then disaster struck! I was walking around in the dew covered grass at my in-laws and got my precious shoes wet! No matter! I hung them on a branch to dry, and left them out in the sunshine. When I returned I realized that one of them had blown down from the tree and found its way to Shep's lair!!!!! (Shep is the dog) He had managed to make a pretty good slice in the back heel on the left side. :(

I decided to add another piece of leather to patch the ends. Sort of ruining my official moccasin look, but oh well, maybe I could attach a decent sole while I was at it. Here is the patch. I made it the shape that a lot of shoes are on the back for heel support reasons, and while the support I needed was more just for the patching, I figured it would look a little prettier this way and maybe have some nice heel support while I was at it.

After looking into it on one of my favorite shoemaking blogs, Bespoke Shoes Unlaced, I came across this awesome article! I didn't go all out creating a welt and such, since I really just wanted a sole and wasn't ready to dive into all the intricacies of a handmade Goodyear welt type sole, but I decided to try the channel idea out for fun.

The basic idea of a channel is to create a space where the stitches can lie that will not be directly touching the ground while walking. This creates more durability in the long run because the stitches will not wear through and break. I made a simple diagram that hopefully illustrates what I was trying to accomplish.

Hopefully this illustrates the concept fairly simply. I started out by gluing the insole and sole to the shoe and letting it dry. I wanted those piece to stay where they were at while I was sewing them to the shoe.

The next step is to mark out and cut the channel. I didn't take a picture of marking the line, but basically I used a pointy object to press enough of a line into the leather so that I could see when I cut. I tried to make the line as close as possible to the edge of the sole. I used a fresh blade when making the cut to ensure a sharp clean easy cut. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be actually. I think the key is, super sharp knife, and even pressure while cutting.

Using a flat-ish object (like a flat-head screwdriver) pull the slice you made open a little to expose the area for stitching.

Next, use an awl to make holes through all layers of the sole, insole, and upper and stitch using a running stitch. Make sure the holes you make are plenty big, the cut leather slice will cover the stitches up later making the whole thing fairly waterproof, so larger holes are ok!

Once the soles are stitched all the way around, tie a good knot between the insole and the main part of the shoe (uppers) so that the knot isn't exposed to anything that could make it untie. Use a good tight square knot.

Then use a semi blunt object to rub the stitches to make sure they are all laying flat in the channel. I used a knitting needle because I had one laying around, but the official suggestion from the bespoke shoes unlaced blog is to use a deer bone. This is to make sure there is no
ridge along the channel  when you put it back together.

Using a paintbrush, paint contact cement into the channel and wait about 10 minutes or until it is tacky. Then, using a hammer, rub the lifted leather back into the space where it was before you cut it. When everything is relatively smooth, hammer the sole along the edges and across the entirely of the sole. This will both smash the cut channel back into place and compress the leather making it much more durable over time. If you can, place it against a hard surface so you can hammer pretty hard. However, you don't want to hammer dents into the leather either, so if you make any, try to hammer around the area to smooth it back out again, and proceed a little more gently.

About half way through hammering. See how the channel is flat, but could use a bit more flattening!

Let dry and now you have a beautiful, watertight sole that will last many miles of walking! The beauty of a leather sole is not only is it breathable, but it also will conform to the shape of your foot after a few wears, creating a custom fit!

Note: The soles are only as waterproof as the leather is. If you are walking out in the rain for an extended period of time, the leather will get wet and make your feet slightly damp. But it shouldn't leak thorugh the stitches if you have adequately glued the channel back into place. I walked through a river-like puddle flowing through the HyVee parking lot earlier this week, however, and the only part that seemed to get wet was the tops from the raindrops, so I think it will resist a lot of water!

Happy shoemaking!!

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