Shoemaking Leopard Print Ballet Flats
by Natasha Estrada Follow

Going to try and document most of the steps involved in making this project instead of just posting. LOOK shoes. Take the mystery out of the process since when I was learning I kept on butting into walls of secrecy. 

Ballet flat shoes with a 1/2" using my tried and true pattern for my 8C lasts which fit me perfectly. The upper is made from printed lambskin with calfskin lining.

Most of the skills I learn from Sveta Kletina and she runs a webite called where you can learn how to make shoes and she also sells some supplies



  • First step is choosing your style and materials. I choose to make a ballerina style flat with a 1/2" on a 8C size last that fits me perfectly.

    The upper is from lambskin that has been printed with a leopard print on the back. I can see that as this wears it'll develop a velvet like nap which will be nice

    Upper leather

    8 years ago
  • For the lining I am using a beige calfskin. It looks more caramely in real life.


    8 years ago
  • This is the last I use more than anything else for a go to tried and true ballet flat. I have removed the metal plates to make it easier for a cemented construction but may now replace them as I'm moving towards using nails to cinch the heel.

    The lasts have a hinge that you pop at the end of making a pair so you can get them out in the end.

    Shoe lasts

    8 years ago
  • Every pair starts with a pattern


    8 years ago
  • It's very import to build structure into your shoe so it doesn't stretch out.

    The black tape is 10mm seam tape for reinforcing the back seam and other parts that might need reinforcing in others styles. 

    The white tape is 4mm topline tape that you apply along the top edge of the shoe. The part where it touches your feet. This is called the topline or throat.

    Both tapes have a sticky back but I prefer to also use rubber cement where I am applying it.

    Speaking of glues in general I use to different kinds. Rubber cement for putting the upper together and Master All Purpose Cement for the construction of the shoe itself. Rubber cement bonds are generally less strong but also repositionable. All purpose of contact cement once you've stuck 2 things together it won't come off without wrecking it.

    You can also use Barge Cement or Weldwood Contact Cement which you can get at Home Depot but they smell pretty bad and are not that nice to work with but I know the cement I use can be harder to get if you dont have a shoe supplier.

    8 years ago
  • I should have taken a photo while putting the topline tape on before folding but I forgot. You can see a little bit of it at the end.

    I prefer to put the topline tape on and fold the edges over before I sew the back seam which is why there is a space that is not folded. It's easier to work with things when they are flat. It's more traditional to do it in the round though.

    I should mention the edges have been thinned with a knife to make the folds crisper and less visible. This is similar to grading a seam allowance in sewing and is called skiving.

    8 years ago
  • The uppers have all been folded and the edges hammered to make them flat in preparation for sewing. Always wait for the rubber cement to completely dry before sewing so you don't junk up your machine. 30-60 minutes should be fine.

    Uppers with the topline reinforced and the edges folded.

    8 years ago
  • For the lining you need to skive the seam that joins the front of the lining called the vamp and the back of the lining called the counter. This is so you don't get a lumpy seam inside your shoe.

    You then cement them together and sew along the seam. Note that the counter is cut with the suede side of the leather facing out. You don't have to do this but it helps grip the heel better. You can also have fun with 2 toned linings.

    Like the uppers I like to leather the back seam to the very last minute. It is the last sewing operation I do.

    Linings glued sewn and ready to go.

    8 years ago
  • This is the upper with the back seam sewn ready to be hammered flat and glued shut. This is the point where you would add the reinforcement tape after getting the seam nice and flat.

    Factoid: Sewing the upper of a shoe together is called closing and cutting it is called clicking.

    8 years ago
  • This picture shows the reinforcing seam tape and the option backstrap glued in place awaiting stitching.

    8 years ago
  • Backstrap attached and sewn. Lining has been glued in and topline has been stitched. Note the lining extends past the topline 8mm. This is to allow it to be trimmed off later and allows it to be attached to the last so you don't accidently make them too lowcut.

    You may have notice I use millimeters instead of inches for measurements. Two reasons for this. Most of the shoemaking/patternmaking methods are in metric and also the smaller measurements are easier to well measure in mm

    8 years ago
  • All the stitching has been done and the lining has been trimmed but only in the front. You'll see why later on in the process.

    8 years ago
  • Close up of the topline stitching at the decollotage. Yes you have one down there too.

    8 years ago
  • Close up of the lining showing how it was trimmed away.

    8 years ago
  • This is a little presser foot that makes life so much easier when sewing leather. It's a roller foot. Unfortunately this type of foot is not universally available for all machines. There are those other feet that look like regular feet with rollers in them. They are ok but not as manuaverable. As far as I know you can only get this foot for Berninas as pictured or for high shank machines like industrials or those quilting machines by Brother or Janome/Juki. Some vintage machines like Necchis can take them too but the key is high shank.

    8 years ago
  • Midsoles cut out of texon board awaiting being attached to the last. If it was a higher heel I was attach a metal shank and reinforcement but I like my flats to be flexible.

    8 years ago
  • The next step is to attatch your midsoles to your last. I like to wet the texon board to make it more moldable.

    Note :Texonboard is a compressed cellulose board that also has something added to it to make it more durable. Replacing it with cardboard would not work. If you can't get texon board use vegetable tanned leather or leather board instead.

    Attach with nails, tacks or staples.

    8 years ago
  • Before you start lasting which is the process of molding the upper you have sewn over your last you'll need to gather a few tools.

    Traditionalists will suggest you need a lot of specialized tools to make shoes. Not true. It might be easier but you can make it work without.

    When I first started I used a staple gun and a pair of regular pliers. I still use the staple gun in places but have added a pair of lasting pincers which is a pair of pliers with a little hammer. The pair I have is not great and I need to replace them but they get the job done.

    If you are using a staple gun you'll need a staple remover since the staples are temporary. I also like to have a pair of hemostats for those stubborn ones and also to remove the tacks.

    If you prefer to use nails instead of staples you can really use any kind but I prefer to use 1oz handtacks because  can push them in place and they will hold long enough to tap them in place with the little hammer or the hammer of the lasting pincers

    8 years ago
  • This is not a fabulous photo but the first step in the lasting process is to attatch you upper to your last at the heel.

    The photo on the left shows the traditional way a nail at the top attached the lasting allowance to the last. There is a special measurement as to where to place the upper on the last but this is determined when you make the pattern so I won't cover that now.

    The second method is my preferred way. I attatch the lasting edge og the upper at the heel to the bottom of the heel on the last. This will not be it's permanent position but temporarily attaching it like this makes it easier to last the toe and gives a nice topline that won't bag out.

    8 years ago
  • Unfortunately the photos I took during the lasting process didn't come out as I would like but this is what you end up with after you last the upper and lining.

    8 years ago
  • You'll notice there are wrinkles on the bottom. This is ok because we will skive and sand them down before we add the cork and sole. The tacks you see are just to hold down the leather while the cement dries. They all come out. At least in this type of cemented construction.

    Whats not pictured is the celastic counter stiffener and the thermoplastic toe puff. If I do my job right you won't be able to tell at all but they are there. 

    8 years ago
  • Now you might have noticed some of the leopard spots look a little fuzzy. Despite taking precautions to keep the upper clean by covering them with shower caps I didn't check to see if the leather print was colorfast which it's not. Weirdly enough the solvent in the glue didn't smudge it but soaking it with water did.

    No thats not a fuzzy photo.

    8 years ago
  • I had a couple of options at this point one being making another left shoe or pulling the upper off the last and stitching a topcap in place.

    I opted for a thin black lambskin toe cap but I cemented it in place since I had lasted everything entirely. The glue is actually stronger than stitching so I think it will be fine.

    I also at this point sprayed the leather with a seude protectant spray. I think they will be fine for regular wear.

    So always test test test. This issue trips me up alot because I just don't learn!!!

    8 years ago
  • I cut the toe caps out skived the edge and folded it before cementing it in place. I'm quite satisfied with the result. Maybe better than the original not sure.

    8 years ago
  • Viola pretty little toes.

    Next steps are the level the bottoms fill with biocork and add give it some sole.

    8 years ago
  • Once the lasting process is complete it is time to start preparing the shoe for attachment of the sole. To do this we need to fill in that empty space. For this I use a special cork designed for shoemaking. This add some shock absorbing quality to the shoe. 

    I make a pattern of the gap with glad wrap press and seal which I press over the bottom of the shoe, trim round then stick on the cork and add some extra when I cut it out.

    You can also use a special cork filler instead of sheet cork. I have some biocork bottom filler I haven't tried yet. I wanted to use up my sheet cork first.

    8 years ago
  • The next step is pretty straight forward you stick the cork onto the bottom of the shoe and let it dry.

    8 years ago
  • The you skive off the extra cork and sand it flat. I use a spindle sander for this process but before I got my spindle sander I used a file and a dremmel. The idea is to get everything as flat as possible. You also sand down any wrinkles in the leather.

    8 years ago
  • For the sole I'm going to use a 4mm sole leather which I will thin the edges to 3mm and use a premade rubber heel toplift.

    8 years ago
  • Various stages in the sole making process. I have glossed over this stage a little because sole making is a project in an of itself. This picture shows the pattern, the finished sole with heel attatched and a sole in process.

    The basic steps are to attach masking tape to the bottom of your shoe to get the pattern for the sole. You transfer that to cardboard cut it out and check to see if the pattern is correct.

    If so then trace your pattern onto your sole leather then soak the leather for about 15 minutes to make it soft enough to cut. Cut it out cutting slightly bigger than you want it to allow for sanding.

    Then you skive (thin with a knife) the edges of the sole so you get a more feminine look. I skived from 4mm to 3mm. I should have skived a little more since I feel the sole looks a little heavy for my tastes.

    The I cut a piece of sole leather slightly bigger than the rubber toplift and glue that to the underside of the toplift to create the heel. Then sand around the edges. 

    I like to attach my heels before attaching my sole. It's a little easier this way since the other way you risk ruining the upper when you sand the heel.

    Before we glue the heel on I use a piece of glass to scrape the grain of the leather off. This gives it a velvety feel. 

    I then cover the ball with masking tape and cut an oval shape. I peel off the rest leaving the oval shape still on the sole. 

    I then glue the heel onto the sole and sand all the edges to be smooth and even.

    I then polish the bottom of the sole with a neutral shoe wax. You will see later how the masking tape prevents wax from getting onto the ball of the sole so we don't slip.

    8 years ago
  • Once the sole is ready you compare the sole to your shoe and double check one last time that it fits.

    Then you glue it on being careful to line everything up correctly. The is always a nerveracking step for me since its easy to misalign it and really hard to get it off without destroying everything. The glue is REALLY that strong.

    One you have it aligned you can whack with a hammer. I use a rubber mallet and rub along the edges with the mallets handle.

    Once you have it attached correctly remove the masking tape to reveal the unwaxed portion of the sole. This will allow you to grip the floor better.

    8 years ago
  • You may notice by looking at this shoe that it looks asymmetrical and this is primarily because this last is for a wide foot so there is more volume on the outside of the last than on the inside. The topline is very modest as well. I do NOT like toecleavage. 

    8 years ago
  • The heel from the back. I could have probably made a longer sole and had the heel come further back. Using a premade toplift does limit you in some ways.

    8 years ago
  • I haven't decided whether I will leave the edges of the soles the natural leather or paint them black. I feel the sole looks a tad chunky.

    8 years ago
  • At this point the shoe is almost complete. I just need to remove it from the last, trim the excess lining and then make and attach the foam insole and sock liner

    8 years ago
  • Sockliners are pretty simple things. Just cut them a little shorter at the toe than the midsole, a little wider at the instep and a little squarer at the heel. I use the midsole pattern for the orthapeadic foam and glue it to the backside of the sockliner. I use rubber cement for this part because of its workability. Gives a little wiggle room.

    8 years ago
  • I decided to paint the edges of the sole with black edge enamel. I don't have the steadiest hand so I used masking tape on the shoe and reglassed any part where the line went wiggly.

    8 years ago
  • Once you have your sockliners and insole foam assembled just glue it and slip it in making sure none of the texon midsole is showing. Use a rubber cement pickup to clean any parts of the lining that might have glue on it. 

    8 years ago
  • And there you have it a pair of shoes. Not perfect but made with my own hand.

    8 years ago

Discussion 6

  • Caitlin Draper commented 6 years ago

    These are fantastic - great save with the toe cap!

  • Julie Kansara commented 6 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It's been a long time since I'm interested in shoemaking, wich is a big mistery to me. I'm being patient to find out, step by step how to make shoes, observing, searching on the internet, asking the shoemaker of the neighborhood... So I'm glad to read your instructions. They are so accurate... I would also like to thank you for let me know this awesome website: I learnt a lot thanks to you!

    Wishing you a good continuation.

  • Paivi Kankaro commented 6 years ago

    This is just amazing!!!

  • MadeByMeg commented 8 years ago

    Wow this is so great! I have been researching shoe-making bc I want to dip my toe in the waters this summer, and you're totoally right about the 'secrecy' of shoe-making. So I'm super glad you shared! Still have a lot to learn but you have me totally inspired!

  • Elizabeth Rice commented 8 years ago

    Wow I am wildly impressed! This is so cool :

  • ModeEthik commented 8 years ago

    wow, I am really impressed by your shoemaking skills! I wish I could do that one day, too

See Full Discussion

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