Thursday, January 16, 2014

HSF '14: Blue Regency Flats

I have a problem.  I can't seem to do small projects for the Historical Sew Fortnightly.  When planning for a challenge, and I want to do something small, I'll pick an accessory.  A bag, or recovering shoes.  But then I think, well, this is small, and won't take much time, so I can either a) not start till next week, or b) add some embroidery to make it more challenging.  I'm pretty sure last year my 'small' projects, as a rule, took longer than my big projects.  And I've started 2014 no differently.  Recovering shoes.  That can't take that long, can it?  And in truth, it certainly didn't take as much time as my mitts last year or the crochet collar.  But the nature of sewing shoes meant I could only do a couple hours per day--my poor middle finger couldn't take any more than that. (Side note, I still need to learn how to use a thimble. I keep trying, and it keeps not working.)  So while these shoes are absolutely gorgeous, and I LOVE how they turned out, they really didn't fit my 'starting small' expectations.

The Challenge: Make Do and Mend.  I took one pair of ugly shoes and transformed them into something I'd actually wear.  Not really a 'mend' but it fits perfectly with 'make do'.

Fabric: Blue silk shantung and (probably) poly bias binding.

Pattern: Draped from the shoe I was recovering.

Year: Regency.

Notions: Just the bias binding and thread.

How historically accurate is it? It's a modern shoe re-covered, so not much.  But I did base as much as I could from looking at extant examples.

Hours to complete: About 15.

First worn: Just around the house so far.  I need to find a ball to wear them to!

Total cost: The blue silk was leftover from my Regency mitts, and the binding was about $2.  The shoes I picked up at the thrift store for $4.50.  So $6.50.

When I thought about doing this project, I was inspired by all the HSF entries last year for changing modern shoes into ones more period appropriate.  A lot of people painted their shoes (see here or here), or added trimmings (see here or here), or even glued fabric on top (see here), but I wanted to sew my fabric on.  So I thought I'd show my process, and some helpful tips, in case any one else wanted to undertake this 'small' project.

So first up, you need to find a reasonable shoe.  These were a lucky find at the thrift store, and I knew if I screwed up completely, I would have only lost about $5.  The shaping of them seems to indicate they've been worn, but there aren't any marks anywhere, and the insole looks brand new, so I really don't know.

Remove trimmings and discover what goes into making a shoe.

My shoe had three layers.  A thin cotton twill for the inside, some sort of spongy middle layer, and the cotton fashion fabric exterior.  My layers were stuck together at some spots, indicating they had been spray glued together.

Because they spray glue wasn't really holding the layers together anymore, I decided to use a running stitch along the top to hold everything together.  This made my covering process a lot easier.

I also removed the bias strip covering the back seam, discovering something I hadn't considered--that the seam of the shoe was on the outside.  In hindsight, this seems obvious, as you don't want a seam digging into your heel, but I had thought it would be hidden in between the layers like you (usually) do when lining clothing.  This strip continued under the shoe into the sole, so I had to cut it as close as I could at the bottom.  (Side note, while researching other peoples' projects online, I came across someone who suggested you could pry back the sole a bit with a butter knife, wedge your fabric in between, and re-glue.  I tried that to get the back seam covering strip out, and later with the front toe area, but it didn't work with my shoes.)

Drape the mock-up material over the shoe, trying to match the grain lines of the floral fashion fabric as much as possible.

Keep pinning and cutting until it looks like an even uglier brown shoe.  Around the bottom edge, I left some extra fabric, knowing I would rather have too much later on than too little.

Once you're satisfied, take the mock-up fabric off and Presto! You have a rather rough looking pattern.

Lay this out on your (new) shoe fabric and cut, leaving a bit extra around the edges, again just in case.  You don't need to mock-up both shoes, as they're mirror images of one another, but it is a good idea to write on your mock-up fabric which side is up, and which shoe you used.  I got mixed up a couple times before I did this.

I also cut a slit down the middle to ease in the pinning later.

Start pinning your fabric on to the shoe!  This doesn't need to be perfect right from the start, you'll be constantly pinning and re-pinning as you sew.

Once you've got it all roughly in place, sew along the top edge with a running stitch.  This doesn't need to be perfect, as you'll be covering this with your binding later.  Trim the top after you're done to make it easier to handle.  (Tip: I trimmed the top edge down flush with the original layers of the shoe.  I wish I would have left more fabric there and trimmed later.  I still had many hours of handling the shoe and by the end my fabric was frayed in a couple spots a lot more than I would have liked.  Thankfully I realized my mistake early and applied some fray check, eliminating most of the fraying.)

Tuck under the bottom edge, trimming as you need to.  I only did one side at a time, but it could be all done at the same time.  The pinning still isn't perfect, as I continued to pin as I sewed.

This is more representative of all my pinning!

Starting at the heel and leaving the back seam free, stitch along the fabric as close as you can to the rubber sole.

And continue along the side.  You won't be able to get as close as the original shoe maker, but you should be able to get pretty close.  I used a back stitch for this process, but you could probably use a running stitch.  I tend to over secure all my stitching.

The inside will look something like this.  Fortunately I have the insoles to cover all that up.

And now for the tricky part.  I'm still not sure if my decisions about how to do the toe area were correct, so if anyone has a better way, please let me know.  For the heel and the sides I was able to sew normally--needle comes out of the shoe, needle goes in the shoe--like normal sewing.  But I knew I couldn't really do that with the toe, there's no way to grab the needle from the inside, there's just not enough room.  So I didn't.  The toe was sewn entirely from the outside, catching as many layers of the fabric as I could, back and forth.  I'm not sure how to explain it in words, so hopefully the photo explains.  (Tip, have a long piece of thread to work with when starting this, as it's hard to tie off anywhere along the toe, and this ladder-like stitching takes up a lot of thread.  Also, having really good matching thread helps with this step.)

In the end, your toe area looks like this--like two rows of stitches, but it's really going back and forth between the two.  I tried to keep my upper row as tiny as possible, and as close to the bottom row as I could to minimize the appearance.  I got better the longer I worked at it.

And this is the result.  Barely noticeable from even a foot away, and no one is going to be looking at your shoes that close.

I like this picture.  Have I said enough that you'll keep pinning and re-pinning?

Once the bottom is done, sew up the back seam.  I sewed each side to the shoe, very close to the seam, instead of through the seam itself.  This also doesn't need to be perfect as it will be covered.

Trim the excess away and Voila!  You have a basic shoe!

After this, I didn't take a lot of photos.  I was getting pretty sick of the process, and the rest of the steps are pretty self explanatory. One last note though, looking at extant shoes, I noticed they all had a strip of fabric along the sides (see here and here).  I'm not sure if this is for stability, or if there was a seam there, but they all had it.  So I decided for attempted accuracy, I'd add a bit of bias binding too.  I guessed on the exact placement, basing it on the examples I saw online.  I tucked the bottom edge under and sewed up the two sides (again with a back stitch) using the same color thread as the rest of the shoe.  I decided I liked the contrast, and I think on a couple of the examples contrasting stitching was used.  (You can kinda tell here.)

After that, I sewed a strip up the back, again tucking the bottom under and using a back stitch. And the last step was to add a bias strip along the top.  I did iron it in half and found that helped keep everything in place while I sewed it down.  And then they're done!  I sewed mine like an assembly line, one step on left shoe, same step on right shoe so I wasn't left with one shoe done and no desire to do the remaining shoe.  Sock knitters taught me about that!

Not too bad!  I actually am extremely proud of them, and can't wait to wear them.  I do have plans to add ribbon straps, as unless I'm wearing thick socks they're a bit big, and I may add some trimming later, but that can be for another challenge.

One last note, I wasn't really happy with the thin strip of the original fabric you could still see along the bottom.  The areas that were black were fine, but the pink or cream bits bugged me--they stood out too much.  So I took a really fine black rolling ball pen and colored in the cream and pink, being extremely careful not to mark the blue silk.  The photo below shows the difference.  The bottom shoe has been done, and the top one hasn't.  Maybe it was a bit overkill, but I think it adds a nice final touch.


  1. I really like these. Modifying an existing shoe is SO MUCH WORK, but you did a great job! I'll probably be referring to your excellent post when I finally jump into Regency! Bravo :)

  2. Very interesting, thanks for sharing your process. They look great.

  3. Very nice idea. They look gorgeous. :)

  4. Great project! Thanks for sharing your process. :)

    Emily's Vintage Visions