Introduction: Making Sneakers From Scratch

Picture of Making Sneakers From Scratch

(by "from scratch", I mean from fabric and other things available at any local craft store)

Hi everybody, about 5 months ago, I decided to move from my hometown (Philadelphia, PA), to Daegu, South Korea. Before I came, I asked some Americans living in Korea about what I needed to bring (things they don't have here in Korea), they all said about the same things, deodorant, socks, toothbrush, and shoes. Everybody said I should make sure I bring enough shoes with me because Korean shoes are made for Koreans, so for some reason, Korean shoes just don't fit Americans correctly.
Of course, since I am not the kind of person that can tolerate being limited by the available retail products, I decided to make my own. Turns out, it's not so hard.
I looked up other instructables, but none gave me the info I was looking for, some told me to purchase soles and glue them on, which made me feel sad inside, and another said to use cork for soles and that I couldn't ever wear them outside or they would break, yet another said I should first make a casting of my feet, which is probably a good way to do it, but there is no way I want to do that.
So I started from scratch. Bought some crazy colored suede type fabric, took some loose measurements and started sewing, at which point I realized that I had no idea how to sew, so I looked up an instructable about sewing knots and that type of thing, which was a big help, but I'm still no seamstress (or seamster??). I had almost completed one shoe when I had to leave for Korea, now I've been in Korea for 4 months, and I just got around to starting the second shoe, but this time I'm remembering to take pictures so I can write this instructable for you guys :-)

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Picture of Gather Your Materials

Basically you need the following:
-Suede or leather type fabric (something of that strength, can be fake if you prefer)
-Some other kind of fabric (doesn't really matter)
-Thread
-Plastic sewing mesh stuff (I don't know what its really for, but its good for making shoes, and all craft stores sell it with sewing stuff)
-Sewing needles
-Fabric scissors
-Measuring tape
-Polyester filling (or some other filling if you prefer)
-Foam sheet
-Felt (probably unnecessary)
-Laces

For the sole, I used:
-Liquid rubber for carpet backing
-Paint brush
-Foam sheet (Thicker, I actually used a flower pot holder for this, it was the same material)

Optional:
-Eyelets
-Eyelet tools (eyelet anvil, eyelet tool)
-Hammer


Choose your fabric colors wisely, I fully endorse using the most bright and obnoxious colors available, the world needs more of that. The suede or leather is for the outside of the shoe, if you didn't guess that already. Also note that I used a pre-existing shoe for the measurements, which I assume is what you are wearing now.
For the sole, you might want to try other things, but I know the carpet backing worked pretty well for me. The stuff I bought is made by SAF-T-BAK. I know many craft stores carry liquid latex for making molds, but I don't think that is as strong. Online, you can find better rubber making kits which involve mixing stuff together, but its quite a bit more expensive than carpet backing. Liquid latex for molds is also much more expensive.

Step 2: Take Your Measurements (or Don't, See If I Care)

take off your shoe. You only need to measure one of them. I measured from the bottom of the sole to the top of shoe in any place that formed any kind of angle and wrote down the measurements. I'll add a diagram to better explain this step.
If you want, you can try to just wing it, the result could be interesting or terrible, there's only one way to find out. I personally have no moral objections to measuring. If you are really in a bad spot in life and you don't have a pre-existing shoe to measure, and you also have no friends or family that have shoes (yet you have a computer... hmmm....), then I suggest you go to a shoe store and measure some of their shoes, if they complain, you can say that you have strange shaped feet and need to make sure that their shoes will fit you.
Make sure you also measure the shoe's tongue at its base and at its top (narrowest and widest points).
I also traced the shoe to get size and shape for the sole, since I couldn't think of an easy way to measure something of that shape, and also, this project isn't about being exact, just about making a wearable, good looking sneaker. (with bright obnoxious colors).

Step 3: Test Your Measurements! (Don't Cut Your Fabric Yet)

Before you cut your sneaker design out of the fabric, try it on paper first. Cut out some paper in the shapes that you measured, and then instead of sewing, use tape, if the end result is a paper shoe, then you are ready for your fabric.
There are some things that you should remember when cutting out your pieces. First of all, make sure you add about an inch to all of your height measurements, as well as an inch or two to the length and width of the toe piece, this will give you enough room for everything to overlap enough for you to sew it all together, remember that you will be walking in these, so the seams will need to be pretty strong, and the more overlap space you give the pieces, the stronger you can make the seams.

Step 4: Cut Out Your Fabric

This step is pretty easy if you didn't skip the last step. For this step, you can reuse your paper templates from the last step, tape them to the backside of your fabric and cut them out. Make sure that you cut out each shape twice out of each fabric type (two pieces of suede, two pieces of other fabric), since you are making two shoes and each piece has two sides. It can be a little bit tedious, but once it's done then it's done, and it doesn't take too long. Be careful about your toe piece, depending on your design, that piece might be reversed on the other shoe.
Also note that fabric scissors need to be pretty sharp, don't go cutting your fingers off, it will dull the blade.

Step 5: Beginning of Sewing

Picture of Beginning of Sewing

You can start either on the toe piece or the part that goes around the heel, I like to get the biggest piece out of the way first, that way it starts to look more like a shoe earlier and motivates me to finish. For the sake of providing clear instructions, I will ask you to start there too.
Start with your main piece (the one that goes around your heel). Place the pieces (inside and outside) together, with their outer faces facing each other (inside out). Now, sew the two pieces on the top edge, starting at the first peak and ending on the last peak (see picture 2).
Once that is complete, its time to turn it inside out again so that the outer faces of the pieces are facing away from each other (outward). See picture 3
Now, starting at the same place you started sewing before, sew in the opposite direction, and end on the bottom corner. Do not sew the bottom edge. Do this for both sides. See pictures 4 and 5.

Step 6: Sewing the Toe Piece

Picture of Sewing the Toe Piece

Next, get your toe piece (front and back). Place them together with their outer faces facing outward and start sewing. Only sew the front edge (the curved part), leave the back part open because that is where the tongue will go. All of these stitches are pretty redundant in the end actually, and they will never be seen, they are basically just for the sake of keeping the fabric together while you are sewing the toe onto what will be the sole. Sewing the pieces together won't even provide extra structural support, so feel free to make these stitches as sloppy as you want. See pictures 1 and 2.
Next, you want to actually sew the toe piece onto the piece that will become the sole (its the plastic mesh thing that you cut out in the shape of a shoe). Make sure that your sole piece if facing the right direction, otherwise you might accidentally make two left feet, which would suck.
Place your toe piece upside down with its left edge (when viewed from the top) on the left side of the plastic sole piece, make it overlap a few squares, the more it overlaps, the stronger it will be, but you will have less toe room. I made mine overlap about 3 squares. Make sure you keep that about constant all the way around. Sew the fabric toe piece to the toe of the plastic sole piece. You will have to bend the fabric in a strange way as you are sewing, and it will get more difficult near the end when the toe piece is almost right-side up again. See pictures 3, 4 and 5.
Once this is done, it should look a lot like a slipper. I recommend not trying to wear it yet, although you may want to stick your toes in it if you want to make sure it fits, which it should unless you did something really wrong. See pictures 5 and 6.

Step 7: Adding Holes for the Laces

Picture of Adding Holes for the Laces

Now, since I assume you want your shoes to have laces, you are going to need some holes to put the laces through. In my opinion, the easiest and best way to do this is with little metal eyelets. You can buy them at your local craft shop, and they are pretty cheap, I bought a package of 25 (package said 25, but I counted and there were 28) which included the anvil and tool for only a few dollars (USD), you can also get different colors, but I wanted shininess. The other option is to just make holes in the fabric, but then you have lots of other concerns which make this option impractical.
Using eyelets is easy, you cut a small cross shaped hole in your fabric (image 2). Push the eyelet through the fabric (from outside to inside, image 3 and 4). Place the eyelet face down on the anvil (image 5). Place the tool on top and hammer it down (image 6). The directions say to hammer gently, but you have to hit it pretty hard. Do not miss the anvil, you will damage your eyelet and they can not be removed easily.
I used my pre-existing sneaker to measure the locations for the holes.
If you go the eyelet-less route, I suggest you used some kind of hole punch to make the holes, that way you know they will be round. Then I suggest you sew around the holes for added strength. I didn't try this method, so I have no idea how hard it is or how well it works.

Step 8: Adding Ankle Cushions and Shaping Material

Picture of Adding Ankle Cushions and Shaping Material

For this step, you will need your polyester filling. I found it at my local craft store in a big bag. It wasn't as cheap as I wanted it to be, but not expensive either. However, there's good news if you are on a budget and/or you can't find it in a store. I left mine in the US when I came to Korea, and don't know where to look for it here, so I opened up my pillow, and guess what its full of? See picture 2.
Take your main shoe piece again, and start sewing right underneath the first peak again, and end right underneath the last peak. You are making a pocket around the edge of the shoe which you will fill with stuffing. You should be filling it with stuffing AS you are sewing, stop every few inches to add more stuffing. I used a pencil and a chopstick to shove the stuffing in there. See picture 4. Don't sew too much without adding stuffing, if you do, you will regret it. It won't ruin your shoe, but it makes it harder to get the stuffing in there deep enough.
Once you get near the end, shove some extra stuffing in the end before you stitch it closed, that way you can roll it out with you fingers and it will fill any empty space.
After the padding is in place, you will want to add something to keep the shape of the shoe, so that it doesn't fall flat when you take it off. I used a spare piece of the plastic mesh left over from the sole piece. I cut it into a rectangle that was 22 squares wide, and I sewed it in between the layers of fabric through squares 11 and 12 (11 from the right and 11 from the left), so that the resulting stitches formed two identical perpendicular vertical lines.

Step 9: Making Your Tongue (your Shoe's Tongue, Not the Kind That's in Your Mouth)

Picture of Making Your Tongue (your Shoe's Tongue, Not the Kind That's in Your Mouth)

You should have already measured your original shoe's tongue, both it's length and width, and its width at both it's widest and narrowest points. It's a pretty simple piece, so its hard to really mess up the shape of this one. However, it should be noted that you should add an inch or so to its length and width when you cut out the shapes, since you will be inverting this piece, you will lose a little space to the inside of the tongue.
Go ahead and cut out your tongue (from the fabric, not from your mouth). Once again, you will need to cut out the shape from each piece of fabric, one for the outside and one for the inside.
Place the pieces of fabric with their outer faces facing each other (inside out), and begin sewing around the edges starting at one of the corners on the narrowest edge. Sew all the sides except for the smallest side, so you should finish sewing on the corner directly on the other side of the smallest edge (See picture 3).
Once you are finished sewing, invert the entire piece. This is slightly more difficult than when you did it for the piece that goes around the heel, since this time you sewed 3 sides shut instead of just one, but its still fairly simple and straightforward (See picture 4).
Once that has been completed, stuff it full of your filling. It will look like a little pillow in the end, don't worry, it will get compacted as you wear the shoe (See picture 5).
After the tongue has been filled, it is time to sew the tongue onto the toe piece. Sew the tongue onto the toe piece, this seems like it would be difficult since you have your plastic mesh in the way, but you can sew through the mesh without sewing the tongue onto the mess, just make sure your needle goes back through the same mesh square that it came out of each time, aside from that, all your stitches are normal (See picture 6). You should place the open side of the tongue between the two layers of fabric on the two piece for best result. Surprisingly, this is sometimes difficult, and I stabbed my fingers most on this stage, but it's not overly difficult either. On my first shoe, I missed the tongue a little bit while sewing, but it was easy to go back later and fix it.

After the next step, you shoe will begin looking like a shoe!

Step 10: Sewing on the Heel Piece

Picture of Sewing on the Heel Piece

Ok, now it is finally time to sew on the piece that goes around your heel. This is time consuming and uses quite a lot of thread, be prepared. It is also one of the most rewarding steps because it is the step that finally makes this thing look like a shoe.
This is also where that extra inch you added to the fabric comes into play, if you didn't do that, then your shoe is going to be pretty short, and your foot probably won't fit well... So, hopefully you followed my instructions up until this point.
First thing you want to do is sew the front of the heel piece to the back of the toe piece (See picture 2). You want to make sure that you leave enough of the fabric hanging over the edge to sew it onto the sole piece (about 3/4-1 inch, for me it was 4 plastic mesh squares). Don't sew all the way to the top of the the heel piece, only about halfway to the top, if you go higher than that, it will be too tight, lower than that and it will flap around as you walk.
Now, fold the bottom of the heel piece underneath the sole piece and sew it on. Make sure as you go around, you keep the area of overlap constant, otherwise your shoe won't take on the correct shape. This is essentially the same thing that you did with the toe piece, except this time, the fabric is underneath the sole piece instead of on top, and also, your area of overlap should be slightly greater, since this piece will take more abuse than the toe.
Do not sew all the way around yet, only sew to right before where the sole starts to curve for the heel (See picture 3). Once you get here, you need to add some more padding to prevent the plastic mesh piece from damaging the fabric and/or your foot as you walk. Take your foam sheet, and your felt (pictures 4 and 5), and cut them so that they match the curve of the back of the shoe, but not at tall (they must fit below the ankle padding, and above the sole). Simply insert these pieces between the two layers of fabric in the heel piece, so that the foam piece is behind the plastic piece and the felt piece is in front of it (See picture 6). You will need one felt piece and one foam piece per side (two of each for each shoe).
Once those pieces are in place, continue sewing around the sole of the shoe. The heel part is the most difficult, but you can do it. The fabric around the heel (on the bottom) may fold strangely, but that's ok, as no one will see the bottom of the shoe once it's covered in rubber.
Once you have completely sewed the heel piece to the sole piece, then you should be able to sew the heel piece to the toe piece on the other side, as you in the first part of this step. If you did everything correctly up till this point, then you should have something that looks a lot like a shoe! Congrats!

Step 11: Starting the Sole

Picture of Starting the Sole

The sole takes a long time, sorry. At least it does if you use my method, here you might come up with your own ideas depending on what materials you have available. If you purchased a fancier rubber kit, than your method will likely differ from mine. For my method, I used Saf-T-Bak Rug Backing, which is basically liquid artificial rubber. Craft stores sell it, it shouldn't be hard to find if you have access to a craft store, otherwise, search the internet. Craft stores also sell other types of rubber that you can probably use, but I think this is the cheapest option.
Start by cutting a piece of paper in the shape of your shoe's sole. I used an old worksheet from my Korean class, which had pen ink on it, I recommend using something that doesn't have ink on it, as the liquid rubber seems to have caused the ink to bleed, it wasn't a big issue, nobody will see it, but I worry about what might have happened.
Place the piece of paper inside the shoe so that it covers the bottom (See picture 2). After that, crumple up some more paper and stuff it inside the shoe, filling all the space where your foot will go (picture 3).
Invert the shoe (so that the sole is facing upwards), and start carefully painting the rubber on to the sole (picture 4). You will be painting over the fabric a little bit in the area where the heel piece overlaps the sole piece, don't get the rubber any farther than that (picture 1). The rubber can not be removed from the fabric easily. Also note that if your rubber starts to crack as it dries, then applying thinner coats seems to solve this problem, however, the cracks don't seem to matter until your final few coats, make sure that your final few coats are thinner.
You will need to do multiple coats (many coats), and you must allow time for each coat to dry, which is at least a few hours. I have been doing about 4 coats per day. Once you can no longer see the pattern of the plastic mesh or the edges of the fabric through the rubber, then it is time to add some padding to the sole (otherwise this will take forever, and your sole will be as hard as a rock).
Paint another layer of rubber onto your sole, and then cut up some of your foam sheet (use thicker foam sheet if available, I actually used foam that was meant for holding flower pots instead) into shapes which will cover the bottom of your sole (matching the curves as well as you feel like matching them, see picture 6). Try to leave some space between pieces, doing so will give your sole more strength, which it needs since it will be supporting your weight and protecting your feet from the ground. While the rubber on the bottom of your sole is still wet, apply more rubber to the bottom of each foam piece and stick it to the sole like glue (picture 5 and 6). Allow this coat more time to dry than other coats (still less than 24 hours, unless the product you chose has directions which indicate otherwise).

Step 12: Finishing Touches

Picture of Finishing Touches

Just continue adding more layers of rubber on top of the foam sheet until you are satisfied with the thickness. If you want, you can use a smaller brush to carefully paint rubber around the edges, so that all the plastic and foam is covered. Also, make sure that your final few coats of rubber at thinner to prevent cracking.
On the last layer, I took a wider mesh material (one of those mesh bags that oranges or onions come in, see picture 2) and laid that on top of the sole (I also built a cardboard frame around it to help keep its shape, pictures 4 and 5), then painted rubber over it (picture 5), and then removed the mesh (pictures 6, 7, and 8), leaving behind the pattern of the mesh in the rubber (picture 1). It turned out differently than I expected, but it still looked good. You might want to paint some kind of clear enamel on top of the rubber once its dry if the rubber sole is too sticky. Walking in the shoes will make it less sticky, but also a bit dirty.
After that, just add some shoe laces and you can start to wear it! However, you should repeat the entire process before you replace your existing shoes, otherwise one of your feet will be exposed to the elements.
Remember when you make your second shoe that it is a mirror of the first, you have a right foot and a left foot, make your shoes accordingly (sounds like common sense, but I almost forgot).
The orange laces that I used were given to me for Christmas by a friend.

Other finishing touches are up to you, you can sew designs on the outside, or add some insoles (store bought or home-made), make your own laces, add LEDs or whatever. Be creative, you made the shoes, make them look the way you want, you deserve it. If you want, you can even make them more obnoxious than mine are! Good luck!

Comments

csfromchina_com (author)2016-01-16

Well done for having a go but gotta say they look terrible. The kind of shoes only a mother could love.

OutofPatience (author)2015-08-11

I'm impressed! I've made some of my own shoes before, but the sole was always the trickiest problem to find solutions for...materials and how to attach them, etc. Yours is an elegantly resourceful idea...I plan to steal it forthwith, since I have a very narrow hard to fit foot (read: EXPENSIVE and almost impossible to find size...) This was what prompted me...eons ago...to make my own shoes in the first place. (My son came home from 1st grade 30 years ago to inform me that no one else's Mom made their own shoes...sigh...) THANKS!

k24tea (author)2013-01-28

Thanks for sharing this great Instructable! Well done with clear directions and lots of helpful photos. How are the rubber soles holding up to wear?

prushik (author)k24tea2013-01-29

The wear isn't the issue so much as the strength. They hold up ok as long as you let the rubber cure long enough. However, if I were going to do it again, I would use something like Oogoo (https://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Make-Your-Own-Sugru-Substitute/) or a bioplastic (https://www.instructables.com/id/Making-BioPlastics-Environmentally-Friendly-Plast/)

jessyratfink (author)2012-04-06

That's awesome! This is a great walkthrough - lots of good ideas for shoe making.

prushik (author)jessyratfink2012-04-06

Thank you very much :-)

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Bio: I'm from Pennsylvania, but lived in Korea for several years. I enjoy making things from scratch, learning new skills, programming in low-level programming languages ... More »
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