Introduction: Mukluks for Christmas
My Dad used to snowshoe many miles in boarding school in Manitoba sporting mukluks and several pairs of socks. He has talked about his experiences since we were kids and has wanted a new pair for quite some time. I started working leather last year, mainly recycling old coats or pants into hand bags. When I picked his name for Christmas this year, I knew exactly what I wanted to make for him. Using an old pair from a family friend as a model and many hours on Google, I strung together ideas to string together his Christmas gift.
Step 1: The Tools
The best leather to reduce humidity and therefore help keep your feet warm is supposedly deer. The deer leather I found was beautiful but not very thick nor rugged. I opted for vegetable-tanned cow hide for the sole, scrap cow hide for the tongue and deer hide for the leg. Veg tan is very rigid stuff and initially I had thought it just needed some breaking in. Turns out it won't wear down to become a flexible sole so I suggest using malleable leather and glueing on a crepe sole to protect it should you try to tackle this project on your own.
Tanner's bonding cement is handy to keep the pieces in place in addition to the thread, which is coated in wax so it's easier to handle. The leather conditioner is mainly beeswax and helps protect the leather from moisture. For deco I picked up some coyote teeth and bone.
Step 2: The Project
One of the example mukluks was disassembled to roughly trace the pieces however my Dad's feet are bigger so I used a pair of his old insoles and added an inch in width to the sole of the model.
After cutting out the veg tan soles I punched them with roughly equal spacing around the outside edge. Now, the only way to mould veg tan is when it's sopping wet so I dunked it in the sink and weaved some thread through the punched holes to give the sole a foot form and let it dry overnight.
I made the tongue larger than the model as the sole shape was larger and also in hopes that it would be easier to weave the tongue into the gathered front of the sole.
I traced the leg piece onto the rough side of the deer tan, adding length (so he won't get snow in his boot if walks into a deep area) and extra tabs to reinforce and make the glueing process easier. Then I glued on black canvas to strengthen where the grommets would go for the laces. That way if anyone pulls on the laces the leather won't stretch or tear around the grommets.
I cut out the front part of the leg and punched it with the same number of holes as the edge of the other leg pieces. Then I sewed the two leg pieces and tongue together.
Finally, I sewed the leg piece to the sole. This took the longest as the veg tan was very rigid and difficult to sew the tongue piece into the gathered toe area. I was later informed that you can sew the veg tan wet so it will gather nicely and render much less damage to your fingers.
The grommets I had initially bought did not have a long enough post for the number of leather layers and canvas I ended up with. I used a boat tarp repair kit which included the punch, the setter and the anvil for large brass grommets. I'm sure smaller grommets with longer posts can be found online but Walmart was handy.
I gave my Dad the mukluks for Christmas without the grommets or laces in as I found the boat tarp repair kit afterward and also required some assistance lining up the grommets so they mushroomed and pinched the leather properly.
Step 3: Final Product
All in all it was a great experience and I enjoyed it thoroughly! Next time I work with veg tan I'll be sure to sew it wet. I'll definitely try to find a more malleable (yet durable) leather for the sole and glue on crepe to protect it. That way it will bend with your foot when you walk. It would also be good to try to sew the toe of the mukluk together in a fashion that won't collect so much snow, and will also allow more "roof" space for the top of the foot. I had attempted a whip stitch but the veg tan was too stiff and large gaps were forming so the snow would have easily fallen in.
Fortunately for our Canadian winters I will have lots of time to make another pair :)