Introduction: Simple Shearling Boots
Toasty warm and super comfy genuine shearling boots can be yours in a few relaxing hours.
Shearling is sheep leather tanned with the wool still attached. It's super warm and soft, hence often used to line shoes and garments. It's also easy to sew up with a simple, inexpensive, easy to find tool called a stitching awl.
Why not make yourself a custom fit pair?
Step 1: Tools & Materials
* Stitching/sewing awl ($6.99 @ Harbor Freight tools, $10-20 at hardware or outdoor gear stores like REI. Look for "Speedy Stitcher" or "Quick Stitch")
* X-acto knife
* cutting mat
* Sharpie marker
* optional: binder clips or bulldog clips
* small Shearling hide, about 5-6 square feet
* the heavy waxed thread that came with your stitching awl
* Foam/rubber sole material, see notes below.
* Barge brand contact cement, see notes below.
* optional: leather or wool felt of your choice in same amount as shearling, see notes below.
Commercially made shearling lined shoes are just that - lined only. They typically use a different leather on the outside because it's hard to dye leather without dying the wool or the leather part isn't very strong. The hide I found is rather thick and came in a nice natural caramel color so I just used it as is. if yours is on the thin side or you just don't like the look of the non-wooly side then glue another material of your choice onto the non-wool side before you mark and cut your pattern pieces. My favorite leather store had a special closeout so I was able to buy a hide for $15, enough for 2 pairs of these boots. If you can't find the real stuff you can use faux from the fabric store, but you may need to finish the edges to keep them from unraveling.
About Barge cement: This is the absolute best glue for leather, rubber and nearly anything else flexible. However, the original version of this stuff in the YELLOW PACKAGE is HIGHLY TOXIC. Make sure you are outside or wearing a respirator when working with it or you're going to have quite a buzz. The new version in the BLUE PACKAGE is toluene free and supposed to be much less smelly. I haven't tried it myself yet but I'm told it works just as well though I'd recommend being outside for this one, too. A 2 oz tube should be enough for this project and can be found in hardware/outdoor gear stores near wherever they sell tarps and tarp/strap mending kits. I buy mine by the quart from a leather supplier.
About foam/rubber sole materials: I'm lucky enough to have several shoe suppliers within driving distance so for this project I used actual sole making materials. (Saderma in Los Angeles & Orange Counties is great) The first layer I used is a spongy crepe for cushioning and the bottom layer is a rugged textured solid rubber. A piece of each big enough for 3 or 4 pairs of shoes cost about $5. If you can't get your hands on these don't fret - the hardware store is again your friend. I've used foam anti-fatigue mats (the big squares with puzzle piece edges) and rubber floor runner (sold by the foot) which work well, too. Just take extra care with the anti-fatigue mat not to pull your stitches too tightly as it tears more easily. You can use foam for both layers if you like.
Step 2: The Pattern
You can either download my pattern which is sized for a snug men's 10 narrow or draw your own. (These pattern pieces are sized to fit on legal sized paper at 100%)
Cut a set of paper pieces for each foot, even if you're just mirroring left and right. This will make it easier to lay out your pattern pieces on the leather. Note: my pattern was designed to be super snug since leather will stretch and wool will compact with wear. You'll want to make everything bigger if you're looking for a loose slipper feel.
2 easy ways to make your own pattern:
Trace your dominant (larger) foot holding your pencil as close to 90 degrees straight up as possible. Smooth out the curves into a nice shoe sole shape you like. Mark a center line from the center back of the heel through to about just outside your big toe.
Then either ...
A) Enlarge or shrink my upper pattern pieces so that the measurement of bottom of the two uppers matches the circumference of the line of your shoe sole shape.
B) Put on an old sock and cover the top of your socked foot with duct or masking tape up to the ankle. Mark on the tape the outside edges of your foot where it would touch the sole. Mark a straight line down the center front of your foot and the center back of your heel. Cut yourself out of the tape sock along these lines. Lay the pieces out on a piece of paper and even out the shape of your pattern pieces making sure that the top and back seams match up in length and and the measurement of the bottom of the two uppers matches the circumference of the line of your shoe sole shape. Add 1/4" seam allowance to the top, back and bottom seams.
Step 3: Cutting the Shearling
Leather has no grain which means you waste less material, yay! Leather edges also don't need any finishing so that saves a lot of time, more yay!
Layout your shearling with the wool side down/leather side up. Place all six pattern pieces (3 for left, 3 for right, don't make 2 left shoes!) in the most efficient manner and avoiding any holes or marks in the leather that you don't want in your finished boots. Since the seam allowances are included pieces can butt right up against each other. Trace each piece onto the leather with your favorite Sharpie.
To make nice clean cuts and avoid making a linty, woolly mess cut the shearling "off the mat" (see second pic). Put a sharp new blade in your X-acto. With your non-knife hand, lift one edge of the material up off the table a couple inches and hold firmly. Poke the point of your X-acto knife through the leather just inside one of the marked lines. The knife point should never touch your work surface. Gently pull the knife toward you along the pattern lines (cut just inside the lines) rotating the leather as you go. If you are using a sharp new blade this shouldn't take much force at all. Don't try to cut through the wool - once the leather is cut it will separate easily.
Trim wool from the seam edges: I wanted my boots to have a wooly mohawk along the top and back seams so I only trimmed the sole seams. If you prefer no-wool-outside look then trim all your seams. Use small scissors or an electric hair trimmer cut cut off all the wool from the edge to the stitching line.
Step 4: Glue the Soles
Now go outside where you can make a mess or put down some paper you can make a mess on in a VERY well ventilated space. Lay out both sole patterns (left and right!) on the foam rubber and trace but do NOT cut out. Spread a generous, even layer of Barge cement about 3/4" inside and 1/4" beyond the traced line. On the shearling soles brush cement around the perimeter also about 3/4". Try not to get any cement on the wool side. Make sure that the pieces are completely coated in these areas but don't use so much glue that it's drippy.
Now leave these alone to dry. Yup, let them dry. Preferably somewhere where the fumes won't hurt anyone. Outside or in a bathroom with the door shut and fan running. It should take at least 15-20 min. You can also leave them overnight. Meanwhile, let's get your uppers ready.
Step 5: Sew the Uppers
Break out your stitching awl and set it up with the straight needle. If you've never used one before, there is a YouTube video explaining how make the standard lockstitch I'm using: www.youtube.com/watch It takes very little effort to poke through leather.
BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR FINGERS AND LAP! The stitching awl is sharp sharp sharp and can go through you as easily as it can go through leather.
Start with the heel seam. Line up the back seam edges of one inside and one outside upper piece. Either lightly mark a seam line 1/4" from the edge or eyeball it. (I'm an eyeballer I admit) Make your stitches about 3/8" long. Too short and your leather will just perforate and tear. Too long and it will come apart later. You can hold the pieces together with binder clips if you like but don't use pins! Holes in leather are permanent. I used the tip of the awl to tease out the wool as I went along for maximum fluff. Tie off your thread with a square knot at the end of the seam and tuck the ends before clipping (see photos).
Sew up the center top seam starting from the toes. When you get near the top of seam (marked on my pattern with an red X) check that your foot will go through the ankle hole. There should be enough room for your foot diagonally from your heel to the top of your instep. You can always add more stitches later if it's too loose but sadly you cannot un-poke a hole in leather. Tie off, tuck and clip as before.
At this point you can wear them inside out and pretend you're a hobbit as you go about the next step.
Step 6: Sew Uppers to Soles
Collect your now dry gluey sole pieces. Carefully lay a shearling sole glue side down onto the glue side of the corresponding shape traced on rubber. You can only due this once as the dry cement will "grab" instantly. We glued an extra 1/4" around to give you a little wiggle room. To ensure a nice bond - pound all the glued edges with something flat and heavy like a mallet, heavy water glass or my case a pipe wrench. The bond is super firm now and will only get stronger as the solvent continue to evaporate.
Cut through the rubber around the edges of the shearling with your X-acto knife - try to keep the blade 90 degrees straight up and down so that you don't under cut or over cut the sole material. Smooth even cuts are best. Foam rubber is very easy to cut with a knife but the rubbery nature makes it hard to "shape" little corners and miscuts cleanly later.
Mark the center lines from the sole pattern just at the toes and center backs onto your shearling/rubber sole. Line up the seams on the uppers to these marks and clamp with binder clips. Start sewing with the stitching awl just like the uppers poking your awl through all the layers perpendicularly (see photo #2 below). Pull the thread tight enough to dimple the foam rubber a little bit but not so much that it tears through the foam. This is especially important if you're using anti-fatigue mats as they tear pretty easily.
At this point you're done with the basics. Congratulations!
If you only plan to wear these indoors then you can stop right here. Hurray!
I wanted to wear these outdoors so I added a layer of rugged textured rubber. (You can also use same foam rubber you used for the first sole layer)
Simply repeat "Step 4: Glue the Soles" except spread glue across the entire sole surface instead of just the edges. Then repeat the first two parts of this step. An added benefit of this second layer is that it protects the bottom of the stitching from wear.
Step 7: Optional: Finger Loop
I custom made this pair form fitting on purpose to avoid the sloshing around slipper feel (that's why there's a paper mache foot in step 2) The recipient started jogging around as soon as he put them on because he says they feel like lightweight running shoes. Since they are snug I added a finger loop at the back seam to make them easier to put on.
Cut 2 rectangles of shearling from your scraps: 1" wide by 5" long. Trim away as much of the wool as you can. Place one end of one rectangle inside the top of the heel overlapping 1 1/2" then match up the other end on the outside, flattening the heel seem open. Binder clip and sew in place 3/8" from edges.
Step 8: Admire Your Finished Boots!
Try on your fantastic new boots. Wear the cuff up or down. Frolic in comfort and enjoy :)
Feed the leather outsides occasionally with your favorite leather care ointment to keep it supple and happy.