Introduction: How to Make an Outdoor Pantoffel for Disabled Feet

About: We are a group of 4 students from UGent and Howest (university colleges in Belgium), 2 industrial design students and 2 occupational therapists. Together, we made pantoffels for a girl who has amputated forefe…

Imagine this situation:

You have both (*) of your forefeet amputated but you are still able to walk. So, you need custom-made orthopedic shoes. You will wear those inside normal shoes when going out for your work, to go shopping, for leisure, … etc. Which means you will be wearing double shoes each time. In combination with your socks, it can cause a lot of discomfort such as friction and (over)heating. As a result, wounds, irritation and calluses need to be taken care of.

So, when you are at home, indoor or outdoor, you would like to walk around with naked feet to let them free and to make them breath fresh cool air. But this is not as simple as it is for other people as you cannot maintain or you might not be able to walk without shoes at all.

Thus you would like to wear at least something not too enclosing as your orthopedic shoes but easy to put on and out yet still providing sufficient support. Something like a custom-made slipper? Well, do not look any further but our Instructable as our ‘something’ might be the (a) solution for you!

(*) In case you only need one custom-made shoe, this Instructable might also apply.

Here is the necessary setup:

The BOM:

  • one or a pair of regular gymnastic shoes (if necessary, try different sizes)
  • hard plastic sheet-material (formable by heat)
  • soft sheet-material or foam
  • Tec7 (strong glue, kind of universal glue)
  • universal glue
  • glue for porous materials
  • hook and loop fastener (such as Velcro)
  • soft textile strap
  • plaster
  • foam containers

The tools:

  • heat source (thermoforming machine, heat gun, … )
  • textiles scissors
  • precision scissors
  • abrasive paper
  • knife and precision knife
  • gloves to work with the glue
  • needle and thread
  • G-clamp
  • seam ripper

Step 1: Casting Plaster Molds

We got these casts from the orthopedist of our client who needed them to make her customized shoes. But you can easily cast them yourself if necessary:

  1. Place your amputated foot (or one of your client) between 2 foam containers and press firmly to obtain 2 negative shapes of the foot.
  2. Close the negative shapes together but leave a hole to pour plaster in.
  3. Cast plaster in this mold to recreate a positive shape of the foot.
  4. Let it dry.
  5. Wrap the plaster mold with thermoformable foil to smooth its shape and protect it from damage. Heat up the foil to ensure a smooth tight drape around the plaster.
  6. Repeat steps 1 to 5 for a plaster mold of the other foot if necessary.

Step 2: Molding the Plastic Instep

Because of the forefoot amputation(s) and thus the need for support and balance while walking, the pantoffel of every foot needs a hard instep-element. Instep refers to the instep of your foot.

You need the plaster mold(s) from 'Step 1' to make the instep-elements which will consist of a hard and a soft layer which are glued to each other.

  1. Cut out a rectangular piece of thermoformable material and remove the protective film. Ensure the dimensions are large enough to drape half of the plaster mold.
  2. Fix this sheet in a wooden framework using screws or nails.
  3. Position and clamp the plaster mold. When using a vise be careful you do not damage the plaster mold.
  4. Heat up the sheet and framework until it becomes weak and slightly sticky.
    1. We used the heating elements of a thermoforming machine because it guarantees a uniform material heating of 300°C.
    2. You could also use a heat gun or oven when access to a themoforming-machine is not possible.
  5. Pull the framework over the mold to deep-draw manually the weak material over the plaster mold. You can rub the material to ensure a good drape, but be careful, it’s hot! (Instead of deep drawing, you can also use a vacuum machine for this step if possible).
  6. Allow to cool down.
  7. Cut the negative shape out of the plastic material. Start with a rough cut to be able to cut it more precisely afterwards.
  8. Repeat 1 to 7 for an instep for the other shoe if necessary.

Step 3: Softening the Plastic Instep

  1. Define the correct pattern to drape the inside of the instep from 'Step 2'. Do this on a trial-and-error way, using paper, a pencil and scissors.
  2. Elongate the bottom of the defined pattern to overlap the sole as well as the plastic instep.
  3. Cut this pattern out of soft material (e.g. a mouse pad) and test it in the plastic instep. Adjust the cut-out where necessary.
  4. When the soft material fits well to the instep, fix it with glue in the instep.
  5. Repeat 1 to 4 for the other instep if necessary.

Step 4: Preparing the Slippers

  1. Buy regular gymnastic shoes in a shoe shop. If necessary the size can be different for both shoes.
  2. Use a seam ripper to remove the elastics of the gymnastic shoe.
  3. Put the plaster mold and the plastic instep in the regular gymnastic shoes (*). Make sure the heel of the mold fits well to the heel of the shoe. Now draw a line inside the shoe in front of the plastic instep to indicate the necessary length of the sole.
  4. Draw a second line at 1.5 cm in front of the first line, this will be used to make the blend in front of the shoe.
  5. Cut off the sole and leave the canvas on one end of the shoe.
  6. Repeat 1 to 5 for the other slipper if necessary.

(*) Ideally, you would not need the plaster molds and use the real feet of the person you are making the pantoffels for.

Step 5: Connecting the Slippers and the Instep

  1. Put the instep back on the first line and fix its position using paper tape.
  2. Glue the bottom of the instep on the sole of the slipper using a flexible filling glue. We used Tec7 but others are possible.
  3. Allow to dry for 24h.
  4. Bend the front part of the sole as much as you can and fix its position too, using paper tape.
  5. Fill the space between the bended sole and the instep with Tec7.
  6. Allow to dry for 24h.
  7. Repeat 1 to 6 for the other slipper and instep if necessary.

Step 6: Stitching the Shoe Tip

  1. Stitch the left over canvas to the bent sole. This is a difficult task because of the hardness of the sole and the stitching angle. We recommend to us a moon shaped needle or to make this needle yourself. Hardened needles will break when you try to bend them but sheap, not hardened needles bend easily. Using a small pliers can be useful to pull the needle trough the sole.
  2. Cut away the unused canvas at the end of the seam.
  3. Sew the two parts of canvas to each other at the corner of the tip.
  4. Glue the bent sole to the rubbery sole sides of the slippers. Use a universal glue.
  5. Finish the canvas parts by adding a white border.
  6. Repeat 1 to 5 for the other slipper if necessary.

Step 7: Adding a Velcro Lace

  1. Measure the circumference of the clients ankle.
  2. Cut off a strap at this length.
  3. Sew 8 cm of the loop part of a Velcro at one end of the strap and 5 cm of the hook part on the opposite side of the strap (the other end but this time on the back side).
  4. When using a knitted strap, you could also add a soft textile band in the middle to avoid extensibility of the final lace.
  5. Cut off a second strap to make a connection between the Velcro lace and the shoe.
  6. Use the second strap to make a loop at the heel of the shoe.
  7. Repeat 1 to 6 for the other lace for the other shoe if necessary.

Step 8: Using the Outdoorpantoffels

Feel free (you or your client) to fit the pantoffels in order to see if they are already comfortable or need extra soft material, added where necessary.

Afterwards, you or your client are ready to use them. Enjoy!