Introduction: Make Your Own Shoe Pattern

About: Shoemaking innovator

Are you an aspiring shoemaker or designer? Making a shoe pattern is an art in itself, it affects how easy the shoe is to make, how it will fit on the foot and how it looks. It is important for both designers and makers to understand how patterns are made.

I have 6 years experience in making my own custom and bespoke footwear. I also teach shoemaking and love to share my skills with others who are willing to learn.

I have created this Instructable as an accessible introduction to pattern making. It will give you the skills to make a whole-cut pump style shoe. I have tried to keep technical terms to a minimum but when I have used I have given an explanation of them

Once you have mastered these steps you can start making your very own pair of shoes or go mad with designing your own range!

Step 1: Materials and Tools You Will Need

For this project you will require:

1. A pair of shoe lasts (these can be purchased second hand on ebay, new on Amazon or from any number of websites - the style of last will determine the size and style of the shoe)

2. Some card (any colour, 120+ GSM)

3. A craft knife or scalpel

4. Masking tape

5. A ruler

6. Dividers or a pair of compasses

7. A tape measure

8. An awl

9. Pencil and eraser

10. A cutting mat

11. Scissors

Step 2: Taping Your Last

First thing to do is to cover one of our lasts with masking tape (it doesn't matter if you choose the left or the right).

It is important to try to place the tape on to the last as smoothly as you can, however it is inevitable you will have some creases.

1. Start by placing a line of tape along the front and the heel section (first picture)

2. From the heel, begin to place horizontal lines of tape along the last (it is important that they at least meet the centre line of tape, if not cover it entirely) (second picture).

3. Once you have done one half, repeat on the other

4. Start to put tape vertically over the horizontal tape to create a second layer. Work from the middle towards the heel. (fourth picture)

5. Once you have added the second layer to the back of the last, begin to cover the front. Use unbroken lengths of tape to cover the entire front. (fifth picture)

6. You should now have a last completely covered in TWO layers of tape- in a grid pattern.

7. With your knife trim along the feather-edge of the last (the faint line that runs around the circumference on the bottom of the last) and remove the ends of your tape (seventh picture)

Step 3: Apply Your Design on to Your Last

At this stage you can draw any design you like on to your last. I have chosen a very simple design for those new to shoemaking.

1. Take a long length of tape (longer than the total length of your last) and stick it to your cutting mat.

2. With a ruler draw a line down the middle of the tape

3. Place this lined tape down the centre of the last at the front and the heel. This will give you a helpful reference point when designing. If you are unsure about where to place the tape (lasts are not symmetrical) I find it helpful to look down the last from heel to toe, imagine the line running along the cone (the raised part that represents your instep) to the toe, then shift it slightly to be centred in the middle of the tip of the toe area. (see first picture)

4. Mark your counter point on the heel. This is found by first getting your Standard Last Length - this will be provided by the factory supplying lasts to you, or tables are available online. Divide this length by 20% and measure up the line from bottom of the last. This is your counter point and marks where the shoe sits on the heel.

5. From the counter-point start drawing your design on to the front of the last. I have chosen to have the throat (the scoop at the front) of the shoe quite high. If you please you can move this up or down.

6. When drawing on the side parts of the shoe be careful not to place the top-line over where the ankle bone will sit. If in doubt, use your tape measure on your own foot or a similar shoe.

7. It will make a more comfortable shoe if the top-line is higher on the inside of the foot, and lower on the outside (by +/-5mm)

8. Try and have fun with this design stage as much as possible. Use a pencil, rub it out, change it around until you really like the look of the shoe you have designed (most patterns will need alteration so don't worry about getting it absolutely perfect at this stage)

Step 4: Transfer Your 3D Tape Pattern Into a 2D Pattern

1. Using your knife, carefully slice around the top-line of your design. Be careful, it is easy for the knife to slip into your tape pattern (bad) or hand (worse)

2. Cut along the vertical line at the heel

3. Slowly peel the tape from the back until it has come off the last, all in one piece

4. Gently place this on your card

5. Flat sections of tape are easy to flatten down. Where the tape has curved along the toe you will need to make some snips to help it to go flat. 5-10mm snips all around the toe should do the trick

6. To help press the tape to the card you can use something hard and smooth- scissor handles, the butt of your knife

7. Once the tape is flat and crease free, cut around the edge of the tape with your knife

8. Use this stencil to draw around the silhouette on to a new piece of card

Step 5: Adding Technical Information to Your Pattern Shape

There are several key things to do to your pattern shape in order that it can be transformed into a shoe. We have to add various allowances (extra material) at certain points so that it may be stitched and then lasted (constructed into a 3D shoe).

Some basic adjustments needed for the pattern:

A. Lasting allowance (excess material added to the bottom. It allows the pattern to be attached to the insole). Usually 15-20mm.

B. Folding allowance (to make the shoe more attractive, sometimes the top-line is folded over before stitching. This creates a neater appearance). Usually 5mm

C. Underlay allowance (if one piece of leather has to sit over another with a seam, extra leather is added underneath to make sure they attach well). Usually 8mm

D. Trim allowance (when marrying up the shoe lining to the outer leather, extra material is given so that the two can join seamlessly without any gaps). Usually 5-8mm

There are more, but this gives you an idea of some of the steps we will now go through

1. Using dividers or compasses add a 15mm lasting allowance along the bottom edge of the pattern. This will be the same all round the shoe. (picture 1)

2. To indicate the inside or outside of a pattern, a nick or mark is made on the INSIDE. This step is very important, especially as patterns become more complex. (picture 2)

3. At the back seam, add 1.5-2mm (only along back line, not top-line). This added material is designed for a closed seam. Also add a dog-tail to the outside top edge. This will give the back seam more strength once it is stitched. (picture 3)

4. Add a 5mm folding allowance to the top-line.

5. Using your awl, poke a small hole just underneath the top-line at the centre of the shoe (use your stencil to re-find the centre line). This will help the shoemaker centre the shoe when lasting.

6. Carefully cut around your pattern piece with your knife

7. Finish the pattern by adding the last name/number used, the size, your name and the date.

The pattern piece is now ready to be cut from leather, sewn and tested to see how it looks. When designing shoes, the pattern may be tested and altered many times before it goes into production.

Once you have tested the pattern on the last and you wish to make this shoe, you will require a lining pattern. To make this, we can use same pattern piece as a start point. To convert the outer-pattern into a lining-pattern, complete the following steps:

1. Copy the finished pattern piece you have made

2. Cut off the dog-tail

3. Remove the 1.5-2mm back-seam allowance, then remove another 2mm extra

4. remove 5mm of the lasting allowance.

5. Keep the 5mm folding allowance- this is now your trim allowance

This is now your lining pattern. Make sure you note on it that it is for linings. Also remember to mark the inside with a notch.

Step 6: Congratulations!

Well done for making it through the steps and hopefully you now have a pattern you can begin working from.

From this pattern you can begin cutting, stitching and lasting your very own shoe. Look out for more of my Instructables where I will detail these other steps. I will also go into some more advanced pattern making tutorials.

In the mean time, carry on designing, taping those lasts and improving your pattern making.


P.S some very helpful reference and forums for shoemaking:

Check out various Shoemaking forums on Facebook- a great place to ask questions about your project and learn tips from others.

If you can track down a copy of Frank Jones "Pattern Cutting" (ISBN 1-873905-01-7) I would highly recommend it.