Introduction: Making Leather Slippers
In this instructable I'll show you how to make a simple pair of leather slippers, how to make the pattern (or use mine attached) and i'll explain some leather techniques. If you already know leather making this might be a bit wordy so just look at the pictures! I will explain everything I am doing.
You can make the slippers from anything really, but I will use leather because i love it, it's durable and ages well. I want them to last. And I have a bunch of scrap leather. I am also going to use minimal tools so hopefully its more accessible to people.
I've never made a pair of slippers before so I'll also be figuring out what works and what doesn't and I'll do a review at the end. There are even more unedited WIP pictures here in a flickr album.
So, why slippers?
Since lockdown I realised slippers are a thing. Back in the day when we were all rampaging world dwellers, I stayed in a fancy five star hotel for a job and the buggers took the single use slippers out of the plastic wrapper and put them at the end of my bed. Annoying, because it meant they would be thrown away whether I used them or not. So they've been my slippers for a while now... but in the apocalypse I actually wear them a lot and they've suffered beetroot, turmeric, coffee, my new indoor gardening habit, kicking at things and general calamitous maker behaviour. They're pretty disgusting.
SO. I need new sensible BLACK LEATHER slippers in here. They must be made from upcycled/leftover materials, a neat simple design and look kinda zen badass.
Let's get domesticated...
Step 1: Materials and Tools
I will use a minimal amount of tools. Leather tools can be very specific and there's looooads of them. I make bonkers leather stuff and I don't own even half of them! Usually you can get by with basics - which I prefer - but I will explain the corresponding leather tools and also how to wing it. I use/make a lot of improvised tools which often raises eyebrows in professional situations. But I don't care. Pro tip: Never let a lack of fancy equipment stop you making stuff and sometimes hacks are superior!
- sole leather I am using 4mm belt leather because I had a donated piece which is too short for belts! You can also use veg tan but I am being lazy and don't want to dye it.
- sole underlayer I am using neoprene as an experiment but you could also use another layer of leather or some other rubber
- upper leather I am using a weird crinkled scrap of calf nappa that I washed as an experiment. It looks kinda cool
- upper lining I am using scraps of soft cow hide but i should have used pig suede so it was less slippy!
- thick waxed leather thread
- sharp knife or scalpel I use carbon coated snap off blades
- ruler and/or tape measure
- drawing tools pencil, sharpie and a leather marking silver pen or gel pen
- sharp scissors
- bone/horn folder (or you can improvise with any sculpting tool really, like the one third from top on right)
- adjustable groove/crease tool * (top right) You can also hand draw the lines and use the bone folder
- edge beveler (This is a special tool for evenly beveling leather edges so you can polish them to a curve. Use if you have one, but I'm just gonna carefully use my scalpel)
- leather hand hammer (Blue tool in the pic. The kind I use has a good shape and a smooth surface so as not to damage the leather and I wrap the end in leather as well, but a regular hammer or mallet will work)
- glue/adhesive I am using neoprene cement impact adhesive because I love it. It contains toluene which is nasty and requires a respirator! Beware! Some people prefer evostick which is a contact adhesive - less hammering - or you can use something like Bostik multi-purpose/leather/fabric glue
- edge coat or regular leather dye to paint edges. If you don't have any, use acrylic paint or even a sharpie. If it's good enough for hollywood, its good enough for us.
- brushes for application I have a fluffy thing (name unknown!) for leather dying and I use cut up credit cards/gift card/hotel keys as the perfect glue spreaders
* I just entered the leather competition and found this cool fanny pack instructable by Baptiste Le Gars where he shares a great hack for this tool using a fork (see step 7) (direct youtube video link - in french, but it makes visual sense). He also shows a whole minimal tool process next to a full leather set up. It's a cool instructable! Check it out.
Step 2: Pattern and Prep
You can either make your own pattern using the instructions below, or use the attached files from my slippers, which are a mens UK8/EU42/US8.5 (ish). All the pattern files have a scale. I've also added the .ai file so you can edit it.
Making the pattern
Sole: I simply drew around the sole of my existing slipper to make the first pattern piece. You could also draw around your foot and add 1/2"/1.5cm around the edge. I made mine a little more rounded at the toe as my feet are wide and I wanted my toes to have space.
Upper: Re-draw the top half of the sole as a starting point and mark the centre line. Then I measured across the top of the upper on the actual slipper with a tape measure and roughly marked this length on my pattern piece. I rotated the slipper on the pattern and used the outline of the sole to make the new curve for the shape of the upper. This makes sure the shapes match while increasing the volume as it sits across my foot.
Test it! Cut the pieces out and stick them together with tape to see if the shape works. Because the hotel slipper pattern was so simple, it didn't have any toe shaping and looked like it was going to curl up at the end. This is ok for soft fabric but leather is sturdier, so I decided to add a little bit of card to the end of the toe on the upper to lengthen it.
Notches: I marked a few corresponding points (notches) on the upper and sole so I know how to line up the pieces precisely once there's glue everywhere. Mark where the end of the upper meets the sole, plus a few evenly(ish) spaced around the curve. This is important because materials cut on curves can stretch a bit and you have to ease them into place.
Then I tested again. It looks good to go
Step 3: Cutting Out
These pattern pieces do not have a seam allowance. The edge of the pattern is the edge as you would see it on the finished slipper. All pieces will be cut this way, aside from the visible upper, which we will add a 5/8"/1.5cm seam allowance.This is because the upper will wrap around the sole to make a neat finished edge.
Two sole layers: the part you will stand on and the part which will touch the floor. Between these two pieces is where you will sandwich and stitch the upper.
Two upper layers: visible upper (top fabric) and lining (lining is optional)
Draw around the sole pattern in your main leather. CUT 1 PAIR (reversing the pattern piece for left and right). Mine is black belt leather but you could use veg tan or even rubber) and cut out with a sharp knife.
Draw another pair for your sole base. CUT 1 PAIR. I am using neoprene rubber. It has fabric on one side to make it easier to glue. I will put the rubber side down to the floor. I drew around the sole pattern, then drew a line a few millimetres in from the edge before I cut. This is so the under sole is slightly smaller and will look nicer.
Draw around your lining upper and CUT 1 PAIR.
Draw around your visible upper (the fabric you will see when you are wearing them). You can see in the images I have moved the pattern down and redrawn the line, making it about 1.5cm longer. This is so it will wrinkle a little bit when i glue the two pieces together. Leather naturally folds and will make lines where the slippers will bend when i walk. I wanted to exaggerate this and make it a feature. I then added a seam allowance of 5/8"/1.5cm. CUT 1 PAIR visible uppers.
Step 4: Marking Up the Leather
When sewing hard leather you pre-mark and punch all the holes before you sew. This is so they're evenly spaced and big enough for the large needles and thread. And because otherwise you'll do yourself a mischief tying to force the needles through!
Use the adjustable edge marker, or a ruler to mark a line approx 5mm from the edge of the sole. Wet the leather just a little at the edge and use pressure to mark out the line so you get a nice defined channel. This channel is for the thread to sit in so it is flush to the surface of the slipper. It will stop it getting snagged, look neat and also be more comfortable to walk on.
Punch the holes along this line with the awl. Put something under the leather, like folded cardboard, so you can push the awl right through and make a clear open hole with each punch
You can measure the distance between each hole, but this would drive me nuts. I did mine by eye, being careful at the last three or four holes to space them out evenly so I didn't end up with the last two holes either too close or too far apart.
If the leather is veg tan and wet it is a bit easier to punch the holes. Because I used finished belt leather which doesn't absorb water, this process was a workout! If your leather is wet, put it aside to dry.
Step 5: Carve, Polish and Paint Sole Edges
Next round off the edges of the sole so they can be polished and finished.
Here you can use the edge beveler if you have one. It is pictured next to my knife.
I am using my knife. Find a comfortable position for your hand and run the knife smoothly around the edge of the sole, trimming out the corner of the leather at a 45 degree angle. Only cut about 1-2mm. Do this on the top and bottom of the sole.
Now polish the edges. You only need to polish the part you will see at the back of the slipper. You don't need to polish or dye the part where the pattern connects to the upper as this will be hidden and it will glue better if it is a rough raw edge.
Wet the edge of leather a little (i use spit because I'm old school and its more viscous than water... it works really well!) and use the bone folder to apply even pressure and polish the edges. Essentially you're compressing the edges of the skin and burnishing it with the friction from the movement of the tool to make it smooth.
Then apply a coat of either edge dye or leather dye, polish again and leave to dry.
If you are making yours with raw veg tan you could use Gum Tragacanth instead of dye, which is a natural edge polish
Step 6: Making the Upper
Take your two upper pieces of leather and lay them right sides together. Stitch along the bottom, close to the edge, to join the pieces together. Trim neatly with about 3mm seam allowance. I used a sewing machine with denim thread (mara 70) but this could also be hand stitched. Snip into the curve inside the seam allowance (being careful not to snip as far as the thread!) to release the curve so it will sit neatly once it has been turned through.
Glue the underside of the curve either side of the seam allowace so you can shape it when it is turned through. This means the bottom edge will stick to itself and stabilise the curve and strengthen the edge. Only glue the underneath so the top layer will stay soft looking and you won't see the seam.
Glue the backs of both pieces around the edges to stick them together. I've glued mine about halfway in so i can arrange how the pieces sit together. The middle can stay loose and soft.
When you turn the pieces through you will see that the top is a bit bigger and the pieces don't quite line up. You need to wriggle the edges so they fit. This will cause some nice slouchy folds on the finished piece. If this is too annoying, just stick it straight down and trim the excess, making sure to leave a 1.5cm seam allowance.
Hammer the edges where the glue is to flatten the leather and make it easier to stick and sew in the next stage. This will also get rid of any wrinkles if you chose the folded slouchy option.
The upper is now ready to attach to the sole.
Step 7: Construction
First make sure all your notches are marked on both pieces. Sometimes they rub off as you work so make sure they are all clearly visible.
Scratch the surface of both pieces where you are going to glue. This will allow the glue to make a better bond. On the sole this is outside of the stitching line, up to the polished edge. On the upper this is about 5mm around the edge of the lining panel.
Next, apply a thin coat of glue and let it soak in. When it is touch dry, add a second coat and carefully put the pieces together using your notches.
Leave it for a few minutes to let the glue dry and then gently slide your foot inside and check the fit is good. This is the last chance to make any adjustments if it is too loose or too tight!
If you are happy with the fit, hammer the edges where it is glued.
Now you can see the punched holes from the back but not the top. Using the awl and some cardboard behind (so you do not break the glue bond) re-punch the holes so they are visible again through the upper.
Add the next layer of glue to the back of the sole. Gently roll the upper around the sole to the underneath and trim off any extra leather so the surface is flat. Hammer to seal the glue bond. I then repunched my holes from the top as the hammering made them harder to see.
Scratch the bottom surface of the soles to rough them up and glue on the bottom layer of the sole (mine is the neoprene layer).
Hammer again. Now you are ready to stitch.
Step 8: Stitching
I am using waxed thread and leather saddlery needles (blunt ones) as the holes are pre-punched.
First, make a stitch test to decide how you wanna stitch. My test was the leather technique of two needle stitching, using one thread with a needle on each end and stitching through the same hole twice. This means you can put more tension on the thread.
After my stitch test, I decided I wanted to do a stitch which wraps around the edge of the slipper to better secure the edges. It looks a little like a blanket stitch and I think I made it up, so I will try to explain it here. (please correct me if this is actually a real stitch!)
Start just inside where the sole meets the upper. This means at the end you can reach inside to pull the threads to the inside. They can be knotted neatly and it will be hidden.
I start each stitch from the top of the sole as my neoprene sole is not punched. I put the needle on the upper sole through the visible hole, loop it round twice and pull it tight and hold it while I thread the under needle through the same hole. The needles are now reversed.
Pull both threads to make sure it is tight. It should hold if you are also using waxed thread.
Then i repeat, starting from the top. (see first gif)
To finish the end of the thread: (see second gif) At the last upper stitch, only sew through the upper part of the slipper and to the inside, rather than through the whole sole. At the final under stitch, make sure you also only go through the under layer so the needle ends up inside the slipper. Tie both threads together with two or three knots and snip the excess thread.
Step 9: Ta-da! House Slippers!
I actually like them so much I've been wearing them outdoors in the freak british sunshine. It is lovely outside of course, because we are supposed to be indoors. I only usually wear big boots, so this is a revelation for my feet.
This means they're not clean indoor house slippers anymore... oops. I decided this is ok because as I was constructing them I realised I really really wished they had TABI TOES
So I will go make those, and get back to you with either an update or another instructable. I've always wanted to teach myself to make a pair of leather tabi.
Stuff I learned:
- I'm really glad I made the shape of the sole wider at the toes as the space is nice and comfy.
- neoprene is actually kinda slippy. Next time I won't put it on the soles. I thought it would be less slippy than leather. Apparently not! On concrete and wood (most of my house) it is fine but on my heavily varnished kitchen floor its slippy i will likely do myself a mischief one day. Outside on the pavement they are perfect though.
- Leather inside the slippers is also kinda slippy. Without socks they're great but with socks, not so good. This is because I used the leftover belt leather (which was dry and chrome tanned with a slick finish) rather than regular veg tan, which is more natural. Veg tan is absorbent, taking on the oils from your skin and also shapes nicely to your body. So that's my fault for being lazy and using the black stuff! It did need using up though...
- Next time I will stretch the material tighter over my foot. I thought it might be too tight because of the stitched edge of the upper and dig into my foot. Actually it would be nicer if it was more snug. Leather always stretches a bit.
Those are pretty small complaints though, I'm really happy with how they turned out. And they look cool.
Thank you for your loyal service, hotel slippers. Rest well in that bin!
Hope this is useful, please let me know of you make a pair or make improvements and especially if you can make sense of my improvised leather blanket stitch!
And if you liked this instructable, please vote for me in the Leather Challenge!
Participated in the
2 years ago
What you wrote about my instructable is so nice ! thanks a lot
2 years ago
Really nice job on these!
You should consider entering the Leather Challenge https://www.instructables.com/contest/leather2020/ :)
Reply 2 years ago
Thank you! I just did :)
2 years ago
Great instructions, very informative look into the process. Thank you!