When I first started really sewing for my son, I had a friend with a small business making leather baby shoes. I was in awe of her, and convinced that sewing with leather would require way more skills than I had. She talked me into giving it a try, and I'm so glad she did. Since then, I have made tons of leather baby shoes. I sewed some for my boys, and gave away lots as gifts.
My husband even volunteered my services several times, to make shoes for fund raising auctions. I've also sold a handful of my popular "BYU" version to friends (and strangers).
Since I've made leather baby shoes so many times, I'm actually a little sick of making them. I will sew a pair by request, but when it comes time to making a baby gift, I almost always choose to do something else. This week on my thrift store rounds, I came across this awesome gold leather woman's top. I'm sure the cashier thought I was crazy when I bought it, but the leather was in good shape, a nice weight for making tiny shoes, and GOLD. It certainly helped that I paid $2 for it (since it was 50% off).
Finding this leather put me in the mood to sew another pair of leather shoes. I initially planned on sewing a pair of moccasins for my 18 month old son, but once I started cutting up the top, I realized the leather was too soft for toddler shoes. Instead I made them tiny - for a friend's new baby girl. Here is the end result.
Are you interested in sewing a pair? Don't be intimidated, making leather baby shoes is a very doable project, even for a beginner sewer. Here are a few tips:
- Finding leather takes a little work since you can't usually buy leather at most fabric stores. To make baby shoes you only need fairly small pieces. One place I have found leather is from a leather working store (or a boyscout shop) or tannery by digging through their scrap bin. They will typically sell their scraps by the pound, and this is a good way to get a variety of colours for a good price. My other source is to cut up an existing item (like a coat, or purse). Thrift stores are great for this, but make sure you are getting a good deal. I have noticed that some thrift stores sell their leather clothing for a lot more than I'm willing to pay. Another thing to consider when re-purposing leather goods is to find pieces with few seams. Since sewing will make permanent holes, you can only use the parts in between the garment's seams.
- Some leather is fairly stretchy. For starting out, I would suggest looking for leather that doesn't have a lot of stretch. It will sew more like a woven and you will spend a lot less time cursing.
- When sewing your leather, use a leather needle, increase your stitch length, and use a non-stick presser foot. If you don't have a non-stick (teflon) foot, try covering the bottom of your regular foot with painter's tape. Your regular metal foot will stick to the leather (especially if it's hot and humid) and make it hard to sew.
- Since you can't pin leather (it will leave holes), use paperclips (or small binder clips) to hold things together while you sew. One other tip is to glue down shapes around the edges before you applique them on.
- When appliqueing shapes, I find it easiest to turn my wheel for each stitch instead of using my foot petal. This gives me more control and keeps me from making mistakes.
- When I started, I used this pattern and instructions. I do a few things differently (I don't punch holes for my elastic - I cut slits), but her instructions are helpful to understand how the shoes are constructed. I have seen a few patterns for sale on etsy, and other places, or you can make your own by tracing an existing pair of shoes (turn them inside out first). I promise this is easier than you think. One thing that is great about this style of shoes is that the pattern is really forgiving. If your heel piece is a little to tall or long, it won't matter all that much.
- Don't worry if they aren't perfect on your first try! If you are making them for a walking or crawling baby, it won't take long before they are destroyed anyways. I felt like my first 3 pairs were not great, but once I had good working patterns and I knew what I was doing, I could knock out a pair during one nap.
I hope this inspires some of you to take the plunge and try making a pair. Any questions? Leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to help. Happy shoe making