How to Make One-piece Shoes for Children

Reader Contribution by Sharon Raymond and Simple Shoemaking
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Imagine how many pairs of shoes a child grows out of before their eighteenth birthday — it might be a good idea to make some of them! When you make children’s shoes, they will be made of materials that you feel good about and will have a healthy shape and minimal structure to simulate being barefoot.

They are also locally-made — and they are a bargain! In fact, if you make shoes from thrift shop leather items or felted old wool coats, and then use the recommended bicycle or motorcycle inner tube for soling, they are practically free.

I have spent several decades trying to figure out the simplest and most ecological ways to make footwear. Because the footwear industry is responsible for a sizeable share of our earthly pollution during the manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of the more than one billion shoes manufactured each year, I believe it can be empowering to realize that you can ameliorate all of these issues by making shoes yourself.

If you find you enjoy making something unique, I encourage you to consider developing an ecological shoemaking business — all of my patterns and directions are created with this possibility in mind.

After attending a Reuse Conex several years ago, and hearing the founder of Repurposed Materials Inc. there, I realized that using materials that already exist is the most ecological way to make footwear — or anything!

Notes on Construction

Moccashoes can be made from felted wool coats, recycled polyester or wool felt and leather from a thrift-shop item if you are equipped to punch stitch holes.

The shoes don’t need to have separate bottom soles, but of course the shoes will wear longer if they do have this additional layer underfoot. Bottom soles need to be stitched to the moccashoes. I suggest you use bicycle inner tube as soling, which is free from most bike shops. On the pattern, you see the inner sole, which is equal in length to the length of the child’s foot, and a line just outside of the inner sole which is the pattern for the bottom sole. It needs to be a little bigger than the actual sole so the stitching doesn’t touch the ground.

You can change how high the flap extends over the foot, just add or subtract stitch-holes as needed.

Notes on Materials

Other things you will need: “Artificial sinew” is ideal as thread. You can separate the plies easily to obtain the thickness of thread that you want. It doesn’t twist or come off of the needle easily. Artificial sinew is available at craft stores and online leather stores. However, any thicker thread you have will probably suffice — if possible, run it over beeswax or other wax.

If you decide to make these shoes from leather, you will need to punch stitch holes. They can be made with a nail and hammer, or a sharp awl, but preferably with a 00 drive punch or the smallest tube on a rotary punch, which is size 0 (a bit big, but it will work).

Punch holes by hitting the drive punch with a rubber mallet. To keep the drive punch from being damaged, put a board under the object you are punching holes in. It can be a thicker plastic cutting board, an end-cut wood cutting board — or use the end of a log.

Use sharp-pointed needles with large eyes, or glover’s needles, for stitching felt, and needles with blunt tips and big eyes for stitching leather (tapestry needles).

Step-By-Step Directions

Step 1

Have the child who will wear the shoes stand on a piece of paper with their heels against the wall. Make a mark at the end of their longest toe. Measure from the wall to the mark that was made, and use that measurement to determine which size moccashoe to make.

I suggest you first make a mock-up from inexpensive felt or heavy fabric to test whether the size you selected will fit. If it seems to be too short or long, scale up or down on a photocopy machine. If the shoe is too narrow, cut the pattern down the center of the body and the flap of the moccasin and tape a strip of paper in both that is the width between stitch marks.

Center an additional stitch mark at the toe of  both strips, and at the heel of the strip on the body. There will also need to be an additional stitch hole on one of the heel tabs – where there are five stitch holes, squeeze in six. If the mock-up is too wide, remove a strip down the center of the body and the flap and remove one stitch mark from both.

Step 2

Use the pattern to cut out your moccashoes. Flip the shoe pattern over before cutting out the second moccashoe.

Step 3

Punch stitch holes in the patterns, then use them to mark stitch holes on the moccashoes. Punch out the stitch holes. You can mark where the stitch holes belong with a permanent marker on the inside.

Use a bigger punch for the holes around the top line.

Step 4

If you decide to add soles to your moccashoes, use the pattern to cut them out. In the photo below, the green felt is the shoe and the lavender is the pattern with the sole cut out of it.

Step 5

Glue the soles to the moccashoes, applying glue to only one surface. To assure that you are placing the sole in the correct place, cut the sole pattern out of the one-piece pattern and use it as a template, as shown in the photo on the right. Give them adequate time to dry.

Step 6

Punch stitch holes through both the sole and the body of the shoe. This photo shows a 00 punch being hit by a rubber mallet. There should always be a board under the item being punched so the punch isn’t damaged.

Step 7

Use a running stitch to stitch the bottom sole to the moccashoe, beginning at the arrow on the pattern.  Stop stitching at the “x” on the other side of the heel — the actual heel area gets stitched when it is stitched to the upper.

After stitching once around, stitch around again, filling in the spaces left between the first round of stitches. Cut a length of thread six times the length of the bottom sole for the stitching, and tie a knot at one end.

Step 8

If you like, embellish the flap with appliqué, embroidery, acrylic paint or permanent markers. Perhaps the child the shoes are made for, or with, would like to decorate the shoes.

Step 9

Begin stitching the heel at the base of the vertical seam with a piece of thread that is six times the length of the sole. Make a knot in the end of the thread.

Stitch this seam by making “diagonal” lines on your way “up”. Pass the thread to the next-higher stitch hole/mark on the opposite side of the seam, then straight across. Continue this pattern until you get to the top of the seam.

Secure the top of the seam by passing the thread through the top stitch marks a couple of times, then stitch down this seam. As you create diagonals on the way down, you can see that you are making “Xs” or “cross-stitches.”

When you arrive at the base of the seam, stitch one of the horizontal seams. Make the same diagonals as you stitch to the end of the seam, then turn around and complete the cross-stitches.

Continue to the other end of the horizontal seam, turn around and come back making the same cross-stitches. Tie the ends of your thread together, using the two-inch-piece of thread that you made when you began stitching. Weave the ends of the thread under a few stitches, then clip the threads.

Step 10

Stitch the flap to the body. If you want to stitch in just one direction, cut a thread about 12 inches long and tie a knot in one end of it.

If you would like to stitch in one direction, then turn around and stitch back to the beginning (which is a bit more secure) leave a tail on the outside when you begin stitching. You will make a knot with the end of this thread and the other end of the thread when it comes back to this stitch hole. Wrap the thread around twice before beginning to stitch to secure it.

If you are making felted wool shoes, you can mark stitch locations by cutting thin strips of masking tape and adhering it along all the edges that need to be stitched. Place the locations of the stitch marks on the tape, then remove the tape as you stitch.

You will use a different stitch, the whip-stitch, to stitch this area. Bring the thread across to the body, then back to the flap, from the inside. Continue crossing over from one side of the seam to the other. It is important to pull out the gathers that form with each stitch so they grow, then diminish in size. When you have completed stitching, tie a knot in the thread, run the ends under a few stitches and clip the ends off.

If you stitch over and back, your stitch will look like this.

Step 11

Have the child try on the shoes, and decide if there is a need for stitching or lacing along the topline to gather it in.

You can pass a lace through the holes along the top line to gather it. I cut a strip from an old t-shirt to make a lace. Tie a knot or a bow where the two ends of the lace meet in the front of the moccashoe.

Another approach is to “blanket stitch” along the topline. You can pass a thin lace through the stitching, or thread a 1/8″ wide piece of elastic through the stitching on the inside of the shoe. A piece of tape with centimeter markings adhered just below where you will be stitching helps to keep your stitches the same distance apart and the same stitch length.

After you make the other shoe, let the child try them on, and dance around the room!

Patterns for making moccashoes can be found on my Dropbox. Directions and patterns for making moccashoes in women’s sizes can be found at Simple Shoemaking.

Sharon Raymond helps people become shoemakers for fun or profit byoffering books, videos and toddler shoemaking kits. Sharon is intent on helping people develop local shoe and sandal-making businesses, using truly “green” practices. Connect with her at Simple Shoemaking.

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