Saturday 13 June 2015

Make your own Shoe Last

This post was originally on our main website and moved here in 2015
Making shoes or boots from felt is something that's been going on since prehistory,
and it is perfectly possible to finish a pair of boots on your own feet for perfect fit.
But, you do end up with very wet, cold feet when you do this! Many of the modern
versions of felted boots use either knitted or hand felted bases that are then
shrunk and felted in a washing machine to give a dense finish and the final shrunk

It is possible to buy polystyrene foot lasts, but these are not easy to find, quite
expensive, and don't help when a friend with different size feet asks you to make
them a pair too- I've been using this easy and effective method for making as many
customised foot lasts as you want- you can even modify the shape as you go to give
pointed toes or to add a little ease over problem areas of your foot.
Hope this is helpful!
January 2004

You need:

-1 pair of thin socks that you won't need again
-1 roll of 'duck/duct tape' 'carpet tape' or 'gaffa tape' (it has different names in different
places, but its usually silver or black and has a strong cloth type weave and is very sticky and
Thin card (the back of a cereal packet is fine)
-Lots of old plastic carrier bags, or cheap plastic bin bags
-Pair of scissors
It sometimes helps to have a friend to assist, especially if you don't bend so easily!

Put on the socks, and start by standing flat on a piece of card and drawing round it so that
you have a flat sole shape. Cut this out and use a long length of tape to attach it to the sole
of the foot bringing the ends up over the top of the sock. Smoothly wrap the ends of tape
over the foot. Still standing up, add shorter lengths around the ball of the foot and then the
instep area. Its important to do the first few wraps standing so the last is roomy enough for
comfort when walking about. Keep systematically wrapping the foot in short, overlapping
lengths, making sure everything is smoothed down as you go.

I find it helps to do both feet at the same time, i.e.. one strip on the left foot, one on the right,
then I know I'm doing the same thing to each. Work right up to your ankles, as far up as you
want the lasts to reach. Don't worry yet about getting out of them!

You need to get at least three layers over the whole foot, working out wrinkles as best you

Once you have both feet smoothly encased in tape, carefully cut yourself out of them using
the scissors, be very careful not to cut yourself!

Now, stuff the toe area of each last with scrumpled up old carrier bags- its amazing how many you can get rid of into a pair of these lasts. If you run short, cheap bin bags work ok, or odds and ends of bubblewrap or any soft plastic packaging. It needs to be as tightly packed as possible without distorting the last.

Once the toe is filled, you can tape up the cut that you made to get out of the boots and stuff
the rest with more plastic bags, Again, I advise doing both at once, then if you run out and
have to switch to different packaging, both are the same.

Once you get up to the height you want your last to be, make a smooth top for the last with
more tape.

At this stage you can decide whether to alter the shape at all. So, if you want pointy toes, you
need to wad up some packing and tape it onto the toes, or if you have a sore area on your
foot and want more ease there, add a few more thicknesses of tape to that area. Usually, a
final layer of tape all over the shape to smooth everything out and ensure it stays together is

Thats it, your lasts are done. Might be worth writing the size on the bottom in permanent pen  if you are making several pairs for different people!

Using the lasts:

Make your basic boot by your usual method, felted with a resist layer or needlefelt or knitted, all work fine. Put the boot on the last, it will obviously be too big. Take some strong elastic bands, or hair bands, and use these to hold the shoes in place at strategic points. For some tricky ones I've used a fine string thread and laced the boot onto the last- this can be useful if you have a large opening or want a tall boot to stay up and not slump down the last.

Depending on your felt, it can either go straight into the washing machine or you can wet felt
it for a while by hand to settle the felt. If you go straight for the machine, start with a quick,
cool wash and check that everything is ok and that the bands haven't stuck or marked the felt.

If all is well, go for a hot, long wash with some added lumpy laundry (rolled up socks, trainers, 
kids toys etc).

The finished boots will have been able to shrink as far as the last and no further. I've had
great results this way, and hopefully you'll find it helpful too.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this, been searching for a way to make a custom last and this works fine. Will surely try it out. Once it works I can teach the method to my shoe making students, I tea h shoe making in rural west Africa and most of the students can't afford the cost of ready made shoe last so I have been looking for a way to help them.