We really enjoyed making shoes on our honeymoon but we also enjoyed acquiring the skills and some of the tools it takes to be a shoemaker. Glen helped us each make a pair of shoes and a pair of lasts. Lasts are basically molds of your feet. They are used in what is called the “lasting” process where the shoemaker forms the top of the shoe and attaches it to the sole. It’s totally possible to do this process directly on the wearer’s feet but that means the person has to be there for several fittings and adjustments.
Commercial shoemakers have a selection of generic lasts that they use when making shoes. So you could go out and buy a pair of Women’s Size 8 lasts if you wanted to make Women’s Size 8 shoes. (There used to be a bunch available at American Science & Surplus but they seem to have disappeared. I’m sure there are some on eBay.)
Of course, every pair of feet is a little different. Commercial shoemakers try to accommodate by using a variety of lasts so they might have size 8, size 8.5, size 8 wide, size 8 narrow, etc. Still, there are a lot of feet in the world that don’t fit in any of the standard sizes, or at least not terribly well.
Glen’s favorite clients are people with exceptionally unusual feet. Often they have suffered from burns or severe circulation problems that cause their feet to take on extremely unusual shapes. He loves helping them find a way to walk comfortably and one of his key tools is making lasts of their feet. The advantage of using lasts is that the shoemaker can tinker around with the design and adjust as needed without having the client come back repeatedly for fittings. They are also really handy for folks who want to make shoes for themselves; it’s a bit awkward to bend down and fit a shoe to your own foot.
Glen says he’s still searching for the perfect method of making a custom last but is pretty happy with his current method. He uses STS casting socks, which were designed for making shoe lasts. Step number one is to tape a plastic straw and a metal band to the front of the foot. (You’ll see why in a minute.) Step number two is to cover the foot in a plastic bag. Step number three is to pull on the fancy STS sock. It has some sort of magical chemical in it that when you get it wet and rub it, it solidifies. Pretty crazy feeling, let me tell you.
Once it’s nice and solid, you pull out the plastic straw and then slit the sock (the metal band is there to protect your foot) so you can step out of the mold. Glen had us trim off the tops of our molds because we don’t really need to know what our feet are like above the high-top level. (He was running low on socks so Will got to use sexy knee-highs that reminded him of his soccer days.)
I guess you could theoretically stop here and have a hollow model of your foot but Glen’s technique is to tape each mold shut (yay for duct tape!) and then fill it with plaster to create a solid mold. After the plaster dried, he spent a little time cleaning them up by removing the tape and sanding them down to make him smoother. He also cut them in half. Can you guess why?
The big difference between a plaster mold of your foot and your actual foot is that a plaster mold doesn’t bend at the ankle. The way you get around this is to cut the mold diagonally from the top front of the ankle to the back bottom of the heel. Put both pieces in a piece of pantyhose to keep them together and then you can slide the toe piece into the shoe and place the ankle piece in second when you are testing the fit of a finished shoe.
Pretty cool, huh? I think I need to make some more shoes…