Sandalmaking: If the Shoe Fits Wear It

You can make your own sandals! I have proof.

From the moment I saw Rachel Corry’s book proposal for The Sandalmaking Workshop, I was excited to try my hand at sandalmaking. I’m an avid crafter and dedicated maker, but before then, it had never even occurred to me that I could make shoes. But Rachel said it was easy, so I was curious.

As we started working on the book, Michaela Jebb, the book’s art director, and I repeatedly swooned over Rachel’s styles. We decided to go in together on a large piece of rich brown leather, which we bought from one of the leather suppliers Rachel recommends in the resources list. When the roll of leather arrived at our office, we fawned over its deliciously buttery softness. And we had big plans to make sandals together, testing out Rachel’s instructions, and enjoying some creative making time together.

Then the pandemic hit.

As I packed up from my cubicle what I thought I’d need to work at home for a couple weeks, I noticed the roll of leather in the corner. Making sandals seemed like a fun at-home project. I figured I could get started on my own and then finish up with Michaela once we could spend time together again. So that evening, I awkwardly balanced the roll of leather on top of the file folders and notebooks that I carried out to my car.

Truth be told, it took me several weeks to buy the other tools and equipment I needed to start the project. By the time I had everything, it was warm enough to work outside. So one lovely evening in early summer, I brought everything (including my first mint julep of the season) out to my back porch.

That buttery leather was for the sandal uppers, and cutting out those pieces was smooth and easy. When I started cutting out the thicker leather for my footbeds, though, I was surprised at how difficult it was. The leather was incredibly stiff, and I broke at least two knife blades as I worked. By the time I finished sawing through the footbeds, I decided I deserved a second mint julep—and figured that was my cue for putting away my knife.

When I told Rachel how challenging it had been to cut through the footbed leather, she was confused. Eventually, we figured out that I bought the wrong footbed leather. I was using leather meant for shoe outsoles, which Rachel usually cuts with a bandsaw. As a result of my mistake, we clarified some of the chapter 1 text about materials and added the shopping list to the resources in the back of the book. (You’re welcome.)

A week and $30 later, I had the correct footbed leather. Just in case, I skipped the cocktail this time and got down to business with a clear head and steady hand. Easy as pie.

Draping the upper pieces onto my feet and marking where to connect the sandal uppers to the footbed was more involved than I’d anticipated, though. Shifting my weight only slightly as I stood changed the angle and placement of where the upper pieces met the footbed. I tried repeatedly to get a perfectly consistent fit. And then it dawned on me: When we actually wear shoes, we constantly shift our weight. It’s called walking! Armed with that revelation, I relaxed my standards and aimed for a sturdy fit with a little (literal) wiggle room.

When I attached the rubber outsole to the footbed, I wished I’d had a third hand: one each to hold the toe and heel areas of the upper and a third to shape the arch. Limited as I was with only two hands, I did the best I could. The arch ended up a bit flatter than I usually like in my sandals, but I did it. I made shoes! (And squealed with delight when I was finished.)

Since I rarely left the house last summer, I only got a few chances to wear my new sandals before the weather turned. But each time I did, someone remarked how much they liked my sandals. And, just as Rachel notes in the book’s introduction, “nothing beats responding to shoe compliment with a simple, ‘Thank you; I made them.’”

Try this project—the Tying Sandals—along with 13 other styles, including Mary Janes, Crisscross Sandals, Mules, Fisherman Sandals, Toe Slides, and more with Rachel Corry’s The Sandalmaking Workshop.

Plus pre-order your copy of the book today and receive a special pre-order-only process video from the author. Details here.

Tying Sandals excerpted from The Sandalmaking Workshop © 2021 Rachel Corry. Photo © Lauren Martin.

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