Friday, November 10, 2017

Victorian Slippers ~ Making a Wearable Mockup

One thing that has been difficult for me over the years is finding period appropriate footwear. I bought a pair of Fugawee Victoria boots about 10 years ago and have been wearing them ever since. They have needed regular maintenance and have been resoled by a shoe repairmen many times. It's just part of the upkeep required. I've had to sew on new buttons when the old ones have fallen off. They've done incredibly good service but over the last few seasons it has become really evident that they are getting too shabby and stretched out to be good for anything requiring a nice impression. Saddle soap and boot blacking work wonders but in the end can only do so much. I've fixed them up as best I can to save for active wear (and in the summer I usually go without shoes altogether) but I had absolutely nothing to wear for nicer or indoor events. In the past I've used "good enough" modern shoes in a passable shape but I don't feel comfortable making compromises like that anymore.

There are a few good places to get amazing reproduction shoes but even the most affordable ones are still out of my budget. With six kids and real life, plunking down over a hundred dollars on a pair of shoes just isn't happening! But I had some scraps and bits and bobs left over from other projects and with guidance from The Workwoman's Guide and several blog posts, like this one from The Pragmatic Costumer, I decided to try to make soft shoes of my own that could be used for gentle wear outdoors or normal indoor wear. 

What I ended up with are slippers that are definitely not perfect, but they are a good start and I know what to change to make the next pair better. These are still certainly wearable, though and I am happy to have them as an alternative to my shabby, sad looking boots. 

I made these over the course of a week or so during a period of dark, rainy days. So I apologize for the poor lighting in most of the photos. It's been a damp November so far!

The hardest part was coming up with a pattern shape that conformed to period shapes and still fit my foot without falling off. I have an average size foot (about a modern size 7) but a really high arch. I started by tracing my foot and drawing out pattern shapes based on my foot tracing. I went through five mock ups before finding a shape that worked with enough tightness to stay on my foot. 

I had some bits of black silk left over from making a belt earlier this year. I had to piece it so there is a seam at the toe but oh well, it is what it is. I was originally just going to line the slippers with some scrap silk but the layers seemed too light. Having never handled an original slipper I don't know if this flimsy-ness and lightness was usual but to me I felt like I wanted some more stability and shape. So I cut another layer in canvas, and then, at the end, another layer in light cotton batting. This made a still soft shoe but one that held its shape on its own much better. 

To make the shoes I sewed the outer silk and the canvas together as one layer, and the lining and batting together as the other. Then I put the two layers together, wrong sides together, and basted them all around. 

To finish the opening I cut bias strips of black cotton sateen, also from the scrap drawer, and bound the edges. 

Then I cut out two soles of the thickest leather I had on hand (this is what I usually use for cap brims or the ends of suspenders/braces) and pierced holes all around the edges. 

After sewing the uppers to the soles I turned the shoes and it looked. . .terrible. The uppers pulled weirdly and it seemed the soles had stretched so the shoe was much too large. 

The next day I went back to them and removed the uppers from the soles. I cut new soles out of several thicknesses of wool and sewed them on instead. The fit was once again good. I wanted leather soles so I could wear the shoes outdoors so I took the soles I had first tried, cut off about 1/4" all around (enough to shave off the holes I had pierced) and glued, yes, glued, the leather soles to the wool soles. I had no idea if this would work or not and is almost certainly NOT a period correct thing to do, but I figured it was worth a try so I could salvage the slippers so they could be worn. I used rubber cement to glue them on and left them under a few large heavy books for the glue to dry. After a few hours the leather was firmly adhered to the wool and I tried them on. They fit nicely. 

To decorate the toes I sewed on some beads I got at a local discount shop. I could have left them plain but oh well, I like beads. :) I also added a sole lining to the inside made of silk and a layer of batting. 

I had the chance to wear the slippers last week. I wore them all day outdoors, on pavement, grass and dirt. At the end of the day the soles were still firmly attached. So, I am cautiously optimistic that these will hold up to gentle wearing!

Next time I want to get thicker leather and make properly sewn and turned soles, but first I need to adjust my sole pattern to be a little tighter for leather. 

In the meantime, I'm happy to have these! 


  1. They are lovely! Shoe-making is something I've been interested in for a while, but afraid to try - I'm glad to see your first attempt turned out so well!

  2. These turned out beautifully! Have you heard of the book, "Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker"? A workbook printed in the mid-Victorian era.

    I work for a house museum and have been wanting to make slippers for some of the family members for our Christmas display, and then to tuck near the beds the rest of the year. Re-inspired to get cracking on this for the coming year by your post!

  3. Wow, thanks for this making of :) I was thinking about making my own regency or maybe victorian shoes (without heel. Now I'm pretty sure I will try with your guides. Thanks!

  4. These are great! I like the beads :)



Thank you for your lovely thoughts!