Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Shoe Biz 2: Sole Mates

For me, the most important--and complex--part of a doll shoe making is the sole. After all, we can wrap a bit of ribbon around the doll's foot and call it a sandal, but it has to be anchored to something that, at the very least, makes it look like a real shoe. For this post, I have uploaded as many photos as possible to help guide you through the process. A YouTube video might have been better, but I have not as yet been able to train my dolls to use a camera and it is very hard to do everything by myself! This tutorial is a little long because there are two sets of instructions: one for the epoxy clay and the other for the oven-bake polymer clay. In general, the process is the same, but each is handled a little differently.

The Basic Template: Soles, Insoles, Midsoles
We start by making a template using the bottom of the doll's foot. A lot of the tutorials I came across show placing the doll's foot against a sheet of paper and tracing around it. But with the thickness of the pencil line combined with the space between the pencil and the foot, your sole will be much wider than the doll's foot. This is the principle reason why DIY doll shoes don't fit! You want to cut these things just a tiny bit narrower than the foot. By the time line the insoles and add on the outer soles, the shoe will fit just right!
1. To make your template, cover the bottom of your doll's foot with a bit of paper tape! Then pick up a mechanical pencil or a regular one with a sharp point and draw the outline of the doll's foot.
2. Remove the tape. Place it on card stock then cut out the shape.
3. Measure this against the doll's foot and take note of where the sole surpasses the foot on the sides. The toe is not the problem. In fact, depending on the style, you will want a little space in front of the toes (just like your own shoes).
4. Trim off the excess. These two steps are important throughout the sole making process. After each element, I stop and check what I have made against the doll's foot because things have a way of shifting.
5. This template, cut from card stock, will serve as the basic template for the insoles, mid soles and outer soles.
Note: I tend to make soles that distinguish the left from the right foot. You can ignore that and simply make a universal shape that is symmetrical in shape! This is helpful when making shoes for Barbie who has such tiny feet. Make the adjustments and check for fit before you create your final template.

6. Trace and cut out 4 on card stock. (6 if you will not be making a sole out of tin foil.)
7. For me, I like using tin foil that comes from disposable aluminum pie tins (or other bake ware). Aside from adding extra structure to the shoe, it maintains the shape of the sole on an incline, especially when I am adding water to the clay to smooth out the surface. By the way, cut an extra one and put aside. We'll use it later to work on the heel without the need to disturb the soles you've prepared in advance for your shoes.
8. Rather then give you a formula for where the "bend" line should be, I prefer to manually adjust the sole to the slope of the foot. To best do this, stand the doll up on a flat surface. Bend the sole to conform to the curvature of the foot. This is very important because different dolls (even within the same family) may have different curvatures or heights and the height of the heel is determined by this curvature!

Creating Soles with Epoxy Clay
Again, in the US, there is a product called Ayes Apoxie Sculpt which is what I am using here. You can find it is art supply stores or online including at For those of you in Europe or other parts, you should look for " self hardening epoxy modeling clay" (Esprit Composite- pate expoxy legere blanche, in French). This product comes in two jars. When equal amounts of jar A is mixed with jar B, the hardening agent is activated. As long as the elements are kept in their own separate jars, I am told the product will last for a few years.
1. Get out the gloves (or slather on the hand lotion), the clay, some water and a smooth flat surface to work on. Have the outer soles ready and on the side.
2. Scoop out just a tiny bit of clay from each jar. Be mindful to use separate scoops (spoons or popsicle sticks) for each jar so as not to "contaminate" the rest of the contents. You are making VERY TINY object and will not need much. For what I am doing today, each element was approximately 3/8 balls (about the size of a chickpea). As you work with this medium, you will get better at measuring out just enough for your needs.
3. Knead together the two balls of clay for about 2 minutes until everything becomes one color. I use gloves for this step because the clay is quite sticky. But after 2 minutes, I remove the gloves and continue. Take some advice here. Do not make more than one pair of shoes at a time. Although all of the tutorials for this product indicate you have up to 3 hours of flexibility....truth is, you don not!!!! You are working with objects so tiny, the hardening process speeds up. You have....maximum 1 hour from start to finish!  
4. They say, let the clay rest 5 minutes. Don't listen to that! You can let it rest for about a minute, because for me, I found I could get best results while the clay is still sticky. Form the clay into a ball and use a dowel as you would a rolling pin to flatten out the clay. This can be as thick or thin as you want depending on the desired look.
5. Using a single edge razor blade, I scrape the clay away from the surface, while keeping it in it shape.
6. Then I lay it back down and, using the same razor blade, cut a slice wide enough to cover my outer sole.
7. Use the blade to help you lift it away from the surface and onto the shoe.
8. Since I don't have my uppers completed, I will make these soles for later use. Cover the bottom part of the outer sole with the layer of clay.
9. Using the dowel as a rolling pin, press the clay against the sole.
10. As the clay surpasses the sides of the sole, use a blade to cut away the excess.
11. Dip your finger into some water and smooth the surface and sides of the clay. Set aside and repeat the process for the remaining shoe.
Let us now make heels for our shoes. This is a tricky part of the shoe--both in its construction as well as attaching it to the rest of the shoe. Although I sometimes use small bits of wire or pins to create heels or stilettos, the most versatile material you can use is a toothpick. The extreme edges of a toothpick are great for making "killer heels" while the middle is perfect for the classic high heels we see everywhere. You can use the mid portion of Q-tip swabs provided they are paper and not plastic. (You don't want to use plastic because it won't hold paint very well!)
12. Tooth picks are easy to work with. Measure the length between just under the doll's foot and the "floor." In the case of my Fashion Royalty girls, this is 1/2" (1cm). Mark the toothpick then, using a razor blade, press down to make a nick. Then break.
13. Using your emery board, sand both ends flat.
14. It is important for you to understand that the heel must be perpendicular (90 degree angle) to the bottom of the sole. It should be placed directly under the doll's heel (not at the back edge of the shoe.)
15. Take a tiny bit of the clay and form a ball at one end.
16-17. Pinch the  ball between your fingers and shape it so that the top forms a 45 degree angle.

18. Remember the extra tin foil sole I had you to make? Bring that out and attach this heel to it. The idea here is to sculpt it out a bit before attaching it to the definitive sole. There were too many times where I messed everything up while trying to get the top of the heel sculpted correctly.
19. Don't spend too much time on this step. You just want to get it to the point where you know where you will be going with it. Remove from the tin foil sole.
20. Attach to the definitive sole and press into the rest of the clay. Dip your curved tip tool in water and begin smoothing out the clay around the heel . I want you to notice the direction of the back of the heel. The shape should be concave and not curved outwards. As you are smoothing the back of the heel, move your finger upwards and out. Be careful not to extend top of the heel over the length of the shoe over the back heel. The back of the heel should end at the heel of the sole! This was one error I made repeated which resulted in shoes that were too big. One more thing... Be sure to keep the heel straight from the back view of the shoe! This tends to shift as you work.

Tip: Move back and forth from shoe to shoe so that the clay remains workable  during the entire process. There were times when I spent too much time trying to perfect one and by the time I picked up the other shoe, the clay on the heel gave me problems as I tried to attach it to the sole.
21. I use the fine tip of my dental "gum simulator" (again, moistened with water) to get into those tight areas and close up any gaps that might be there. Be sure to make sure the heel stands straight down from the sole from the back view of the shoe as this tends to shift and move as you work.
22. Finally, dip your finger in water to smooth out the broader surfaces of the shoe. This is the great thing about this medium. Water acts as a smoothing agent. But when it dries, the shoe will be hard as a rock!
23. Whatever there is in the way of little lumps, bumps or irregularities, you can sand using a fine sandpaper, emery board or sanding block. As you get used to this medium, you won't even need to do this.
24. Here: two soles using both parts of the toothpick!

By the way....making platform shoes is simple!
1. Roll clay into two equal size balls. Press the sole into the ball until you arrive at the desired thickness.
2. With a blade or small knife, cut the excess clay away from the sole.
3. The thickness of the platform sole will determine the height of the peg you need to cut for the heel.
4. Continue the shoe as described above, smoothing out the side edges and the heel.

Creating Soles with Polymer Clay

 1. Polymer or oven-bake clay, is softer and easy to manipulate. It only gets hard when you bake in the oven but the downside is fragile. For me, it was hard to get a decent surface. Yes, of course, you can sand after you harden it, but it can break while you are still working. And even if you get something halfway decent, as some point, the finished shoe will break. I know because I had my heart broken many times! And I was making wedgies! You cannot glue back together and in time, the leftover clay dries out and has to be tossed! Nonetheless, when preparing myself to start this project, I picked up a small package to practice my skills before trying my luck with Apoxie Sculpt. You put together the shoe much in the same way. The difference is really in how you handle each clay. So being by making the soles as stated in the top part of this post.
2. The amount of clay I use is the size of a large chickpea which can fit on a 10-cent piece (US) or 10 centime piece (Euro). The thing here is that, the clay will not dry out until you put it in the oven. Anything you don't use you can put back. Note: all unused clay should be kept in a resealable baggie.
3. Using the dowel, flatten the ball into the thickness you want for your sole.
4. Slice away a strip long enough to fit the bottom of the sole. Again, I use tin foil for my sole for structure.
5. Using the dowel as a rolling pin, press the clay onto the sole and roll to get a level layer. Cut away the excess along the sides.
6. Cut another strip of clay to lay over the top of the sole. Again, press the clay using your "rolling pin." Cut away the excess along the sides and smooth. Repeat for the other shoe.

7. For the heel of the shoe using this medium, you will need to cover the element you choose.  If you leave it exposed the way we did with the epoxy clay, at some point it will fall off the shoe. So to keep everything together, I have chosen to wrap a piece of toothpick or wire with clay.The thinner the desired heel, the thinner the element. That means, the toothpick will yield a thicker heel, but if you want a somewhat stiletto heel, you will need to use a small straight pin or a bit of wire. Place the tiny rod onto the clay and wrap.
8. Roll this between your thumb and index finger until the clay gets as thin as possible, pinching away the excess as you work.
9. Form a ball with a tiny bit of clay and place it at one end of the heel.
10. Again, I place it on the extra tin foil shoe so as to calmly work on its shape without disturbing the definitive shoe.
11. Remove it from the tin foil sole and now stick it onto the definitive sole.
12. Using your curved tool, smooth out the heel where it attaches to the sole
13. A fine tipped tool is great for smoothing out areas in tight spots. Try to smooth out your sole as best you can. When you are happy, place this in an oven set low (275F or 130C) for 15 minutes. Afterwards, let cool before continuing.
14. Use an emeryboard or sanding block to smooth the surfaces of your shoe. Sand gently!
15. All by itself, this is going to break very quickly. So be sure to "seal" them with couple coats of ModgePodge or white glue.

Coming up next: Shoe Biz2: Strap One On! Now that we've got the soles together, let's make our first pair of shoes. What could be easier than sandals!

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  1. So many great tips! Thank you!
    I have to gather all things and try to make some... :)

    1. Kamelia, given the BEAUTIFUL things you make for your dolls, I can't wait to see what shoes you will make for them. So happy this post can be of some help.

  2. Those are really good! I could not do this nor do i have the patience.

    1. Thank you. Well.....I know there are a lot of steps but it really isn't as complicated as it may look. But....if you don't have the patience, well, you won't be able to this. HOWEVER....come back and look at the next couple of posts because you might be tempted to try it anyway. And even if you don't want to do heels...maybe you might want to try and do wedgie sandals (a block of clay under the foot). That's where my journey first began.

  3. This is so interesting. I can't wait to see the boots. In my experience, I always had to remind myself to make the outsole AFTER I made everything else. No matter how thin the leather, it always adds a little bulk and the shoes end up looking like FR shoes, unless I draw the outsole pattern from the finished upper and insole 😣 I got lazy because of the plastic Barbie shoes I can hand-pick for really cheap, but I still have dolls with non-standard feet I need shoes for. In general, I like the idea of using epoxy clay. The brand we have in Europe is Milliput and it comes in sticks, not jars. I have the superfine (white) version, recommended for doll mods and repairs. Mine is quite yelloed, but last time I checked, it still worked.

    1. I am so happy we are having this discussion because there are a lot of people interested in making their own doll shoes. The more info the better. Normally I make my uppers before the outsoles and I put everything together quickly. But in my research where I test the "what if" factor, I wanted to see if it were possible to make the outsoles first and store them for later assemblage. With the epoxy clay this is possible which makes it a little more practical than making everything while the clay is still wet. I do make everything at the same time, but with light colored uppers or fragile materials, I had to be really careful not to dirty the shoe while assembling. control the final size of the shoe, I check, recheck and control the size of the insole to the foot and the outer sole. I found cutting the sole a tiny bit smaller to the width of the foot ultimately resulted in just the right size. And even if the tin foil outer sole were cut a little too small, I could make up for it with the epoxy clay, which by the way, allows you to patch after the fact!
      For the most part, I probably won't be making to many shoes for my Barbies, but I really need shoes for my FR girls, who have who altogether have 4 different sizes of feet!!! (Rolling my eyes) And everybody needs boots!!!
      I did see the Milliput brand while researching epoxy clay at my favorite art supply store in France. But since it didn't look like what I bought in the US, I wasn't sure if it works the same way. But good to know. Also interesting about the yellow color, which I noticed but wasn't sure where it was coming from. One thing I have not tried which I will at some point, is to try to make a hard shoe (like Barbie shoes) using the epoxy.

  4. Replies
    1. And thank you for your visit Dlubaniny. Happy to know you enjoyed this tutorial.

  5. wow what a great tutorial! I am totally going to try it :D

    1. Oh I am so happy you enjoyed this post! Happy shoe making!!!!

  6. This is absolutely amazing, but looks way to complicated for my senior brain and arthritic fingers! I do enjoy the tutorials, though and am in awe of your skills. My kids got me a 3D printing pen, so I seen some tutorials for shoes using that tool which I may give a try. You are an inspiration, for sure.

  7. Thank you for your very kind words, Phyllis. Well, it's not as complicated as it looks, but it does entail a lot of detailed work. And if you are suffering with arthritic fingers, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to try and create these tiny objects. I've seen those 3-D printing pens at the local craft store. If you do have any worthwhile results, please post them. I'd love to see what you come up with.

  8. Je ne sais pas si je vais essayé de faire des chaussures en suivant ton modèle, mais je te dis BRAVO ! You are super fabulous !

  9. Wow, making doll shoes seems very complicated. I love that you're splitting the tutorial in parts, so it will be easier to find the instructions for an specific part of the process.
    I will stay tuned for the rest of the tutorials.

  10. You are an amazing and generous artist and a fabulous teacher! Thank you!

    1. Thank you and welcome to my blog. I'm glad you are enjoying yourself here. Come back as often as you like.


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