Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ballet boots - from scratch

I recently started on a project I have wanted to do for a long time: a pair of custom-fit ballet boots. They're based loosely on a drawing I did a long time ago of a pair of boots that had a sort of closed-ring shape for the heel. Not anything you could walk in, but more of a kind of restraint. Bondage boots!

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am pretty obsessed with boots in general: how they are made, the fact that they are a combination of design, engineering and art all in one. These have been kicking around in my subconscious long enough, it was time to make them real.

There are a lot of technical challenges to making a boot or shoe. Not the least of which is creating the "last" or form on which the boot is built. I am carving mine out of wood, but starting with a wrap of my model's foot and lower leg. This gives me a set of dimensions to work from when carving the last.

Here's the wrap:
I've indicated some measurement lines with a marker on the wrap, along with a rough indication of the sole shape on the bottom of the foot.
Using the wrap as a guide I came up with a couple of shapes to cut out of my wood blocks. I first needed a side profile, which I traced onto the block.
These shapes were cut out on the bandsaw.
Next, I sketch a contour of the front elevation to cut out.
I used tracing paper to transfer the lines from the first block to the second.
At this stage, I want to remove as much wood as possible with the bandsaw. All the rest of the shaping will be done by hand, which is a lot of work.
At this point, I think they look pretty good. I left the form a bit large, as I don't want to remove too much wood too soon. But I'm a little worried they will take a long time to carve down to size...
You can see by the shape of the wrap lying beside the two blocks, there is a lot of material left to remove!
At this stage you can see the last taking shape. The front one has been worked over a bit with the rasps, chisels and sandpaper to take on a more rounded shape.
And here they are in their current state, the left a little further along than the right. I am doing a matched pair, as although it is twice the work, it's important to me to get the differences between the left and right shape.
This is the first time I have tried to do this sort of thing, so bear with me if things don't turn out so great. I figure the best way to figure things out is sometimes to just go for it, and work out the problems along the way.
I'm thinking only about 12 to 14 more hours of carving to go...

Until next time, happy holidays!


  1. Dear Dani, I'm afraid you are right, but I'm having fun... I think of it as "good crazy". =0)

  2. Your talent and patience is amazing :)

  3. Thanks, shape shifter. I am so excited about the possibilities with this last form. Not only to make traditional-style boots, but also cast-leather molded designs as well.

  4. Dani and Shape Shifter are correct, you are (good) crazy and talented. The only thing I can think of is that you are able to get into the mind shift in a project you love very easily. The kind of shift where at the end of a session you go "I've been at this for 4 hrs?" since it only feels like a few minutes.

    Sending your link to a friend from OZ who is more nuts about ballet boots than you. She might even be a friend of yours already. Keep an eye out for a letter from Suzanne. J&W

  5. I definitely get in the zone where I lose all track of time when working on a project. You know it's a good one when you stumble out of the workshop 12 hours later, bleary-eyed and with no sense of how much time has passed. Usually it's low-blood sugar (because I haven't eaten) that forces me to finally take a break. But just wait 'til you see all the cool things I can make with these boot lasts!!It will be so worth it.

  6. can't wait to see what you have planned for this year :) happy new year Christopher :)

  7. Thanks, thisgirl - I do have a lot planned. It should be fun... And happy new year to you as well!