Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ballet boot last - tips & tricks

Still in progress in the workshop is my latest obsession: making a boot last for a pair of custom-fit ballet-style boots. These are also sometimes known as toe-boots. I neglected to show a sketch before, so you can see where all this insanity is heading - please see above if you are interested. These won't be made for walking, but are more for bondage or bedroom playtime. I love the idea of clothing or shoes that restrict or change the way you move, and these definitely riff on that idea. I also wanted to make a boot where the heel is shaped like a loop, that can be used as a tie-down or a kind of handle.

Here are the lasts in their current state, one a little further along than the other:
This post will share a couple of tips that I think would have helped me had I known them before I started. I don't know how many people out there might be interested in this sort of thing, but you never know... I have searched all over for this kind of information, so there just might be someone else out there who is crazy enough to give this kind of project a shot.

First up, I'm using a measurement device to make the diameter of both lasts the same at certain points along their length. This is based on the "story stick" idea from woodworking, where you transfer measurements on a stick rather than making a series of measurements and trying to remember them all.
I use a piece of card stock with marks indicating places where I took measurements of the diameter of the wrap I made of my model's leg. That is my target size, or the measurement I want to match with the last.

Next I place the "story stick" card on the last and transfer the marks so I know where to measure.
At the top of the card near the mark, I have indicated the size diameter I am working towards. The numbers on the bottom show the current measurement. As I remove material, I can get an idea of how far I have to go, and how much material still needs to be taken away. I cross out the old measurements, and know the most recent one is at the top of the list. There are 2 columns, one for the left last and one for the right.
One thing I found helpful is to have a flat area to securely clamp the last while I'm working on it with the rasps and sand paper. The foot naturally lends itself to being clamped, at least at this stage. I worked on the rounded part of the leg and calf first, and will work on the foot near the end.
To secure the workpiece, it helps to have additional clamps holding wood blocks against the last. Because I am working on all sides, it helps to have these easily re-positionable. The more contoured the shape, the harder it is to clamp it down properly, so it gets more difficult as you go along.
To help stabilize the workpiece further, I created a couple of curved-cutout holders which could be positioned under the curved parts of the last to hold it in place. These helped a lot.
It also helped to have a little flat spot at the back of the heel to provide a stable point to clamp when working on the front of the last.
The tape-wrap I made really comes in handy to refer to along the way.

I can take measurements from it, and get a sense of the contour I am trying to create. Here for the bottom of the foot, for example it really helps.

I also recently purchased a digital caliper which makes precise measurements a breeze. I can measure the wrap at different locations and compare those with the current state of the last to see how far I still have to go to.

Finally, although I am not there yet on the form of the foot, I can check the overall shape by wrapping the wood form in plastic wrap and duct tape.
I wrap it pretty tight and use a couple of layers, then cut the wrap off of the form to test on my model.
I'm happy to say it is getting close, the shape is good, and according to the test there are no major problems. Just a few more hours of shaping to go...
Of course, shaping the foot will be the hardest part. Then I get to do it again for the other foot. I always like to leave the best for last. (Not really!)

Until next time...


  1. i know i'm jumping the gun, but can you give some comments about how boots and gloves are different?

    ok, that sounds dumb.

    like, boots have to be more rugged to deal with walking on things. how do you deal with that compared to making a glove that just has to make a hand not flex around enough to be useful? is it just a matter of stitching thick stuff on the sole?

    again, jumping the gun, so ignore this if you're planning on talking about it, ok?

  2. Hey Sammy, not a dumb question at all. I've been researching this for a long time, and the short answer is reinforcement. Gloves don't really have any, where as shoes have a lot. The sole is built up in layers, including a steel shank to give the support and flex. There is reinforcement at the toe box and at the counter near the heel. Plus the attachment of the heel itself can involve screws, pegs or nails. Shoes are much more complex, generally. I will be posting more about that later, too, in case you're interested.