These are the shoes we’ll be looking at the making of today, which are being made for an Iplehouse nYID doll:
This blog entry documents how I make wooden shoes for ball-jointed dolls. Unlike some of my previous doll shoe tutorials, which have involved resin casting techniques requiring lots of specialized equipment, this one is very accessibly. Even the steps involving power tools can be done with hand tools, with the right choices of materials and more time, patience and biceps workout.
For this pair of shoes, I decided to use some wood a little fancier than the typical basswood carving blocks. I wanted that look I’ve seen on the dashboards of fancy old roadsters. This swirly, “figured” wood comes from burls, those round growths that happen on trees. For this type of wood, I went to a local supplier, Global Wood Source down in San Jose (by the airport). I browsed their selection of small “turning blocks”:
I came back with some maple burl blocks (left), and some Honduras Rosewood (middle) I’ll be using for another pair (shown here beside my basswood from Michaels, right):
Because I don’t stop to photograph every step of the process for every shoe I make, some of the steps shown in this tutorial will show these other woods being cut. The steps and tools are the same, though I’d like to note here that if you’re going to be using hand tools like a coping saw and hand sanding blocks, stick with basswood or birch. It would be very time consuming to hand saw and sand maple, and impossible with rosewood, ebony, or any other really dense hardwood.
After sawing my wood blocks roughly to size, the first thing I do is draw the shape for my wedge sole on the side of the block. There are many ways to figure out the basic shape. I like having the doll stand on a block of clay, so that I know the wedge is at the right angle. Another easily impressible material is “oasis” floral foam–mash the dolls feet into it as she stands upright, then carve it down with a sculpey knife before tracing the pattern onto paper (I use bristol board weight). Here is final profile that I made from a thin piece of basswood:
After tracing the profile on to the block, I rough cut the wedge shape:
For the outline of the shoe, I need to trace the foot. I do this with the paper pressed to the bottom of the foot, conforming with it:
When this outline is traced onto the block, it gives the basic outline of the shoe. This is easier than trying to freehand the vertical projection of the foot down into the ground plane, IMO. If you made a clay or oasis prototype sculpt, you could just trace that too.
Then, it’s back to the bandsaw to rough out the outline of the shoe. You can see I did freehand draw the front of the shoe, I don’t want it exactly the outline of the toes:
At this point, I sanded for 40 days and 40 nights, using a variety of hand sanding sponges, dremel sanding bits, a belt sander, disc sander and quarter-sheet orbital sander.
Once sanded to a rounded shape, I use a Dremel high-speed cutter (rounded) to carve out recesses so that the doll’s foot appears to sit down into the shoe. Even once these recesses are covered with the suede bed, they help to keep the doll’s foot in place and not sliding around on the shoe. I use trial and error, and carbon paper to mark the areas where I need to hollow out:
After all the sanding and carving is when I usually lacquer the wood:
The next parts to make are the foot bed pieces. For both of the pairs of shoes you’re seeing made in this tutorial, I used real suede. I recommend the lighter shades, as I’ve found that most black suede rubs its color off on dolls. When I use black, it’s only for uppers, and I back it with white interfacing so that it doesn’t contact the doll directly.
First, I use masking tape to get the shape of the foot bed:
Then I transfer this to bristol board, to make pattern pieces:
These patterns are then traced onto Craft Fuse:
Then I iron the craft fuse to the backside of the suede. Notice that I mark not only which is left and right, but which side is the underside. It’s easy to get things flipped the wrong way round during this process, because of how the left and right are mirror images of each other:
Then I cut out the suede, with about 3/16″ allowance, and fold it around the Craft Fuse, and secure it with as little glue as possible:
The foot bed suede pieces don’t get attached to the wedges yet; most of the time, the shoe uppers wrap around under the bed, and these pieces actually get glued in place last.
So, time to make uppers. I like to sketch the shapes for my uppers onto either tape, or clear plastic. Here, for example, is how I do it using masking tape:
For the burl wood shoes’ black suede uppers, I used this masking tape process to make the pattern for the main top part, and attached the toe and ankle straps as separate pieces. What you see here below are the cut-out uppers being joined to the ankle straps by ironing them to the same piece of fusible interfacing:
The interfacing isn’t strong enough to do a butt-joint of the parts, I hand stitched them together afterwards:
At this stage, there is a lot of careful fitting that happens, so that the upper gets attached in such a way that the shoe fits snuggly on the doll’s foot. There is much temporary holding of things into position, masking taping, and measuring. Then, some more carving happens, because the wooden wedges need relief slots cut in them to accommodate the attachment points of the uppers, or else the suede foot bed pieces won’t sit flush against the wood, and it will look like a real botched job. I again turn to the Dremel for cutting these recesses. I use a disc cutter bit so that the slots are not visible on the side of the shoe. They taper up to the sides:
Now it’s time to measure, cut and attach the front straps. The white Craft Fuse interfacing on these straps is to keep the black suede from rubbing color off onto the doll, which it would do with direct contact:
The other upper piece gets the same treatment: mill relief slots, glue, nail:
You’ll notice here that the ankle-wrap straps hand no interfacing on them yet. Ultimately, I decided to back them with Vinyl Fuse from Pellon, because the black suede coloring rubs off on everything (doll included). I’m not a big fan of Vinyl Fuse in general, because it tends to peel off, but if this happens I’ll replace it with some less cosmetically obtrusive medium-weight interfacing.
After the uppers are nailed into place, the final steps are to glue the suede beds into position with E6000, and then glue some 1/32″ textured neoprene (from McMaster-Carr) to the bottom for traction, and the shoes are done:
If you’re curious what the second basswood pair of shoes looks like, they will feature in the next post about creating the unique uppers for those shoes (which involves a sewing machine and much swearing).