Buying Leather For Shoes

I always like to have people do their patterns before they buy leather, mainly because leather can get expensive and they can take their pattern pieces in with them and get just as much as they need.

I ALWAYS recommend to go to the leather store, especially in the beginning, so you can touch and feel the leather. However sometimes you just can’t make it there, or don’t have a good one near you and you have to order online. I also have quite a few friends following this tutorial along at home so I took my camera phone on a Tandy-Field-Trip to touch, feel, fondle (it is leather after all) and document the things I think they should get.  Below are the items ( and the Tandy leather #) for the items that are a must have and recommended for making a pair of shoes.

Necessary Items:

  • Scratch Awl– It does not matter if you are sewing or doing leatherwork, you should have an awl in your supply closet. Normally around $5 or less, you can’t really share this with a group, so make sure you get your own. Tandy leather #3217-00
  • Waxed Thread- For shoes, for beginners, I recommend waxed thread or waxed nylon thread. Don’t get artificial sinew and Don’t get the braided cord. You want a minimum of 25 yards per pair of shoes . The number depends on the color.
  • Stitching Needle– You will need a minimum of 4 needles per pair of shoes. You will break needles, people new to sewing break more needles. They sell them in packs of 10 for $3.29 or 100 for $30. Tandy Leather #1195-00

Recommended ( you can do without but it makes life so much easier, a must for serious leatherworkers)

  • Adjustable Groover– The adjustable groover measures in a certain amount from the edge (ie your seam allowance) and grooves into the leather a line which you will follow with your punching to sew the leather together. These are more expensive at $20, so you can share one with a partner or in a group. However if you become serious about leather working, I recommend you get one for your toolchest. Tandy leather #8074-00
  • Stitching Chisel 5/64 or 2mm– Yes, you can do it without ever punching the holes first- yes you can still get even hole distance by using a fork. However, I HIGHLY recommend getting either the 4 or 6 prong chisel. It will save time, it will save your awl, it will save your hands, it will save your patience. They run about $14 for the 4 prong and $15 for the 6 prong. This is one of those tools you can share with other people, and I have some that people can use in class. However if you are doing the shoes at home I recommend getting one as you will use it for other leather projects as well.

Leather- The leather you use will depend on what kind of shoes you are making. Here are some general tips:

  • No Suede- Suede is a post period production technique…plus suede is harder to keep clean
  • If your fighting in your shoes, a heavier weight is better ( which you take into account with your patterning seam allowance). ie those in the 4-6 ounce range.
  • Don’t go above 5/6 ounce
  • Don’t go below 2/3 ounce
  • Don’t order a belly, they are to long and thin.
  • Look under tooling or finished leather
  • If you want to dye your shoes yourself, go with tooling leather
  • Yes you can get upholstery leather, but it will be thinner, so know that you will have thinner shoes.

Walking around Tandy, here were just a few different leathers I would make shoes out of.

  • Aspen Bison Sides– 5/6 ounce. $14.99 Sq Ft. Tandy Leather #9285. Good for heavy or fighting boots.
  • Tooling Sides -4/5 ounce. Tandy Leather #9157-94 or 9157-54 or any tooling side. Good for heavy or fighting boots/shoes.
  • Tooling Side– 3/4 ounce. Tandy leather #9157-93 or any tooling side. Good for fighting boots or regular shoes
  • Tooling Side– 2/3 ounce. Tandy leather #9157-92 or any tooling side. Good for regular boots or shoes.
  • 8+ ounce for soles. You can use 7/8 ounce leather-16 ounce “sole/armor” leather for the soles.

What are these sides that you keep talking about?

subdivisions-of-leatherLeather is sold depending on the part of the animal it comes from. To know what kind of piece you can use, you will need to know how many square feet of space your pattern will take up. However, you will want to order a bit more than just the amount you need, in case you need to work around imperfections.  For a pair of ankle boots-size 9 I needed 4.166 sq feet. HOWEVER, unless you want to piece your shoes together, order more than you need- normally 20%. So I would want to order at least 4.99 sq feet . If you say you need a 5 square ft of leather, you could get a piece that is 2.5 ft by 2 ft or you could get a piece that is 1 foot by 5 foot. This is why I recommend you call and let them know the sizes of your pieces or go in person.

  • Back – A side with the belly cut off, usually 15 to 18 sq. ft.
  • Belly – The lower part of a side, usually 4 to 8 sq. ft.
  • Bend- The top part of a side, average 9 to 11 sq. ft.
  • Single Shoulder- 6 to 7 sq ft.
  • Double Shoulder- 12 to 14 sq. ft.

IMG_20130925_133555I would never order a belly or a single shoulder for shoes as they are normally thin and long. However double shoulders, backs, sides, ext. are all fair game.

And of course- this is the #1 reason why I recommend going in person. If I had a pattern and time to go through this, I would be able to walk out with enough leather for the shoes for under probably $10.