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2 Days of Cordwainery

A wonderful adventure in shoe-building @ Colorado Shoe School

Low angle of my feet in brightly colored shoes.
Right foot inside has lavender low-top with blue lining
that transitions to silver/black stripes and orange upper.
Left foot outside is magenta with yellow lace panel.
Both have a mix of tan stitched art,
black stitched horizontal lines,
and red stitched scribbles.

Erin and I spent a couple days last week at the Colorado Shoe School in Bellvue, CO – learning, designing, and making our own sneakers. Yes, actual sneakers, fit for wearing, and built from scratch. Only the soles come pre-formed out of recycled plastic.


TL;DR Annabel (my teacher) posted a tiktok of my process and results – my first outing as an amateur cordwainer:

@coloradoshoeschool Had a blast working with @terriblemia on her shoes over the past two days. She transformed her art and turned it into sneakers. I'm so here for all the color and sewing line work. I know she's already thinking about designing her next pair. If this is what she comes up with without pre planning then look out world!#coloradoshoeschool #makeyourownsneakers #shoeslikeyouveneverseenbefore #amazingsneakers #thingstodoinfortcollins ♬ original sound - Colorado Shoe School Annabel Rea

The Shoe School

Annabel Reader and Dan Huling are wonderful artists with a background in performance, and started the shoe school out of their back yard. ‘Back yard’ is entirely underselling the magic they’ve created on their property. We stayed in the tiny home they converted from a 1940s train car, between the two days of our workshop.

The entrance & yard (notice the log rocking chair) – along with some videos about the school and the converted train car.

They have several workshops available, but we went with the two-day option – making ‘Chuck Taylor’ style sneakers.

Day 1: Design

Day 1 was entirely dedicated to design. We spent the morning pulling out rolls of up-cycled leather and fabric to see what’s available, and sketching ideas on patterns they provided. Since we were the only two students, we each got a teacher to ourselves – Erin working with Dan, while I worked with Annabel.

Erin had done the workshop before, and came prepared with some fabric from home. I was starting from scratch (with almost no sewing experience), and didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to make. Eventually Erin suggested I work from some of my Riding SideSaddle* art, and Annabel helped guide me through translating from digital collage into shoe leather.

By the end of day 1 I had selected and cut out an assortment of bright, saturated leather for the sides, and gold leather toe caps. I still wasn’t sure about the design details, but my main concept involved using the high-top pattern for the outsides, and creating a shoe-within-a-shoe effect on the inside – with high-top uppers stitched onto a low-top base.

At this point it doesn’t look like much (besides a lot of bright fabric), and I think both Annabel and I were worried about how it would come together.

My cut leather & fabric at the end of day 1.

I guess I’m making clown shoes?

Day 2: Construction

Annabel and I both came into day two with ideas that had been brewing over night. We agreed that the floral fabric wasn’t matching the other ideas, and she re-cut my lacing panels from leather, while I began experimenting with how to stitch the designs.

It’s clear that they have a strong sense of timing, and will jump in to help with repetitive tasks when you start to fall behind. It’s also clear at this point I was falling behind. Once I picked out leather for my tongues, Annabel built the entire toe-and-tongue parts for me.

We had experimented on day 1 with sewing scraps of fabric to create the collage effect of my art, but I decided to simplify: using various colors of thread to get different stitched effects – sketched moths, hard lines, and scribbles. We found that it worked well to tack down my drawings onto the leather, and sew straight through the paper.

Sewing, gluing, and building on day 2.

It was surprising to me – despite experiencing the same in other mediums – how much things come together in the last few steps, and the last hours of the day. What seemed like a random scattering of bright colors, came together into actual shoes I could see myself wearing. Shoes I’ve been wearing daily for a week now.

We used bike inner tubes to cover the heal seem, and provide a heal pull.

All that’s left to do is try them on.

Trying them on in the workshop, and some closeups on the ride home.

A little more

During the two-days of the workshop, I got my tan stitched moths, black stitched perpendicular lines, and red stitched scribbles. All that’s missing are a bunch of tiny errors!

When I got home, I ran some tests with red & black fine-tip sharpies on scraps of leather. Only the black is consistently visible, so I went with it.

Now I’ve been wearing the shoes for a week, and I love them. I’m on the road this week, exploring southwest Colorado, but ere are some more closeups I took in the hotel room:

Two-weeks worn in, now with more arrows.

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