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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.

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.

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.

A rusting vintage pickup
with Colorado Shoe School painted on the door
and a massive metal boot mounted on the cab.
Immediately behind that,
a fence of stacked wood with ends showing,
and Erin standing behind a small metal gate under a tree.
A house and barn in the background.
View from the porch --
a chair draped in orange,
a stump with potted plant and cell phone,
a fire circle,
a log with a rocking-chair back,
a house to one side,
open yard, trees,
and stacked wood fence.
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.

Top view of the work table
scattered with leather and fabric scraps,
scissors, and straight pins.
In the middle cut-out parts for one shoe --
magenta high-top outer,
with a floral fabric lacing panel,
back-to-back with a
cyan low-top inner with orange high-top upper,
and the same floral panel,
then a gold leather toe-cap.
Top view cut-out parts for both shoes
laid out on the work table.
Top shoe has yellow high-top outer,
and lavender low-top inner,
with orange high-top addition.
Bottom shoe has magenta high-top outer,
with cyan low-top inner
and same orange high-top addition.
Both have the same floral lace panel,
and gold leather toe-caps.
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.

Scraps of paper and fabric on the work table,
two nested gold toe-caps sewn to rose gold tongues,
and a magenta high-top side panel
with a sketchy one-line stitched moth (wings spread),
and an awl for picking out remnants of stitched-in paper.
Two hand-sketched moths with closed wings on cutout paper,
tacked to a yellow leather high-top side panel,
on the sewing machine.
A heat gun setting glue on the backs of
a maroon leather high-top lining
and frankensteined low-high
with random stitches showing through.
On a sewing machine,
the yellow high-top is sewn at the heal
to a lavender low-top and orange addition.
The yellow side has stitching of two moths,
and some straight black lines across,
with orange lacing panels.
The lavender side has a blue trim
and then silver-and-black stripes protruding
up and forward into the orange addition.
The shoe from above
on my aproned lap,
glued into the sole,
but still without laces.
The back of the tongue is sparkly black,
with a pink stitched scribble.
The inner lining is maroon leather.
Shoe with a yellow & orange side
half-laced on the table
next to an open book of lacing varieties.
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.

Top view of my blue plaid pant-legs
wearing the completed shoes.
Top view with feet tilted
to show off the fake low-top inside panels
of both shoes --
lavender/orange on the left,
blue/orange on the right.
Low angle me wearing the 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.
Low angle reverse wearing the shoes,
right foot outside is yellow with orange lacing panel.
Left foot inside is blue low-top with orange lining
that transitions to silver/black stripes and orange upper
Erin's low-top shoes on my lap --
mostly flat black-and-white,
with cutout circles revealing black-and-white patterns beneath.
They have black toe caps, bright yellow laces,
and angular black stitching across the circles.
Closeup of my shoes on my lap in the car.
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.

Two Sharpies on top of
multi-colored scraps of leather,
with little arrows drawn in black and red.

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:

Closeup inside right shoe,
false low-top in blue leather with
red scribbles, black lines and arrows, purple lining,
and orange lace panels --
into silver/black stripes and orange upper.
Closeup inside left shoe,
false low-top in lavender leather with
red scribbles, black lines and arrows,
blue lining and lace panels --
into silver/black stripes and orange upper.
Closeup outside right shoe
in magenta leather with yellow lace panel,
tan-stitched open-wing moth sketch,
with black lines and arrows.
Closeup outside left shoe
in yellow leather with orange lace panel,
two tan-stitched close-wing moth sketches,
with black lines and arrows.
Closeup front of the pair,
gold leather toe caps,
and rose gold tongues with red scribble-stitching.
Closeup back of the pair,
with black bike inner-tube heal panel,
with printed white illegible letters & numbers.
Two-weeks worn in, now with more arrows.


Mike Riley


My wife did that class a few months ago and loved it! Still rocks the shoes.

Rachel Leggett


So cool!!!! I really want to try shoemaking. There's a place near me that has a leather sneaker class I would love to take at some point



Wow, these look good! Love the extra stitchlines on the sides, especially the little “heartbeat” detail 😊



Mind blown. Can you even go back to store bought footwear after this?