How are Shoes Made?

A shoemaker or cobbler making a boot.
The insoles or interior padding of a shoe is produced during the pattern cutting phase.
There are a wide variety of different shoe types, from sneakers all the way to sandals.
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  • Written By: Luna Phillips
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 16 April 2014
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Shoemaking has been an important handicraft for hundreds of years, which started when humans thought it necessary to protect their feet from inhospitable surfaces. Shoes have gone a long way; they are no longer just made for protection but also for fashion. Before a shoemaker or a cobbler can start with the actual process, however, he should first have the right materials. These are usually some combination of leather, rubber, wood, plastic, canvas, fabric, foams, metal, and other materials.

Cobblers produce a dizzying variety of products, including sandals, boots, and clogs to go well with the needs, comfort, and taste of every individual. The craft is a complicated process. It requires a lot of creativity, accurate engineering, and effort to produce beautiful and durable results. The basic steps of making a shoe are the following:

Forming the last: This is arguably the most important part of the process. The last is the form over which the shoes are molded, and it is usually made of wood or plastic. It determines the fit and feel of the final product, as well as its performance. The last is involved in both the beginning and end of the construction process.


Pattern Cutting: Pattern cutting is where specific parts are produced. These parts generally consist of the sole, the bottom part; the insole the internal part that is placed directly under the foot; the outsole, the layer that directly touches the ground; the heel, the bottom back part that can be high or low; and the upper, the part that holds the shoe on the foot.

Closing: This is the method of uniting all the aesthetic coverings of the shoe. The uppers are pierced, punched, wedged, ridged, and then placed with lining and sewn together.

Lasting: This is the process of stretching the upper over the last. A certain amount of force is applied to stretch the upper on to the different points of the last to acquire its shape.

Attaching: Is the part of the process that involves putting the upper and the sole together.

Finishing: Finishing involves the final cutting, trimming, cleaning, and polishing of the shoes. If they are being made for a certain business, the shoes are tagged and boxed for distribution after the manufacturing process.

Shoes are made in varying sizes, and the units of measurement differ across countries. The most commonly used systems are those of France, North America (USA and Canada), and the United Kingdom.


Discuss this Article

Post 9

@clintflint - I also know a couple of people who experiment with making sandals, either with recycled rubber or with leather. I think they are more simple to make than the average shoe, because you only need to cut a flat base and then attach the straps in whatever way you want.

It would be kind of awesome to be able to make shoes, but I guess you'd have to be able to make them very strong, particularly women's shoes. I can imagine what would happen if you made and sold a woman's shoe that snapped. It could really injure whoever wore it. And there is so much pressure put on the heel because of the way the shoe works.

It reminds me of the movie "Kinky Boots" which is about a small shoe making company that decides to specialize in boots for drag queens, because they often weigh more and need a particularly strong heel (as well as particularly outrageous boots).

It's a pretty cute movie if you feel like having a bit of a laugh. It's also got a surprisingly large amount of information about the shoe making process.

Post 8

Making shoes doesn't have to be that complicated, depending on what kind of shoe you want to make, of course. Lately it's become more fashionable to wear felt shoes, that are basically made from wool, with a rubber sole if you want.

Making them takes a lot of work, because you basically make the felt in the shape of the shoe, and making felt takes a while and requires strenuous movement, but you can make any color and any size you want.

Or, alternatively, if you just want a pair of felt shoes, you can look online for someone else who makes them and sells them. I've seen them in Fair Trade stores as well.

Post 7
@anon127755 - My mother has the same problem. If she's looking for cheap shoes in particular, it's really difficult to find any that are a decent width.

She has found a couple of places that sell shoes that are a lot more comfortable, but they are very expensive. They last a long time though, so she tries to save up and get those.

I think the one store she likes the most is one which specializes in shoes for people with foot conditions (although the shoes are for anyone). They actually pay attention to whether or not the shoe is going to be good for your foot, rather than just on how it's going to look.

Post 5

I have feet that are two different sizes and my feet are wide width. Why is it so hard to find a cute pair of comfortable shoes? I see so many shoes I would like to wear but they are all medium width. Is it that hard to make wide width shoes? what is the problem?

Post 4

Did you know that many old shoe makers and cobblers develop what is called "cobbler's femur"? When traditional cobblers would work, they would do a lot of work with the shoe on the top of their leg, including repeatedly striking the shoe to get it in shape.

This repeated trauma to the bone would cause the bone to build up a little shelf, almost like a callus builds up on a foot. Sometimes the shelf would grow quite pronounced, and even stick out over the knee, causing pain to the cobbler.

Since more and more cobblers work on machines now, cobbler's femur has declined somewhat, but it still makes you think twice about those glamorous ladies shoes, right?

Post 3

How are specialized shoes, like comfort shoes or walking shoes made differently than normal shoes? Is it just a difference in pattern, or what?

I guess what I'm asking is, what makes the difference between a casual tennis shoe and a designer walking shoe? Or how does a women's "comfort" shoe differ from a normal pair of women's shoes?

Is it just a design and materials difference, or are there actual physical considerations taken, or what?

Post 2

When I was in Italy, I was lucky enough to get to go to a shoe making factory that specialized in leather men and womens shoes. It was so cool to see how they work, and how complicated the patterns are, even for the mens shoes.

If you have never seen anybody making shoes, let me tell you, it's harder than you would have ever thought. So much craftsmanship goes into making those shoes that it makes sense why fancy leather shoemakers charge what they do.

I was so glad that I got to see how shoe making actually works -- it gave me a better appreciation for what I wear, and I also got some great discount shoes from the factory store!

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