The Basics of Painting and Embellishing
When it comes to painting shoes, the key is to buy the right kind and buy the best. The right kind of paint is one that is made for the surface you are painting.
Our favorite paints for leather and manmade “leather” (and for fabric shoes and bags as well) are Lumiere and Neopaque, which made by a company called Jacquard. They last a long time, cover in the fewest number of coats and rarely show brush marks. The Lumiere line includes metallics and pearlescents, which have a wonderful gleam to them. The Neopaque line consists of matte colors. All of these paints mix well together, so the color possibilities are endless!.
You can buy a starter kit of Lumiere paints (called an “Exciter Pack” — each tiny bottle will do a pair of shoes!) and individual bottles of Lumiere and Neopaque at the Sassy Feet store. We include information on how to use the paints when you order.
You can use these to lighten or darken the color of any of the paints you buy. If you choose a metallic or pearlescent color of Lumiere, and want to make it a lighter tint but keep its original sheen, lighten it with the Lumiere Pearl White. It is also handy to have a bottle of the Neopaque Black on hand to touch up the soles of your shoes if you get any paint on them.
(And no, we don’t get paid by Jacquard to plug their products. They just make GREAT paint. We have been using them on shoes and bags since 2006 with excellent results.)
We also HIGHLY recommend applying the paint with a soft fan brush.
Preparing the Surface
Before painting, gently clean your leather shoes with rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball. If you are working on manmade material, use acetone (from the hardware store) instead. No preparation is needed for fabric shoes, except they should be clean.
After painting, on leather or manmade material, use a brush or cotton ball to daub on a coat of Future clear acrylic floor wax. This is what the manufacturer recommends for sealing Lumiere and Neopaque paints on leather or manmade materials. As for painted fabric, no sealing is necessary unless you will someday want to toss them in the washer. In that case, heat-seal the paint by using a hair dryer or tossing them in a commercial dryer.
Finding Great Embellishments
You will find wonderful chains, charms, beads, ribbon, fringe, appliques, fur, feathers, flowers, and other incredibly fun and inspirational embellishments at all kinds of stores. And here are some tips for buying the right thing.
Before you start shopping for embellishments, consider these points.
- The embellishments and trim you buy need to be sturdy enough to survive on feet that drive, walk on concrete, and occasionally kick things (intentionally or not). They can be stain- and waterproofed, so no need to worry about that, but do worry about using things that are easily breakable.
- They need to be large enough to be seen from a distance. Small charms that would look great on a bracelet or earrings, for example, will be lost on the front of a shoe unless they are used in clusters. (If you find something tiny that you simply have to use, you can hang it from the back of your shoe.) The same goes for narrow embroidered ribbon. Unless you want those little red roses to add just a dash of color, buy wider ribbon so the roses will look like roses.
- When it comes to beads, gems, silver, and gold, there is no need to spend your money on the real thing. Cheap glass beads (instead of art glass), imitation gemstones, and silver- and gold-plated charms and chains will look just fine. The same is true for silk ribbon. I like to use it because I am a fabric snob, but polyester ribbon can be beautiful too and it is much The only exception to this rule are crystals: Buy genuine Swarovski crystals. Nothing else sparkles half as brightly.
- Keep track of where you bought each kind of trim or embellishment. I guarantee that at some point you will need more of something or someone will ask where you got that fabulous piece of lace or giant crystal or Asian coin or….
- Remember to buy two of everything! You will need one for each shoe. If the design of the embellishment (be it brooch, stamping, or bracelet link) is clearly oriented toward the left or right, think about how that will look. I found a treasure trove of vintage-look brass and silver-plate angel wings in an antique store one day and bought five or six different kinds — only to get them home and realize they were all RIGHT wings.
Attaching Embellishments and Trim
Gluing Things On
If you want your embellishments to stay on your shoes, you have to use the right glue. Choose a glue that will dry clear and flexible AND that’s formulated to work with both of the materials you are gluing: the leather (or manmade leather, or painted leather/manmade leather) of the shoe and the fabric, metal, or whatever of the embellishment. Whichever type or brand of glue you choose, test it first to be sure your embellishments will stay put! We offer a good selection of glues in the Sassy Feet store. The description for each one tells you what to use it for.
You will also find a detailed chart of all the glues we have tested and recommend (plus when to use them) in our book Sassy Feet! Paint, Embellish and LOVE Your Shoes (and Bags)!
Stitching Things On
In general, it works better to stitch on metal or bead embellishments rather than trying to glue them on. Shoes get a lot of wear, and they bend, which means they give glues a real workout. Also, many of the things I attach to shoes, like the little enamel plaque on the ballet slipper above, aren’t flat, so they pose an even greater challenge to glue.
Instead, I stitch on embellishments like this using Fireline fishing line in white or very dark gray. Unlike other kinds of fishing line, it can be tied in nice tight knots. I tie off the ends using two surgeon’s knots.
I recommend using a leather needle to make it easy to penetrate the leather, plus a heavy-duty leather thimble and sometimes a pair of needle-nose pliers for pulling the needle through extra-thick leather.