Back in 2005, when I discovered that my gorgeous Lumiere paints were not just formulated to work on fabric, but also would adhere to leather and manmade leather, I painted and embellished my first pair of sandals. I wrote about these in an earlier post, and told how astounded I was that these sandals were not only selected for publication in Altered Couture magazine, but were featured in an ad for the same magazine.
That’s when I thought, Hey, maybe I should write a book about how to paint and embellish shoes. Now, I know that’s not a typical person’s second thought after doing ONE successful creative project. Most wearable artists and crafters spend years and years perfecting their skills before thinking about writing a book, but I was a writer and editor by trade, so the thought seemed perfectly normal to me.
Of course, I did realize that I hadn’t exactly proven my talent in the field yet (to say the least), so I set myself a challenge. I would find some really inexpensive, really plain black flats and see if I could do eight interesting variations using different colors and paint techniques and different embellishments. If I succeeded, I would proceed with the idea of doing a book. I called this my Black Flat Challenge. Above is a photo of the final eight, plus the plain black flat they all started out from.
I thought it might be interesting for you to hear about each of these attempts — and what I learned from the mistakes or near-mistakes I made! I’ll talk about the first four this week, and finish up with the last four next week.
First I bought several pairs of black flats at Payless (on sale at $9.99). Then I picked a single yummy color of Lumiere (in this case Metallic Olive) and added a simple embellishment. The embellishment was a combination of three pieces. On the bottom I used a raw brass stamping (which I polished and sealed first). Then came a gold-toned Celtic-style charm. On top I put a single freshwater pearl that had been dyed purple. This added a tiny touch of complementary color while also hiding the loop in the charm and the hole in the stamping.
I consulted with a friend who’s an extraordinary beader, Debra Jurey, about what kind of thread I could use to stitch on embellishments. I told her I needed something that was really strong, fairly fine and would hold a knot. She recommended I use FireLine beading thread, which I did.
Then I went online and learned how to tie a surgeon’s knot, the kind that won’t come undone over time. I also learned NOT to put the knot inside the shoe because my feet would feel it. Like the princess and the pea! Now I put all my knots on the outside of the shoe, but underneath the embellishment so they can’t be seen. I called this shoe Celtic Pearl and I liked how it turned out. It was simple, but elegant. And inexpensive!
The design for shoe number two started with some sparkly midnight blue net roses that I’d found at a sewing festival. I thought one of these would look good on the toe of a flat. I painted the flat Pearlescent Blue and stitched down the rose. The result was okay, but it wasn’t enough somehow. This was my first discovery that with DIY shoe design, you really need to go one or two or three steps further to get a great shoe.
So I dug around in my nascent embellishment stash and found some shiny black piping, which I glued around the topline (also called the collar) of the shoe. It looked good! Then I looked at the shoe some more and thought it might be nice to accent the line where the low heel met the upper.
I rummaged through my now-growing stash and pulled out some narrow faux suede piping and glued it along that line. (Gluing down these two kinds of piping was preceded by my testing A LOT of different glues to see which would work best when gluing fabric — which is what faux suede is made of — to Lumiere-painted leather or manmade leather. The answer? The Ultimate.)
In doing this shoe, which I named Midnight Rose, I also learned that when you glue piping around the topline of a shoe, it’s best to apply Fray Check to the cut ends AND to stitch those ends to the shoe so they don’t work loose over time.
Shoe number three, which I would eventually name Garden Party, was painted Pearlescent Emerald (I still hadn’t worked up the courage to mix colors). Then I started messing around with wide wired ribbon and a big flower pendant made of something the jewelry supplier called cherry “quartz.” Of course, those quotes around “quartz” tell you it’s not real quartz, but it looked close enough to me. Because it was a pendant (which they called a “focal component”), it had a hole drilled in it, which was perfect for my needs.
I chose some inexpensive polyester wired ribbon woven in an ombre pattern, where one color shades into another. As I was trying out the different style and sizes of bows I could make, I discovered that this type of ribbon had a couple of distinct advantages over silk ribbon.
First, it was WAY cheaper. Second, the wire at the each edge gave it more body so that I could either let the ribbon stand out a bit from the sides of the shoe or bend it so it curved close to the sides. I also found that I liked the slightly rumpled, vintage look I could get with wired ribbon. I used The Ultimate to glue the ribbon down at the center and at its ends (except for the front-most ends), then I stitched down the cherry “quartz” flower over it.
Now I was on shoe number four, but I was still playing it pretty safe. I switched palettes and used a Lumiere color called Old Brass (which I no longer carry in the Sassy Feet store because not enough people were buying it to justify my keeping it in stock). I decided to go for contrast and picked a very delicate and delicately colored French ribbon to use as edging along the topline. The ribbon had a narrow strip of embroidery adjacent to a short ruffle (only the French would create something this sophisticated yet girly).
As I prepared to glue it down, I noticed that the embroidery was so delicate, it might not show up very well. After all, these shoes were going to be seen at a distance of five feet or more. That’s when I looked at the reverse side of the ribbon, where all the threads show. It was much more colorful, though still delicate. Lesson learned: Always check out the back side of the fabric — it might be a lot more interesting than the front!
I called this shoe Sweet Memories, and if you haven’t figured out by now that it’s really fun to name the shoes you create, reread this post. Then go name your shoes! (Later, I would get woven labels made saying “Sassy Feet” and glue these inside the shoes. Even more fun!)
Tune in next week for a look at the second four shoes in the Black Flat Challenge — and my adventures and misadventures in stamping on leather, mixing colors, and adding ankle ties!