Like most girls, I have a partiality for shoes. So when I heard that Shoe School, a place where you learn to make your own shoes or sandals over five or two days (respectively) was coming to Wellington, I was keen to go and try my hand as cobbler for a weekend.
Louise, the owner of Shoe School, started her venture two years ago, to build on her own passion for making shoes. The business has now outgrown its original home in Dunedin and so Lou upped sticks and moved up-country to Newtown where she's running regular classes where you can literally almost create any shoes you want!
Newtown is the perfect home in Welly for this fun artisan experience. Its quirky personality fits the nature of Shoe School and the 'back-to-basics' nature of hand making a pair of shoes you'll be able to wear afterwards. It feels just the right amount of out of the way, yet is close enough to central Wellington that it isn't an inconvenience to get to (there's even parking!). While you can do a five-day shoe workshop where you can make anything from Mary-Janes to Brogues, I elected for the sandal making workshop, which takes just two days a. The full five-day course is a bit steeper at $980 for five days of school, but you literally learn the skills that mean you could go home and start creating your own shoes should you wish (obviously you'd have to buy tools and materials).
Make sure that before you go you've set aside or delegated any chores or other appointments you might have for the weekend because you'll be busy the whole time! Classes start at 9am and go until 5pm. I'm not going to lie, I'd not turned my mind to the fact it was two full days until the week of the workshops and was slightly fretting that I'd not have enough time to do everything else in the weekend. For those of us (ie everyone) with busy lives, it can feel like quite an investment time-wise but I promise you it is WELL worth it.
Before the workshops even start, Lou asks you to check out her Shoe School Pinterest board for examples of sandals you could make. I elected for a minimalist style sandal, from a mint green colour in the photo.
On arrival, Lou explains to you the process for making your own shoe, which of course went over my head at first - but it doesn't matter because you work it out as you go along. Early on, you pick out your leather of choice (probably the hardest part). Lou had hundreds of colours and textures to choose from and I was very taken by a metallic blue hide (also, Vegans, this might not be for you). I hummed and ha-ed until another Shoe School classmate pointed out I should make my shoes to go with my clothes and so I elected for the soft blue leather Lou had originally prescribed. We jazzed it up with a gold edging to give it some bling factor and millennial punch.
The next phase is drawing a pattern for your foot. Lou helps out with her assistant Gemma in tracing your foot, which then you use to cut a board shape that acts as the overall base for your design. After that, you either use a pre-existing pattern or, as I did, make your own. Again, Lou is there to help and created the pattern for my shoe bespoke. We broke for lunch and I indulged in the Ramen Noodle Shop in Newtown for lunch - which made me a VERY happy girl!
Then comes the fun part - cutting out the leather. Using a Stanley knife I carefully traced the shape of my pattern into the leather. You also do the same with the lining of the shoe, so make sure you know your left from your right! Gemma helped to add the edging to the sole of my shoe and then Lou cut the side holes to wedge the leather into. Behold! A shoe started to appear (also, despite the fact you're helped lots along the way, I promise I did actually do the majority of the shoe myself!). At this stage, day one ended.
Lou is an amazing teacher and was patient with everyone. This is certainly an intense course to teach, and you wouldn't want more than five people as there was in our class at a time. You get taken through every step and never feel abandoned! Gemma was also on hand to provide assistance, such as sewing the elastic onto my buckle.
The glueing of the shoes is probably the most hilarious and stressful process. Its very easy but this is clearly nasty stuff. The yellow glue sticks to your fingers. However, the reward is seeing your shoe start to come together. There was one slightly worrying moment where the pattern I'd cut for the inner of the sole didn't match the shape of the shoe quite. Lou, however, calmly pulled it apart and re-cut the shape before giving it back to me to re-stick. It all worked out, and we could progress un-impinged.
Finally, you cut out a sole for your shoe. I decided to keep it very simple and go for a flatter white sole, so it didn't overpower the delicate gold detail or soft leather. I was so happy with how my shoes ended up looking, as you can see from the photos above.
Overall, I couldn't recommend Shoe School highly enough. It is fantastic value and you come away with a pair of shoes made specifically for your own feet. You can do almost anything. For example, a girl in our class who liked a certain running shoe sole because it was comfortable o her feet brought a pair in and hacked off the top, turning it into an awesome sneaker sandal. The limit of what you can make in Shoe School is your own imagination and I was so thrilled to wear my shoes to work on Monday. Make sure you book in this Summer if you are in Wellington. The experience and the materials you receive in exchange for your pennies is well worth it. Come on! I know you've got sole!