Our guide to shoemaking

Our guide to shoemaking

First published date January 21 2014 Amended date April 22 2015

Do you have a passion for what’s on your feet? Have a shoe collection rivalling that of a Kardashian? Well if the shoe fits, then maybe a course in shoemaking will be a shoe-in for you (sorry).  Shoemakers - or cordwainers - produce all kinds of shoes ranging from sandals to moccasins and stilettos to brogues. The traditional method of handicraft has since been taken over by mass production over the years, but the craftsmanship of it still remains a highly technical and interesting skill. So if you’re a footwear fanatic keen to take on the delicate design and production side of the industry, then there are a range of shoemaking courses you can take.


I don’t have any design experience...

Not to worry, courses are available for complete beginners with no shoemaking experience who may just be keen to pick up an interesting hobby. And even if you have tried your hand at something in a similar field before, there are more advanced options for you to consider.


What will I learn?

Most courses on offer will involve you creating your own shoe over the duration of the sessions as a major project with a complete, wearable product at the end of it. However some others also offer strictly design courses where there will be little focus on the actual construction of any footwear. Courses range from one day sessions to one week intensives, or those that are more long-term over a number of months. You can be as specific as you like with your choice of course with options focusing on different aspects of shoemaking and actual shoes themselves so you can decide to take a course in making either boots, or even sandals. Options are endless!

Once you get started, you will be taken through all the stages of the shoemaking process. You will learn about different materials and understanding leather qualities and how to cut patterns in certain shoes. You will also be shown how to use a ‘last’, which is essentially a foot shaped form used by shoemakers to mould the shoe they are creating to a certain size, shape or design. You will learn to understand the basics and the difference between closing and clicking (stitching and cutting the upper part of the shoe) as well attaching the sole or heel.  


Can I be creative?

Creativity varies course by course, some let you be as out there as you want where as others already provide the materials with pattern cuttings and stitching already in place. Doing your research and comparing the courses on offer will allow you to determine which ones let you be more creative, so if you’re more into fashion design, it’s well worth checking those out.


How will this course benefit me?

It would be pretty awesome to be able to wear your own, handmade shoes out and about, impressing your mates in the process. While it may be true the old-fashioned ways of handmade shoes from scratch are a bit of a rarity thanks to mass-production, it’s not to say that it isn’t great and cool skill to possess.  Most of the courses on offer can only give you a certificate of attendance as opposed to a full qualification upon completion, but this could be your first step to your new found calling. After you complete your course, your experiences may lead you to take an interest in going further, perhaps taking an undergraduate degree in footwear design specifically, or just general a general fashion design degree. Whether you’re looking to make a career out of one of the careers on offer, no doubt you will have a fun and interesting experience.


Did you know?

  • You’d be talking cobblers if you thought cobblers were shoemakers, the term is historically associated with those who repair shoes as opposed to making them.
  • Nike was founded back in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports where they initially only distributed Onitsuka Tiger trainers, now more commonly known as ASISCS.
  • World famous shoe designer Jimmy Choo actually got into the industry through his father who was also a shoemaker in Malaysia, Choo made his first pair and the tender age of 11!
  • The world’s largest feet belong to the current second tallest man in the world, Brahim Takioullah. The 8ft 3in giant from Morocco living in Paris, France has feet over foot long, ironic right? To be precise, his left foot is 1ft 3in and his right is 1ft 2.76in. However, finding shoes is a struggle, ’I always need them made-to-measure and they're very expensive. I once asked a cobbler to make me some shoes and he said it would cost 3,500 Euros (5,270 dollars).’