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Soft soled shoes and the argument for being barefoot  RSS feed

 
Destiny Hagest
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So when I became a parent, and my son approached the age of walking, I immediately started trying to put him into those little slide-on Vans type shoes, with the 3/4" white walls. To my surprise (first time mom over here), he was immediately tripping over the heavy soles on the shoes, and seemed to have much more trouble with finding his footing. I watched him walk, and remembered what it was like for me in first pair of high heels. I started doing some research.



In my mommy friend circles, soft-soled shoes were all the rage, and were supposed to help tiny developing feet find their footing. Robeez was a really popular brand, and very well made, so I ordered him a few pairs, and immediately we saw a difference. He was sure-footed, and very soon from making that purchase, started running with great abandon, happy as a clam at his new-found mobility.

This prompted more research.

Some of you may know, we don't sleep on a mattress in this house - just a couple of blankets on the floor. There are a lot of reasons for this, but as it pertains to this discussion, primarily it's because mattresses provide too much support for your back, weakening your posture while you sleep, and generally causing more problems than they solve. It's like being in a big squishy body brace all night, and all of that support all over your body puts things out of wack.

Apparently the same is true for conventional shoes. We have all of this shock absorption and arch support built in, and as a result, many people's posture suffers, we have poor balance, and even problems with back pain and ankle discomfort.

Being barefoot, your foot falls into the alignment that nature designed it for, and there is no compensation on the part of your legs, butt, and lower back to make up for a shoe that alters that. You have better balance because you're in direct contact with the ground, and there's not the barrier of a thick shoe sole desensitizing the experience of walking and running.

Now before you start saying 'But but but I work on concrete floors', let me just say that I get that shit. The human body definitely wasn't designed to spend 10 hours a day zipping back and forth over a concrete floor, and in this case, some shock absorption is, in my non-podiatrist opinion, exactly what you need. I was cooking and bartending when I was pregnant with my son for 11-13 hours a day, and had horrible sciatica as a result. A big part of alleviating pain from these sources is just giving our bodies a little TLC - elevating my feet for 15 minutes every four hours really pissed off my coworkers, but my body was in a much better state by the end of the day.

Anyway, I digress, back to being barefoot.

So in a place like Montana, we have a few factors that prevent us, and most certainly toddlers, from being just plain ol' barefoot all of the time, in addition to the usual things:

  • it's really fucking cold here
  • lots of prickly, pokey plants
  • rocks. rocks EVERYWHERE
  • rattlesnakes in high and dry regions
  • my soil is littered with ancient bits of broken plastic and glass
  • grocery store floors are gross - I don't want to be barefoot there


  • A few of these, you can adapt to. Unless you're spending an extended period of time outside, the cold isn't an issue for bare feet, and you adapt. Your soles toughen up to the rough plants and rocks, and you generally become pretty desensitized to them, the longer you go without shoes.

    However, the sharp waste issue (I rent my home, and the soil has seen a lot of junk over the years), coupled with folks in the higher alpine desert areas that see rattlesnakes, put themselves at some serious risk by exposing the part of their body mostly likely to come into contact with a rattlesnake first - their feet.

    Being barefoot in as many scenarios as I can is generally what I shoot for, and I love the sensation. I had a friend stay with me for a few days while her new house was being prepared, and I remember coming in from a hot day in the summer sun, barefoot on a mound of compost and topsoil in the bed of the pickup, shoveling and heaving it for hours over the side. I came in to cool and have some water, and she chirped, "I brought my pedicure stuff, want a pedicure?!!"

    I gave her a wry smile, and looked down at my filthy feet, nearly black from my work, with dirt and poop literally between the toes she was talking about painting, and said with the least amount of smartassery I could muster, "Yea, I don't really do pedicures."

    Dirty feet, I love them! Those are feet that have been busy, toiling in the soil, stomping and hiking across the mountains, climbing over fallen trees, deftly sprinting after wandering toddlers - these feet of mine were made to touch the earth and get filthy.

    There's actually some evidence that it might also be beneficial to come into direct contact with the earth because of the negative electrical charge the ground puts out. "Grounding" is based on this principle, and apparently it's pretty well established that it helps with inflammation.

    I found this article really interesting on the subject.

    For those of us, like toddlers, that probably shouldn't walk everywhere barefoot, there are soft soled shoes out there, which keep our feet warm and dry, and can protect from some of the sharper things we may encounter. However, I will say that running all over our gravel driveway, my son has worn some serious holes in his little soft soled shoes - I have a bag full of them that need repairs.

    They do make soft soled shoes for adults as it turns out - maybe one day I'll spring for a pair.



    If you're up for the maintenance, it's a really intriguing alternative to conventional footwear, and the benefits seem to go well beyond toddlerhood.

    I'm curious to hear from other Barefooters, or people that have tried shoes like these - any noticeable changes for you when you made the switch in terms of your foot/muscle health and overall comfort? Any tips for those of us looking to make the transition?
     
    Anna McIntyre
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    I believe it's a really good idea to go barefoot when possible.

    I've just spent a few months in the Caribbean where I noticed many of the locals go barefoot.
    And it's not all sandy beaches either- lots of broken glass, concrete, centipedes that will put a serious hurt on you, snakes.
    They can do this because they've been barefoot most of their lives and have developed very thick skin on their soles. Their soles get sliced up and mangled just like soft feet do, but theirs are so thick the cuts often don't penetrate deep enough to cause problems.

    I also noticed their toes were straight and even, no bent pinkies or hammertoe. So I'm assuming this is healthier and more natural and will lead to less podiatry/spinal problems in later life.

    I'm all for going barefoot, but if you've not been brought up that way your feet are more vulnerable to cuts and such.
    Even if you've been barefoot all your life you can still get serious injuries at work by dropping things on them, stubbed toes etc.

    Personally I don't like wearing shoes. Much happier barefoot. 
     
    Simone Gar
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    Look into Vibram Fivefingers. I love them. I have close to 10 pairs for sure.
     
    Simone Gar
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    Simone Gar wrote:Look into Vibram Fivefingers. I love them. I have close to 10 pairs for sure.


    Ok, I guess I have 11 pairs now. Uhoh
     
    Steven Kovacs
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    I have three pairs of Soft Star shoes.  They aren't cheap, but boy do I love them.  The first pair I got helped my back dramatically the very first day I wore them, and now I wear them whenever I can.  I have the chukkas, which have 12mm soles, but their other shoes have thinner soles for better flexibility and ground feel.

    The three downsides I've found with them are 1) the soles can be too slick, especially on ice; 2) they aren't insulated (though apparently you can get liners for them) so they're quite cold in the winter; and 3) since they're leather they can be too warm in the summer.  But overall they've been fantastic shoes.  The company is also very responsive and the shoes are made in the US.

    Our toddler also learned to walk in soft-soled shoes, and they were definitely the next best thing to being barefoot.  Finding more soft-soled shoes for her as she grows is proving tricky, unfortunately.

     
    John Weiland
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    Destiny, 

    Would the Little Belt Mountains be an old home to the Blackfoot indigenous tribe and are there any from that lineage within your friend or acquaintance set?  It may be interesting to get a hold of the type of footwear that was worn by them along with notions of the source of leather, how it was maintained and how often a new pair needed to be produced.  I would think this type of shoe would be very close to the soft-sole concept that you are desiring, with a YYYUUUUUGGGGE history of using that shoe in your climate and terrain.

    Will also just add this link from another thread that impacts this topic:  https://permies.com/t/61611/Running-Joy
     
    Travis Johnson
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    I wish I could go barefoot more than I do, but for some strange reason I just can't. This is kind of embarrassing, but hey, when has that ever stopped me from posting on here before.

    When I was a kid this issue started, and while I loved swimming, wanted to be on the swim team, my toes, for whatever reason would cramp up. Today, 30 years later, my toes do the same thing when I am barefoot.

    But for the most part we are a shoeless house. We don't have signs up or anything, but its pretty evident with 4 daughters and a wife (and their accompanying 3600 pairs of shoes sitting in the mudroom), that we are a shoeless house. But my wife, she has back issues and she has found out wearing soft-soled shoes (Keds) alleviates that. I would say 50% of the time she is either in her Keds, or in socks/barefoot while in the house. Outside the house, she is in heels mostly. Pumps in the summer, but stylish heeled boots in the winter. As for me, I don't wear shoes in the house, but my cramped toes don't bother in her for whatever reason. I am just strange I guess.

    As for the kids. Two immediately go barefoot the second they step through the door, and the other two prefer socks and even pajamas with "footies". But NO, they don't wear them to Walmart!

     
    John Weiland
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    @Travis J: "...and even pajamas with "footies". But NO, they don't wear them to Walmart! "

    When I wear mine to Walmart,  I make sure to leave the top button undone and sport my best gold neck chain......sure to get extra winks from the ladies!

    ...and puts the security guard on edge... 
     
    Travis Johnson
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    I was in Walmart about 4 in the afternoon one time and this woman in pajamas and I arrived at the register about the same time. I ushered her ahead of me and said, "well seeing as how you are in such a rush to get to bed, I figured I better let you go ahead of me."

    Some people don't appreciate quick wit and good humor.
     
    Destiny Hagest
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    John Weiland wrote:Destiny, 

    Would the Little Belt Mountains be an old home to the Blackfoot indigenous tribe and are there any from that lineage within your friend or acquaintance set?  It may be interesting to get a hold of the type of footwear that was worn by them along with notions of the source of leather, how it was maintained and how often a new pair needed to be produced.  I would think this type of shoe would be very close to the soft-sole concept that you are desiring, with a YYYUUUUUGGGGE history of using that shoe in your climate and terrain.

    Will also just add this link from another thread that impacts this topic:  https://permies.com/t/61611/Running-Joy


    That's a really good point John - in my area, the Crow were the predominant tribe - the Blackfeet were farther north in Montana. It's definitely worth investigating! I could see elk hide being used in this region.
     
    Devin Lavign
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    There is a great documentary about grounding called The Grounded.

    Here is a trailer for it.



    You can find it on youtube for free at 
      linked with url due to being over an hour in length. Figured folks would prefer to watch on youtube where you can adjust the size etc much easier.

    It is a very compelling documentary that follows the journey of a man in AK who hears about the concept and decides to give it a try and is amazed at how well it helps him. So he then starts getting more and more people to try it. Well worth checking out. It does delve a bit into the science of what is happening and people who are working on giving scientific credibility to this, along with some simple DIY experiments of grounding plants in vases ( *spoiler* the grounded ones always lasted longer).

    Grounding is a lot more than just walking bare foot, though that can be helpful. It is about us humans being made of energy (not woo woo energy, electric energy) and how we have insulated ourselves from that energy being grounded with our footwear and homes etc.. That by intentionally grounding regularly it has health benefits. Though to my knowledge scientific study of this is not yet backing the claims to the point science is ready to come out and say this is a medical treatment. The documentary does provide some pretty compelling evidence, and really you can at home try some testing yourself.

    Just figured I would add this to the convo since it is pretty relevant.
     
    Alfrun Unndis
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    Off the shelf shoes are hard to find for me. So I decided to try to make my own. I've got the materials now and just have to commence with the making. I'm going to try felt uppers first and move into leather if they work out. I ordered pdf instruction from simpleshoemaking.com,  I'm sure there are other sites out there this is just the one I landed on first.
     
    Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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    I love walking barefoot (I mean really with bare feet, not with any kind of shoe on), but not when it's cold ... one of the reasons why I want to move to the Caribbean
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    I like to wear swim shoes aka aquasox but the uppers aren't very durable.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    I took up running last fall. Then somewhere along the way, I got introduced to the idea of running barefoot. So I've been running barefoot this winter. I didn't want to injure myself by starting off too quickly, so I ran 100 yards the first time I ran barefoot, and have been adding 100 yards to the distance after I'm acclimatized to the previous distance. I'm currently running 1/2 mile barefoot, then I put shoes on and continue running.

    One thing that running barefoot does for me, is that it gets me much more in tune with my gait, and with the road. Without shoes to act as a shock absorber, each foot-fall has to be precise and deliberate.  And then, when I put shoes on, it's natural to continue paying close attention to the details of running. No more sloppy running.
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    Steven Kovacs wrote:I have three pairs of Soft Star shoes.  They aren't cheap, but boy do I love them.  The first pair I got helped my back dramatically the very first day I wore them, and now I wear them whenever I can.  I have the chukkas, which have 12mm soles, but their other shoes have thinner soles for better flexibility and ground feel.

    The three downsides I've found with them are 1) the soles can be too slick, especially on ice; 2) they aren't insulated (though apparently you can get liners for them) so they're quite cold in the winter; and 3) since they're leather they can be too warm in the summer.  But overall they've been fantastic shoes.  The company is also very responsive and the shoes are made in the US.

    Our toddler also learned to walk in soft-soled shoes, and they were definitely the next best thing to being barefoot.  Finding more soft-soled shoes for her as she grows is proving tricky, unfortunately.



    I love my Softstars! My three year old has worn their shoes his whole life (usually the "roo" style shoes). The only shoes he has that aren't softstars are snow boots and rain boots, because the softstar boots are expensive, and we don't have snow all that often. He noticed pretty quickly that he can run really fast in his softstars, but has a hard time going faster than a walk in his normal boots.





    I also wear Softstar's "Roo" shoes as my go-to gardening shoe. They slip on really easily, and keep me from tripping and stumbling when I'm walking on our uneaven ground. The only time I don't wear them is when I'm in really wet grass, snow (they do slip quite easily once their tread wears off), or doing a lot of digging. These shoes, in our wet climate and daily use, last about a year, maybe a year and a half before they get "crispy" or develop holes.

    When I'm out and about (any time I get in the car and go somewhere), I wear the prettier "Merry Jane" shoes. These are life-savers for me when pregnant or front-carrying an infant. They allow me to feel the ground even when I can't see it, which helps immensely. When wearing normal shoes, my balance would be all off and I couldn't really walk on uneven ground without falling over, which isn't a good idea to do when carrying a baby (in or out of the womb!). I've had the same pair of these for 3 years, and they look as good as new. Not wearing them in the mud and wet grass probably really helps with that.



    The only downsides to these shoes is that (1) With most of the moccasin styles, water can easily get in through the sides, so walking in wet grass is no fun (though my Darn Tough wool socks really help with that), (2) The leather gets kind of "crispy" if it gets wet and muddy too many times. It might do better if I knew how to maintain them better.... , and (3) They hurt to do heavy digging in. Maybe there's a skill to digging barefoot, but if there is, I haven't got it yet!

    As for the cost, they are rather pricey, but they have an annual sale in--I think--February. It's their discontinued styles and "one-of-a-kind" shoes they custom made for people who then decided they didn't like the fit or color. I wait until their sales to buy shoes for myself and my kids, making sure to stay a pair or two a head of their current size in case they have a growth spurt and need bigger shoes before the next sale comes. If you sign up for their emailed newsletter, you'll get ntoifcation of when thei annual sale is coming and also when they have additional, surprise sales.
     
    Lindsey Jane
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    I read this book called Move Your DNA which talks, among other things, about going shoeless (and bedless, and chairless, etc). It was a pretty rad read - helped me see things much differently.

    Linky:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NXZH8PO/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

    But, I gotta say, my tempurpedic is the best investment I've ever made and when I kick off this mortal coil, I wanna be buried on top of it, snuggled under my goose down blanket...

    I go shoeless for much of the summer around here - and have spent a small fortune on soft soled shoes and Birkenstocks and my feet, knees, hips, etc all thank me profusely. I had my daughter in socks all the time and soft soled shoes when we were out and about and her feet are fine and healthy. Now she only wears shoes when we go out in public or if the chicken poop gets too much on the farm. When I switched to barefoot much of the time, the sacro-iliac pain that was my chronic companion post pregnancy all but disappeared. Now it only flares up after too much time in "regular" shoes and not enough stretchy yoga time. That's my ringing endorsement of happy barefoot time.

    Also, now that I'm thinking about it, going barefoot made me MUCH more aware of my posture. No longer could I do that middle school leg kick out to the side thing. Now I just stand like a person, shoulders back, tummy in, feet sticking out in front.
     
    Glenn Herbert
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    For soft soled shoes getting "crispy" with repeated wetting, there are a couple of good products that may help. The old traditional one is neatsfoot oil, which has been a staple of equestrians for as long as I am aware. Rub a generous amount into the leather whenever it starts to lose suppleness. (When my sister as a kid got a new-to-her saddle, the first thing her instructor told her to do was rub a whole pint of neatsfoot oil into it.)

    The other thing I learned from a shoemaker friend was to use Huberd's Shoe Grease. From the website, it has been a standard since 1921.
     
    Pascal Paoli
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    Simone, how do you deal with the smell of your Vibram Five Fingers and feet? I couldn't wear mine withouth that, which made it very unpractical for me. Any advice?
     
    Marc Troyka
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    Vibrams are pretty expensive, and also from what I've heard they're not the thinnest soled shoes. There are lots of "barefoot" (ie flat-soled, extra wide toes) shoes out there though, including soft stars (which are moccasin based). Luna sandals also offers tarahumara-style running sandals (huaraches) if you want something really minimal (https://lunasandals.com/pages/roots-of-luna-sandals). In colder climates I think I'd rather have soft stars though.

    I used to own a pair of zemgears myself. They were pretty nice but I think I would have preferred the high-ankle version to keep sand and crud out better. The biggest problem with zemgear and soft stars is that they don't keep your feet from getting wet in puddles at all, and they're not so great if you're standing on hard concrete floors all day either. I also recall that driving in them was rather awkward, but I guess for a hardcore running shoe that's asking a bit much. I guess the point is that if you want something more general purpose you should probably look for a more conventional style of barefoot running shoe rather than the more extreme styles.
     
    David Livingston
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    Strangely I seem to be completely out of sync with everyone on this thread
    I enjoy wearing clogs
    Simple shoes made of a wooden sole and a leather upper . I cannot run in them and have no intention of doing so but for working in the garden they are great
    Traditionally found as workwear in northern France ,Brittany , northern England , Holland and else where . They are warm as the wood does not transmit the cold* very ecological no waste when worn out or broken , a totally natural product . My current pair cost 20 euro and are backless and I am on the look out for another pair .
    My daughter is even a champion clog dancer
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    Figured I'd give everyone a heads-up. Soft Star shoes is having their clearance sale. So, if you're looking for some of their shoes for you or your kids, now might be a good time to buy!

    http://www.softstarshoes.com/sale.html

     
    Bill Hinkley
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    I love minimalist shoes and try to go barefoot as much as possible. It's funny that I am also a floor sleeper. I've done it since High school. People always think its weird to walk in my room and just see some blankets on the floor. But I sleep better this way and hate sleeping in my girlfriends bed which seems to have 24" of memory foam.

    Those soft stars look to be pretty awesome! I am going to have to check out their spring sale.

    I am currently wearing Fitkicks. They cost $20 a pair and I get a full summer out of them typically.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    Lindsey Jane wrote:I read this book called Move Your DNA which talks, among other things, about going shoeless (and bedless, and chairless, etc). It was a pretty rad read - helped me see things much differently.

    Linky:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NXZH8PO/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1


    Thanks for the link. I followed through with this when you first posted it back in February. Since that time, I have been working on getting my body out of the cages that I had built for it by shoes, pillows, clothes, chairs, beds, level surfaces, etc... I'm really beginning to feel vibrant and healthy. I often sleep on the floor. If I'm really tired, and just have to have the best night's sleep, I opt for floor-sleeping. I have started living barefoot as much as possible. I'm taking it easy... For example, I started by taking naps on the floor, then sleeping on the floor for 6 hours every third night, then the entire night every other day, etc... Little gradual changes so that I don't injure myself. And if I do feel an injury forming, I slow down and take it easy and gradually get used to new positions and ways of living. My feet, ankles, hips, back, shoulders, and neck are much more flexible and strong. Aches that have pained me for decades disappeared. Sure, there were plenty of new temporary aches and pains along the way, as muscles and joints that had only been partially functional took on more of their natural strength and range of motion.

    I used to have a terrible time balancing on one foot. These days, I'll catch myself doing things like standing on one foot while putting on socks and shoes and tying the laces!

    I suppose that my grandmother was right when she used to tell me: Don't make faces, you might get stuck that way! The idea of floor-sleeping is tremendously liberating to me... Because I can go anywhere, and comfortably sleep on the floor/ground!!! I don't have to be caged to a bed.

    If I were writing a book review on Move Your DNA, I'd rank it as one of the top ten most influential books in my life. The book altered the entire trajectory of my life. Sure, I was ready for my life to be altered, and had already started down the path.

     
    Rez Zircon
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    The leather gets kind of "crispy" if it gets wet and muddy too many times. It might do better if I knew how to maintain them better....


    I wear leather gloves during my work day (because I got tired of all the minor hand injuries, and it takes less effort to grip stuff) and they get wet a lot. And that shrinks and hardens the leather. I found the best cure for this was not any of the expensive leather dressings, but rather, plain old Vaseline. (Brand matters. The generic is not the same.) Just apply a good thick coat whenever the leather feels dry, and let it soak in (the excess will evaporate). In fact sometimes I drench new leather with melted Vaseline just to get it good and penetrated. This treatment makes it largely shed water, and the leather lasts MUCH longer. Since I started doing this I get a year or more from a pair of work gloves, rather than 3-4 months, and they don't shrink, turn hard, or crack after being soaked. And the leather still breathes; if anything it's less sweaty than before (maybe since it doesn't shrink the pores don't vanish).

    I found a nifty pair of leather boots at the thrift store ... old and dried out. I treated them with Vaseline and now the leather is soft and flexible again.

    Someday I'm going to try melting a little beeswax into the Vaseline, to see if that will produce a more impervious surface for wet weather. But it needs to be clean wax.

    The problem with leather dressings made of vegetable oils is that those oils eventually go rancid and start eating the leather.
     
    Alfrun Unndis
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    I thought I'd post a pic of my handmade shoes. They're a little rough looking but it's my first attempt and wasn't difficult. They're made out of wool felt and rubber soling. I'll make another pair to perfect the pattern, then I'll try leather. I basically used scissors, hand sewing needles and a sewing awl.

    I think if you've made something small with your hands you could do this.

    I'm looking forward to not spending a fortune for shoes that fit. Meanwhile these will do for getting the mail and collecting eggs.
    shoes1csm.jpg
    [Thumbnail for shoes1csm.jpg]
    first shoes
     
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