Homemade shoes: A new design

So, I made shoes once before that were pretty successful: http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2014/10/homemade-shoes.html

I liked these a lot, but they had a few flaws as noted in that article. There are 2 major issues.
  1. Heal stretch caused my heal to start landing on the heal-seam. This limited distances I could walk in these to ~10 miles, and if I did that I couldn't do it again the next day.
  2. Wear life. The twine holding the soles on would get worn through, and then the shoe would fall off of my foot.
Well, I was at Wintercount this year (a traditional skills gathering in Arizona), and Sonny Baba was teaching a "winter moccasin" class, I got a look at them and got really excited. Here's the shoes I made in his class. Again, this is Sonny's design, I just intend to keep using it :). Honestly if you are in to making things the pictures speak for themselves, but I'll give some explanation anyway, cause there are some tricks that are pretty helpful:


The basic shoe design is similar, but there are of course some major differences. Notice the heal reinforcement. This reduces stretch in the heal of the shoe, and should resolve the heal-stretch problem I ran in to with my own pair.


Another big difference is the sole construction. The leather sole is first glued to the sole using contact cement. I'd also been using my contact cement incorrectly, you want to coat both surfaces, let it dry until it's just barely tacky, then stick it together in one shot. Once it's glued the upper is sewn to the sole straight through the leather and the conveyor sole.

See those stitches in the image above? That's where I messed up. The stitching is done with fake sinew, which is nylon. You try and keep the stitches in the "valleys" of the tread pattern, then you pull each stitch REALLY hard. If you do it right you pull it so tight that the stitches disappear down in to the rubber and you can't even see them. My second shoe was better... This solves my second major problem.


Here's another shot of the heal re-inforcement. We used bison leather, which is very supple for it's strength and thickness, and as I've discovered also very waterproof. You start stitching on the inside of the foot and stitch around the vamp towards the toe. To get enough space for the toes you "scrunch" the leather a bit as you near the toe, then keep scrunching it as you go around the toe, until it's just the right length to meet the hatch mark on the other side.


The heal reinforcement is glued and then sewn to the heal, then you sew the heal to the shoe, cutting off the excess when you reach the vamp. The two are baseball stitched together... this method leaves a flat yet basically watertight seam, resolving a lot of the issues of trying to sew an upper together without uncomfortable seams that chafe your foot.

At this point you basically have a finished shoe. But, to make a tall moccasin like I did, you make a tongue and sew that to the vamp again using baseball, then sew the ankle portion to the heal section... Note that in the image at the top the ankle portion extends a bit over the vamp and is sewn for 2 or 3 stitches with a running stitch instead across the vamp.


This design is amazing. I made the sole of my moccasin just a little too small for the thickness of socks I usually wear (these were designed for being worn barefoot I believe), and the leather I used was some of the sleeziest part of the bison... so i'm actually still having minor heal-stretch issues, but using leather from near the spine, rump, or neck for the heal and heal reinforcement should resolve that in future pairs.

So, how about the pattern? That's always the big question. Well, there's always an art to it, but here's the basic idea:
  • Trace your foot on to a piece of paper (brown paper bags work great)
  • Find the highest point on your instep, and drop this down to the pattern directly below, make a mark on both the left and right sides. This marks where the vamp will meet the heal.
  • still standing on your sole pattern scrunch a piece of paper over your foot and around your toes where the vamp goes. Trace a line around your toes and back, stopping at the mark on the sole. 
  • Take another piece of paper and pull it around your heal to those same marks, and mark the paper. Also check the height, you want the seam with the upper ankle portion to land below the ball on the side of your ankle, so keep that in mind when you mark out the height of your ankle portion... mark this piece a little large in all dimensions, especially where it meets the vamp.
  • Clean up all the markings you've made. For the sole make sure you add a little extra space for your toes, if you are using a sock inside it at least cut on the outside of the line, this seems to be about the right adjustment for "normal" socks if you are using perminant marker. You should *only* need to adjust the sole, maybe add a TINY bit of the vamp.
  • Cut out all your pieces
Note that my shoes have a curve where the tongue fits to the vamp... don't worry about this curve when making your pattern or cutting out your pieces, just do a straight line. Once you have the shoe sewn you can stick your foot in the shoe and see how easy it is to get in... if it's too hard you can cut this curve to help make it easier.

Also, these shoes will be "too tight" when first finished, the toes stretch out to fit your feet better over time, it takes a little wearing for them to really fit comfortably.

I plan to experiment more, but this seems like a really good and simple design for a shoe. Angie actually bought a pair Sonny made himself, since she wasn't able to take the class. She loves her pair. My intention is to make one low to mid top pair for summer, sized about as described above. Then make a high-top pair that is significantly oversize to wear as winter/edge-season hiking boots. They seem to be waterproof enough I think I can replace my vivo-barefoot boots with them in the long term.

If you can't tell by my writing, I'm pretty excited about this. It comes at a good time too... Not long ago I went to purchase my standard runamoc moccasins from softstar and they had stopped making them even for custom order. I purchased what they say replaces them and only ~3 months later the side has busted and I've barely worn the sole at all... they are total garbage compared to the runamocs I used to buy from them... So, it seems, no more buying shoes for me. Time to get down to business and make my own.


Car work

While at Wintercount, a traditional skills gathering, we met James who lives down in Tucson, and ended up staying with him for a week, then housesitting for him for a week.

Anyway, James is a certified diesel mechanic, and while chatting about stuff I mentioned that our clutch was pretty old, and he offered to help me swap it. I couldn't pass up the chance to tackle such a large project with a buddy who had at least some clue what he was doing. How else am I going to learn? Just doing things, trying things, etc. is exactly what this blog is about, so we dove right in.

First, we spent a day researching how to do it. We watched videos of people changing their clutches and dropping their transmissions on similar model years (2000 Tacoma). We read through the Factory Service Manual (which I downloaded some time ago, let me know if you need it I can point you in the right direction, I know it's hard to find these days). We layed out all our tools and parts, and then we started taking stuff apart.

The project took about 2 1/2 days with two people working. Here's a shot of the transmission finally removed from the truck.


Having two brains helped enormously. If you've ever worked on a small passenger vehicle you know that the hardest part is *getting* to all the bolts and parts. James pulled some magic spinning the starter around and getting it to slide out... but having watched him I was able to remember steps of how to slide it in that he'd forgotten.

In the end though, it's mostly patience and just trying different things carefully and and slowly until something feels like it's really going to work. A lot of things didn't go perfectly, obviously. We tried to remove the front exhaust pipe (sometimes called the down pipe), and it just wouldn't come off. So much for following the book, but we realized if we fully removed the front driveshaft it probably didn't matter (and we lucked out, it didn't). Getting the driveshafts off took some ingenuity and we learned a lot. The back end plate we couldn't find for the longest time (it's on the front of the trans, below the engine block). When we finally did it was ridiculous to get off, and while getting it back on I realized it was trivial with the skidplate off... oops. We took several trips to NAPA (access to a second car was really helpful), and frequently what they supposedly had in stock wasn't really there, as a result we ended up getting the flywheel machined, rather than replacing it as I had intended. But... it all worked out.

Angie helped actually pull the transmission and push it back in, adding a third set of arms and muscles.
Note the shot shown above the transmission is on a transmission jack. I bought that just for this project and I can't store it. Thing is, it was ~$175.00 a clutch swap in a shot runs ~$1200 or so, the bulk of that in labor. Buying a transmission jack made the job that much more sure to succeed so I was willing to tackle it, thus saving a ton of money. In particular it meant that when sliding the transmission back IN, we could adjust it fairly precisely (not perfectly, as the tcase put the whole thing a little off balance, but close). I could lift one end to tilt it, jack a little, tilt the plate, etc. to get it in to shape while James spotted.

This post isn't so much about the car work itself, as it is about the philosophy. James reminded me that just tackling stuff *works*. Thanks James! People are so afraid to do things, the modern world tells us we should just buy something to solve our problem or pay someone else to things for us, that somehow this will make us happy. But then we miss out on all those opportunities to learn. If you do your research and go at it carefully with patience, stuff usually works. In the rare case it doesn't you learn even more useful lessons. I find that doing things for myself also keeps me engaged in life, and thus happy.

After we got it all back together I had a check engine light. It took me about a day of testing with a voltmeter and reading online forums and the FSM to figure out that the O2 sensor wasn't reading properly, and then that it was due to the wiring. Turns out we'd pulled a wire out of the plug, so more research online on how to repair plugs, pull the wiring harness back out (about an hour of work), pop the pin, solder it back to the wire, reassemble everything, and the check engine light was fixed.

After this work I replaced my brake hoses and brake pads a job I'm not sure I would've taken on before doing this despite it being quite easy. I did all the fluids, fixed another broken sensor, and generally brought the truck back up to snuff.

After this experience I'm far more likely to tackle other car work. Doing projects like this builds on itself. I started by doing oil changes, then brake bleads, changing belts, swapping springs and shocks. But, it's not just car work. The skills for tackling big projects translate from one project to another, I don't only feel more confident in working on a car, I'm now much more seriously thinking about building our house someday.

The title of my blog was originally meant to enshrine this spirit. Every adventure is small because it builds on previous adventures. Then if you keep pushing your comfort level a little, trying something a little different, a little more complex, a more difficult season, a little less gear, pretty soon you'll be doing things you didn't think you ever could.

For anyone curious about actually doing this particular job, here's my tips.

  • The "back end plate" is on the front of the transmission, just below the engine block above the skid plate. The bolts are small and go backwards in to the transmission. Pull the skid plate to get it on and off.
  • You don't have to pull the front exhaust pipe, just pull the sensor out and set it aside.
  • Use several extensions to get to the top transmission bolts through the shifter stick opening in to the cab.
  • Use a ratchet strap off the rear axle to pull the transmission out.
  • Since you're draining the transmission, drain the tcase too... it'll make it that much lighter and help with balance on the transmission jack.
  • Get it aligned *perfectly*, then shove it on with your feet to slide the transmission back in.


Tablet weaving: Learning through errors

Guest Post by Angelica

Hey there! I'm Matthew's amazing fiance. I got interested in tablet weaving while we were at Wintercount, a traditional skills gathering in Arizona. I saw a class on it, walked up and watched for about 5 minutes, thought 'I got this' and wandered off. Since then I have been trial and error learning to do it right. Matthew thought it was cool and I should share so here goes...

Tablet weaving is at least as old as the 8'th century, and is still a common method of weaving used today. What tablet weaving is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tablet_weaving

My plan was to get some cheap yarn to test out before using some nice yarn I got from Matthew's brother Daniel on Gnomespun.com. My hope being that by the time I use the nice stuff I won't mess it up too badly.

First step, research:
I reviewed youtube videos and found an amazing site for creating patterns, http://twistedthreads.org/.  It took me a little while to get used to the site and figure out my pattern but eventually I got it and came up with a pattern combining the center of one I found with a different border http://twistedthreads.org/pattern/gPgN3urSz6kAXcCtW

Second step, Materials:
- Yarn (bought a pack of 4 colors at the thrift store)
- Scissors
- 2 bar clamps
- Tablet weaving cards (made out of scrap cardboard, four holes each for yarn to go through)
- shuttle (also made of scrap cardboard)
- beater (I just used the scissors)

My first attempt failed beautifully. I screwed up at least 5 things. One of the youtube videos showed doing a continuous warp to get a good even tension https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eConIrGd7Og . I did what I saw on the video, I put one type of yarn through each hole in the tablets and went at it... without thinking of the fact that my central pattern required only two colors, three of the same color and one different to show the pattern. Oh well, I decided that the pattern should still work and I would use the black yarn to indicate the pattern. I then removed the yarn from it's tension, then added tablets with two colors for the border pattern by doing each card individually. This was a little more tedious and in the end the tension was COMPLETELY off. I then tied one end to a bar clamp and attached the other end to myself with a piece of cord. I started trying to do the pattern and it was all wacky looking.

Here's the final result! It looks nothing like it's supposed to. After this attempt Matthew said he was sorry it wasn't going perfectly and I responded 'It IS going perfectly!'. This is how I learn, dive in, mess up, then get it right. So, it's a perfect disaster. After I gave up on this I realized the cards are supposed to face a certain way as well.

This is a great visual for the difference between Z and S threading

With new things learned I went for round two, this was naturally much more successful. I didn't do the continuous weave this time, instead going the slow route of threading each tablet individually. I gave myself a lot of extra yarn on each end to tie to the bar clamps and this time just kept them attached to that rather than myself. I also started using the scissors as a beater rather than the shuttle which is cardboard and couldn't beat down as hard with. This time I also looked up how to start the weave. To finish a weave you do this...http://www.theloomybin.com/doc/finish.html I thought okay there has to be a way to start the weave to keep it from fraying on that end too. I did find a video that showed how to lock in the weft https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10P6VS-hErA

End of a day of weaving. I made this photo XL so you can see where I messed up. For one the tension was all wrong at the start, it was very loose and you can tell it tightened up but still not all the same tension. Also in the pattern I messed up somehow, I don't even know how! I was rolling along and getting cocky then boom, it's wacky. I figured out a few tablets were not aligned right and got them back on track. Unfortunately my tablets suck. The cardboard is corrugated and the yarn kept getting stuck in it, even after I trimmed the corners to be rounded. Oh, also learned that the farther the holes on the tablets are from each other the better, makes it easier to see which strings are supposed to be on top and on bottom when you go to separate them after each turn. 

Day two with my second attempt resulted in the yarn busting! It all happened around the same time, in the end 7 pieces of the yarn broke...

I attempted to fix them at first by just doing a square knot and some extra yarn. It worked just fine but the kept breaking so I abandoned ship by ending the weave, using the method linked above. I finished off by twisting the ends like you would when making twine...

Tada! my ugly learning weave

I forgot to mention something else I learned. While weaving if you continue to turn the tablets in the same direction you end up with very twisted yarn on the other end of the cards. You can undo this twisting by doing the same pattern backwards. For example, my border pattern requires you only turn forward. So after about 20-30 turns forward I would swap to only turning backwards for 20-30 turns to get them unwound. It gets more tricky with the center pattern. For this design it was only the middle four that were a problem because for 4 consecutive turns they go in opposite directions and never swap directions to even it out. So, I learned the opportune time to swap them and you can hardly tell in the pattern.

In this photo looking from right to left you see what the pattern is, it looks like to strings twisting around each other once you get to the left of the photo you see where it swaps. Anyway, I was really excited to figure that out before everything went haywire with yarn splitting. I think to avoid the yarn breaking I need better cards... or to stop moving them back and forth across the yarn every time. I was doing that to help separate the top and bottom strings so I didn't have them on the wrong side... but that may be the reason they all started splitting at the same time. Still, I want nicer tablets that have smooth edges, like these nice wooden ones I found on Etsy https://www.etsy.com/listing/58802858/tablet-weaving-cards-24-ash-55cm-card

Well, that's as far as I've gotten. I hope to make a nice belt out of this pretty yarn when I have a better tablet situation