Monday, February 17, 2014

Tutorial: Modern Boots Into Victorian Evening Boots

Ok, y'all.  This post has been coming for a long time.  I had the idea to do this YEARS ago and have been meaning to experiment and create this tutorial for at least a year.  I finally got around to it, so here you go!

The initial idea was inspired by the following images of historical footwear.
(L to R: Unknown source, 1918 Evening Boots, 1922 Russian Evening Boots)
The photo on the left was the first to catch my eye, and I thought it would be pretty simple to cut a pair of boots in that shape and fold the tips back and stitch them down to form the loops you see there.  Then I saw the two other examples and thought, hey, it would be way easier to just cut some rounded finger shapes and put an eyelet in each of them.

I did initially intend to try both techniques, but realized that since the inside of my boots was suede, if I folded the tips of the fingers back to make loops, they would be suede and not look very nice.  So if anyone wants to try that method, please let me know how it goes.

So this is something you can try with any old pair of boots that might be sitting in the back of your closet.  Obviously if they have a heel, especially a Victorian shaped heel they are going to look more period, but this is steampunk, use what you have.

These are what I had in my closet:

They're a pair of Nine West boots I bought in 1995 to attend the David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails concert in Austin.  They took me to a lot of rock shows back in the day and I've kept them for the memories.  Unfortunately they are pretty trashed, with several lacing hooks broken, eyelets missing, and the interior is in bad shape.  I never intended to wear them again, but I figure at least making them pretty again is an appropriate send off.

When choosing your boots, try for real leather, because often faux leather has weird materials on the inside which will not look finished if you just cut it.  There are exceptions, so you just have to be careful with boots that aren't real leather.

-Old/thrifted/cheap boots
-pencil or pen that will mark on boots (preferable which can be removed)
-Sharp scissors/shears
-small eyelets or grommets
-ribbon or laces

Step 1: Plan out your cuts.

I had intentions of finding some "neat" way to do this, maybe with a template, but really it depends a lot on your boots.  You want to make your "fingers" as long as possible to keep the strength of the boot intact so it feels stable on your foot.  And remember it's possible to cut your fingers smaller later rather so err on the side of cutting less at first.

You notice on my boot the fingers closer to the toe are wider and shorter than the ones on top. Look at the inspiration pictures for more ideas on how to shape your cuts.

Sketch out your cutting line on the leather of your boot.  I used a silver metallic marker so it would show up in photos, but you can probably get away with using a regular pencil.  If you use a marker, test it first to see if you can remove the marks later (i.e. don't use a Sharpie).  I was very grateful that the cheap Wal-mart paint pen I was using washed off with soap and water because as you can see my lines were a mess.

Step Two: Cut your boots!

I used my leather shears, but good quality craft scissors should be fine.

I originally made my cuts angular and thought it looked kinda like gear teeth and that might be cool.  But I ended up preferring the rounded fingers a lot, so I rounded them all off.  They just looked better.

Once you cut one side, you can use the piece you cut off as a guide to stencil the other side/other boot.  And after cutting both sides, you can line them up and even them out.  The most important thing is that you get the fingers to line up with each other, so starting at the top and using your stencil will help with this.

Step Three: Shape the toe opening.

This is pretty simple,  You will cut off the tongue of the boot and cut a rounded opening further down the foot.  I tried my boots on and drew a curved line a little bit above where my toes start.  As before, err on the side of not cutting too much off, because you can keep cutting until it feels right, but if you cut it too low, you're in trouble.

Step Four: Smooth the edges of your cuts. 

This is sort of optional, but now is the time to make sure all your cuts are where you want them, so try on the boots and make sure you don't want to cut more off or reshape anything.  And then, because my cutting was pretty uneven, I took some sandpaper to the edge of the leather to try to smooth everything out and make it look finished.

Step Five: Add eyelets in the middle of each "finger."

Again, a pretty simple step.  How you install your eyelets/grommets will depend on your particular hardware.  For these I am using some cheap eyelets I got for free with a lot of craft stuff at a garage sale.  The setting tools that came with them are IMPOSSIBLE to use, so I'm using my quality setters for corset grommets, but they are for a larger size, so basically they don't work great.  Hence, my eyelets are a big banged up and messy.  But, you know, I like free stuff.  If you're wanting to get some decent wear out of your boots it's a good idea to buy decent eyelets with setters so you don't end up having them pop out or split and tear your ribbon.

Step Six: Lace with Ribbon or other lacing and TA DA!  Fancy Schmancy boots, perfect for steampunk or Victorian evening wear!

If you try this for yourself, PLEASE share the results with me, either via the comments or my email.  I really want to see this with a variety of boot styles.


  1. OH MAN this is the coolest thing! I love that style of boot. It would be really fun to mess around with paint or dye or something to get that awesome two-tone effect on the black and white ones. Also, with a huge chunky '90s heel like the one on your pair, I wonder if it would be a terrible life choice to carve away at it to get more of that Victorian shape? So many fun possibilities! Now I wish I had a pair of boots in my closet that I wanted to destroy. XD

    1. Hmm, you probably COULD paint for a two-tone effect but most paint won't last very well on leather. Dye would work better, but you'd have to have a white boot to start with, and how likely is that?

      Also you could try to reshape a heel, but that's not something I personally would attempt since I'm not great at sawing/power tools. Also I have weak ankles and clunky heels are pretty much all I can wear without killing myself.

    2. If you're going to experiment with paint, use Liquitex.... I've experimented with painting shoes and this is the only product that has been of any quality.

    3. I'm a million years late, but I've had really good luck with Neopaque/Lumiere paints.

  2. This is such a cool tutorial! I'm definitely going to have to try this, sooner rather than later. It's especially good because I generally can't fit into taller boots (my calves are too big :/) but these would be able to fit.

    1. Good point! You could get a custom fit out of boots that didn't quite work!

  3. Ingenious indeed! I am showing this to all my friends!

  4. Those are adorable and I am definitely trying this!

    The lining isn't the only reason to avoid faux leathers for this project; some of the fake materials tear far more easily than leather does and wouldn't hold up to lacing. I learned that messing around with a purse...

  5. This is amazing, so simple in the end, thanks.