My daughter wears an AFO brace on her left foot, and even with the brace that foot is smaller than her right. But the brace takes up so much height, it’s not possible to wear shoes that fit the length of her foot, they’d never do up. She’s been doing great with a bigger shoe on that foot, but I thought if I could get the hang of making her some custom shoes, even for indoors, she might be more comfortable with running around.
My first attempt was a set of TOMS inspired shoes from Homemade Toast.
Her left shoe had a short wide sole and the top was 3 sizes bigger to fit over the brace. This style kept slipping off the back of her brace though. It may be due to the fabric + interfacing not being stiff enough, or maybe not high enough (I did try making it higher without any luck, but didn’t keep trying to find a sweet spot).
Round 2: Schwin and Schwin Baby Oxfords
Like most children’s shoe patterns (excepting HomemadeToast, thank you!) these top out at 24mos size. She’s now in size 5 and 9 toddler, so I had to do some drafting. I traced her foot and the bottom of the brace, added a bit more than 1/4″ around (I find soft shoes tend to slip around quite a bit if they are sized with regular shoe “ease”, they need to fit pretty close to the foot). I then tested how high the front piece would arch to cover her foot (her right foot has a small instep, so I don’t know I added anything, the brace side had about 1/2″ added to each side), and then how much I had to add to the length of both the toe and the heel pieces so they overlap at the sides.
The main body is a blue poly-cotton that was likely decorator fabric – not heavy enough for upholstery, but stiffer than quilting cotton and shirting. The accents are black leather scraps. For the most part I had no issues sewing the leather together with a regular sharp machine needle, except that the cotton liked to gather a bit as it moved more easily through the machine than the leather. Putting masking tape on the bottom of my machine foot and tissue paper under the sandwich worked just fine. There are one or two spots where the stitches didn’t catch, but no big messes. I only interfaced the soles because I was worried about sewing through too much thickness with the leather, and hoped the cotton had enough body. Where the leather is layered is fine, but they do act much more like slippers than shoes (even Robiez).
I bought rubber soling from Etsy for grip and longevity. I tried this black silicon adhesive/sealant to attach the soles (two layer cotton with interfacing on both pieces), and clamped to dry with binder clips and cans. I ran another bead of silicon around the edge to try an stop them from separating – I really need to get a plumber to show me how to do that neatly! (BTW, if you just so happen to jump in without putting on the gloves right beside you (erhmm) and get some silicone on your hands – skip the soap and water and go straight to baby wipes – two swipes and it gone!)
The closure was a bit of a doozy. I wanted (a) something with some adjustability, and (b) not to have to make a buttonhole in leather, so instead of the pattern suggestion I used elastic cord and a button on the side. The cord attachment is.not.pretty. And the ankles are too loose in the end. Toddlers have a different foot:ankle ratio, and the pattern was drafted for chubby baby ankles not runners.
And of course as soon as I tried those ones, her sister needed a pair too.
After a week, three shoes are holding up well. I added a 1/2″ grosgrain ribbon to the top of the toe section to extend it and moved the buttons back 1/2″ (still too loose, but I don’t know how well the inside flap will pull over to the outside without twisting the whole shoe). They’ve been worn all day at daycare though, even though “real” shoes are available! One shoe had the rubber sole pull off the shoe at the front. In evening desperation I tried Gorilla glue, did not work. Second night I slathered on the black silicon adhesive even though it requires 24hrs for full cure. She was running on it 12 hrs later an it seems to be holding this time. And either the stiffness or the lip of leather against the plastic brace means it stays up on her left foot. Win!