Repairing Boot Toes

A more complicated shoe repair!  My knee-high Catskill Mountain Moccasins are my babies – they are the fourth most expensive thing I own, after my sewing machine, laptop, and car, and worth every penny.  They are incredibly comfortable, being custom-fit to my feet and legs.  They are my fencing boots, general SCA shoes, and also just all around “I want to look awesome today” shoes, so they get a lot of wear and tear.  I also have a habit of not picking up my feet very high off the ground (yes, Mom, I still remember you telling me to pick my feet up… and I still don’t), and have scuffed holes in the toes of my beloved boots.  If you’re curious, I have owned these for about 6 years now.

The holes were too close to the edge of the shoes to slap a simple patch on.  I couldn’t just stitch the hole closed, because 1) that’s not waterproof and 2) I would just scuff my way through the stitches soon, anyway.  To repair these shoes, I completely removed the soles and midsoles, formed another piece to cover the toes to match the style of the rest of the boots, created and attached new midsoles, and then resoled them with modern soles.  I’m going to walk through that process, along with my mistakes, below!

A lovely close-up of the hole in the toe.  That hole goes all the way through, and the other shoe was quickly growing a similar hole.

If you remember from my post about resoling my other pair of Catskill Mountain Moccasins, these poor shoes were horribly butchered at the shoe repair store in Ypsilanti, MI, with the stitching between the midsoles and leather soles being cut.  I took my boots to the shoe repair store at Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, and they did manage to make a fix that has held up well over the past three years since the botched re-soling.  Unfortunately, their method was to willy-nilly stitch through the entire thickness of all the soles, which added more holes to my beloved boots.  (Seen a few pictures down.)  Custom-made shoes like this really should be repaired through people who will take their time and do it the long way, but that way is also expensive.  Catskill Mountain Moccasins charges (at least as of last year) $230 for a completely re-done midsole, and that price is a valid price.  I would charge a similar one, as it takes a long time to do this the right way.

I carefully cut through the stitches in the bottom of the sole and gently pulled off the midsoles and modern soles.  Next, I took out my Catskill Mountain Moccasins shoe pattern that they so wonderfully give back to their customers – don’t throw it away!!!  By having this shoe pattern already made, custom fit to me, I didn’t need to make a new one.  I took the existing shoe pattern for the top of the shoe, and cut out pieces to overlap the toes.  The seam allowance was expanded to be ~3/4″ – 1″ (I forget exactly), so that they could curve all the way around the existing toe and sole.

The leather I’m using is a thick, durable oil-tanned leather, by the way.

I carefully matched up the markings around the edge of the pattern to the holes in the sole, counting and pounding the right number of stitches into each curve.  The oil-tanned leather was wet-formed around the toe, so that it would stretch appropriately as I stitched it and form the right arch over the finished toe.

Below, you can also see how the botched modern re-soling added a lot of extra holes into the bottom of my shoes.  I even had to stitch closed a region, where the holes had ripped open into a centimeter-long wound.  I will never take my custom shoes to a modern shoe store again, at least not without very careful and explicit instructions about how they are constructed so that the midsole stitching isn’t cut open.

I was very careful while stitching to try to only stitch into existing holes.  This was very difficult along the toe region, as it is hard to maneuver inside the toe of the boot, even with my small hands and a hemostat.  I was mostly successful in not making new holes, though I know I made a few new small punctures.

After sewing on the toes, and stitching the lines across the top of the boot, I sewed on new midsoles, again using the existing holes.  This time, I cut midsoles out of the same thick oil-tanned leather I made the toe covers out of, instead of veg-tanned leather.  My feeling is that the midsole just needs to be made out of a strong, durable leather, and both of these fit that definition.

The modern soles were still good, so I removed the old midsoles from them with a mixture of acetone and then sandpaper (to scrape flat and smooth the few bits that didn’t want to come off with acetone).  This was done inside my fume hood!  Please don’t breathe acetone fumes, if you can help it.

Now, here is where I made a mistake and learned something valuable about barge cement and how glues work.  Barge cement mentions that for more porous materials, you may need to add two coats of barge cement.  My first thought: well, if I pre-wax/oil the leather, it won’t be as porous, so two coats won’t be necessary.

After soaking an olive oil/beeswax mixture into the midsoles (which I use to oil/waterproof my leather shoes), I added barge cement, waited 20 minutes as usual, and clamped it all together for 24 hours.  (All in the fume hood!  Barge cement is bad to breathe, and is denser than air so it will sink to the ground.  Please be safe.)

Then: the modern soles peeled right back off.  After doing some more reading on the barge cement website, it states that there shouldn’t be any oil on the surfaces.  Not only does barge cement not bond properly with oil, soaking into the porous material probably also makes that bond stronger, and I blocked that by adding the wax/oil to the leather.

After a few panicky moments, I figured that if acetone removes barge cement, it probably would also remove the other wax/oil.  Acetone is not great for leather, so I don’t recommend this as a regular solution, but I didn’t want to re-sew on new midsoles and I hoped that one application of acetone wouldn’t hurt the leather too badly.  (Besides, I figured if it did ruin the leather, the midsoles were replaceable.)  I painted a couple coats of acetone onto the leather midsoles – yes, with a paint brush! – and then let it air dry for a half hour.

Then I added barge cement again (you can see it curing above, glistening), re-clamped it, and anxiously waited another 24 hours.

It worked!  The soles stayed on this time!  So, for those using barge cement: don’t make my mistake and oil the leather first.  Just put on the second coat of barge cement. Also, yay learning by doing!

The last thing to do was cut out new fur insoles and shove those into the shoes.  Easy-peasy.

My newly repaired boots!  All ready for lots of fencing/marshalling at Grand Tournament of the Unicorn this weekend, at the first ever Tournament of Defense!  Can’t wait for SCA history to be made.  =D

The bottoms are already coated in mud, as I couldn’t wait to put them on and try it out.  So glad to have my boots back!  Enjoy the rest of the photos, and have a great weekend! ~Kell/Birke

Author: Wynter

I'm a scientist from Ann Arbor, MI! Leatherworker. Sewist. Exuberant gardener. Board game addict. SCAdian. Huge nerd. :)

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