Ballerina Girl

Stop the presses!  News flash here!  I have now made shoes!  Well, technically I have sewn my own house slippers, but they are worn on the feet so that is close enough to make me feel like adding the term “cobbler” to my long list of capabilities.  I cannot express how elated I am over this creation and just how incredibly comfy they are to wear.  I was very doubtful I could pull such an idea off, but my slippers turned out fantastic.  Plus, they were so quick and relatively easy to make…and all I used is scraps leftover from past projects!  This post is aptly named after a sweet song by the same name by a favorite singer of mine, Lionel Richie.

A big ‘thank you’ is in order to Quinn (who blogs here at “The Quintessential Clothes Pen”) for her encouragement and support over this idea in the first place.  Over in this post of mine about the making of this fuzzy winter jacket by the designer Ungaro, I casually threw out the question of ‘what can be done with the scraps of the waist peplum I did not use’.  Happily, Quinn voted for the house slippers idea, and it sounded like she started making some for herself in turn.  All I needed was a bit of outside inspiration to spur me on, and just look at the wonderful slippers I finished now!  I am always so overwhelmed and supported by my blog’s readers and followers.  You are all truly the best!   

I half-heartedly wonder if it might be old fashioned (according to younger generations) to be wearing house slippers.  Thus, just in case a definition is needed here, I will provide a brief one.  “A house shoe is a general term for any footwear that is intended to be worn indoors, particularly at home,  while a slipper is a type of indoor or outdoor footwear that you can easily slip-on your feet.  Remember that house shoes can be slippers, but not all slippers can be house shoes.”  (Definition from this site.)

I have a few vintage slippers, of the famous Daniel Green brand, which are closer to shoes, for sure, the way they are so fancy, with molded soles and wedge heels.  While they are comfortable and luxurious, at the end of the day all I want is to feel barefoot…but with the benefits of a little extra warmth and cushioning.  This is one of the many reasons why I personally prefer soft, ballerina-style, enclosed foot house shoes to both slip-ons (with an open back or exposed toes) and modern molded foam bed support slippers.  Yet, a good version of a ballerina house slipper is hard to find, never as comfy as I would like, and also quite pricey.  Besides, they never last me very long before they wear out to the point that they need to be thrown away.  Cue the quest to craft my own.  Sewing can be so enjoyable AND useful.

Unlike the fuzzy house shoes commonly referred to as “slippers”, ballet shoes are made of soft leather, canvas, or satin, for dancers to appear weightless and graceful when performing.  “These shoes are lightweight and have thin soles to offer maximum flexibility. What’s more, the shoes feature an elastic band that’s meant to secure the shoe tightly to the foot during the entire performance. A proper ballet slipper should also offer a snug fit, like a glove.” (Info from this site.)  Often these shoes are in a skin toned color for an invisible appearance.  Modern ballerina house slippers, however, are in all sorts of fashion colors and prints and often cheaper materials.

How about a casual “about me” moment related to that topic?  I had the hard-toed ballet pointe shoes when I was growing up.  They were merely a cheap but neat second-hand purchase that I played around with and casually practiced in at home…nothing too earnest.  They are torture devices though (in my opinion) for all the beauty they offer dancers on stage.  Nevertheless, I grew to appreciate and admire both the charm of ballet and the hard work of its performers.  (Being taken to a Nutcracker performance when I was about 10 years old helped along those feelings, too!) 

What I especially loved about ballet was the soft leather dancing slippers after also acquiring a set secondhand at a resale store.  I loved wearing them around the house to the point that my mom went to a ballet store and bought me a few more new pairs.  The woman at the store quickly ended that obsession by throwing out very judgmental, inquiring, and intrusive questions to both me and my mom…as if her customers could only be professionals and nothing else.  Oh well.  No doubt this past history of mine is a contributing factor to my preference for ballet style slippers.  Now I can make my own and this is the most exciting and inspiring thing to happen in my sewing sphere in a while!

Speaking of something exciting, my slippers had their first time being enjoyed in conjunction with a very special occasion for us.  We went for a short (and Covid safe) weekend getaway to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.  I brought a special true vintage 1930s era nightgown and matching robe for my evening lounging, and my new slippers paired perfectly with the ice blue color of the peignoir set.  The aesthetic of the room was 18th century which went so well with my fancy loungewear, besides being a dream-come-true kind of glamorous setting, the likes of which I have never seen.  It was a great backdrop to take some pictures of my sippers.  If you would like to see the whole vintage lounge set, go check out these two Instagram posts of mine (here and here).  If you would like to see a short video of me in my slippers in action, see this post!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Poly fleece (leftover from this 80’s coat), poly interlock, quilted cotton batting, and faux suede (leftover from my hubby’s smoking jacket)

PATTERN:  a Burda Style extra project template in the back pages of the December 2014 magazine (cover page at right)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  All I needed was thread and wide cord elastic.  The front decorative bows are ribbons that were saved from off of the packaging of a present I received.  Re-use and recycle, right?!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Each slipper took me 1 ½ hours, so I spent a total of 3 hours to make these on the afternoon of April 7, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  raw edges are enclosed within the lining

TOTAL COST:  FREE!

So long as I approached this footwear project with the mindset that it is still sewing, just like anything else I make, it was easy to make these house shoes.  The Burda Style pattern I had to go on was even more bare bones than their regular patterns so I am floored these turned out so well.  There were challenging to make because of all the curves, small spaces, and tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances.  However, as I said above they were not hard to make, though, and a very fun, different thing to attempt.  It’s so refreshing, besides good for my brain, to change up what I am working on making! 

On the back page of the Burda magazine, you start with just two small pattern pieces for the slippers, both only about 3 inches long, next to a few short paragraphs of construction details.  The same page also has a sleep mask pattern and a quilted travel jewelry organizer to make!  All of the patterns on page need to be photocopied and custom sized up to be usable.  I aimed at the length of the sole being just a quarter inch bigger than the actual size of my foot (9 inches) since I wanted a snug, ballerina shoe style fit.  Thus, I had to enlarge the pattern pieces 305% and add on the 3/8 inch seam allowances, as directed, before I cut the pattern out.  

There are four different kinds of material I used because I wanted to only use scraps and also to keep the slippers comfortable.  The soles are triple layered with a brown faux suede bottom (a tip from Quinn) and a fleece inner foot bed, all sandwiched with a cotton, padded, quilted panel in between.  This way the soles are lightly padded with the quilting, soft on my feet with the fleece, and not slippery to walk in with the suede-like exterior.  The outside of the slippers’ uppers are more of the blue fleece, lined in a lightweight poly interlock to absorb moisture and keep my feet from overheating in just fleece alone. 

I did slightly adapt the pattern to add some improvements.  Firstly, it doesn’t necessarily call for an upper foot lining, but it was a not only a choice for comfort but also a convenient way to end up with clean inners to my slippers.  Furthermore, the instructions do not call for the padding that I added into the soles, but it elevates these slippers from being merely homemade and makes them so much cushier.  Then, I also hid the raw edges by stitching all of the shoe pieces together onto sole before finishing off the upper elastic edge.  Stitching 5 bulky layers together along a very curvy seam in a 3/8 inch seam allowance was something I took my time on so the slippers’ construction was right from the very beginning.  There are literally 3 seams to stitch on each slipper, yet if ever I needed to get a seam correct and be precise with stitching, this was the time for that. 

Stitching the casing was even trickier than sewing the sole.  I was somehow able to mostly machine stitch the seam, luckily.  I finished the raw edge of both the interlock and the fleece together with a double row of tight zig-zag stitching that imitates a serger (overlocker) finish.  Then, the edge was tuned under 3/8 inch and stitched down with a small gap so the elastic cording could be run through the casing along the upper foot bed edge.   It is interesting that the elastic has to be so very much shorter of a length than the actual casing around the foot.  The slippers should curl in on themselves when they are off of one’s foot or else they will not stay on.  Avoid having the knot of tied elastic end in the casing at the back of your heel for a smooth fit. 

I slightly obsessed over trying to have the elastic tightness of both slippers to be equal.  I think I came so close to perfection, I’m happy.  You know, most store bought ballerina slippers all have one shoe which fits tighter than the other and I have always hated that with a passion.  I know how hard it is to make RTW to suit everyone’s individual sizing – but that hadn’t fully sunk into my head how much more challenging that is when it comes to our feet.  Most people have a body that is not symmetric on both sides.  On top of that, many people also have health issues or results of an injury which can render one foot to be different from the other.  A bad ankle of mine, leftover from a severe sprain, makes my one foot swell up at times.  Cutting two elastic strips the same length made for unequally fitting slippers for me.  I can understand the gripes I have had with RTW ballerina slippers much better now.  Nevertheless, that problem still is annoying and uncomfortable, I will admit, so I am happy to have avoided it for my own handmade slippers.   

For the last step, I took a fabric marker to designate the left from the right…because let’s face it.  More often than not my brain doesn’t need one more thing to figure out at the end of a day.  I wanted my slippers to be effortlessly enjoyed, besides being something fantastic to present on my blog, as well!  Next time I make shoes, I’ll have to try an amazing 1940s pattern for some summer sandals that you make by braiding scraps – much like a rag rug!  (See the pattern here.) 

The first time trying something new is always the hardest.  With my first pair of shoes successfully done, I can feel a bit more confident branching out.  Now, I am rather interested in some kits I have seen online, for assembling your own espadrilles or sneakers.  Anyone got any suggestions for more shoes to make?  This is fun!  Just think of the possibilities to end up with shoes that perfectly match your outfit this way…