Friday, September 29, 2017

If the shoe's fixed, wear it!

It feels like it was just a few months ago that I lost my reliable old brown flats to the ravages of old age. That was a shock to me, since I can't even remember the last time I didn't have a basic pair of chocolate brown flat shoes at my disposal. Fortunately, I never had to resort to painting shoes on my feet, because shortly after I got rid of my old ones, a friend offloaded her old ones on me! Hers were not in quite as terrible shape as mine, so once again, I was ready to rock the brown at a moment's notice.

When I actually did (September 6, I remember it well), it was a mistake. The shoes that had felt comfortable when I tried them on proved much too small once I got them to the office. I walked in them to a meeting across campus and back again, and by the end of my journey, I had a blister on one heel and a gaping wound on the other. In addition, one of the heel covers was completely missing, which caused me to slip and slide around on the terrazzo floors as though they were made of ice!

Before I wore these shoes again, I was going to have to whip them into shape! (And also, wait for my heels to heal!)

My first step was to make the shoes a little more comfy on my feet. I'm usually loath to make a permanent destructive alteration to any still-usable item of apparel, but these shoes were in too bad of a shape even to donate, so I figured that whatever I did, it would be better than consigning them directly to the landfill.

So, using a pair of heavy-duty wire cutters, I snipped a few notches into the tops of the heels. I hoped this would loosen them enough that they wouldn't mutilate my oversized feet. 
This did help. They no longer cut into my heels when I wear they just slide off with every step. I can never win!

Next, I had to fix the matter of the missing heel cover—which is not its official name. Apparently the rubber pieces that cover the bottom of the heel are called "lifts." Learn something new every day!
Ebay is my usual source for high heel tips. I can buy a bag of a dozen for a couple of bucks and repair untold numbers of shoes! However, when it came to replacing the sole of this wider-heeled shoe, eBay let me down. The best I could find was pre-cut rubber sheets suitable for one or two men's shoes, for no less than 3-4 dollars! What!? For just a few more dollars, I could replace the shoes entirely! Not a worthwhile expense.

I decided instead I would have to get crafty. All I needed was a sheet of some plastic or rubber material, a couple of millimeters thick and a few centimeters wide on each side. What did I have lying around that could meet those criteria? Hmmm, how about the sole of another shoe?

Fortunately, a different friend had also recently unloaded a pair of shoes on me, and those shoes, being not even close to my size and even more beat-up than the first pair, had gone straight into the shoe-recycling bag (a store near my house has a shoe recycling bin, which I fortunately had not had time to visit recently). I fished them out and set to work detaching the heel lift.

I wedged a flat-head screwdriver into the gap between the rubber and the rest of the heel, and the rubber peeled right off! It was easy, perhaps because the fibrous material comprising the next layer of the heel was dry and crumbly with age. 

The lift had been affixed with 4 short nails, so I levered those out with my wire cutters and set them aside.

I scraped off as much of the residual heel material as I could, then laid my shoe onto the now-detached rubber heel lift. I tried to align their curved edges so I'd have to do as little shaping as possible.

I traced around the shape of my shoe's heel, then I cut the rubber, again using the wire cutters. This was a little harder because I couldn't get them easily around the curves, but I couldn't think of any other cutting tool that would do a faster or neater job. 

I decided I would use a combination of glue and shoe nails to attach the lift to its new home. The heel was made of plastic, and many portions of it were hollowed out, so I marked 4 spots on the lift that would line up with non-hollow areas on the heel—these were where the nails would go. Then I used E6000 to glue the lift onto the heel.

I braced the shoe on an old block of wood I found in the shed, and hammered in the nails, which was very challenging since my fingertips were bigger than the nails! 
Somehow, I managed without smashing any fingers, but alas, the nailheads never really sunk into the rubber the way I had hoped. I guess the plastic of the heels was too tough for the nails to really dig into. 

 Once the glue had dried, I added one more finishing touch—some color. The insides of the shoes were a pale cream color, and somehow, they had started to turn over and show on the outside. 
Using a brown Sharpie, I colored these visible parts to make them less noticeable while the shoe was being worn.

And success! I wore the newly repaired shoes for a full day at work, and I'm pleased to say that they did not give me any blisters.
On the downside, however, at some point around lunchtime, the heel lift fell off the other shoe and vanished, basically leaving me back at square one, slip-sliding around on raw plastic for the remainder of the afternoon. And thus, I had another opportunity to perfect my cobbling skills!

I co-opted the other heel lift from the extra pair of shoes in much the same way as the first. The shape came out a little more off-kilter thanks to my lazy wire-cutter technique, and I probably would have taken the time to smooth the rubber into a neater shape if these shoes hadn't already been on their last legs.

Unlike last time, I didn't bother to nail on the new heel lift, just coated it liberally with E6000 and let it dry. This glue-only fix did indeed hold up to real-life usage, as I wore them all day today without a hitch. They even stayed on despite being used to pedal my bicycle, which I suspect was their downfall the last time I wore them.

Lessons learned from my first foray into the art of cobbling:

  • New shoe-repair rubber is ridiculously expensive—but old worn-out shoes are a perfect source for this material. Next time you're tempted to throw away a pair of shoes, maybe keep them with your craft supplies instead!
  • Shoe nails don't work on the type of plastic used in cheap heels.
  • Using wire cutters to shape the rubber for shoe soles is a terrible idea. What is a better tool? I'm not exactly sure yet, but I might try a utility knife next time around.
  • While shoe-stretching only works on real leather, it is possible to make a too-small pair of synthetics larger (if you don't mind damaging them) by cutting them at strategic points.

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