How to make high heel shoes by hand

Updated April 17, 2017

High-heeled shoes historically have been worn as a symbol of nobility, wealth and power. France's diminutive King Louis XIV wore custom crafted shoes with curved, 12.5 cm (5 inch) heels that were decorated with scenes of his military victories. In modern times most high heels are made by machines. High-end designers, however, still do handcrafted heels for their most affluent clients. Shoe-making is a time-honoured craft and learning to make fashionable high heels is a hallmark of this craft that dates to Roman times.

Design the shoes. Sketch your design ideas into a sketchbook. Creating a visual map of the shoes you plan to make will help you a lot when it comes time to construct the shoes.

Carefully take apart an old pair of high heels. Pay special attention to preserving the shoe soles, counters (portion of the shoe which covers the side and heel) and the vamps (portion of the shoe which covers the toes.)

Measure the feet the shoes are for and select a pair of lasts (shoe models) that fit that foot size. Professional shoemakers create lasts based on 35 measurements of the foot. At the very least, you need to measure the length and width of the foot and the circumference of the ankle.

Cut the leather for the uppers and heels of the shoes. Using the counters and vamps from the old pair of high heels as a pattern, cut out two new vamps and two new counters for the shoes you've designed. Cut leather which will wrap around your high heels.

Tack the counters and vamps into place on the last. Tack the heel leather into place around the high heels you're using in the shoes. Stretch the leather pieces tight using shoemaking pliers. Then soak the lasts in warm water until the leather is saturated. Allow the leather to dry on the lasts/heels for two weeks. This moulds the counters and vamps into the shape of the shoe.

Prepare the soles of the shoe. Soak the sole leather in water until it becomes pliable. Beat the leather on the lapstone with the mallet until the texture of the leather is extremely smooth.

Cut the leather soles for the shoes out using the old soles as the pattern. Cut a groove around the soles about 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) from the edge. This is where the sole will attach to the uppers. Punch holes into this groove where the stitching will go.

Take the leather uppers off the lasts and sew them together. Punch holes into the leather before sewing it together. Stitch the pieces together using two pieces of thread and two needles going in opposite directions to create a double stitched seam.

Glue the uppers to the soles. Allow the glue to dry and then sew the soles into place using the same stitch as in step 8. Spread a thin layer of glue on the top of the heel and place it onto the sole of the shoe. From the inside of the shoe, nail the heel to the sole using four small shoe nails.

Trim any excess leather off of the sole and line the shoes with an insole and any other lining you desire. Buff and polish the shoes.

Things You'll Need

  • Sketchbook
  • Old pair of heels
  • Pair of lasts (shoe model, sized to the feet the shoes are for)
  • Leather for the shoe uppers
  • Leather for the shoe soles
  • Two insoles
  • Two high heels
  • Shoe thread
  • Two needles
  • Shoemaker's knife
  • Shoe tacks
  • Shoe nails
  • Shoe glue
  • Lapstone
  • Rubber mallet
  • Shoe-making pliers
  • Tape measure
  • Shoe polish
  • Clean buffing cloth
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About the Author

Kate Kotler began her writing career in 1997 as a news writer. She is the editor-in-chief of and writes the DIY Diva blog for ChicagoNow (a "Chicago Tribune" affiliate.) She is the founder of Geek Girl on the and is working on a novel.