Thursday, 5 December 2013

Moccasins (aka Bushcraft Booties)

Bushcraft and Survival magazine issue 38 May/ June 2012 is memorable for me because I have an article on paracord knitting in there, but there are also several 'how to' articles that I've had my eye on to do for a while, none more so than Joe O'Leary's hybrid moccasin boot.

Well I rushed to do it...ok I didn't, it's been 18 months so I'll put this down to advanced procrastination just thinking about it being a good idea. But then Joe put it on his blog In the summer Pablo and JP asked me if I'd like to join Woodlife Trails as a course assistant, I think this was a subconscious trigger to start because whilst I generally won't be heading out with the clients, the thought of using them in Hatfield forest is a mouth watering prospect. I also get up at 03:45 on a Thursday and Friday for work so often I'm awake early on Saturday so I sometimes head over to Hatfield forest for a mooch around or a sit spot under my own steam.

Anyway, onto the moccasins ('bushcraft booties'). I am no expert with buckskin (I A N E W B) but I have been sitting on a piece of settee leather-not literally-for sometime and this seemed like a good use for it...I think this is part of the reason for taking so long to get going, it's the only piece I have. Buckskin is breathable but this grain on leather would be a bit more off I went. Instead of writing a long rambling piece I'll put bullet points with the pictures.

Joe recommended using calico to make a 'working' template from, I used a tough plastic sheet that was a supermarket cage flap in a previous life and duly set about cutting out the relevant pieces as per the instructions. I'd suggest using a ruler to get symmetry on the bottom piece sides and back because I did mine freehand and it was a bit high at the back on the finished design. Joe used several stitching styles, I just stuck with saddle stitch and got through the majority of an 18 metre length of artificial sinew.

Once I'd got the basic slipper puckered at the front, and stabled at the back I marked where I felt I could stitch up to and still squeeze my foot in fairly easily (this thought comes into play later).

Although it wasn't a deal breaker, I made the flap at the back too big and it overlapped where the back and sides had to be stitched onto the bottom section. I'd suggest about 2.5cm would do

I decided to use the full width of the naturally coloured artificial sinew (as opposed to pulling it apart to make slimmer lengths). I felt the chunky stitch suited the boot, and it meant I the thread was of a regular size and wasn't prey to me misjudging it when I pulled it apart. 

 I would also suggest trying the base on with paper clips holding the flaps secure. The don't mark and allow for accurate measurement. 

Marking out the area on the sides to make sure the moccasin covered my ankle.

The finished mock up. I A N E W B but I added a rectangular strip to the back of the final design to add a bit of strength to an area that I thought might wear a bit, you can see the stitching on one of the final pictures later on. I wondered with hindsight (and a big enough piece of leather) if it would be possible to extend the two flaps that fold across to form the heal, to make a reinforced heel that stretched up to the top of the boot, instead of adding one retrospectively.

Then to carefully un-stitch it and use as a template.

  Note the Wilderness Survival Skills logo! Also note the 'wings' on the above piece, these are the bellows that Joe sewed into his design separately which I decided to incorporate as a one piece design, to not only cut out some stitching but I thought it might make the area where the bellow meets the end of the puckered area over the toes a bit easier to seal satisfactorily.  

 The grain on templates cut with a copy of the magazine that the article appeared in.

Joe advised really making sure of your moves before committing...good job I tried with a small swatch on the toe because I would have crashed and burnt without! I'd marked out the puckered front with 0.5cm holes on the vamp (the long tongue), and 1 cm on the base...I'd overlooked the fact that there needs to be an equal amount of holes. I settled on 1cm vamp hole spacings, and 1.5cm holes on the toe end of the base as they seemed to marry up well and it made the measuring and maths easy. The above picture is one showing the small test piece for the puckering being cut out.

You can see from this picture that I've used a biro to mark the leather extensively (on the inside).

This practice section, as previously stated, was useful, neigh vital as it gave me the confidence and feel of the leather to get cracking on the real thing.

Once I undertook the puckering I found that using the awl to pull the sinew tight worked well and allowed for tweaking the pucker for an even finish.

I found that a pair of small pliers helped with pulling the needles through. Joe used a blunt pair of pliers.

This is the bottom section and the all-in-one bellow/ vamp section stitched together. The bellow/ vamp is bigger than it needs to be so that I have spare material to allow for stitching it to the area between the bottom and side (just after the puckered area), and to have some spare to experiment with the size of the bellow. Try using paper clips to roughly attach the bellows/ vamp to the side of your moccasin to see how big the aperture needs to be for you to slide your foot in!


I packed the base with newspaper and then looked for the best place to mark a line to stitch the back and sides to. I went for about 0.5 cm from the top and stitch spacing of 1cm. I would, with hindsight, do 0.5cm stitch spacing at the back. I A N E W B but I wondered if I could have left the sides attached to the base template of mine to save having to sew it on as a separate piece and then sewn up the extended heel flaps up the back (as suggested earlier). 


Once I'd decided on the height I found the central position at the back of the heel (on the top section) and marked it in pen. I then stitched from the central spot along one side then the other. The reason for this was to help with keeping the top section straight and I think it worked.

A close up of the lace eyelets. They are a little chunky but I made them with a stitched inner length of leather to give them some oomph so that I could pull on the laces and know that they'll hold! I also backstitched them when sewing them in to give added strength. The laces are 550 paracord (as Joe used). 


And that's one moccasin finished. I kept it stuffed with paper and sat it in front of me to spur me on with the second. I hit a bit of a wall when the second was about 75% done (like marathon runners) but staring at the first one helped. I decided to add a small  loop at the back of the boot to receive the lace but it will only work if you stop the front lace holes a shade lower than the top of the moccasin, and I felt that they were tight enough with a standard lace anyway.

The finished product pre Shoo Goo sole. I wore them around the house before adding it to see how they performed. They are of course bespoke products and there are subtle differences in them...The puckering on the second one is a smidge tighter, and coupled with a slightly different starting spot for the eyelets, makes the moccasin a bit smaller and shorter looking than the first. I A N E W B but it's not a problem with the grain on leather as it's quite forgiving so I'd suggest buckskin is the same. I'm now on the look out for mythical creatures of possible north African origin (you need to Joe's article to appreciate this).

To further add to the leather's water resistance Joe recommended a Lundhag preparation but I decided for the cheap and traditional Dubbin...No Goretex to bung up here!

This is the Shoo Goo to make the sole with. It stinks! Follow the instructions on the reverse. I thought I'd be flash and tape up the bottom of the moccasin to get army bedding straight lines-forget it...It's hard to achieve a consistently accurate tape line, and applying Shoo Goo within a taped area is like thinking you can paint a Turner seascape with a pre school chunky paintbrush. You can also get clear Shoo Goo which may work if you wish for a more all over naturally coloured moccasin (I guess).

The Shoo Goo goes off quick quickly so I'd recommend applying any rubber flakes (or coarse sand) as you go, but do the sole in one hit.I cut up a thin piece of rubber to make the flakes and they are a nuisance because they get a static charge as you handle them so they appear everywhere if you aren't mindful.

The finished moccasins together...

...having had a row... not speaking....

...and playing dead.

I've had the current Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine for about a month and decided not to open it until I'd finished the moccasins so that it didn't distract me. Joe's blog is well worth having a look at and the article specific to this project is here.

In summary, I'd suggest that this is a project for those competent at pouches etc who wish to stretch themselves. You will invest a lot of time and indeed the cost of the sundries needs factoring in too. Joe does a moccasin making course (linked to the buckskin making one I believe) but d'ya know what matey, consider selling a moccasin making kit...buckskin, sinew, instructions and then just add the other sundries and a little time!

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