Monday, November 14, 2011

The Beginnings of Empress Josephine's Slippers

The inspiration:

I absolutely love these pairs of slippers, worn by the Empress Josephine. The beaded pair are her coronation slippers. Following description from Bourhis, Katell le et al. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire, 1789-1815. NY: Abrams, 1989. 46.

"Empress Josephine's white taffeta coronation slippers, embroidered with gold--strips, threads, sequins, and cannetillés--in a bee-and-star motif."

Coronation slippers. 1804. Musee des Arts de la Mode. 

Empress Josephine's white silk slippers.
Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.
Photo by Gerard Blot. 

Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and
Coronation of the Empress Josephine.
Jacque-Louis David.

I have never made a pair of shoes before, but from what I know about shoe making I pulled together some materials I had and gave it a go. So far only one slipper is finished (minus any decoration of course). The second slipper is all sewn up except for the sole. Below are some pictures of the construction and how I made them.


Top fabric: white twill weave silk
Lining: canvas and white linen. I didn't want my toes showing through so I added the canvas for interfacing. I don't think this is really necessary to use again if I made another pair. Too bulky.
Sole: Chamois leather. Pre-washed. It's all I had on hand. Not bad for the sole.
Sole lining: 2 layers of buckram, one canvas and then another layer of leather on top. I chose not to make a shank, since I was modeling this kind of after a ballet slipper. 
Thread: White 50/3 linen and #100 white silk thread. Both waxed.

How to make a shoe pattern (from shoes you have):  I modeled the pattern after a pair of ballet slippers and a pair of Chanel flats that have a similar shape to them as Josephine's. I layered pattern paper over the shoes and traced with a pen. I cut out the pieces, pinned them together and tried on the sample. It was a bit big in the back so I adjusted the pieces and recut. Then retraced onto new paper so I had a nice clean pattern.

Too big. Needs adjusting.



The shoe pattern.

I didn't take any pictures of putting the shoe together. But it was very straight forward, if lengthy. Basically I started with the top. I layered the linen and canvas (linen will be against your foot - canvas as interfacing), folded under the selvages, butted together and stitched with waxed linen thread. I also stitched along the center front piece, down the middle, to keep the linen lining from falling into the shoe. 

The silk layer I sewed with silk thread. For the silk layer I backstitched the seam, then felled the selvage on the inside. See the pictures below. To join the aforementioned layers, I stacked the silk over the linen/canvas - insides out - and did a simple running stitch with the linen thread along the top edge, then flipped and pressed with the iron. Snip the curves to help flip the shoe neatly.

For the sole, I turned the top layers inside out again and pinned them to the sole layers (chamois and linen). It takes a bit of easing. I used an awl to poke holes in the chamois and backstitched the top and bottom of the shoe together. Flip it again! Push pull and ease the shoe into it's proper shape. I made the toe pointy, so I used the awl, with its plastic cover on, to push the shoe right side out.

For the small layers, that finish off the inside of the shoe, I layered the canvas and buckram and stitched through them to hold them together. Then I glued the layers together, I glued the chamois on top and I glued the whole piece to the inside of the shoe.

Next time, I think I will leave out the canvas interfacing on the uppers, and I will add a heavier leather for a shank. Other than that, I think they went well.

My fingers are between the canvas and linen. 

View of the linen seam - right side.

View of the canvas seam - right side.  

The silk is on the left. You can see the felled seam.
Snip the curve at the front (top of the toe) to
facilitate flipping the pieces right side out.

The flipped shoe, pinned open, before being pressed.

On the right is the pressed, finished top. On the left,
the larger pieces are chamois for the sole and linen. The smaller
pieces are chamois, canvas and two layers of buckram.

You can see the chamois/canvas/buckram layer.

Side view.

I'm still deciding which shoe to make - either keep the shoes white and just add little bows, or bead and bedazzle like the coronation slippers... Ooo options!


  1. OMG! I can't believe you're tackling shoes, but I seem to remember that you might have a story to tell about some shoe making from long past...hint, hint...your long past.

  2. Oh god those sad little flip flops. I was REALLY REALLY careful to make sure I had a left and a right this time :)

  3. I'll be making a gown from this era next year. I'm glad to see your details on the slippers!

  4. Hi Laurie, this was a super basic attempt. I just ordered a book on shoemaking from amazon like 5 minutes ago, so I'm going to learn more, make a better pair and report back. I ordered better sole leather, too.

  5. Making own shoes (:
    I also really need to learn that !