Monday, December 22, 2008

Dress-up Box: Tippytoes

The last item to go in the Box before we shut the lid 
and wrap it up: ballet slippers!

For little and little-r feet.

In different colors.

In satin and fleece and felt and knit and whatever other 
fabrics were left over from earlier projects.

Not difficult to make at all, but takes a little visualizing 
in one's head because of the layers involved. The first pair 
was slow because it was experimental and because I 
drafted my own pattern and had to keep measuring and 
adjusting. And I had to sneak one shoe onto Emily's foot 
during her nap to check the fit. But after that, each shoe 
took about a half hour to make - so an hour for the pair. 

Want to make your own? Here's the pattern - one for my 
4-year old (size 11-12) and the other for the 2-year old 
(size 7).  Note: with all my patterns, this one does not 
include seam allowances - you just cut around it a little 
bigger as you wish. Some folks like 1/2", some 1/4". 
Pick what you're used to.

Much as it is a straightforward project, there are many steps, 
and I went overboard with the pictures this time to explain. 
Also, the secret is in the cutting - and the positioning of the 
pattern on the fabric. Unless you are using a stretchy fabric 
for every layer, you'll end up with a shoe that is rigid and 
uncomfortable. If you make it looser to accommodate for 
movement, it might fall right off the foot. Keeping all that in 
mind for the slippers I was sewing for my kids, I decided to 
use the different fabrics' natural stretch (or not) to advantage.

  • If you use fleece (which is nice because it is naturally puffy and helps the shoe hold its shape),lay the pattern along the stretch, meaning the shoe should stretch from toe to heel and not side-to-side. We want the wearer to elongate the shoe when it is worn, which causes the shoe also to hug the sides of the foot.
  • If you use satin (which I added to the pink and black pairs above the fleece layer), lay the pattern along the bias so that the shoe can stretch toe-to-heel and side-to-side.
  • If you use 4-way knit (which is nice for the lining because it isn't bulky and yet stretches), cut it straight (i.e. not on the bias)
  • If you use 2-way knit, cut it like the fleece.
  • If you use terrycloth (I tried it for the lining on the larger pink shoe): cut it like the satin.
For ONE shoe, you will need:
  • One outer upper (the U-shaped rainbow-colored piece) - I used fleece.
  • One inner upper (the U-shaped blue piece) - I used knit.
  • One outer sole (the white piece) - I used wool felt.
  • One inner sole (the blue piece) - I used fleece.
  • One piece of batting cut a little bigger than the sole.
  • A length of thick elastic string - the kind that holds a pair of shoes together when you buy them at Target is perfect - about 16" long.
  • A small safety pin
  • Pinking shears (optional but very useful)

Step 1
Fold the two upper pieces lengthwise, right sides facing, and sew along the heel line.

Step 2
  • Open up both pieces.
  • Pin both pieces right sides facing, and sew along the foot opening (where you'd insert your foot). 

Doesn't matter whether which side faces up, as long as the right sides are together. Here's another angle to show the fleece side:

Step 3
Pink the edges close to the stitches.

Step 4
Turn inside out so the right side of the seam faces out and the raw edges are hidden between the layers:

Step 5
Pin the outer sole at the toe and heel as shown. The right side of the sole should face the right side of the fleece, but the wool felt has no right or wrong side, so it doesn't matter.

Step 6
Attach the sole to the upper, being careful to push the lining layer out of the way and
tuck the fleece edge to fit the sole edge as you sew. Sound confusing? This is because the fleece piece is deliberately cut a little bigger than the sole, to accomodate for the 3-dimensional foot that will wear the shoe. This is obvious in the above picture. I found it useful to use an unpicker to move the fleece layer along in tiny gathers as I sewed. Less lazy people would actually baste, which I recommend if you have the time.

So here, in spite of the fleece piece being so much bigger than the felt piece, it has been made to fit.

Step 7
Pink the edge close to the stitches.

Side view of above picture. 

Step 8
Turn the shoe right side out and tuck the lining in. It looks almost finished!

Step 9
This step is to sew a little channel for the elastic thread around the opening. So sew about a quarter inch from the edge, leaving about an inch at the heel open to thread the elastic in:

Step 10
Thread the elastic in (I had to lift the lining layer to do this).

Step 11
This is really the only annoying part of sewing the slipper. You'll need to decide how snug this opening will be. Use your child's foot to test it out, or find another pair of shoes in the house that fit well. I did the latter, and found that a good final circumference was 11" for the 4-year old and 9.5" for the 2-year old. Tie a knot, trim the excess elastic and tuck the knot into the channel/casing.

The final circumference will not look very puckered at all - which is good because you don't want to cut the circulation off in the poor child's foot when the shoe is worn. It is just a teeny bit stretchy for the hug.

Sew up the open 1" at the heel.

Step 12
Sew the inner sole (fleece) to the batting. Sew as close to the edge as you can.

Step 13
Trim away the excess batting.

Step 14
Turn the shoe inside out again, with the lining facing up

Step 15
Pin the inner sole-and-batting to the lining layer, as in Step 5.

Step 16
Pulling apart the two halves of the shoe to avoid stitching on the colorful fleece layer accidentally, 

sew the blue lining to the inner sole-and-batting. As in step 6, tuck and tease the slightly-bigger lining piece to fit the slightly-smaller sole. 
Leave about 2" at the toe open for turning. Remember to backstitch when you start and end.

Step 17
Pink the edges close to the stitching, except at the opening. Don't trim the opening because you will need some seam allowance for folding in later.

Step 18
Turn entire shoe right side out through the opening. With the lining on the outside, and pushing away the fleece layer (it will all bunch up inside!) from the opening,

Step 19
tuck the exposed edges of the opening in and sew the opening shut. Sew only the lining and inner sole-and-batting layers! I used a zig zag stitch but a straight stitch works too.

Turn the shoe right side out and arrange lining neatly around the inside of the shoe, especially in the toe area where it tends to bunch. Done!

Make another side for a pair and put them on little dancing 
feet. Jenna, my secret model, asked me, "You turn on some 
music, mom?" to which I regretfully explained that she would 
get the shoes to keep at Christmas. 

I omitted this for the rainbow slippers because they were 
already such an assault on the eye, but you could add a 
small bow to the fronts of the plain shoes.

So these 6 pairs of ballet slippers will join the 
other multicolored inhabitants of the Box. 

They are the last hand-made items to go in the Box (for now) 
but I have also put in some store-bought accessories like 
hair extensions, wigs, boas, a couple of career hats and a 
clown nose. Other ideas that didn't make it to the Box for 
lack of time included a mermaid tail, some career coats 
(firefighter, for instance), fancy hats, animal suits, a 
clown costume and boots. Another time, perhaps.

I hope you enjoyed following along with this project. 
I thought I would be sad when it was finally over but I 
am relieved - not as much fun as I thought, sneaking around 
trying to avoid the Small Ones and sewing at nights. 

I have just one more project to post before the new year. 
This was the original handmade Christmas gift for the girls 
and it formed in my mind in the summer before the 
Dress-Up Box came along and monopolized occupied 
all my sane moments.    

I leave you with a picture of an early stage in its production: 

Merry Christmas, all!


  1. Why not leave the opening at the side of the slipper? Easier to stitch along a less curved line.

  2. You probably could do that if you wished, and hand-stitch the opening shut to keep it invisible, unless you don't mind it showing. I prefer it machine-stitched and still be hidden in the unexposed toe region.

  3. What a great tutorial! I love those little rainbow shoes and the wands you made are gorgeous!!

    I wish my Minx was four again as she would have loved these :-)


  4. I loved your visit to my blog. I've linked yours because of this tutorial, as you could see. I am a beginner in sewing machine, but I was able to put a sleeper together with your great instructions, not so fancy as yours though but I will get there...hopefully soon. Basically I've said there that I've learned with you, and also said that there are plenty of other beautiful ideas and tutorials here. Do you understand Portuguese a bit? I appreciated your comment in my language, very thoughtful!
    I sent you an e-mail as well, I hope you receive it.
    Tks so much,

  5. I am a recent follower of your blog, and just read today's post about getting too many inspirations, which I totally agree with... then I foolishly follow your link to here, and now my list of things to try has just gotten bigger!

    These are just gorgeous. You're so so clever!

  6. your tutorial was awesome! I just made some yellow with black soles, to go with my 3 year olds minnie mouse costume, I lined them with the same fabric as the dress I made, and they turned out sooo cute, thanks for the tutorial!

  7. These are gorgeous! I love the fabric you used, what little one could resist these :)

    Thank you for using so many pictures to explain the process, even for a reasonably experienced sewer like myself, they are FANTASTIC!

  8. Thank you so much! I've been trying to visualize how to do this for so long! Thanks for the great pictures, they helped me a lot!

  9. Completely adorable! I love these shoes! I'll have to give it a try!


  11. HELLO this is a good tutorial, clear intructions, i am in the middle of making ballet shoes for my grandaughter for a wedding, i was following intructions from a site called breakitdown but got a little confused with it now i have seen your intructions things have become clear, thankyou

  12. I have been searching forever for this project and just would like to say thanks.

  13. This is a wonderful tutorial. My daughter just asked me tonight to make her some yellow Belle ballet slippers. This will be perfect. Thank you so much for all the hard work this must have taken to produce. Thank you!

  14. I just LOVE your tutorials and projects...I will be hanging out here a lot!!! Wish I found you sooner!

  15. Great and easy to understand tutorial. Thanks. I will now try my hand at it.

  16. Wow...I'm so excited I found your blog! :) I want to make everything I've seen so far. lol These will definately be added to the Christmas presents I'm making for all the Kiddos in the family!

  17. Thank you for your uncommonly clear instructions! I linked to this tutorial at .

  18. These are so cute!!!So obviously thought I'd try and make a pair.....well I'm ok doing the top part etc..... BUT just cannot sew on the sole!!!Basically I cant do the heel part it all ends up being very lopsides....any suggestions or tricks??? Would be much appreciated

    1. Perhaps try basting? I'm not sure what the problem is, based on your description, but I'm guessing that it's been hard to align the circumferences of the sole and the shoe bottom. Mark the center front and center back of both the sole and shoe bottom, and match those up. That might help.

  19. Thank you for your help .....will definately try that(as well);-)
    But my problem is sewing around the heel at the bottom (ie curves)....maybe it all actually has do do with my "NON sewing skills....but I shall keep trying

  20. Is there a way to print the pattern for the slippers so that I know what size to cut the fabric pieces? Thank you for the instructions they are great!

    1. The original size of the sheet of paper I scanned was 8.5" x 11" - the US letter size. If you can get your printer to print to that size, the templates will be the correct size.

  21. This is a great tutorial. One idea to avoid the most frustrating part: "real" ballet shoes have the elastic exposed to tie in a bow and adjust to the individual wearer. Then the dancer tucks them in. Just a thought! :)

    1. Good point, Heather! I remember pulling and tying those elastic bows on my ballet shoes, too! It would work well for these ballet slippers but my own kids - at least at the age when these were made for them - would quite likely pull the bows undone in their play, and the elastic would disappear into the casing. Grrr.

  22. I like this a lot,it looks easy to do,i m sure i'll try to make one for my kid,she's 4 so the pattern will fit.

  23. I love it. And i am going to try to make a pair ! Lets get to it!

  24. Perfect just what I was looking for. Very clear instructions and lots of pictures too!

  25. excelente tutorial, lo necesitaba, muy bien explicado graciasssss!!! ;D

  26. I saw this post a long time ago, I meant to bookmark it but I forgot and then forgot where to look. I stumbled upon it again and I am sooo happy! THis is exactly what I will be doing this weekend!My darling little ballerina and I thank you very very much!

  27. I came back to also mention that these are perfect for the cold months when the kids dont want or need to wear shoes but need something to keep their toes toasty and warm. I've purchased slippers in the store but that can get expensive with three kids and leaving them anywhere from grandmas to Ninas...
    so I'm thinking of super hero design for a boy...

  28. Thanks so much for this! I've been searching for soft-cloth dress up shoe tutorial/instructions for a while, and just kept finding ways to 'fancy-up' plain shoes, which isn't what I wanted. My daughter has a dress up party to go to, and this will be perfect for to go with the Tinkerbell costume I have made! Thanks so much.

  29. Love the pair of shoes and really liked the way it is being done.

  30. Thank you so much for this great tutorial! I just made a pair for my 3 year old daughter who keeps stealing her brother's racecar slippers. She loves them. She had a great time picking out the fabric from my scraps and I had fun making them.

  31. You are a wonderful teacher LiEr!!! I wish I found you earlier. Your tutorials are so clear and easy to follow. You've just won a fan. I love all your projects and tutorials. I will surely try this out for my daughter who has been asking me for a ballet shoe.

  32. These are so cute! I would like to make a pair to go along with my niece's Halloween costume; the Coronation Dress that Elsa wears in Frozen, which I am also making. 😇 I was wondering if you had any suggestions for a durable sole that could stand up to a night of pounding the pavement for candy, but wouldn't require me to become a cobbler in the mean time. Thanks!

    1. Melissa: Yes - see this post for what I used for soles. These were not ballet slippers; these were boots I made for the kids, which they wore when they went out to snag candy.

    2. Ahh; fantastic! Thank you! I never would have thought of that! Those boots are cute, too! Next year I'll have to try and convince my niece into some kind of costume where I can make those! 👍

  33. Another question: How would you go about measuring one's foot for the U-shaped pattern piece? I've done a few Google searches, but since I don't know any of the proper terminology, all my searching is pretty useless. Better to ask a professional anyway (that's you!) Any tips you can give or info you can point me to would be greatly appreciated! I'm a visual learner, so diagrams and pictorials (such as this one) are extremely helpful. Thanks!

  34. Is there a non skid sole material that would work on these? Like those little socks that have rubber dots on them.

  35. I love the tutorial. So straight forward. I used the gripper stuff you line shelves with on the bottoms. Thanks for all the pictures and detailed instructions . My granddaughter is going to love them.


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