Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chopines–Update II? III?

And here is the fruits of my labors….chopines that fit, and are relatively easy to walk in!  I still have the decoration to do, but they’re functional now, and that is quite a relief. 


I need to go out shopping (yet again) and grab as many gold brads as I can.  Because my gold lace is so thin, big huge upholstery tacks would look a bit….off.  (The picture below has a tack in the lower point right in the middle of the picture….it’s barely visible!)


I’ve been reminded to talk about my sources – I get so wrapped up in the project itself, those details seem to slip!

The fabulous website “Chopine, Zoccolo, and Other Raised and High Heel Construction” has been an invaluable resource.  It’s where I first found the idea of using cork yoga blocks as the base

That actually was one of the first diversions from the information provided therein – it was suggested to not use the blocks for chopines, but I felt that due to the minimal carving out involved, I’d risk the blocks in favor of the purse – the suggested cork was very cost-prohibitive, considering all the other projects pulling at my pockets.

My main reference was the lesson on chopine construction.  Specifically the most helpful was the information on sewing the sole, and the suggestion of using the bench grinder, which worked a charm, but in the end was very, very messy, and more than once took a large chunk out that I was not meaning to. 

If I were going to do chopines again, I’d use only a knife and an orbital sander with a rough grit.  (I used the sander when taking out the curve, and worked just as well as the grinder, but was much more maneuverable, and far less messy) 

Here is a brief list of some of my diversions from the information provided:

  • used cork yoga blocks instead of wood or high-density cork.  (So far, so good…..I’ll hope they don’t crumble away!)
  • used a butcher knife instead of a saw (the saw tore through the cork, whereas the knife made a relatively clean cut)
  • I made my chopines to be left/right rather than symmetrical – for no other reason than I didn’t remember that bit.  (d’oh!)
  • Patterning of the sole covering ended up being only 2, rather than 3 pieces, but that is likely due to the simpler geometry of my chopines.
  • I was very liberal with the use of a staple gun instead of stitching whenever possible (due to lack of hand strength, and massive pressure to finish as soon as possible!)

Hopefully I’ll have fully decorated chopines to photograph tomorrow….I just need to figure out what I’m going to do to the toe bit…I have the soles all figured out for now, that is until I change my  mind yet again!


  1. I did see some information on larger cork blocks for making hunting decoys, which was kind of interesting (yoga blocks would not even come close to working on my huge feet) but yeah, the large high-dens pieces are pretty spendy.  Yours turned out really well!

  2. I really like the giant tassel on the front that you see in a lot of the extant pairs.  That's part of my decoration plans assuming I ever finish shaping my blocks.   I really am not recommending the timber.  I spent another 4 hours working on mine yesterday and still have nothing much to show for it.

  3. I only had wimpy little tassels on hand, so that's what went on the toe!  ;)  

    I am so excited to see your carving progress - I think with wood it would be easier (well, not easier, maybe....more possible) to get a pleasing curve than I did on mine.

  4. If anyone wants to go in on a decoy purchase (apparently enough for two pairs?) in the future, I would be interested!

    The leather sole overhang  + wood putty worked a charm, and I think would work for bigger sized feet, too....I think the biggest thing is to make sure that the overhang isn't where there is much weight distributed on that part, although it's still pretty strong...I used the thickest leather I'd ever seen, that plus a second leather sole that the velvet was stitched to and the putty, it's all pretty structurally sound.

  5.  Great Work on these!  They look snappy, and I love the velvet envelope and vamp.  One comment on duck decoys - you want to be sure that you get the "high density" duck decoy blocks.  Many of them are made to be as light as possible, and will not stand up to the type of wear that we expect to put on these chopines! =)

  6. The Man Himself!  Just to let you know, you've been a major source of inspiration!  (I've been stalking your website for years now, and took your shoe class at Costume College, and finally, after much consternation took the plunge and did a project of my very own)
    The cork you're talking about is the (dark)  high density decoy cork, right? - I'm sure you have the link on your website, I just can't find it right now....

    I just barely finished them up, and posted pictures of the final product, I'd love to know your honest opinion, if you have a moment!  

  7.  How excellent, I'm glad I could be an inspirational font, as it were =) 

    I did my research on decoy blocks a while ago, and I honestly don't recall the details - I just remember that there are a couple of grades, and you need to be aware of exactly what you're ordering (maybe contacting the vendor would help).   For my part, since I knew that I would be making several pairs, I decided just to get a huge block!

    I honestly think that your work is lovely - I also agree with you that a bit of angle to raise the heel somewhat might make them easier to walk in, but some of the period examples have practically no rise whatsoever, so it is really up to the zoccolaro.  Any compromises were well considered and do not at all detract from the final piece - that is as it should be!

    One thing that I need to consider more thoroughly is that a large number of the pieces I've examined have the vamp placed nearly all the way at the tip of the chopine - this basically means that the weight of the chopine would cause it to potentially drag along the ground as the wearer walked (kind of like a mule).  In my reproductions, I tend to move the vamp backwards and allow them to be worn as platforms rather than like a mule, exactly as you have done.  It is a fine point, but makes a big difference in how they are worn.

    Irrespective, congratulations on a fine piece!  I'm sure I speak for everyone by looking forward to seeing the entire gown plus chopines in concert - as they say, pics, or it didn't happen! =)

  8. All of my past carving experiments have been with things like cookie molds and needles where its fine work.  I've removed what seems like a lot of material but it really hasn't made that much of a difference so far.  Part of that is the fact that what I'm using is a prelaminated cut from a beam so I just haven't been able to cut away as much as I would like to since the saw I have won't handle the thickness.  I'm taking it to a band saw this weekend so we'll see if it helps.  then I'll go back to the hand tools.  If something doesn't happen I guess I'm buying some decoy cork.  Wonder if Cabella's might carry it?

  9. Oh there will be pictures - and plenty of them!  ;)

    RE: vamp....I totally see what you mean!  I couldn't quite figure out why mine looked off, but that totally makes sense!  (I haven't quite developed an 'eye' for the details of shoes, but hopefully that will come in time)   

    Now I'm wondering if the flat-fronted chopines are made that way to compensate for the drag created by having the toes as the movement support rather than the arch?

    I've already had at least one friend make me promise to make her some as well, so I will certainly keep all your tips in mind for the next pair, and see how they turn out!

    Thanks again!!!