Friday, August 23, 2013

Hessian Boots DIY

When I was looking for footwear for Kenny, I had the hardest time coming up with what to do about boots. Top boots weren't working out (although I did find a few vintage womens boots that would have been A-MAZ-INGly perfect, but my darlin's feet were too big for them.) Repro boots weren't going to happen, either - I'm sure Robert Land makes stunning boots, but there was no way I was going to pay that much for footwear for my negligibly enthused husband (actually, he was a great sport about wearing this getup, but not enough to justify spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on boots he would only be able to wear to an event here or there).

So, my most feasible solution was to buy modern boots and make them work somehow. They had to be modifiedable, because modern boots look... not so 18th century. Or early 19th century.

I perused Etsy and Ebay until I found a pair of used English riding boots, just Kenny's foot size. They were a little tall, but I got them at a good price because they were torn at the top edge (which was going to be lopped off anyway). Originally, the boots looked like this:
Etsy listing for English riding boots
Boots like this are all over they place, they are pretty standard for English horseback riding. I found mine on Etsy, but Ebay also has quite a few up for sale.

I thought to myself, I'll just pop over to a cobbler and ask him to trim down and finish the top edge, easy peasy, and then I'll attach some tassels myself. Well, apparently, cobblers don't often trim down boots like this. You can't exactly re-finish the top edge, because all that cleanly-folded down leather is actually glued to itself to maintain an unwrinkled, reinforced shaft. (That word makes my insides squirm. Unpleasantly. It is worse than "moist." Actually, that whole sentence makes my insides squirm.)

But I was not going to be daunted by the cobbler's dour assessment of my boot quandary. I busted out my sharp Gingher scissors and lopped a shapely inch or so off the top of the boots. The cobbler was right. There was no re-finishing that could be done after that.

Foyle's War in the background. We love.
First, I masked off the top 1/4" of the boot with painter's-tape. Then I rubber-cemented it very liberally and let it dry. It is important to let rubber-cement dry before trying to adhere things to it. Both items to be stuck together need to be painted with rubber-cement and then let dry before sticking together.

I didn't mask the interior, but I did paint the top 1/4" inside
AND out. I just tried to keep the inside as tidy as possible.

 I took the opportunity, while my boot was drying, to stitch a mitered corner into my petersham ribbon binding.

You can't see too well in this photo, but I folded each
boots-length (top circumference of boot + 2") in half
and stitched a right angle in from the fold.

Then I started carefully applying my petersham binding to the top edge boot, starting with the inverted point at the front. The curved bits are a little finicky, but it was very helpful to use petersham instead of any other ribbon for that very reason - it has a little more flexibility.

It was helpful to me to apply the ribbon on the outside first,
and then smooth the ribbon on the inside of the boot. That
way any little creases and folds are hidden inside the boot.

My boots had a strip of leather running down the back of the calf, which is handy for me because I need to make the shaft a little narrower to fit Kenny's leg. In order to retain the integrity of that little strip (as I'll need it later to cover up the alterations), I picked out the stitches and folded it to the side while I finished wrapping the ribbon around the top of the boot.

I left about two inches to fold over, but that wasn't actually
quite enough - I should have allowed more. This little end
kept popping up as Kenny wore the boots, because the
rubber-cement wasn't quite strong enough to hold it. 

I stitched on my drapery tassels (more detail shown in the infographic below), and binder-clipped down the ribbon/tassel at the front and leather strip at the back of the boot, and left to bond.

Sorry, no pictures of stitching the tassel on. And the
tassel looks weird because it still has the little plastic
sleeve on it, keeping it from tangling.
Kenny wore his boots all day and they worked quite well, except for the little leather strip in the back popping up. I love them! Not bad for $100.

Voila! Tasselly boots.

When I was looking for boots for Kenny, I had a hard time finding very many DIYs or cheats around the internet, so I put together a Hessian Boot DIY in Illustrator (I love Illustrator. It is awesomesauce. I cannot imagine working without it.) I hope it is helpful to somebody!

Flickr: Hessian Boot DIY


  1. Very eager to do precisely the same project for myself. Could we be in touch? Looks like you were very successful.
    T Dibner

    1. Sure! What are your questions about the project?