My first natural footwear – rope sole canvas shoes made by me

Other good two months have gone by since my first report on the rope sole shoe project I embarked, a self-taught and self-made endeavor to finally – at the age of 36 – slide my feet in all natural footwear they had deserved, but had been deprived of since birth. Doesn’t this sound familiar to you, too? Aren’t your feet gasping for air as well?

Since then, my shoes have already stepped on those chestnut husks in northern Italy, even if just for a day, and safely took me back home to share with you the inspiration of their making and of grounding together as one: shoe, its wearer and the earth.

Here is a second pictorial review of what has happened and how since that first rope sole was accomplished.

Just a few days prior to our departure on vacation to Italy, well into the spring light, I was putting the finishing touches on the second rope sole, fitted to my other foot…

finishing up the second sole still barefoot

Time was flying by and in the end I had but a single day left to put tops over my two rope soles and make them wearable for the trip, as I was still committed to go in my handmade natural shoes or no shoes at all.

So I set on a stool, placed a sole in front of me, stepped on, draped and wrapped a soft cloth tightly over my foot, felt for the outline of the sole, allowed for a margin (a slack), traced it with pencil and with a pair of large tailoring scissors I cut out the first dummy. An odd piece of fabric, but a reasonable proximation of what ended up being the final shape. It only took one more trial…

the art of seeing 3d in plane view

to get to this form, already traced on the canvas I wanted to use:

the almost final shape of the shoe top

A very non-intuitive shape at first sight, but as you stand it up, it does makes a lot of sense.

Here are the three cuts in succession:

three steps to the shoe top

Two layers of canvas for each shoe…

the canvas tops for the rope soles

the under layers being cut in different angles from the top ones to prevent excessive stretching of the material while under the pressure of the feet. I meant this feature to act as stabilizer.

For practical reasons, such as lack of time and warm weather coming I decided to omit a third felted layer in the middle and create the top of the shoes from a strong, yet pliable hemp canvas with decorative, fish bone-like weaving pattern.

The extra challenge – in part brought on by my own curiosity, in part by time I was running out of – was to make one solid shape suffice for covering my entire foot. Nothing short from wizardry. Trying to see in 3D and have a sense for what the particular medium can do and cannot do, while staring at a single line drawing on the flat fabric.

I thought I succeeded at the challenge by coming up with these wicked wings, but…

The two layers of canvas were first carefully sewn together using a gentle, not too tight blanket stitch, to prevent the two layers gradually shift away from each other. (It was funny, by now I had to take the sewing with me to town when I went grocery shopping to not waste any time while waiting for stores to open or the bus leave, so I sat down at a table in the food court of the mall to work – I was even visited by curious onlookers.)

Once back home, I frantically started attaching the winged tops to the bottoms, not compromising quality or aesthetics, however. I used even and somewhat larger stitches going through the rope sole’s raised rim and the two layers of fabric, in and out, starting at the nose of the shoe and moving from there alternately to right and left, making my way to the heel part.

attaching the wings to the body

sewing the canvas shoe top to the rope sole

For pulling the needle and the quadruple flax thread through the shoes, the pointy pliers proved to be very useful once again.

the pointy pliers came in very handy once again

The heel part of the first shoe then made me realize that the tops ended up being cut too long (a little more on one side than the other). My plan was to sew the two ends together a little past my Achilles’ tendons, on the exterior. Before I adjusted the size and shape I had to secure the blanket stitching on either end of the cuts and to restitch the now open sides. I measured the cut off pieces to the other shoe’s top as pattern modification prior to attaching it to the sole. It worked.

Everything joined together, now I only wanted to spiral stitch along the whole length of the top for enhanced durability. While doing so, I sewed as much up of the toe end of the slit (opening), as much was necessary to keep my feet in and still be easy to put the shoe on or take it off.

Yeah!! The shoes were at last wearable and I could still have a few hours of sleep before departure, not forgetting to pack a strong organic cotton fabric and more flax thread for the “lace-work” to be delivered on the go.

Time came to toss my last pair of factory made shoes (not counting the gum boots – those ones to be replaced later on) into the garbage. The rotten this ten-plus year old pair of Adidas soccer shoes was, and the nasty material compounds it opened itself up to, no other place would have been better suited for it than the garbage bag. I actually feel great remorse about all the pieces of its long deteriorating soles I must have lost in unknown places. Some I found but surely not all.

my last pair of factory made shoes


Never again.

All excited and exhausted, next morning we got on the train, Italy bound. Shoes quite snugly on my feet, but laces still missing… Between Szeged and Budapest, a two and a half hour long ride, it was only proper to take one in my lap for more loving attention:

lacing my way to Budapest

on the waiting list

From train station to train station it has received more and more laces, nevertheless it stopped at having three out of four in Bellano, at the shore of Lake Como.

at Keleti Pályaudvar, Budapest

at Wien Meidling

at Bellano

Our destination came to be a mere one day stop, nonetheless it offered  a walk rich in textural experiences up and quick down the mountain: asphalt, cobble stones, muddy forest paths with roots and, yes, last year’s thorny edible chestnut husks, as well as balancing on rocks while traversing a small creek right and left. And on all these the shoes tested great!

After a night of heavy rain  and the path more dotted with deep puddles, on the way down I decided to tuck my shoes in a bag, to enjoy grounding (earthing) instead, just like at home…

pampering my shoes by not wearing them

and only put them back on again at the bottom of the mountain, before getting on the bus.

This is what my shoe soles looked like after a day on the mountain in nomadic, very nomadic environment:

the rope sole after a day on the mountain

Tiny pieces of rocks stuck in-between my stitches, but only there to strengthen the sole – so it seems. Damp, but drying quick already on the feet.

Once we arrived back to the comfort of our home (much to the surprise of our poor house sitters), I did pressure myself to make the final addition and sewed on the fourth lace piece. Now it’s truly complete and already seasoned – my first “green” pair of shoes:

frontal view of my finished rope soled canvas shoes

in-side view of my handmade natural shoes

out-side view of my handcrafted natural shoes

Might not be an heirloom piece quite yet, but it was crafted entirely by me, which makes me feel proud and instantly better prepared for dressing myself and my family. It’s a great feeling that was worth the hundreds of work hours that helped these shoes to life. Conductive for the earth’s energies into my body and only leaving humble footprints behind, no harmful traces whatsoever, I also feel a lot more reunited with nature, with the universe, so myself.

Because it breathes along with you and is so comfortable, such a pair of footwear is also conducive for quiet, prolonged contemplation, …

conducive for contemplation

which makes me think that now it’s perhaps my daughter’s turn to get a new pair – of sandals

What kind of natural shoes are you contemplating about? Share your idea or even your pattern.


We take connecting with the Earth seriously here at Handcraftedtravellers, so nearly all of our writings are at least indirectly related to a nature-bound life philosophy. For a resource of those posts that are more explicitly about earthing (grounding), barefoot walking and earthing footwear, we recommend you to check out our informative core page of the topic: Earthing in Earthing Shoes.


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    • Roland says

      Thanks, Kim! Actually they feel even better than they look – although I do tread lightly, more consciously than ever before (not dragging my feet either).

  1. says

    Wow! I’m glad to see the finished shoes. You’ve obviously put a lot of time, effort, and thought into these. Great work, and I look forward to seeing how they continue to travel.

    • Roland says

      Thanks for your words and patience, Julianne. I honestly hope – no: I think they should outlast the time it took to make them. So far I enjoy walking in them greatly. My feet breathe freely, when the shoes get damp or wet they do dry out quick.

      Right now I started making a pair of all rope sandals (from one pair of rope each sandal) for our daughter – to extend excitement.

      • says

        I like “outlast the time it took to make them.” When the project is just finished, it feels like it took forever to make! It’s great to have that feeling replaced by the sense of value and accomplishment: “I’m so glad I took the time to make this!”

        Plus, who ever decided to make something because it would be quicker? These shoes are very inspiring!

        • Cheryl says

          Quickness isn’t usually issue if you make something your priority. It may take a “long” time to knit a sweater too, or it could take a lot of mall walking to find the one that suits you best… in our case what we desire doesn’t just appear on the market (undyed or plant dyed organic clothing that is 100% biodegradable) so our choice would be to hire someone, though gathering our own sets of skills certainly holds a higher value and meaning.

        • Roland says

          I agree with you, Julianne, and I’ll never regret the energy invested into them, I’d say however that if your handcrafted garment is not only a fashion item but THE (only) clothing you have, it matters a lot to create for durability, which ultimately equals quality with no built-in, no intentional, hopefully not even accidental obsolescence. That’s the hope and time will be the judge.