September 2010


Going into this project, I really thought I had it all figured out. I’ve long since ordered authentically sized sequins, the proper rhinestones (vintage even!), the bugle beads, and even those elusive central stones! (All to be discussed when we get there, all in good time!) But, I hadn’t thought one iota about the red paint covering the soles of the shoes. It really hadn’t crossed my mind! I knew I wouldn’t be covering the soles in orange felt like three of the four authentic pairs, but I hadn’t thought beyond that. I was crazy enough to think, if you find an art supply store, you could waltz in (replica Innes shoe in hand, of course) and find a matching red paint. Right? Heck no!

Cadmium Red Soles

While I did exactly that, I walked away with Medium “Cadmium Red.” It looked close enough on the jar. I painted the soles of the shoes, and waited a few hours. They looked okay, but a tad orange. I painted them over again, thinking it might just be that I hadn’t quite gotten enough of the paint on. (The paint seemed like it didn’t want to adhere to the leather at all.)

Well, come the next morning, I woke to find bright red soles. Tomato red. Horrible, ugly, tomato red. I couldn’t have been more disappointed! I realise that some of the shoes, particularly the Smithsonian’s, do, in fact, look somewhat orange on the soles. But that’s due to age, and it certainly wasn’t this orange. This orange was just wrong!

Stripping the paint off wasn’t too difficult. I hadn’t applied it properly, so none of it had actually adhered to the sole (as I mentioned earlier.), it had just created a paint “film” on the sole, quite easily pulled off. The bits around the edges were the most problematic. But with a knife I scarped what I could off.

Shoes with taped up soles

With Randy’s help, (let me publicly say I owe him a million thank yous for all his assistance!) I found the right colour for the soles. Cardinal red. Specifically, I used Folk Art’s “414 Cardinal Red.” So, I taped the shoes back up, and started again! To properly adhere the paint to the soles, I mixed the paint with water, effectively water colouring on the first layer of paint, which allowed it to seep into the leather and truly bond with it. I then went on to paint the soles three or four times, each time with less water and more paint. They came out just as I’d hoped they would the first time, a deep crimson red! I also painted the rubber stopper on each heel red. While the Bauman pair does not have these painted, I believe it has simply worn off, as the Smithsonian, Samuels, and Shaw pairs all retain red paint on the stoppers, so I have chosen to replicate them in this way.

Repainted Shoes

Now we’re on to the sequining! I’ve actually already begun sequining and it’s not as impossibly difficult as you’d expect. Not that anything with these shoes is proving exactly easy, but they look lovely thus far, and I’m growing ever more excited as I progress!

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Ruby Slippers Diagram (Photo: Tod Machin)

The first step in creating a pair of replica ruby slippers is, of course, the shoes. But, as anyone who’s looked for them knows, it’s much harder than one would expect! Shoes today are nothing like the Innes shoes made into the ruby slippers in 1938, and finding a size 5B, I’m sure, is difficult even when looking for contemporary shoes!

I’ve been told to look to eBay; certainly the place where you can find anything should have a pair of vintage French heeled pumps, right? While some have been lucky in searching eBay, and vintage, or online shops. I never have, and I feel like I’ve been looking, to some degree, since that first trip to the Smithsonian when I was twelve!

Original Innes Shoe, with Michael Shaw's Slippers (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

So, in my search for a perfect pair of shoes, I eventually decided to have a pair custom made, and through a slipper friend, Randy, I was able to contact shoemaker, Daphne Board of El Diablo Handmade Shoes who has recently made him a pair, and she was more than willing to create a pair for me! – For those interested, Daphne is willing to make more pairs of shoes for replica ruby slippers, and Randy is happy to answer any replicating questions which others might have.

My Replica Shoes

Tod Machin’s diagram of Roberta Bauman’s right ruby slipper, according to Rhys Thomas, was “originally published in the Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1988, Sunday Calendar, page 7, [and later] Christie’s received permission from the LA Times and Tod Machin to reprint the diagram.” Following this same diagram, also printed in Thomas’s The Ruby Slippers of Oz, Daphne recreated the shoes, scaling down the proportions found in the diagram from a 6B to a 5B, the same size as the “Witch’s Shoes,” and roughly the same size as the Smithsonian, and Michael Shaw pairs.

Unpacking the shoes this morning, I couldn’t be happier with the result! My immediate response when pulling them from the box was something I knew, and yet I never intellectualized, as I’ve never actually held the shoes in my hands (obviously): Wow, Judy Garland had tiny feet! In constructing the shoes, the uppers, like the originals, are lined with off-white kid leather, and a red canvas interlining was used for more structural support. The outside of the uppers are made of red georgette, identical to the fabric used on the original shoes for the overlays.

My Replica Shoes

The shoes were made with the georgette as the outer layer, which has not been fused to the canvas to allow me to sew the (many thousand) sequins directly to the georgette without damaging the underlying canvas, or (heaven forbid) the kid leather.

Inside the right slipper, like the original Bauman pair, Daphne has sewn a vintage copy of the Innes shoe label. While other pairs of ruby slippers have a heat stamped copy of the same label in the right shoe, unlike the Bauman pair, I honestly didn’t know how the stamp is to be replicated, so elected to make this pair with the woven label.

Innes Shoe Co. Label in right shoe.

Original Label in Right Bauman Shoe (Image: Christie's East)

Replica Shoe Sole

My shoes also, like the original pairs, have leather soles. While the soles have been dyed red, I will still need to paint the heel stoppers red, and I am considering painting the whole of the soles over, both to match the stoppers, and the original soles.

All in all, however, I couldn’t be happier with the shoes, and I can’t wait to get started!