As everyone who has followed this blog is aware, these slippers have taken well over thirteen months, and several hundred, if not thousands of hours to complete. (I won’t even attempt to do the actual math – it would be insane!) But, what you see as the end result in these slippers was not a straight forward journey from Point A to Point B; at nearly every step, things were sewn, and then stripped, and then resewn, to ensure that nearly every detail (as far as was possible) was as authentic to the look of the original shoes as I could get it. While the finished shoes hold (roughly) 4,600 sequins, it’s safe to say I sewed 10,000 – 15,000 sequins along the way, to make sure the angle and spacing of each individual sequin was exactly where I wanted it to be. Do you realize how crazy that is? No, seriously, think about it…

Based, as they are, on Tod Machin’s diagram of Roberta’s shoes, they bear a striking resemble to that pair, and I honestly couldn’t be happier, after all that work, of how they came out.  But, that said, they are currently on eBay. I had placed an auction shortly after their initial completion, which did not end with a winner. The current auction is listed at a lower opening bid (just over $300) and with no reserve.

So, if you’ve followed me on this journey, and you’d love to make these slippers your own, now is your opportunity. The auction ends this weekend, and it is open to anyone around the world, and rest assured the shoes will be shipped, fully insured, to their new home.

Genuinely, I’m sad to see them go, and if times weren’t what they are, I would happily keep the slippers, but I’m hoping the slippers can find someone else who will appreciate them and take the same care with them that I did in creating them.

This blog should provide any potential buyers a wealth of information about the slippers, but should anyone have any questions, feel free to contact me!

To go directly to the auction: click here!

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The (almost complete) replica ruby slippers

Anyone who remotely knows the ruby slippers is familiar with their distinctive art deco bows, and those bows, more than any other aspect of the slippers, have stressed and worried me, giving me (truly) sleepless nights. I have, in all honesty, been seriously studying the bows specifically as long as I’ve entertained the notion of replicating the slippers. They are the one aspect of the slippers which must be perfect, or the whole project turns from a wardrobe replication to a clumsily completed craft project. That would never be acceptable!

In Rhys Thomas’s Ruby Slippers of Oz, a former employee of MGM’s leather room, Eddie Fisher, who along with his ‘co-worker Nick Samson were given the job of producing bows for the ruby slippers,’ relates much about their construction.

According to Fisher, ‘Two weeks before shooting began, […] two young men from the wardrobe department came to the leather room. They opened two shoe boxes and placed on the work bench two pairs of [ruby] slippers with bows of red silk ribbons. They said Adrian had made a last minute change on the bows and showed us a sketch by Adrian of an entirely different kind of bow…

Adrian's 'entirely different' bow

‘The sketch showed a leather bow shaped somewhat like butterfly wings that lay flat on the shoes and implanted around the edges were red rhinestones. In the center were three raised red stones that glittered like jewels, and between the edges and red stones were implanted bugles.

‘At a glance one could see by the sketch this new bow, or buckle as Nick and I called it, was a great improvement over the red silk ribbon bows. We were requested to make four pairs of identical bows as shown by the sketch.’

‘We took a section of good grained 1/8-inch leather and dyed it a bright red. With our leather tools we made all those indentions of a pattern from the sketch. Next we painstakingly implanted all those rhinestones, bugle beads, and red stones in the center that were supplied by wardrobe’ (63-64).

At first glance, this passage seems immensely helpful, and yet what is suggested here is that the various jewels affixed to each bow were sewn directly to the leather bows. So, that’s where I started, taking a 1/8th inch strip of leather, painting it red, and trying my best to sew each of the beads through the leather itself. If this sounds like an impossible task that’s because, well, it is! 1/8-inch leather is just shy of 3mm thick. That’s not thin, and far too thick to stick a needle through. The needles just broke, period. After much frustration, and more than a few bloody fingers, I realized my assumptions might have been off…

I made two erroneous assumptions here, one that 1/8th inch actually means 1/8th inch. It doesn’t. Rhys Thomas himself was kind enough to enlighten me; the leather in reality would have been thinner than this, and probably pounded to make it more malleable to be worked. John Henson corrected my second assumption, pointing out the overlay wrapped around each bow. Of course, given that the sequining was sewn to the shoes via an overlay, it’s far from surprising that the bows would be the same. I personally have seen two of the original pairs in person, and yet I never realized that detail.

Over the past few months, with John’s irreplaceable assistance (In many ways, these shoes really have become a collaborative project, and they truly wouldn’t be remotely what they are without John’s help!), I have (thus far) created three finished bow overlays, which I have then attached (with varying levels of success) to the underlying leather. At present, the replica slippers sport two of the completed replica bows, but (being me) I’m not quite pleased with the bow on the left shoe, so I am currently sewing a replacement overlay which I will soon sew to the shoe before I finish the shoes off with their felt soles.

They aren’t quite finished yet, and they’re already better than I could have ever imagined!

The first bow, under construction!

I began the bows by modifying the stones I received to bring them even more in line with the originals. Like mine, the original stones are simple craft stones, made of red glass. Unlike mine, as I mentioned in a previous post, they have a gold-foil backing. Fearing that the replica stones lack of such a backing might alter the way in which light reflected through them, I felt it necessary to add the gold to the back of each stone before proceeding with the bows. To do so, I purchased a small booklet of 24-caret gold leaf, (because gold, obviously, is expensive!) and used size and lacquer, to apply it to the back of each of the stones. Whether the gold on the backs of the original stones is real, I don’t know, and I certainly doubt, but mine is!

Gold-leafed replica stones

I readily admit, I am no expert in applying gold leaf, particularly on a surface so tiny, which accounts for why the edges of the stones are not as clean as they could be, but given that none of this will be – remotely – visible on the finished bows, I’m not concerned. I honestly tried to go back and add a bit of leaf to clean up the edges, but this got some of the leaf on the sides of the stones, which I then had to meticulously clean back off and relaquer, and when this was done, some along the very edges came off as well, so I accepted the slightly shabby edges. Again, none of this will be remotely visible, and the purpose of the gold was to alter the reflection of the stones, which it does, so all is well!

Bow in Progress. (Forgive the color and focus, this image is barely two inches wide)

Once this was done, (which took longer than you would expect, but what doesn’t?) I began the bows in earnest. I have begun sewing the bows, stone by stone, beginning with the central stones, then the rhinestones around the central stones, and then the wings. (Thanks to John Henson for his guidance here, as everywhere!)

So far, I have completed the center of the first bow, along with the rhinestones of one ‘wing.’ I with proceed by sewing the rhinestones of the left wing, and then fill it in with the other central stones, and finally the bugles.

I’m aware that this doesn’t really look like much of an ‘update’ BUT, consider that the misplacement of any stone by as little as a half millimeter will result in the bows looking crooked or crammed, so most (if not all) of the stones have been sewn more than once to ensure their proper placement. (This line of thinking further explains why the sequins took me seven MONTHS of full-time work to sew!)

For now, let the sewing continue!

Replica Bow Stones

I was contacted a few days ago, that the custom cut stones for the bows are finished, and, more importantly, finally cut to the exact specifications of the originals! Ultimately, it only took them three attempts to cut them authentically, after I initially placed the order last December! But, judging from the stones once I recieved them, I honestly couldn’t be happier. The cut, this time, is exact to the originals. So, now the bows begin, right? Well… not quite.

Original Bow Stone

On the original cut red glass stones used on the ruby slippers, each stone is gold-backed. (Look closely at the lower edge of the stone in the photo above)  Mine, as you can see, are not. Initially, I thought close enough was, well, close enough. But I’m a stickler for detail, and it occured to me that without the gold backing, the stones would not reflect light in the same way as the originals (or MIGHT not, and I don’t like those odds). so, I’ve decided (after consulting with slipper expert John Henson) to add gold leaf to the back of each stone individually. Doing so will be (relatively) simple, so this afternoon I’ve ordered the gold leaf and will be applying it to the back of the stones as soon as it arrives.

So, again, we wait, but not (remotely) as long this time! In the meantime, I’ll be working on a mock-up of the bow, now that I have the stones and can size everything out! I, for one, am quite excited to be approaching the finish!

Replica Slippers

After seven months of near constant work, the replica Innes shoes are now fully sequined. It took much longer than I ever expected, but I have to admit I’m quite pleased with them!

Replica Heels (in progress)

To begin finishing the sequining, as with the toe and lower heel, I worked alternatively from each side of the shoe, working from the top of the upper down the back of the shoe, creating much the same stair-step pattern found elsewhere on the toe of the shoes. Once this was complete, I then sewed a finishing strand at the top of the heel to cover all the knots sewn there from the threads on the lower heel.

Fully Sequined Replica Slippers

Once this process was complete on both shoes, I then ran the finishing thread along the top of the opening of each shoe. In doing so, I made sure the sequins did not stick up past the top edge of the shoe, rather, I sewed them in such a way that about a millimetre of the shoe’s red fabric is visible just above the finishing row of sequins, just as is the case on the original shoes. Ensuring this clean line at the opening required that I sew each finishing strand at least twice, as I found I was dissatisfied with how the sequins were laying initially, but resewing them resolved this.

Dorothy (and the Wicked Witch) as costumed during Richard Thorpe's period as director of Oz.

At present, without their famous bows, the slippers are nearly identical to those used during the first two weeks of shooting of The Wizard of Oz under Richard Thorpe (12 October 1938 – 24 October 1938). Granted, I have yet to add the orange felt to each front foundation, as I will do so at the same time I sew on the bows, but, I certainly feel the shoes are already quite an accomplishment, and I very pleased with them so far!

I will next begin working on the bows, and the work on them has slightly begun, as I have already acquired the required bugle beads and rhinestones. However, I have yet to receive the central stones, as I am having them custom made for the shoes, so completion of the bows, and therefore the shoes, is currently delayed until I receive them. But, thankfully, it should only be a delay of, at most, a month, so the light at the end of the tunnel is, slowly, approaching!

Replica Slippers

 

Replica Slippers

Following the same method I outlined in the previous post, I have now sequined the heel of both shoes, and I must say they both look markedly authentic, when comparing the design I created with that found in reference images of the Smithsonian shoes.

Replica Heels

Next, I plan to complete both uppers, by joining both sides of the design at the heel, in much the same stair step pattern found on the vamp at the center of the toe. I have intentionally sequined the upper to the front edge of the heel, and then sequined the heel itself, before continuing with the upper. I am hoping to create some level of seemlessness between the upper and heel by now completing the upper in such a way to allow the first sequin of each row on the upper heel to overlay the top of the heel ever so slightly, to cover the threads at the very top of the heel itself. We will see how this will turn out, but I am quite confident in it!

Smithsonian Shoes (Image: Source Unknown)

Once this has been done, I will then run the finishing edge of sequins around the opening of each shoe, before commencing with the construction of the bows!

Replica Heels

 

Replica Slippers

As can be seen above, at present there is little to report on the progress of my replica slippers. Some time ago I restarted the left shoe, and I’m now closing in on completing the second toe (finally). Let’s just hope this time, I’m satisfied.

All that being said, I was recently asked by a slipper friend to provide a more detailed guide of my sequining process, so I thought it best to share it here.

On the photo to the left, you’ll notice, for every line of sequins I sew, I place a line of blue painter’s tape, to ensure the lines are perfectly straight. (I usually thin the tape moreso than in the photo to allow it to follow the curves of the shoe more easily.) In laying down the tape, I always make sure the measurement between the center of the last line of sequins, and the edge of the tape (which will effectively become the measurement from the center of one sequin to the middle of that next to it once they are sewn into position) is always, consistently, 4.5 mm. Sometimes it is a hair less, but never more. This provides an ever-so-slight overlap of the sequins, which follows the authentic pattern found on the original shoes, particularly the Smithsonian left shoe, and the Witch’s shoes. It’s most important that this measurement is consistent along the length of the tape, so the resulting line of sequins is always parallel. Anything over 4.5mm, and there will be gaps between sequins, particularly up near the shoe opening.

As I thread each individual sequin, I make sure that its bottom edge rests just along the top edge of the threading hole of the sequin below it.

Once in position, I mark just above the sequin with a Sharpie. (I use red, just in case it might get on the shoe.)

I then pull the threaded sequin away from the shoe, and sew RIGHT next to the marked line. This ensures that the sequin ends up in exactly the right place. I then pull the thread through, making sure the sequin is in the right position, as they have a tendency to want to lay in the opposite direction.

Then repeat this process 4,599 times, or so! While different authentic shoes seem to have different sequining patterns, – the right Smithsonian shoe and Bauman pairs are notably more jumbled than others, with the sequins overlapping much more so, vertically, than on other pairs- this sequining pattern above most closely matches the pattern found on the left Smithsonian shoe, along with large areas of the Witch’s shoes.

The same process, as applied on the toe.

This technique works well up the sides of the shoes. Both the heels and toes, are slightly more difficult. For the toe, the tape must be cut as slender as possible (about 2mm, or smaller), and applied to allow the sequins to follow the authentic design. The same technique can be used on the heels as well. Be careful that the tape does not touch the previously sewn sequins; it will stick to them very firmly, and may pull the strands loose when the tape is removed.

Hopefully others find this guide, short as it is, helpful!

Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.