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!


Smithsonian Slippers - Left Bow

Clearly, this blog has not been updated in quite some time. I have been contacted by various individuals asking, rightfully, if it ever would be! Let me put those fears to rest. No, I haven’t lost interest in the project, and no, I have not simply given up. For the past few months, I have been, much like everyone else, waiting. Some months ago, in December, I ordered a run of stones for the bows, custom made to the shape, size, and color, of the originals. With the help of slipper friend John Henson, I thought I had all the specifics the stone cutters would need to accurately replicate the stones. Well, I was half right. I provided the correct specifications, they just don’t seem to have completely listened…

Smithsonian Left Bow (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

The glass stones themselves should have a rectangular table-top cut, with a small hole at either end for threading. The original stones are flat-backed, and gold-foiled. The stones I received, while the right size, were not, unfortunately, quite the right shape.

Bow Stone Diagram

The stones I have, after nearly six months of waiting, had been cut incorrectly. Instead of flat-backed (as shown above), the stones have small facets on the back, making them both inaccurate, and much more difficult to sew down, than the originals, since each side is beveled! Given the errors to the shape of the stones, they are now being recut, and I should have them in yet another month or so. So, more waiting! I must give the company its due though, they are recutting the stones at no charge, and it was a genuine mistake, which they readily admitted, and are doing their best to rectify, so, no harm done.

(Still Unfinished) Replica Slippers, (Beside the Maltese Falcon)

In the meantime, the shoes remain unfinished, and while we wait, I will be practicing sewing the bow design, using the incorrectly cut stones for sizing, (as they are the right size, despite their imperfections), to get the design and technique of them down, before I create the final bows.

So, that explains the wait. But I really am still committed, as ever, to finishing the shoes. I began seriously considering recreating the slippers nearly a year ago now, and they still aren’t finished. If you had told me that a year ago, I would have thought you crazy, but, for now, the work continues…


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, the sequining of the replicas is now quite progressed. I’ve continued to work up the sides of the shoes, working on all four sides successively. At this point I have almost reached the top of the back of the upper on both heels, and this being the case, I am now working on completing both lower heels before finishing the uppers above them. In doing so, I’m hoping to cover the top edge of the lower heel with the edge of the sequins from above, giving the sequins the same (largely) seamless transition between the upper and the heel found on the authentic pairs.

Smithsonian Slippers (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Thus far, I have sequined the  lower heel of the left shoe, and am currently working on completing the right. To do so, I have followed much the same system I have set up for the rest of sequining, establishing each line of sequining with a thin line of painter’s tape, and sewing the sequins along its edge. For the heels, like on the vamp, I work on each side consecutively.

Replica Slipper

On each heel I established the design with a single line of sequins, basing the design on that found on the left Smithsonian heel. Each heel, on each pair of slippers, from what I can see, varies slightly in the exact angle of this design, and I simply chose that which I found most aesthetically pleasing.

Replica Slipper

From this, I then worked outward, sewing the design on each side of the heel, before attempting the inverted ‘V’ shaped portion of the design. When doing so, as before, I simply sewed a single line on each side, working up the heel (effectively sewing upside down), tucking the last sequin of each row under the preceding perpendicular row. Like the toes, the heel proved slightly tricky, but the result is well worth the effort!

Replica Slippers

Replica Slipper

From here, I will work to finish the right heel, replicating the design I have created on the left. Afterward, I will work to finish the upper of the heels, before completing the sequining with the single finishing strand run around the opening of each shoe! Then, on to the bows!

Replica Slippers

Finally, this morning, I finished the sequining of the toes. Now, of course, this region of the shoes is far from finished. Once the body of the shoe has been sequined, I will still have to run a finishing strand of sequins around the opening, and, of course, affix the bows to the vamp. (I don’t know why the shoes look pink in photos, they really are blood red in person. I just didn’t have a Technicolor camera, nor the massive keg lights required to get the color right.)

Replica Slippers

To sequin this area, I followed the sequining method I previously outlined, placing down a thin line of painter’s tape to guide each individual line of sequins. Doing so, I worked forward (toward the toe) from just in back of the shoe opening. As I mentioned before, I alternated between sides of the shoe, finally allowing the two sides to meet just in the middle of the vamp. Working down the front of the toe, I continued to alternate sides, creating a stair step pattern where the strands of sequins meet, the final sequin of each strand tucking under (to a greater or lesser extent) the last sequin of the strand coming from the other side. This method, while it may sound slightly confusing, is identical to that found on the original shoes, and becomes apparent when studying photos of the original shoes.

Smithsonian Slippers (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

From here, I will work toward the back of each shoe, alternating sides as I work, to allow both sides to reach the back of the shoe at the same time, in the same way I alternated at the toe, which will allow me to replicate the pattern found at the front of the toe on the back of the shoes on the upper just above the heel, just as found on the original slippers.

Replica Slippers

(Image: Source Unknown)

The pair of ruby slippers on perpetual display in the Popular Culture wing of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, sometimes referred to as ‘The People’s Shoes’, bear a plaque that reads simply:

Sixteen-year-old Judy Garland wore these sequined shoes as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. In the original book by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy’s magic slippers are silver. For the Technicolor movie, they were changed to ruby red to show up more vividly against the yellow-brick road. One of several pairs used during filming, these size-five shoes have felt soles, suggesting they were used for dance sequences.

However, this omits a great many fascinating details of this particular pair of slippers. These ruby slippers, like the Arabian pair, were found by costumer Kent Warner, who, according to Rhys Thomas, “presented them to the MGM auction officials saying, ‘Look what I found! The ruby slippers!’ Nothing more. He let the auctioneer, and everyone else, assume they were the one, and only pair” (“Treasure”).

As displayed at the MGM auction (Image: Courtesy of Rhys Thomas)

The shoes are in poor condition, relative to other known pairs, clearly, Thomas believes, well worn by Judy Garland during the production (A&E’s “Treasure”). They are widely believed to be the first, and principal, pair worn during the making of the film and, therefore, were in all likelihood, worn more than any other pair known to exist.

These shoes are, according to Thomas, size 5C, and 5BC, and are, therefore, obviously, not a matching set. “On the white kid [leather] lining of the right shoe, the manufacturer’s number has been stamped 5C 15250; on the lining of the left [shoe] the number is 5C 11869 D536” (221). Importantly, according to Thomas, “the numbers in the right shoe of the pair owned by [Michael] Shaw […] [match] the numbers in the left shoe owned by the Smithsonian Institution,” further, “Shaw’s left shoe […] match[es] the Smithsonian’s right shoe” (225). Thomas’s findings, “clearly suggest[…] the shoes themselves were mixed and matched before the sequined overlays were attached” (225).

Kent Warner, holding the ruby slippers, at the MGM auction (Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)

This is particularly apparent given the overlays themselves do not match; while “the Smithsonian overlays are rough and worn[,] Shaw’s overlays [were (as of 2005)] in perfect condition” (225). While “the shoes are basically the same size, they are nevertheless subtly different” (225), with the left possessing an overall sleeker appearance, with a slightly higher heel, and longer toe than the right. They are also noticeably sequined differently, with the left shoe sequined very nicely, while the right is more haphazard, with notable gaps in the stitching exposing a great deal of the underlying georgette.

This ultimately means “that Judy Garland wore a wider shoe on her left foot than on her right for [much of] the production of the movie” (225). This also supports the belief “that the basic ruby slipper – the French heeled pump – was purchased in quantity by either Western Costume or MGM, depending on who [one wants to] believe made the shoes” (225) and after dying the white silk shoes red, the overlays were attached without much regard for properly matching the pairs (225). Such disregard, however, seems to support Aljean Harmetz’s claim that the shoes were made by the costumers at MGM.

(Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Harmetz wrote simply, in The Making of the Wizard of Oz, “It was in Mrs. Cluette’s Beading Department that Judy Garland’s ruby slippers were made” (239). Marian Parker, who worked in the Wardrobe Department at MGM in 1938, is quoted as telling Harmetz, “The sequins were on a very fine chiffon” [It is, in reality, silk georgette], “and the beaders were working frantically with their little needles pushing those red sequins onto the shoes. They had hoped to get by with just spraying a leather shoe red, but that didn’t work” (239). Vera Mordaunt, who also worked in the Wardrobe Department, told Harmetz, “The first thing, they painted some shoes with a kind of shiny patent-leather paint. They must have tried five or six ways to make the shoes. I think the final shoes were satin. They were definitely some kind of cloth. The chiffon with the sequins was formed in the shape of a shoe and then sew[n] onto the cloth shoe” (qtd in Harmetz, 239)

The Smithsonian Shoes, as worn by Judy Garland (Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)

Thomas believes, and photographs support, that the shoes now in the Smithsonian are, the same slippers auctioned by the David Weisz Co, at MGM, on the same soundstage were Judy Garland once began her trip down the yellow-brick road in Munchkinland, on Sunday, May 17, 1970 (221). While “nobody really expected much action from the frumpy pair of sequined shoes” (“Treasure”) they sold for $15,000 (and the bidder was authorized to pay up to $22,000) (Thomas 26; 40). They instantly became the most valuable piece of Hollywood memorabilia in existence (“Treasure”). The anonymous buyer of the slippers is considered by Smithsonian officials “to be the only link between the museum and MGM” (221). The shoes were donated to the Smithsonian in December, 1979, potentially for tax reasons, according to the museum’s technician in charge of the donation, Susan Schreiber (43), and have since been on near-continuous exhibition at the museum.

Physically, undoubtedly following Adrian’s revised designs for the slippers, “the uppers and heels of the Smithsonian pair are covered with red silk faille and overlaid with the hand-sequined georgette. The leather soles are painted red, with orange felt adhered to the front foundation” (Thomas 221). The felt was added “to deaden the noise made during the dance numbers, as MGM’s yellow-brick road was actually made of plywood” (“Treasure”). Further, “[a] black rubber cap, [painted red,] is on the heel of the right shoe, but missing on the left. The bow on the right shoe has 43 rhinestones surrounding bugle beads, and three large red [rectangular] stones in the center; the left bow has 41 rhinestones surrounding the bugle beads and three large stones. Rhinestones are missing on both bows” (Thomas 221).

Concerning the Innes label, it is found “[i]nside the right slipper[, …] embossed […] reading Innes Shoe Co. Los Angeles, Pasadena, Hollywood. The color has been [almost entirely] worn from the label” (221). Despite Schreiber’s assertion that “I am positive there [are] no marks on the shoes. Judy Garland’s name [is] not on them, no numbers, just the manufacturer’s label,” (qtd in Thomas, 43) along the right side of each shoe is, in fact, written JUDY GARLAND in block letters. While the color has greatly worn away, Garland’s name is still present on the shoes.

While the buyer of the ruby slippers at MGM in 1970 and the donor of the slippers to the Smithsonian Institution are unknown, it can be reasonably assumed, according to Thomas, they are one and the same, lending the shoes a, “somewhat clear providence” (222).

(Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)

I must admit, here and now, these shoes are proving more challenging than I ever expected, and I never thought they would be easy! It seems the pattern I established with the left shoe, has repeated itself with the right. I have removed and resewn all the work found there as well. Let me try and explain some of the process I’ve gone through.

Replica Slippers

Beginning on the shoes, I used painter’s tape to mark out the first line of sequins. The tape actually doesn’t stick to the georgette much at all, so it doesn’t leave any sticky residue, although it does have a tendency to take off some of the red paint on the soles, so I will have to touch them up once the sequining is complete. Once I establish the first line of sequins, I follow that line as a guide for each subsequent row, maintaining the angle (as best I can) around the shoe. While, in theory, this would be fairly straightforward, it’s really not, as the shoe, obviously is not a flat surface. This is one area where creating a proper overlay, as was originally done, would have it’s advantages, as straight lines are much more easily established, and maintained, on flat surfaces (of course) than on the shoe itself. So, I have to constantly check that the angle the design wants to take, due to the shape of the shoe, is authentic with that found on the original shoes. That is where the extremely high-resolution photos of the Smithsonian shoes have been so helpful, as I can see exactly what the design should look like, and make sure I am maintaining the same design.

Left Smithsonian Shoe (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Yet, knowing all of that, I can only guesstimate the first line of sequining, and on the second shoe, I seem to have guessed incorrectly. (If only I’d known at the time!) Working forward from my initial line, upon reaching the toe I found my lines were going across the toe in a slight curve, rather than cutting across it in the angle of the original. So, the work had to be removed and redone to give the design the proper angle, and therefore authenticity. This cycle of trial, error, and repair is probably why I’ve received comments from people who suspect the project is not advancing. It is, but perfection takes time!

To establish the proper line on the shoes (for those who might use the same method to create the slippers, or even for those who would like to glue their sequins), I’ve found it’s best to start this line along the side of the shoe just behind the toe (about at the front of the opening for the foot), as this seems to allow a consistant angle along the toe, and establish the proper angle for the side of the shoe. However, as I’ve worked back toward the heel, I find the shape of the shoe tends to lead to a slight rounding of the design, making maintaining the angle of the design difficult. This same slight rounding of the design is evident on the Smithsonian shoe, so, clearly, it was something the beading women at MGM also encountered when initially creating the shoes.

Replica Ruby Slippers

As of now, I have the left shoe well underway, roughly, 75% sequined. I am also approaching the finish of the right toe. From there, I will work back on both shoes, until I reach where the upper meets the heel. I then plan on sequining the lower heels, before I sequin the upper above, to allow the sequins on the upper to slightly overhang and cover the top threads on the lower heel. But that is a few weeks away yet! For those that are curious, my rate of sewing is about five to eight rows every day, and each shoe has, approximately, a hundred rows, so they take a lot of time!

Later, we will tackle the bows! Who else is excited?! Those have already been a barrel of fun I look forward to sharing, believe me!

(NOTE: Much of the technique described above would later prove faulty, and has since been revised, as the shoes were later entirely stripped and resequined. This post, and others like it, remain to accurately reflect my full experience of replicating the slippers.)

(Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)