by Learning Lead – Katie Yantzi

After my previous mending projects (using embroidery and sashiko stitching, as well as darning), I was feeling ready to tackle a bigger, multi-part mend, and something that would generally cost a bit more to replace: I decided to fix up an old pair of shoes.

As you can see, these shoes have some holes (and some almost-holes) around the toes; there is also some gaping between the edge of the sole and the canvas in places. Now, I have already gotten a few years of wear out of these, so I’m not expecting much. Honestly, if my mending is only enough to make them last for one more season, I’ll consider it a success. I know it’s not uncommon for tennis shoes such as these to wear through after only a year or two, developing holes in the canvas or splitting the soles. But I’d love to give these a second life, and a unique design to boot. 

My plan was to reinforce the holes and worn spots with some fun embroidered sunflowers, re-glue any gaps along the edge of the soles, and also try to take my footwear one step further by giving it a (semi) waterproof coating. I’d heard that you can wax canvas by rubbing the surface with a stick of beeswax (or even a candle, if that’s all you have on hand), and then applying some gentle heat (with a hair dryer, for instance), so I thought I would give it a go.

Picking the colour scheme – the fun part!

I thought that it would help to reinforce the holes in the toes by adding a patch of some sort, so I cut out a small circle from some scrap canvas I had. However, I discovered that this was not necessary, and in fact something I would advise against, to make things a bit easier and for the sake of your fingers! More on that later.

Materials I used:

  • Scrap of canvas
  • Embroidery floss
  • Sashiko needles – they’re a bit heavier than regular embroidery needles, which makes it easier to push them through a heavier fabric like canvas
  • A thimble (sometimes two)
  • a block of beeswax (a candlestick or pillar candle could work, too)
  • hair dryer
  • heavy-duty glue suitable for fabric – I used E6000 (industrial strength adhesive)

I started by attaching the canvas over the centre of the hole with a series of stitches going back and forth from the centre, working around in a circle. This would become the centre of a sunflower.

One of the first things I noticed, though, was how much effort it took to force the needle through not just one but TWO layers of heavy, stiff fabric. My fingers started to hurt a bit while I worked on the first flower! Also, when using embroidery thread, it’s common to split the thread into two pieces (a strand of embroidery floss is made up of six tiny threads; you can pull these apart at the end into two bundles of three threads, and then slowly pull them apart so you have two finer strands). I forgot to do this when I started with the brown thread, which added to the difficulty in getting the needle through. I definitely didn’t make that mistake twice, and always separated my threads after that.

I’m more inclined to wing it when it comes to mending designs, so I initially just jumped right in, but after securing the canvas, I decided to draw out roughly the shape that the rest of the flower would take. I then embroidered the first layer of petals, stitching back and forth to fill in the shape with smooth, even lines. I admit, it was tricky managing the needle inside the toe of the shoe, and not being able to flip my work over to the back side. I had to be careful not to prick my finger on more than one occasion. Once I had a solid layer of embroidery thread filling out the shape of the flower, it was easier to stitch other layers to the first layer of thread rather than going all the way through the canvas, and I did this to add more petals and a black outline around the centre. I also started using thimbles around this point; sometimes just on my pointer finger, sometimes on my thumb as well, to ease the strain on my fingers; it was much easier to push the needle through with them, as my fingers were getting pretty tired at this point (I may even have some calluses to prove it).

Embroidery done, and ready to try the beeswax.

After finishing the embroidery – two sunflowers and some foliage, to cover all of the worn areas – I rubbed the surface with the beeswax. I had to apply quite a bit of pressure to leave wax on the canvas, and stiffer areas like the heel were easier to coat than the toes. I ran the beeswax over the embroidery, too, but very gently – I don’t know if my care was necessary, but I didn’t want to scuff up my careful work!

I figured it was done once I could see a bit of a sheen over the whole shoe, though it was definitely more visible in certain areas. I then ran a hair dryer over the shoe and watched as the wax melted and darkened the canvas slightly, right before my eyes.

I purposely mended one shoe at a time so that I could compare the results to the other shoe, and now it was time to test my waterproofing work. I splashed some water over the toes of both shoes, and honestly, there wasn’t much difference. The water beaded and ran off the waxed shoe slightly more than the unwaxed shoe, but both still got pretty wet.

Just as I suspected, I had gotten a better coating of wax on the heel of the shoe. The results here were more noticeable: most of the water ran right off the waxed heel, whereas it soaked into the heel of the other shoe.

Again, the waxed shoe is on the left, and the unwaxed shoe on the right.

I finished by carefully applying some of my industrial-strength adhesive to re-seal the gaps between the edge of the soles and the canvas, wiping away any excess with a napkin (careful not to get any on my hands).

I will probably try to add another coat of wax to see if I can improve the water resistance, but otherwise shoe #1 is done! My embroidery skills could use some more practice, but overall I’m happy with how it turned out, and excited that minor shoe repairs are now something I’m confident I could tackle – yet another way to help make my wardrobe last.