The espadrille experiment

Apparently, the fashionistas have discovered espadrilles, so I thought I’d try making some.  They are perfect shoes for slopping around in in hot weather, even for those of us who aren’t of a fashionable disposition.  Looking at a pair of my dear husband’s, neither the rope soles nor the canvas uppers seem very complicated. Although nowadays the majority of these shoes are churned out in factories, they were originally made by hand with basic equipment and so should lend themselves to being cobbled together (geddit???) at home. I hope.

Working like a Spanish peasant

Jute twineThe first step is making a suitable cord that can be coiled into a sole. My ultimate aim is to start with fibre for this, perhaps nettle fibre, but the pundits say nettles shouldn’t be harvested (in the northern hemisphere) before August and I don’t have the patience to wait. Instead, I’ve bought a large ball of garden twine. It is just described as “natural”, but I’m guessing it’s jute, which is what espadrille soles are traditionally made of.

The twine is too thin to use as it is, and the authentic soles I have examined appear to be made from a plaited twine. The trouble with plaiting a long length is you have to estimate how much you’ll need and then cut three lengths that you think will be enough. I had no idea how much I’d need when I started out, and didn’t want to cut my twine to waste. I considered twisting it and folding it back on itself to make a double or quadruple thickness cord, but that’s quite a fiddly process and it also requires estimating how much cord is needed to start with. Then I remembered that lucetting produces a nice firm cord from a single end of yarn, and it has the advantage of being square in section which should mean it can be coiled easily without twisting.

Cord-making with a lucet, and DPNs


Lucet made from a door wedge

I first saw a lucet being demonstrated at Yarndale a couple of years ago and, as is my wont, made one shortly afterwards and gave it a go. See my Instructables project for how to make an inexpensive and easy lucet cord-making tool from a door wedge, and how to use it.

I started making some jute cord with my lucet but found it quite slow going because the twine is rough and totally non-stretchy, which makes it hard on the hands. Also, I don’t use a lucet often enough to be quick. But it’s possible to make a cord that is very like lucet cord – possibly identical – with double pointed knitting needles using the I-cord technique. I gave that a try and found it easier and quicker. You just work an I-cord over two stitches instead of the usual three. I knitted into the back of the loops to make it firmer. This still made the tip of my left index finger a little sore from pushing the tip of the needle, but I’ve found that it’s manageable as long as I don’t I-cord for more than half an hour at a time. Using metal needles helps too, the twine slides over them more easily than wood or bamboo.

Espadrille soleSo far I’ve made about three and a half metres of cord, which is almost enough to make one sole as you can see from the photo above. I’m planning to stitch it together with linen thread and then apply PVA to the base to give it some degree of waterproofing. Watch this space! I like the idea of making shoes to match my outfit, but I expect I will end up with shoes that match my curtains instead, given the need to use a strong fabric for the uppers.

About yorkshirecrafter

I live and work in West Yorkshire.  I've always enjoyed crafts of all types, from woodwork to lace-making.  I also enjoy anything mathematical, which makes knitting a favourite pastime, especially complicated designs.  I've been advising businesses and industry on environmental matters for 30 years and also have an interest in green living, especially where it saves me money. I live with my husband and our Maine Coon in a 100-year-old cottage that constantly needs something doing to it.  Fortunately, I enjoy DIY too.
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2 Responses to The espadrille experiment

  1. Drive Fast Die Pretty says:

    I’m not sure how old this post is but having just stumbled across it I thought to check in the see how the experiment progressed? 2 years ago Intoo thought that ulcer cord would make a great sole for Espadrilles (great minds think alike?) and so engaged in some experimentation of my own… I agree about the sore fingers- opted For 2 crochet hooks- the DPN idea is genius (I’m rather single minded when in the midst of crafting perseveration) so thanks for that nugget. I’m wonder how you decided to join the cord after coiling? I went the old school route and sewed them together on the horizontal plane but I tell you- that’s a pain in itself. Got any updates?

    • Great minds indeed! I sewed the coils together horizontally too, but I didn’t (and still don’t) have a long enough needle so it wasn’t very successful. Apparently, what’s required is a mattress needle. My soles ended up rather distorted, and too floppy. I intend to have another go if I ever track down a mattress needle. See my 16 August 2015 post for an update.

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