The making of little green shoes

January 11, 2019

Sometimes being ambitious and creative results in wasted supplies and a mess, balled up in the corner to be re-discovered at a later date. Sometimes though, it pays off.

Little Miss, aged 4.5 years, is to be the flower girl in her aunt’s wedding this spring. She has a sweet little white dress with a full tulle skirt and wide deep green ribbon sash, and a selection of three floral headpieces for us to choose from.

The bride will be wearing green shoes herself, and thought it would be cute if the flower girl matched. A quick Google search showed not inexpensive, but not pricey glittery green shoes. So I agreed.

Further research showed those glittery green shoes to be costume quality, and with very poor reviews. A fairly in depth search turned up exactly zero realistic options for little green dress shoes.

Dyable shoes? Nothing I liked in the size. Ballet slippers? Not enough grip.

They’re! So! Green!

And then it came to my attention that people buy expensive leather flats and have them custom painted. So with a little research, I was able to come up with a clever, ambitious plot.

And as a result…I have little green dress shoes. Yes, it worked!

So if you’re curious how to get leather/faux leather shoes in any old color you want, read on.

For this project I used $10 Cat and Jack flats from Target (thank you Cat and Jack, for affordable kids clothing, feminist t-shirts, inclusive styles, and gender neutral basics) and some leather painting supplies from Dharma Trading Co.

The supplies:

I used Angelus brand leather paint, which is simply a flexible acrylic like, as well as the leather preparer/deglazer and matte finisher. To be perfectly honest I’m not 100% certain that the preparer isn’t just acetone and the top coat isn’t just acrylic sealer, but this all cost under $15 so I went with it.

Note: this will not work on suede, it has to be a flat surface.

Step 1, prepped and ready to go.

The process:

First I grabbed a cotton makeup pad and used it to swipe the leather preparer across the surface. Then I applied blue painters tape around the edges to minimize areas where paint would get onto the rubber sole and inner area.

Next up, I took a deep breath, gave the bright green paint a shake and got started. I used a smallish flat paint brush because it’s what I was comfortable with. It was very streaky and I began to worry that black was a poor choice for the base (it was the only choice available, so oh well). I allowed dry time between each coat (10-15 minutes), and on about the 4th coat it began covering nicely. I believe I did about 6 coats and wound up with a nice even finish. There are certain areas where brush strokes are visible, but 1) not nearly as badly as I feared, and 2) who will be looking that close?!

The trick here is lots of thin layers. Don’t rush and glob it on.

Finally, when it was all dry, I applied a thin layer of the matte finisher with my brush and used a paper towel to smooth any areas where it pooled.

Challenge #1: the painters tape did keep the paint off most of the sole, however when I removed the tape it also removed some small areas of paint by the edge. I touched it up so it isn’t an issue. One could also not tape and just be very careful around the edges. Any excess on the sole came off easily with a little of the preparer on a cotton swab.

In progress. You can see that the shoe still looks very dark, and there’s a lot of streaking. The elastic still looks pretty much black.

Challenge #2: this paint isn’t made for elastic. A women’s pump wouldn’t have this issue, nor a fancy flat, but these shoes have elastic edging and elastic across the top of the foot. The first 1-3 layers soaked right in and I was fairly certain wouldn’t work, however after that the color began showing and I was able to get decent coverage. It did affect the feel of the elastic across the foot, but it still has a little give and still serves it’s purpose with no cracking.

And so, Little Miss will have adorable green shoes for the wedding!

My thoughts on painting leather:

  1. Would I buy $200 leather flats and customize them? No. No, I can’t say I would.
  2. Would I buy inexpensive faux leather shoes in a store and consider painting them? If I had reason to, heck yeah!
  3. Do I think this was worth the investment of effort and money? Yes. I got reasonably priced shoes and supplies and the grand total of maybe 2 hours it took me is well worth having the perfect little shoes.
  4. Do I think these will be durable enough for their purpose? Short answer:  yes, I do.

Long answer: I am perfectly confident having her wear these for the wedding. There is no transfer and the color doesn’t seem to be wearing away. The finish looks nice and even and for pictures, they will look great. Assuming they survive the wedding, she can wear them again if she’d like.

And…done! If you look closely you’ll see that the elastic binding the edge is still black on the inside. I chose not to paint all the way down for just in case in changed the texture and made it scratchy. That part of the shoe will never show when worn.

In terms of durability, there is a little something in the back of my head saying that even though this is made for the purpose, it is just acrylic paint and if scraped there may be the possibility of peeling. I am not about to try it though. Referring back to the fact that people paint their pricey flats (which having briefly owned a pair of plain ones, I know the sides of the shoe touches the ground when you walk), I assume that this method must be reasonably durable or there wouldn’t be a thriving market on these custom shoes.

So, all this brings me to my final question.

Does anyone have any leather goods they’d like to be green? Because I know someone with about 4/5 of a container of leather paint, preparer, and finisher left.

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