How To Make Edwardian/ 1920s Bathing Shoes With Cork Sole

How To Make Edwardian Bathing Shoes With Cork Sole

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to make 1900s – 1920s bathing slippers with cork soles.

‘Bathing shoes or slippers were generally worn when the shore was rough and uneven. In 1871 manila sandals were worn, but the most functional bathing shoes are said to have been […] thick unbleached cotton duck with cork soles. […] Slippers for walking in the sand were “mules” […] sewn to cork soles. […]The stockings […] were worn with a variety of bathing shoes, sandals, or slippers when bathing off a rocky shore. Foot coverings were usually made of white canvas; the slippers were held on by a spiral arrangement of braid or ribbon about the ankles, while the laced shoes were often made with heavy cork soles.’ (Women’s Bathing and Swimming Costume, 1968)

Here are antique 1920s canvas bathing shoes with cork inside soles. And here‘s a 1920s ad for women’s canvas bathing slippers and women’s sateen bathing slippers with ‘cork soles. McKay sewed.’ I think for the next shoes I’m using the Blake/ McKay construction method. Then the shoes will be easier to construct 😉 and more waterproof.

Cork soles seem to never go out of fashion: Here are 1930-50s rubber bathing shoes with cork soles, 1950s net bathing shoes with cork soles and modern ballet flats and sneakers with cork soles.

And two Victorian/ Edwardian bathing shoes with jute soles: 1910 linen espadrilles bathing shoes with braided jute soles and Victorian bathing shoes with hemp or jute soles.

bathing shoes materials

You’ll need:

  • cotton fabric (I used the same blue cotton fabric which I used for my Edwardian bathing suit)
  • sturdy cotton fabric (I used white cotton twill)
  • bias binding
  • cork tile
  • awl
  • sewing thread, needle, scissor
  • pattern

make bathing shoe pattern

Use a commercial pattern or make your own based on well-fitting ballet flats or slippers.

1900s bathing shoe pattern

Cut your pattern pieces including the seam allowance. At the front the fabric is folded, so there’s no seam. At the top there’s also no seam allowance as this will be bound with bias binding. You’ll need to cut a lining fabric (twill) and outer material (blue cotton) for each shoe, so you’ll have four fabric pieces.

diy cotton bathing slippers

Lay the outer material on top of the lining fabric and sew round the edges, so that the fabrics won’t shift later.

bind bathing shoes

Bind the top of the bathing shoes – I used white cotton bias binding.

flat felled seam bathing shoe

Sew a flat felled seam at the back of each shoe upper. Bathing shoes usually had a flat felled seam at the back, like these antique bathing shoes.

cut cork soles from cork tile

Now cut the cork soles from the cork tile. I made the sole as ‘straights‘ without left or right foot shaping.

cork sole awl make holes

Pierce holes into the cork sole with an awl. Don’t space the holes too close together or too close to the edge, or the cork will tear out. Here you can see the stitching underneath the sole of an antique Edwardian swim shoe.

sew fabric upper to cork sole

Now sew the fabric upper to the cork sole. I found sewing the front of the shoe to the sole was the most difficult part.

cork sole stitching bathing shoe

Here’s the sole with the stitching.

You could also add an insole.

eyelets bathing shoes

Edwardian and 1920s bathing shoes usually had some lacing, such as these 1920s bathing shoes. So I added two eyelets on each side of the shoe. I’m thinking about embroidering an anchor at the front of the shoes, as some of the 1920s bathing shoes in the link above have. What do you think?

1920s bathing shoes with cork sole
The finished bathing shoes

Here you’ll find my tutorial for modern Huarache-type bathing shoes, and DIY espadrilles shoes with braided jute and cork soles.

2 thoughts on “How To Make Edwardian/ 1920s Bathing Shoes With Cork Sole

  1. Since you made these almost a year ago, can I ask how the cork sole has held up over time? I’m just starting to play around with making my own shoes and I’d like to try some cork, but it seems like it would fall to pieces really fast, especially if it gets wet?

    1. I made these bathing shoes just for my Edwardian bathing suit, so I’ve worn them just once for some photos. But I made other shoes with cork soles, such as these espadrilles which I plan to wear this summer, when it hopefully stops raining soon (here it has rained for weeks now! 🙁 ). And, like you, I’m fearing that the cork soles aren’t durable, so I’m thinking about making shoes with leather soles. If you make your own shoes, I’d like to see them! 🙂

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