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)
‘Entirely new are the white canvas sandals with wide tape thongs. These indispensible little articles claim an advantage over the old style sandals in the freedom they allow and are very smart in black and white combined. The cork soles are light and offer ample protection from sharp pebbles and shells.’ (Sotoyome Scimitar, 1904)
Here are antique 1920s canvas bathing shoes with cork inside soles. And here‘s a 1920s ad for women’s canvas and 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 more waterproof and easier to sew. 😉
- 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
- sewing thread, needle, scissor
Use a commercial pattern or make your own based on well-fitting ballet flats or slippers.
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.
Lay the outer material on top of the lining fabric and sew round the edges, so that the fabrics won’t shift later.
Bind the top of the bathing shoes – I used white cotton bias binding.
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.
Now cut the cork soles from the cork tile. I made the sole as ‘straights‘ without left or right foot shaping.
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.
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.
Here’s the sole with the stitching.
You could also add an insole.
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, like some of the 1920s bathing shoes in the link above have. What do you think?
Here you’ll find my tutorial for modern Huarache-type bathing shoes and DIY espadrilles shoes with braided jute and cork soles.