Upcycling Shoes with Machine Embroidery

I got the idea for this revamp on a lonely night bus ride home. After one of the worst journeys ever, in which I got lost without the internet somewhere in the middle of the lonely City at around 2 am, I was almost home when a million of very loud slightly drunk probably very posh 20somethings entered the bus. The only good thing about them was a wonderful pair of shoes the loudest of them wore. Suede flats with an embroidered tiger right in the front. I had one of the “my god, why haven’t I thought of sticking some embroidery on shoes before” moments, but when I found them online, I realized it was because I’m not a designer for a world renown fashion label. They’re Kenzo. Obviously. (I, also obviously, know nothing about fashion these days)

I knew I had to try something similar out on these shoes I once bought for 5 pounds and never wore. I could literally loose nothing. I’m not a fan of tigers, or any Asian inspired embroidery for that matter, it reminds me too much of Chinese restaurants. So I choose a bird. I like embroidering birds on clothes. You might recognize the style of this one form my shorts, and that’s because the design is from the same Urban Threads line (I bought the whole pack:)).

On the of chance of this really working out, I took pictures along to way, to make kind of a tutorial. So here it is:

You’ll need

– a nice, solid embroidery design
-a pair of boring ballerina flats
-some fabric in the same colour as the shoes or a complementing colourful
-embroidery thread
-heavy weight cut away stabilizer
-strong glue
-clothes pins or hair clips
-all the usual equipment (you know, embroidery machine, scissor,…)
-pliers, possibly

1. Get a design. If you wanted to make them more similar to the Kenzo originals, you can easily find a tiger embroidery designs on line. In general, you have to find something that has pretty solid outlines, but the rest is up to you. Measure the width of the front of your shoes, and subtract approximately 2 cm from it. Get a design with that approximate width, or resize the design to it. Remove any existing decorations from the shoes.

2. Stitch the deign out on a fabric of your choice twice- once the original way, and once mirrored. (If you have a symmetrical design, mirroring won’t do much:)) I chose to use fabric of the same colour as the shoes, but I think you could get great results with a different, complementary colour. Use heavy weight cut away stabiliser. Iron on, If you have a choice. (I didn’t, I had the stabiliser at home:))

3. Cut the fabric on the bottom of the design around the design as close to it as possible. (You can shape the top later, so that it looks good on your feet). Put one of the shoes on and experiment with the positioning of the embroidery until you find a place where it looks good. (you could obviously plan the whole thing out beforehand, but I’m not that kind of person).

Don’t just randomly place the design on the shoe so that it looks good. If you look at my shoes without them being on my feet, it seems the design would work better if it was placed a bit lower, and a bit more angled, but then it would look weird on the foot.

Secure it to the shoe with scotch tape, take the shoe off. When you take it off, stick a pin into it, just to be safe it stay where it should. Mirror the position of the design on the other shoe.

4. With a strong glue, glue the design to the shoe. (It doesn’t have to be SUPER strong, you’re also going to stitch it later). Place some clothespins (or hair-clips) on it to hold it down and let it dry for a few hours.


5. With a thread the same colour as the fabric, stitch the design to the shoe. Use small stitches on the right side and place them as close together as you can, but in a places where they won’t be noticeable from afar. Use pliers for help, if you find it hard to get the needle through the fabrics.

6. Enjoy your new designer shoes! 🙂


Things I might do differently next time: add a second layer of fabric under the design before glueing it to the shoes. Possibly planing everything out more and choosing a shoes that fits on the shoes a bit more.

also, here’s a shitty picture of me wearing them. They survived a night out, so I guess the whole thing is pretty sturdy and was definitely worth my time. (ps, I’m wearing a new shirt I’ll have to blog about sometime. and new hair. )


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