Turtle Power

I have always found turtles to be fascinating critters. The basic “design” of a turtle is pretty standard – top shell, turtley middle layer, bottom shell – but there is so much room within that model for evolutionary tweaks. Sea turtle flippers! Elongated noses of musk turtles! Extremely powerful jaws of a snapping turtle! Little wiggly bit that looks like a worm and acts like a lure, inside said snapping turtle’s mouth!

It’s no secret to friends and family that I love turtles. I’ve been intrigued by them since I was little. I even worked with the turtles that lived in the little courtyard in my old middle school (before they destroyed it and turned it into more classrooms). Perhaps my love can be traced to the fact that the Nicholas family is turtle clan. Maybe it’s related to that old frog and turtle book Dad used to read to me when I was little. Whatever the reason, turtles have woven their way into and through my life for some time, including influencing my clothing.

Back when I was in high school, Mom bought me some pretty nifty slippers. They are super comfortable, and they are just compact enough that I can go up and down stairs without them catching on the edge of the step (a problem I frequently had with a pair of Scooby Doo slippers I also wore). Plus, who doesn’t love adorable little flippers flopping back and forth when you move?

These little things are one of my favorite things to wear, and have been for some time. So imagine my heartbreak when I noticed that the soles had started to wear out. First, it was just a sense that the original padding on the bottom had disintegrated into powder, leaving only a very thin layer of fabric as insulation against the cold floor. I still walked around in them, though my feet were no longer as warm as they had once been.

Then, one night, I was standing at my worktable and my big toe felt a bit colder than usual. I turned my foot up and wouldn’t you know it? There was my toe, peeking out of an honest to goodness hole in the bottom of my slipper. A quick peek at the bottom of the other slipper showed that it, too, was rather threadbare and my toe was almost ready to show through.

Oh, woe is me!

A couple of years ago, when my turtle slippers had been lost for a few months and I despaired of ever finding them again, I did an online search for similar slippers. All I found was this:turtle-slippers-1-xl

No. Just no. I’m sure that someone, somewhere, finds these an acceptable substitute, but those ones just aren’t going to cut it for me. (For one thing, those heads are way too big and will definitely get caught on the edge of the steps when I go upstairs).

Thankfully, I had found my slippers in the end, but I still lived with the knowledge that, when they finally bit the big one, there were no ideal replacements. Knowing this, I was determined to save my slippers. Apart from the worn bottoms, the slippers are actually in remarkably good condition. People who have seen them tend to be astounded that they are 16 years old.

I know that some folks have pairs of vintage footwear dating back to the 40s and 50s (and some even further back), but most of those shoes are either showing their age, or are in close-to-pristine condition because they weren’t worn as much. These slippers have been worn quite a bit over the course of 16 years, not to mention being thrown around the house, slept on by my old dog, and taken to school/work for pajama days.

I think they’ve survived because I loved them so much.

Since discovering the hole, I hadn’t been wearing the slippers around the house much, but I also hadn’t gotten around to fixing them yet. When the March meeting of Stitch ‘n Time rolled around, with a focus on mending, I figured it was time.

I picked through some of my stash and pulled out two pieces of fabric that I felt would work. They both came from last year’s trip to the Quilters Unlimited show. One of the vendors had a bin of scraps and a bunch of gallon-sized Ziploc bags. Customers could fill a bag with scraps (it had to close) for $5. There were some amazing pieces in there, many of them measuring 1/4-1/2 yard. I picked up a neat print of evergreen trees, and a pre-quilted blue calico/brown paisley scrap. I’m not normally a fan of paisley, but I thought this bit might come in useful for bags, or something similar.

Original soles on top. Notice the hole and the complete lack of any of the original padding.

Original soles on top. Notice the hole and the complete lack of any of the original padding.

I carefully removed the old slipper soles, using my seam-ripper, and laid them out as a pattern for the new ones. I added a little bit more around the edge, to allow for some shrinkage of the original soles. Then, I measured the circumference of the holes on the bottom and cut the tree fabric to just a bit longer. This would form new lining on the inside of the turtles.

New lining pinned and awaiting stitching.

New lining pinned and awaiting stitching.

I pinned the bottom edge of the new lining to the original bottom edge of the slipper and stitched everything together, making sure to overlap the folded edge of the lining at the back of the slipper, to cover any raw edges. Once the lining was attached along the bottom edge, I pulled the rest of the material up and through the center of the slipper. This pulls it out of the way of the next step.

Bottom of the slipper

Bottom of the slipper

I took the new slipper soles and started stitching them in place along one of the long sides, using a back-stitch. When I got to the rounded heel section, I flipped the sole toward the inside, folded the seam allowance under, pinned everything in place, and whip-stitched the rest of the sole.

To finish off the slipper, I flipped everything back over and pulled the lining fabric a little tighter over the stuffing. I folded the top edge under and made a few pleats and tucks around the edge, to take in the excess fabric (the circumference of the sole is naturally larger than that of the opening to the slipper). With those pinned in place, I did another round of whip-stitching, and VOILA!

My turtle slippers are back in business!

The new lining is a tree print.

The new lining is a tree print.

I really like how the new lining fabric looks – the green and tan of the evergreen forest print looks right at home. Originally, I was going to sew the soles on, blue side out. I’m glad I changed it and put the brown paisley on the bottom. I think it works better with the look of the slipper, and the brown/blue paisley won’t show dirt as much as the blue calico side would have. Plus, now there’s a little hint of bright blue peeking out when you look down at the unworn slippers.

The blue side of the new soles, playing peek-a-boo

The blue side of the new soles, playing peek-a-boo

Although I don’t do it as often as I probably should, I really do like mending items. I love being able to extend the life of treasured garments. Our society is so focused on fast-fashion these days, and items that are maybe a little worn or out of date tend to get thrown into the landfill, when it just takes a little work to patch them up or alter a few seams here and there.

All it took was a few hours during an otherwise sleepy Saturday, and my turtle slippers look (and feel) brand new.

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