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Sew Your Own Spats

Updated on March 19, 2014

Why make spats?

Spats are fabric coverings that button over a pair of shoes, covering the instep and going up to the ankle. Yes, it's sort of an old-fashioned idea (they were really big at the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th) but it's also a practical one. Wearing spats can be very useful as well as stylish.

  • Spats will help you keep a nice pair of shoes protected from damage. This can save you money and make your quality shoes wear longer while looking better.
  • They can keep your ankles and feet warmer in cold weather, or protected from getting wet or muddy. For those who commute on public transit or by bike, this is a great way to help one pair of shoes make the trip and spend the day at the office looking professional.
  • Spats can work to change the look of a modern pair of shoes so that they look more old-fashioned. For people who do cosplay or theatrical costuming, this is how they take a pair of modern shoes and make them look right for another time, place or style. It's also a quick and comfy way to make some simple shoes look more elaborate, which can be really nice on the budget.

Spats vs Gaiters

If you go looking for spats or gaiters on the internet, you'll find the terms being used any which way, sometimes even on one item at the same time. Here's a brief guide to lower leg and shoe coverings as costumers and clothing historians think of them.

  • Spats is the name given to what is really just a shoe cover. They are most often ankle-height or just above the ankle for ladies mid-calf boots.
  • Gaiters are meant to protect the lower legs and pants from ankle to knees. You most often see them as parts of military uniforms or worn by hikers or outdoor explorers.
  • Leg warmers are meant to cover the lower leg from ankle to knee leaving the shoe or foot uncovered. These are usually knit, and are found in the dance world where they are most frequently worn by ballet dancers while they warm up and stretch their legs.

Time required: varies with fabric choices and skill

Cost: varies with budget choices

Materials:

  • muslin or practice fabric
  • final fabric yardage
  • buttons or fasteners

Tools:

  • sewing machine
  • black and white thread
  • specialty matching thread for color fabric

Instructions:

1. If you follow the instructions in the video linked here, you can make a pair of spats for any pair of shoes you own. You will want to use some fabric that is thicker and stronger than what you would use for a shirt to make spats. Something between pants and coat weight can work well. Brocades, denim, corduroy, lightweight leather or textured vinyl (also called pleather) are all good choices. If you want to make your spats look sort of vintage, try making them out of a heavier fabric called cotton duck or from wool.

2. You can use something thin and fancy, but you will want to line it with another fabric to give it more strength and body. After all, what you are making is essentially shoe covers and they need to be sturdy. Patterns such a vertical stripes can be fun and so can all over brocades.You can make your spats so that they lace up, fasten with buttons (traditional), fasten with velcro, look like they use buttons but really use velcro or zip. Think about how often you are going to wear them and how quickly you might need to get in and out of them. Sometimes one method works better for making the spats fit a particular style of shoe. And sometimes one method is cheaper and easier (velcro) than making lots of button holes and buying buttons.

3. Use a cheaper fabric to make a mock-up pair of spats first. This allows you to really fine-tune the shape so they fit your shoes really well, and allow for better planning of where to put the buttons. They are sort of funky piece to make, so doing a practice run can really save your good fabric.

Think about how much you really want to sew or not sew. If you make them from fake leather (aka pleather) you can do a lot more gluing than sewing. Do button holes make you crazy? You might want to go with velcro, snaps or lacing instead.

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