Happy Feet & Imported Embroidered Sneakers

I have fat feet. To make matters worse I have spurs on my heals, big toes that continue to grow inward and a high instep that butts up against 10” ankles, hindering natural rotation – genetic deformities that would need surgery to change, but I think not. As long as I don’t have to wear narrow shoes, stilettos or boots I find no real reason to fix something that is still working okay; never mind what looks cool or what might make me look cooler. I’ve never been keen on shoes like many women and can’t understand some of the extremes they go to for the sake of style. I’ve heard there are even those who have toe surgery or removal to fit into pointy shoes – and to that foolishness, I say, “OMG!!!”  Nope, I’m just not a cosmetic surgery kind of gal! I’ll save the surgery for when I really need it to stay alive, thank you. So, considering the majority of my day is accomplished while planted in an office chair where only my cats occasionally get a gander at my feet, instead of trying to cram toes into pain-inducing pretty shoes, I look for those that are functional and make me say, “ahhh!”  Alas, the bliss of casual comfort!

Comfort must take priority. My big toe doesn’t just grow inward, it pushes out at the side of my foot, and a pounding bunion is as distracting as a migraine!  I need to keep to my schedule without such interruptions. A pair of bunny slippers might suffice, but they make my feet hot and besides, they’re just not functional. I can’t run in bunny slippers. And I never know when a fast pace will be necessary, like a dash to the basement to stop the washing machine from dancing. My leather athletic shoes are great for shopping or outdoor walks, but too clunky for inside. So, for my “house shoes” I opt for that classic that I’ve worn most of my life – the canvas flat or deck shoe, once called a “tennis shoe” and best known as the “sneaker”.

First invented by Keds ® in 1912 , many knock-offs and variations followed. As I grew older, I discovered it didn’t matter which brand I wore, holes would appear quickly in specific spots caused by my minor foot deformities. So, I’ve always purchased the inexpensive department store brands, direct from elsewhere in the world. The price made them somewhat disposable, so if I found a pair that fit well, I’ve stocked up. I recently wore out the last pair but haven’t had the opportunity for brick-and-mortar shopping. Most of my shopping is done online now, as it is for many people who live in rural areas. Home delivery is a blessing for us – we invented it. After all, it was the demand of the rural customer that caused mail order to flourish. So, recently, when the Schwan’s Frozen Foods delivery man poked fun at my “air-conditioned shoes” I immediately surfed to my favorite online mall, Amazon.com.

But I hesitated. I’d never bought a pair of shoes that I didn’t try on first. Carefully, I reviewed the online details of each shoe, trying to find a brand with a comfort-factor I trusted, and with respect to the economy, preferably US-made. I knew I wouldn’t find those great $5 clearance bargains, but I didn’t want to exceed $25 until I was sure they would make my feet smile. They not only have to be an exact 7 W, they must be shaped with a roundish toe, not too long of a tongue, and not cut too low, like most slip-ons, because those tend to slip off and on my feet, causing blisters. Hours – nay days – went by until a perfectly-shaped canvas shoe caught my eye. It was 2 a.m. I was tired. Price was a low $9.99 plus shipping. The zipper closing in lieu of laces intrigued me. Thoughts of being able to loosen shoes in the afternoon with a zip and never having to trip over shoe laces again kept my attention.  And then, when I noticed the quality-stitched daisy at the top front, I pushed the Buy Now button. Truly, it was the embroidery that sold me.

They arrived in days and of course, the first thing I had to do was investigate the stitching. Impressive!  I immediately put them on and they passed the happy feet test. It wasn’t till I took them off at the end of the day – long after deciding I needed to buy another pair or two – that I noticed the printed words deep inside, “Made in China”. Uh-oh. So much for good intentions.

I began to justify my purchase, considering that the distributor Carol Wright’s Gifts is based in New Jersey, and perhaps only the shoes were imported and embroidered by a U.S. apparel decorator. Then again, probably not. So, I surfed around and although I haven’t yet found embroiderers or manufacturers offering anything similar to my new shoes, I’ve been distracted by some interesting information.

I googled for “US made canvas sneakers” and one of the first links I found was an article posted in 1994, complaining of the difficulty of being able to find any athletic type shoe made in the US with the exception of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars.  In a brief search I found a few other U.S. manufacturers, but none that produce the style to satisfy my feet.  As well, I found embroiderers who only accepted custom orders for shoe embroidery and none that produced high volume orders using imported shoes – not to say they don’t exist; I just haven’t run across one yet. And I imagine if there are embroidered (decorative, not logo) U.S. made shoes distributed in high volume, my guess is that the embroidery process is accomplished in the shoe factory.

Of course, having a part in the embroidery industry, I began to wonder about the equipment that was necessary to stitch the shoes and first found a shoe clamp for the Tajima machine at Hoop Tech. I also found a couple of YouTube videos of what looks to be the clamp, or a similar device in operation on a Tajima machine, and another on a ZSK. I also couldn’t resist a video about an “ancient device” – the hand – worth watching for a smile.

For those interested in adding shoe embroidery to their services, but wonder about the specifics, the digitizing for the process doesn’t appear to be terribly difficult, though there are a few rules to observe. The more simple, the better, as implied in an online archived Impressions Magazine article:

“The choice of design is dictated by the style of footwear. Intricate details and small letters should be limited to slippers or canvas shoes, as the materials used in their construction are typically lightweight in nature. Athletic and work shoes are more rigid and will be more challenging to sew, but not impossible. Stick with larger needle sizes, such as the 80/12 (or larger) sharp point, and keep the speeds low—in the range of 600 stitches per minute. Additionally, use simple designs and/or lettering as you may be sewing through several thick layers.” — From the Impressions archives

The search continues for a U.S. made pair of canvas sneakers similar to the imported ones that have made my feet so very content. My China made shoes will be rotated down to garden-wear soon enough, so I’ll be needing a new pair of house shoes. [You’re welcome to leave search leads and suggestions in the comments.] If I can’t find what I need, I’ll be forced to buy imported again, but to justify the purchase, they will definitely display little embroidered daisies!  My feet really do love these shoes!

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