Fabber Sneakers 

Fabbing one's own shoes presents fun opportunities for student to learn principles from design and mathematics while they explore digital fabrication process such as 3D modeling for 3D printing, laser cutting for mold making and casting, along with sewing, sketching, and assemblies. 

Learning Objectives

  • Experience real-time applications of mathematics including ratios, scales, volumes, and geometric projections
  • Develop understandings of spatial and volumetric thinking within an iterative design process
  • Develop a creative voice through artistic expression
  • Build confidence through self-motivation and team work

Workshop Overview

In this one-week intensive project the students are challenged with a variety of design and production tasks that can be linked with simple yet foundational mathematics. From their rubber outsoles to their foam insoles to their fabric uppers shoes embody complex geometric forms and assemblies that necessitate challenging degrees of volumetric and material-based thinking. Digital fabrication methods empower students to iteratively work between digital and analog representations.

As presented here this workshop focused on learning techniques for linking different types of software with various fabrication machines for working through a multi-stage design process. Daily documentation practices should be established so that students can see and reflect upon their progress and iterate through ideas.

Day 1: Research and Documentation

Start with broad research of shoe types, materials, and manufacturing methods. Encourage students to document their research through visual aids like sketches, pictures, and diagrams. 

 Retreived from: https://sneakerfactory.net/sneakers/2018/03/what-is-a-shoe-pattern/

Retreived from: https://sneakerfactory.net/sneakers/2018/03/what-is-a-shoe-pattern/

The shoe uppers, typiically made from various fabric panels, are often complex. Encourage students to keep things simple as they start off designing their own patterns. 

Amaris's picture here.

Day 2: Translating design sketches to 3D models

Students are challenged with making design choices from scratch so encourage them to find inspiration through their own personal styles and functionality requirements. Have students break down their shoes into their components such as the outsole, midsole, insole, uppers, etc. Tasks can be divided up amongst students.


Students can sketch a tread pattern that can be digitally photographed and imported into 3D modeling software such as AutoDesk TinkerCAD. In TinkerCAD students can extrude 2D vector drawings into 3D forms.

Day 3: Fabricating positive formworks

Construct a shoe last (a generic foot form) which will help in the assembly of the upper fabric panels. Students can either scan their own feet to generate a unique 3D form or numerous 3D models can be found online.

 3D model retrieved from: https://grabcad.com/library/shoe-last-mp47a-1

3D model retrieved from: https://grabcad.com/library/shoe-last-mp47a-1

The shoe last can be sliced into thin layers in various software such as AutoDesk Fusion 360 or Rhino 3D.  These slices can be laser cut in cardboard and assembled through layered manufacturing techniques.


Day 4: Fabricating Negative Formworks

From the 3D model of the shoe outsole a negative form, a mold, can be fabricated to allow for casting liquid rubber. This process is messy and involves mixing chemicals, so beware of safety concerns and also time management for curing. We tested 2 different brands of rubber - each took 10+ hours for full curing. 

Our form works were fabricated from similar slicing methods for laser cut layers. Make sure the thoroughly glue and clamp the formwork together. We used the students original tread sketch to 3D print the negative shape which would translate into the cured rubber.

 A vertical slicing method resulted in a fun and unexpected 'pixelated' sole.

A vertical slicing method resulted in a fun and unexpected 'pixelated' sole.

Day 5: Final Production and Presentation

Allow ample time for students to iterate and improve upon their shoes. Final production time is needed to pull everything together. 

Encourage students to present their work and their processes to their peers.


Final thoughts and Recommendations

This one week intensive workshop requires ample time to allow students to explore new technologies, production methods, and self-motivation.


Subjects  Design, Technology, and Mathematics

Grade Levels 9-12

Fab Tools 3D Printer, Laser cutter, 3D modeling and 2D vector design software, and a sewing machine

Materials cardboard, MDF board, fabrics, thread, liquid rubber, eyelets, and shoe laces

Collections Intensive workshop

Contributors Daniel Smithwick and Zachary Wenz