Make Stuff Monday: Tribal Print Moccasins

Last spring I came across this painted moccasin DIY on Honestly WTF and I loved it; I had to have a pair of painted mocs.  I spent the summer searching for a pair of moccasins, even debating buying the same ones they used online.  I had trouble justfying spending $40 on something just to paint them.  What if I didn’t like them, or if I messed them up?  But then, towards the end of the summer I found a pair of mocs at the Michigan City outlets.  They were $25, and still made by Minnetonka.  I grabbed them, figuring I would paint them over the winter when moccasins weren’t very practical.  I figured until then, I’d wear them plain.  That didn’t really happen, and I started to wonder if maybe moccasins, painted or not, where just not my style.

So early this summer, I made a point to try to wear my mocs, figuring it would their last chance.  If I decided they were my style, I’d paint them.  Heels aren’t really cooperating with me right now, so it ended up that I actually liked wearing the moccasins, but yea… they were a little plain for my taste.  So painting them seemed like the perfect solution.  Instead of going the Honestly WTF route and just doing a solid color though, I decided I would go with an on-trend tribal pattern.

I started off looking for inspiration.

I did a simple Google image search for “tribal print” and came up with a ton of patterns.  I grabbed a few I liked and put them into a Word document so I could print them for easy reference.  I made sure that the ones I chose had elements I could easily duplicate, instead of going for some of the more intricate patterns I saw.  I didn’t want to attempt something really complicated and end up hating myself (and my shoes) for it when I was done.

DIY Tribal Moccasins: Inspiration

The images pictured above are from here, here, here, here and here.  I chose a selection of stuff because I wasn’t quite sure what I’d be able to easily paint on such a small space, but I liked the use of color and pattern in all of these.

Preparing my canvas suede.

I wanted to make sure that when I painted, I didn’t have to worry much about coverage, uneven surfaces, or being perfect, so I decided to start with a solid color.  I untied the laces, flipped the fringe part back, and taped off the area I wanted to paint.  Then, I added a coat of cream acrylic paint to the masked off area.  This coating of paint would double as a background for my design as well as a smoother surface on which to paint.

Click each of the above images to view them larger.

Something to take note of here: As I suspected would happen, pulling the tape off resulted in pulling off a little bit of the suede, but not so much that it caused any damage or discoloration.  Just something you should be prepared for.  Make sure you use painter’s tape or something similar that’s easy to remove, and not something heavy duty at all.

Shortly after starting to paint, I realized it would be easier if the toes were stuffed, to give me a secure surface to work on.  I used fabric scraps, but you can use newspaper or whatever just as well.  It definitely made a big difference, so I highly recommend stuffing at least the toes of your moccasins with something to give yourself a harder surface to work on.  While doing the base, it might not be necessary, but the next steps?  Totally necessary!

Gettin’ sketchy with it.

In an effort to save myself a ton of heartache when my freehanding went awry (because I knew it would), I decided to sketch out what I wanted before painting.  I let my moccasins sit for a couple days before gently sketching the design I wanted on the cream base with a standard mechanical pencil (it has a finer tip than a regular pencil).  I say gently because I didn’t want to scratch the paint or create indents or anything like that.  The lines were more to give me a general idea of where to paint and the design I wanted.

DIY Tribal Moccasins: Sketched

Getting my color on.

Once I was done with my sketch, I started painting.  When I mentioned my desire to paint these to my husband, I said something about doing a simple black and white kind of thing.  But my inspiration images led me towards using lots of color, so that’s what I did.  I started with the lightest colors and moved gradually to darker ones.  Here is the progression.

DIY Tribal Moccasins: Color

At this point, I deciding adding some little details would really take my design over the edge and make it special.  So that’s what I did.

It’s all in the details.

Sure enough, adding just a few small details made all the difference.  This part, I free-handed using a variety of small brushes.  I didn’t worry too much about perfection or neatness, because I liked the organic, hand-made quality the small imperfections lended to the overall look of my moccasins.  Here is the finished, but still masked-off pair.

DIY Tribal Moccasins: It's All In The Details

When I was done with my detail work, I let my shoes dry for about a day before I used Matte Finish Mod Podge to seal the design.  At this point, waiting for them to completely dry was the hardest part.  I let them sit, locked in my craft room away from my eager self, for about two full days before I pulled the tape off.  While I would have liked to have them complete sooner, I didn’t want to risk smudging all of my hard work.


After waiting a more than I would have liked for everything to dry, I un-stuffed my moccasins, tore the tape off, laced ’em back up, and marveled over how much cuter they were.  You’ll be seeing them a few times in my July Random Outfits post, but for now, here they are in the grass, where you can see that they have a cozy shearling footbed that has proved to be nice for the chilly office.

DIY Tribal Moccasins: Done!

As you can see, some of my design was covered by the fringe.  I’m ok with that, however.  I knew part of it would be, and while I didn’t measure or mark anything ahead of time, I like the little peeks you get of it through the fringe.  And yes, I’ve showed off the whole thing by moving the fringe up.  Overall, I’m really happy with the way these came out, even with all the imperfections and asymmetry going on (usually stuff that bugs me).  I think that kind of stuff adds to the charm of them.

Tips, tricks, and things to make note of.

As I mentioned above, pulling the tape off resulted in pulling off a little bit of the suede.  Make sure you use painter’s tape or something similar that’s easy to remove, and not something heavy duty at all.  And do be patient when pulling the tape off, instead of tearing into it like you’re 8 and it’s Christmas morning (which is an accurate description of how I did it).

Also as mentioned above, stuffing the shoes gave me a better painting surface.  Again, I used fabric scraps, but you can use newspaper or whatever just as well.  It definitely made a big difference, so I highly recommend stuffing at least the toes of your moccasins with something to give yourself a harder surface to work on.

Make sure you keep the holes clear of paint and Mod Podge as you go.  You won’t want to have to chip away at layers of either (or both) to re-insert your laces when you’re done.  Save yourself the sanity and make sure you have a paint brush that has an end you can periodically stick in there to keep it clear.

And speaking of re-inserting laces, have a tweezers handy to help you pull them through the holes.  It’s much easier than trying to grasp a tiny piece of lace that’s sticking out, and way better than using your teeth.  Not that I did that… nope.

Avoid shoes that have sewn down fringe.  Make sure, before you buy a pair of moccasins, that the laces are removable and the fringe can be pulled back.  Trying to paint around something that’s sewn or glued down is just asking for frustration, and who wants that?  No you!

Have fun with it, and don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t come out absolutely perfect.  They’re hand-painted moccasins, for one, and more importantly, they’ll be something you made!  That’s something to be proud of, so enjoy yourself and the outcome of all your hard work!

19 comments for “Make Stuff Monday: Tribal Print Moccasins

  1. July 16, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    You are very brave! Love how they turned out…I need to give it a try!

  2. Natosha Zachary
    July 16, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    I love them! It’s way to warm for them here in the South, but maybe for Fall. I might have to keep an eye out for some on sale. So cute.

  3. July 16, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    Haha thanks! It’s not the first time I’ve painted an article of clothing or an accessory, and I’ll admit there have been quite a few “well, that was a waste” grumblings that resulted in trashing something.

  4. July 16, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    Thanks! Definitely keep an eye out for sales if you wanna do this. If anything, it makes painting them easier to stomach haha.

  5. July 22, 2013 at 4:33 AM

    Great DIY! I will try it!

  6. July 23, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    This is so impressive. I can’t wait to show it my daughter!! She has done gold toes before but this far exceed that!! Hope you will join us this week for the Verizon Voices Fashionista style hop. We are over on Modly Chic this week. You can find us here:

  7. July 23, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    Cool! Let me know how it turns out!

  8. Alona Y
    October 9, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    Wow, these turned out so great! Thanks for all the details and pointers, it’s the kind of thing that I like to try once someone ELSE has already done it and learned what to do and what not to do! (:

  9. Dorothy Boucher
    October 11, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    what a fun way to dress up those moccasins, love the patters you chose 🙂 thanks for share

  10. Sarah Matos
    October 13, 2014 at 1:23 AM

    Wow. These are impressive. My girls would get a kick out of these!

  11. Katherine Riley
    October 17, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    These are so cute!!! I love your step by step tutorial and hints.

  12. March 17, 2015 at 9:08 PM

    These are so wonderfully easy to make thank you so much. They are also wicked cute!

  13. Dana Rodriguez
    March 18, 2015 at 5:07 PM

    Those turned out really cute. I don’t know if I am that brave.

    March 19, 2015 at 10:50 PM

    I love this! Especially with some Indian running in my family and not owning Moccasin’s for years and years. I have got to try this. In fact, may be a DIY project for my daughters and daughter-in-law as gifts. Thank you!

  15. Jenna H
    August 19, 2015 at 8:27 PM

    Moccasins you buy in the store with a little extra designs are so expensive! These turned out really well too!

  16. August 19, 2015 at 9:26 PM

    Thanks! 🙂

  17. April Crisafulli
    August 25, 2015 at 9:37 PM

    What a cute way to dress up department store mocs!

  18. DJ
    August 26, 2015 at 12:47 PM

    These are great! Very neat diy! I love the pattern.

  19. Amy Baker
    August 30, 2015 at 5:40 AM

    LOVE how your mocs turned out! now I want to paint all my shoes…first up my canvas Keds while I go find some mocs of my own!! Thanks for the step by step instructions….you have made me brave 🙂

Comments are closed.