Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Yucca Sandals #1

Aside: The current plan is for this blog to be a catch-all for stuff that doesn't fit in Paleometallurgy or Bootstrap Chemistry.

Yucca Sandals #1 (no tools)

Or: How to turn nine leaves of yucca into a pair of survival sandals.

I wanted to get a feel for what it would take to make some footwear from absolute scratch - materials you could find in the natural world, using no tools of any kind besides your hands. Since I live in California, yucca was a reasonable choice. I expect birch bark or cedar would do just as well.

There were a couple of videos on YouTube (links below) that showed parts of what I needed to know, but not everything. Some experimentation was required.

Gathering materials

I started with some broad-leaf yucca plants. I pulled individual leaves from all over the plants I had available, so I did as little physical and aesthetic damage to the plants as possible.

Left: front of leaf. Right: back of leaf.

I removed the root and tip, then split the leaves and removed the spine. This gave me half-leaves approximately 35cm long and about 2.5cm wide.

Fresh, undried yucca

Yucca shrinks in strange dimensions as it dries from its fresh-picked state. Here are some examples of my first weaving experiments. When I made them I wove each one as tightly as I could. They looked like this two days later. Note the large gaps. On the order of 40% of the width of the original leaf has gone away.

Tests: left to right: 2-plait half-leaf, 4-plait quarter-leaf, 3-plait half-leaf.


Sizing an item like this involves two things: the distance covered by a leaf section, and the distance you want to go.

Since I'm doing a diagonal weave, the effective width of a strip is the diagonal of the strip width, rather than the width itself. Back to high school geometry, the diagonal of a unit square is the square root of two. (Approximately 1.42)

Multiplying the width of the leaf (2.5cm) by √2 gives 3.55cm (~1.4in) per strip. I have large-ish feet  (US men's 10½) so given these widths I need sandals three strips wide by seven or eight strips long. This will leave plenty of room to wrap the sole up around my foot, keeping the laces out of contact with the ground.

Weaving sandals

I started with the leaf bent once in the middle, the V-shape that the first video shows:

Then I made two with a U-bend, turning the two ends in opposite directions:

This gave me a width of three plaits:

I wove for five, then collapsed the sixth and seventh to put a toe on the end.

The sandal sole above is made from a total of nine leaf-halves and was finished in 30 minutes.

Running twine along both edges and across the back, I crossed everything behind my ankle and tied it in front. Here's the finished sandal, attached to my foot:

Things I learned

  • Once I got the weave started, the rest was much easier than I thought it would be. Given how many variations and decorations there are in the plethora of videos on YouTube about weaving various species of dried plant, I had expected it to be more complicated. It wasn't. Young kids could easily learn and do it in an afternoon.
  • Sandals made from fresh-picked yucca leaves will probably only last one day because they shrink, much like yucca twine made from green fibers.


  1. I would guess that with practice I'll be able to go from picking yucca leaves to two complete sandals in well under an hour.
  2. Sandals like these are for protecting your feet from rough ground and some cuts. Thorns and the occasional sharp pointy rock are still going to punch through.
  3. If I were doing this for real, I'd probably pick enough for three pairs the first day (something like 30 leaves total) and make a new pair for each of the next two mornings. After two days the leaves would be sufficiently dry to expect the final pair to last for a while. I could discard the pairs from days one and two, or perhaps reweave those pair together.


  1. So, in reading this, I'm struck by the use of "wet", or at least "un-dried" yucca leaves. It might be interesting to see how drying some of the leaves before weaving them into sandals fares in the durability department.

    Thanks for posting!

  2. Good point! I shall do a bit more research.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. You need to process your half leaves. Put them out in the sun to dry them out. This will also have the effect of bleaching them white - flip them over every couple days. Once they are dry they will be much smaller (and hopefully uniform). I haven't made sandals, but this is how I prepared basket weaving materials - when its time to weave the basket you soak the leaves for a couple hours until they become pliable again.

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