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Picture of Leather Belt With Removable Buckle

I've always been a fan of leather gear. it feels strong and real. It reminds me of history, of armor and of airplanes and of mail bags. Leather is rich with context, with feeling. and, growing up, leather has always been too expensive for me. I'd had designs, growing up, of getting my hands on a hide and turning it into a satchel, or a suit of armor, or a wallet or a bomber jacket. But as a youth, leather isn't something I could have afforded.

Fast forward too many years, and it's still something that isn't easily within my reach. But I'm going to reach anyway! I decided, some time ago, that I was going to make something from leather, and it just needed the right excuse. This year I've got that excuse. my family and I are going to the local ren-faire, and we're going in costume. And I need a belt.

My design criteria are pretty straight forward, though they introduce some interesting problems.

  • The belt should be wide. preferably 2" wide. This likely isn't period correct but it's what Hollywood likes to show us and it's what we've come to expect of ye olde tymes. Plus it's freaking cool!
  • The belt will be tooled leather, so the leather source must be veg tanned and preferably undyed (i'll be doing the dying myself thanks! :P). I'm actually unsure if you can tool dyed leather, as it should also be finished against moisture
  • It needs a buckle that doesn't look like it was purchased at Spencer's. No triforce, no captain America shield, no Cocky. It should also not, for aesthetic preference, be just a generic loop and pin.
  • The belt has to look good on a pirate, or be nautical themed.
  • It has to look decent with the rest of the costume, which limits color choices.
  • Make the buckle removable. a late choice on my part, this not only means I don't have to sew, but it also means i can market the belt to a wider audience who may not like my choice in buckles. Honestly the lack of sewing isn't a big plus to me, as i like stitched leather's aesthetic, but for you guys it might very well be a plus!

The first problem to overcome is that there is only one kind of belt buckle that fits a 2 inch belt. A kilt buckle. All of these feature Celtic knot-work and or some rather strange references to Scottish history. There where a few that'd work, but they just weren't what I wanted. Instead I chose to find the biggest belt buckle that I could and will notch the bet so that it fits into the 1.5 inch loop of the buckle.

With that decided, I shopped around for a nice plain buckle that wasn't covered in floral patterns or Celtic knot-work or modern designs.

Bill of Materials:

So far, not counting shipping, I've spent less than 50 dollars. and most of that was the cost of tools and gear. The belt material has only cost me 19 bucks, Not counting replacement snaps (which I didn't even bother to source cheaper since i had them already.)

Step 1: Design

Picture of Design
kraken small squid wip.png
kraken belt aztec wip.png
kraken belt large wip.png
kraken belt large final.png

The Canvas:

Before we can start designing our tooling we have to think about how big the belt is, both how wide and how long, and set up our drawing area. I want a 2 inch wide belt, and it has to fit around my waist, which is.... considerable. normally i wear my pants where any sane individual would, just above the hips. but as this is a costume piece, wearing the belt higher is necessary. My belt measures 44 inches long from buckle to hole. there should be some extra length for a few adjustment holes. Add three inches for more holes, plus at least one more for rounding the end, preferably two with a belt this wide. The belt buckle will require you to fold the leather, so add the length of the fold to your canvas. In my case it was also 3 inches. this makes my total belt 44+5+3=52 inches long. which is a problem! most belt blanks are marketed in 50 inch long pieces. However, I got lucky and my belt was shipped a full 64 inches long. I'm not sure if the standard is to get it 'close enough' or if they accidentally sent me more leather than they intended, but it really worked out for me.

I'll be doing my drawing in Krita, a free drawing program, but you can also make a paper strip. With paper just make the strip as long as your belt blank. In Krita I set up my canvas to 100 DPI, and then made it as long as my blank. In either case, you will probably be aided in making the canvas wider than the actual blank, so you can draw 'off' the belt and draw shapes that are not constrained by the canvas. I made my canvas 600 pixels tall, putting two inches of canvas on either side of the belt, then drew the belt's outline on the paper to show me where it actually ends..


Now that we've got a sizable canvas to work with, let's think about what we want to put on it. The only real restrictions are in color and theme. I want a nautical themed belt and it has to fit well with a bright blue shirt with yellow trim. In my head I pictured something cyan, maybe with natural color for a two tone effect, and that's what I tried to make (you'll see later that my dye betrayed me and I ended up with a much MUCH darker blue than I wanted.)

I am a colossal geek and whenever I make something like this I always start thinking about DnD. The fantasy designs and the magic items always stoke imagination. So when I decided on a nautical theme the first thing to come to mind immediately was 'kraken'. A belt wrapped in tentacles and giant eyes. I could work with that.

There's two general ways you can go about drawing something like this on a belt.

  • you can draw really small and try to fit everything on it.
  • you can draw large and try to fit most of 'it' on your canvas.

The former has a few options. You can either draw what you're trying to draw realistically, which will leave a lot of white space, or you can stylize it and leave off realism to fill most of the belt. Something like Celtic knot or a squarish, more Aztec pattern perhaps. This can be really cool, but it's not what I want. I want the belt to feel like a window into another realm, to feel real. To not only look like an octopus or squid but also feel like a creature that size could actually exist.. so, the other method!

This part of the process requires artistic talent and I really can't tell you how to do it. Get an idea in your head and put it on paper! I've included some examples of designs I might have gone with, along with the design I settled on. don't worry about being super precise. Leather has a low resolution so mistakes kind of smudge away. Just try to make smooth curves and straight lines.

Once you have a design you are happy with, get it in paper form. I shouldn't have to tell you how to print out a picture and cut and tape it together :P

i'm providing my final design for this particular belt for you to use to make your own, but i'd rather you not do so commercially.