Sometimes just purchasing an item you love isn’t enough. You love the object, but you want it to be personalized. You want to be part of the process. Luckily for you, crafting and do it yourself projects are common and it’s easy to get the materials and tools you need to create your own works of art. Let’s look at a classic example of Western wear: the leather belt.
The materials you need to make a leather belt are pretty simple. You will obviously need leather. If you’re just planning to make one or two for yourself, it makes more sense to buy precut strips for that purpose. But if you want to make many belts, as gifts or for sale, it’s more economical to buy a large sheet of leather and cut it yourself. (If you’re really ambitious, you can buy a hide and tan it yourself!) You will also need to select the hardware for your belt fastener, whether you are using a friction clasp, a frame-and-prong clasp, or a plate buckle.
You will also need an assortment of tools. You will need a sharp knife to cut the leather with (even if you are using precut strips). You’ll also need an awl for punching holes and whatever tools are necessary for attaching the hardware you have selected. Depending on how you have decided to decorate your belt, you have a choice of decorative tools and implements. You may choose a knife for carving, a burner, stamping and pressing plates, paints and dyes, embossing tools, sewing supplies, or anything else that you like.
Cutting and Shaping
Lay out your leather and get a good look at it. If you’re cutting your own strips, do this carefully to provide yourself with uniform pieces. Cut them to be as long as possible. Width is up to you, but is generally between one and two inches. It doesn’t have to be totally straight – you can give it a curving shape if you want!
When you have your strips in hand, look over each one and make sure all the edges are smooth and even. If you’re creating a more rustic look, you’ll use just one strip, possibly with raw edges. If you want a more polished product, you may choose to sew two strips together, back to back. This requires special needles and thread, but is not especially difficult.
Sizing is the next step. Measure the desired length of the belt (the waist or hip size), and add whatever extra length is necessary for the hardware. Remember to leave some extra length for size adjustments for the wearer, as well. Cut off the excess length. You may choose to taper the end if you prefer.
Decorating and Assembling
Now it’s time to decorate! Traditionally, western style belts will have a carved, burned, or stamped design. This can be as simple or as complex of a design as you wish to create. A simple pattern of horseshoes down the length of the belt is a great option, but so is a complex scenic representation of a Western landscape. The American Southwest and cowboy culture and history are rich with designs and motifs that you can borrow and adapt to your own desires. For a more modern twist, you may choose to emphasize your designs with sewn stitches, rich or vibrant dyes, or even attached jewels or silver motif plates.
When you’re happy with your completed belt, the final step is to assemble the finished product. Follow the directions to attach your chosen hardware. If your fastener needs holes for a buckle prong, use an awl to punch them at regular intervals at the end of the belt.
Now you have a fantastic handmade Western leather belt! All that’s left to do is put it on with your favorite boots and spurs and cowboy up!