Handmade Leather Belts
Belts are a timeless clothing accessory that serves a functional purpose but can also be used to make a marked fashion statement. As long as people are wearing pants, they will need belts. There are other functional options such as suspenders, but belts have truly stood the test of time and are seemingly here to stay for the long run. While a belt may seem like a rather benign subject, there is actually an interesting history behind them and a lot of intriguing information that can be learned about belts, especially handmade leather belts.
History of the Belt
Belts have been considered a staple of male clothing since at least the Bronze Age. Over the years, we have seen the belt be used by both men and women, although it has been associated with male fashion for a longer and more consistent period of time. Still, women have worn belts almost as often, and continue to do so to this day.
By the 19th century and into the First World War, the belt was often used in military uniforms by armies across the world. It had a utilitarian function but was also considered decorative to many armies, especially those that were worn by officers. Wide belts were often used, pushed up into the stomach and having the ability to hold a sword, gun, or other weapons. These belts were often very tight, giving the men the appearance of having a broader, more defined chest and a thinner waistline.
By the 1920s, men began to wear their pants at a lower line, making belts even more of a necessity to keep them up. Many trousers didn’t even have belt loops before the 1920s, and in that time, belts were more of a decorative item than a functional one. These days, they are seen as both, with most belts serving the purpose of keeping the pants up but also coming in many different colors and styles, with certain societal norms that dictate when a particular style should be worn.
The leather is one of the most common materials used for belts, and there is a good reason for it. It is durable, reliable, and looks nice with a variety of outfits. Leather comes in a wide range of qualities and prices and can be tanned or stained to fit many different color schemes. Handmade leather belts have been gaining in popularity in recent years, with people opting for them because of their high quality and ability to be customized. There are many things that go into making a handmade leather belt, and it may help to understand them when searching for a belt of your own.
Handmade Leather Belt Fabrication
While machines can make many leather belts in a short period of time, the quality of the belts is not nearly as high as that of a handmade leather belt.
A belt can be made by hand relatively easily, but many artisan belt crafters like to spend their time on the belts to ensure that they are of the highest quality and most durable build.
There are several important steps in making a leather belt, and it is best to follow them thoroughly to ensure that the belt turns out both functional and fashionable.
- Determine the size of the belt
This can be done by using a measuring tape against the skin. It should be placed around the hips where the belt would normally sit. This measurement should be written down and saved for later use.
- Choose your leather
You will want something that is malleable and durable and has a nice color. We will go over the different cuts of leather later in the tutorial, but make sure to pick something that you will want to wear again and again.
- Pick out a belt buckle
You can find belt buckles online, in stores, or you can even make your own. There are various materials that can be used for buckles, including gold, silver, steel, and even plastic. It all depends on the look that you want to go for and how much you are willing to spend on the belt. It is imperative to find a buckle that will match your style and mesh with your belt strap. You will not want something too flashy if you are going for a more subdued look, and vice versa.
- Cut the belt from the leather
After you have chosen the width and length of your belt, you can cut it out of the leather using a very sharp razor blade. Make sure to use a straightedge for assistance so that you get the perfect cut. You don’t want to end up with a faulty belt or one that has snags. Your belt should be as straight as possible unless you are going for a particular design.
- Mark the notches
Using the razor blade, mark the notches that you want to have on the belt. First, find where you want to wear the belt and mark a notch there. Then mark notches on both sides of that, exactly 1 inch apart from each other.
- Punch the holes for the notches
Using a hole punch, punch the holes in each individual notch. Make sure to be firm and quick with the punch, as failing to get through the leather can lead to snags and imperfect holes. Also, make sure that the holes are large enough to accommodate the buckle that you are planning to use on the belt.
- Decorate the belt
This is where you can have some fun making a handmade leather belt, and where many of the professionals set themselves apart from the mass producers of leather belts. You can use a variety of different things such as bolts or steel stencils to etch designs into the surface of the belt. Use a strong, sturdy mallet to hit them every time you set the stencil in place. The options are limitless when it comes to decorating the belt, and you can personalize it in any way that you like. You can even etch your name into the belt if you so desire!
- Dye the Belt
If you like the color of the leather as it is, you can just leave it be. However, dying a belt can give it a nice color and add to its stylishness. It can also add a protective layer that will protect the belt from aging too quickly or being affected by weather conditions. You will need to wipe the dye onto the leather over and over until you reach the point of saturation that you desire. Once you are done doing so, hang the belt to dry for at least two hours. After this, you must buff the excess dye off of the belt until it is completely dry. In some tough situations, you can rinse the belt with water to get rid of the excess dye.
- Coat the Belt
Once the belt is thoroughly dry, you can apply oil to help tenderize the belt. This will also coat the belt and help to keep the color. Rub the oil in the belt until it is completely saturated, and then wipe it off. Repeat this process until the leather belt is as supple as you desire it to be. Some people prefer a firmer belt, while others opt for one that is flimsier. It is all up to your personal preference.
- Seal the Belt
Once you have allowed the oil to absorb into the belt, it is time to seal the leather. There are a variety of leather conditioners that you can buy on the market. Try to procure one that contains beeswax, as this will give the belt a nice shine and protect the leather for years. Apply the conditioner generously and wipe off any excess, buffing it until it has the desired shine.
- Add the Buckle
Add the buckle to your belt and you’ll have a belt that is ready to wear in no time! Make sure the buckle is secure and tight. You don’t want it to be moving around while you wear the belt.
This is the process that you can follow to make your own handmade belt, and it is what most professionals do as well. For a superior quality belt, you can purchase handmade leather belts from experts with years of experience. It is fun to create your own, but if you want the best in the business, there are many belt-makers who will be happy to provide you with a fully customized, professionally stamped belt that will last a lifetime. You simply have to be sure to research the materials and items that they use to make their belts.
Types of Leather
One important aspect of any belt is the type of leather that is used in its production. There is a wide range of qualities when it comes to leather, and you are better off spending a little bit extra to ensure that you get a strong, high-quality belt. If you are going to put the time and effort into getting a handmade belt, you might as well shoot for the best leather available. Cheap leather will fade and wear out quickly, rendering the belt useless in just a few years or less. Read on to learn about the different kinds of leather and how they affect the quality of the belt.
The top layer of leather that shows up after the animal skin is known as the grain. The grain consists of tightly packed fibers that make this layer of leather the strongest and most durable. There are two types of grain leathers – full grain and top grain. Either of these can make for a fantastic leather belt, but there are some differences that may make you decide on one over the other.
Full Grain Leather
This is the highest quality grade of leather available on the market. It has not been corrected in any way, and it is the first layer you will see once the skin has been removed. With no conditioning or corrections, all blemishes from the animal’s skin are still intact, such as insect bites, stretch marks, and scratches. This makes for an interesting, weathered look before the leather is even processed. Some people prefer the uniform look that arises after conditioning, but that process actually makes the leather less supple and decreases its sturdiness. Authentic, full-grain leather is the most durable and can even protect against the elements such as rain, making it a leather that can truly be used for life. Full Grain Leathers have another advantage of showing off a unique, individual appearance that won’t be matched by any other belt.
Top Grain Leather
Top Grain Leather is the quality level just below full grain. The first few millimeters of the grain are sawed off, getting rid of aesthetic inconsistencies and blemishes that may have existed in the full grain cut. People who opt for top grain over full grain often do so because they prefer the uniform, consistent look that they get from the belt. Top grain leather is still a high-quality leather that is worth every penny, but it does suffer from a slightly diminished level of durability and strength. It will have a long shelf life as opposed to lower quality leathers but will certainly break down at a faster rate than full grain leather. Still, it can make for a beautiful, reliable leather belt that will turn heads for ages.
Split leather is when an entire layer has been completely separated from the animal hide. This layer is known as the corium, just beneath the grain, and it has much looser fibers, resulting in a lower quality, less durable form of leather. Suede is one of the most popular forms of split leather, and while it is not as versatile, has many great uses in both fashion and functional approaches. Many people like split leather because it is softer and sometimes more malleable than top grain or full grain leather. However, it suffers from being less durable and is more likely to be destroyed by moisture, extreme weather conditions, and general wear and tear.
This is often referred to as blended leather because it is not made from a full layer of uncut leather. Instead, bits of leather are shredded up and combined with other filler to make a blended piece of leather that can’t technically be labeled as authentic leather. These belts are usually fitted with a polyurethane coating that holds the reconstituted blend together, and then embossed with a leather-like chemical in order to give the belt a more authentic look. Most of the cheaper, mass-produced belts that you find at department clothing stores are made of bonded leather, and it is easy to notice the difference when you compare them directly to a grain leather belt.
Bonded leather belts are fine if you are on a very tight budget, but it is usually worth it to spend a few extra dollars and go one step up. Even a split leather belt will have a much longer life than a bonded belt, making it far more worth it to purchase in the long run. However, if you are taking the time and money to buy a handmade leather belt, you are best off buying full grain or top grain, as these kinds of belt can last a lifetime and will actually develop a nice patina that will make the belts more gorgeous and personalized with age.
Tips for Purchasing a Handmade Leather Belt
Now that you know about the process of fabricating belts and the different kind of leathers that you can buy, it’s time to follow some steps as you go through the purchasing process. While you may think a belt is just a simple accessory that many people will never notice, it can actually make or break an outfit, especially if you need to look good for a wedding, fundraiser, or other special event that has a certain kind of dress code. Here are some tips for choosing, purchasing, and wearing your belt. You’ll be happy that you took the extra time to make an informed decision and look your absolute best.
Determine if you want a dress belt or casual belt
For any formal event, you will definitely want to get a dress belt. However, there are benefits to casual belts, as they are generally more flexible and can be worn with a variety of different colors. Because we are focusing on handmade leather belts, however, that narrows down the materials that you can use for a casual belt. Some of them are cotton or tweed, but they are not relevant to the current discussion.
If you are having your dress or casual belt made by hand, always opt for full grain leather, as it will last the longest and look the best. We also recommend against purchasing a reversible dress belt, as they fall apart more easily, and most high-quality manufacturers will not even attempt to make them. They are simply a budget item and should not be considered in a serious conversation about belts.
A dress belt will usually have a shinier finish than a casual belt, and when it comes to formal events, shinier is better. A black-tie event, for example, should be accompanied only by a black leather belt with the proper amount of shine. You can even shine your own belt as you would leather shoes, and this helps extend its lifespan and keep it looking fresh, clean, and stylish.
Other colors of dress belts should have a certain amount of shine to them as well. Whether you are getting a tan, burgundy, or oxblood belt, it should always match the shoes that you are going to wear with it. If you have several pairs of dress shoes that you wear with different outfits, you should get multiple belts to make sure you are never stuck with a mismatched suit. It seems like a minor mistake, but it can really put a damper on your entire night!
Dress belts should be relatively minimal with their stitching and designs. The fewer decorations the better when it comes to anything that you have to wear for a formal event. Casual belts, on the other hand, can be a little flashier and carry a more individualized aesthetic. The beauty of a handmade casual belt is that you can choose your own designs, making them fully customizable and allowing you to showcase your personality and artistic ability.
Again, there is a big disparity in what is appropriate between a dress belt and a casual belt. On a dress belt, you should opt for a minimal, well-polished buckle that does not detract from the rest of your outfit. It should contain only a single prong, and there should not be excessive decoration or styling on it. For a black dress belt, silver is your best bet for a buckle, and gold goes well with a brown or tan dress belt.
A casual leather belt can get away with more variety when it comes to the buckle. The buckle can be shiny or have a matte finish depending on your preference. It can be round, square, or even shaped like the state of Texas (although only a few people can get away with that). On a casual belt, the buckle can become a statement piece and really let you show your fashionable side.
Handmade leather belts may not seem like something that has such a long history and involved fabrication process, but there is much more to them than meets the eye. It is important to research the quality of the leather and to make an informed decision when buying a handmade leather belts, because these can be accessories that last a lifetime. In fact, once you buy one, you may decide you’ll never buy a lower-quality belt again!