1930s Sew-along with Norma: Reinforced Belt


Since I put so much hand sewing into my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma, I decided that the belt would be completely handmade.  It offered the opportunity for me to try fell stitching as well as get creative with the belt making process


The fashion fabric is a very busy print consisting of tiny orange, red and yellow flowers and buds with spring green leaves and stems against a slightly cream colored background.  All details such as the darts, hand sewn bias bound neckline and sleeve finishings are not discernible.  It was important that the belt work with the print and provide a striking contrast.

With the help of RetroGlam readers I chose a lightweight silky fabric in a green that pulled the total look together.  The thin fabric needed some extra weight to support the belting material and the buckle.  This was challenge number 1:  selecting the kind of belting I wanted and the underlining for the silky fabric.

Traditional belting is too stiff to permit sewing snaps onto.  I decided to forego eyelets and a buckle with a prong because these would look too harsh with the dress whether they were in gold or silver.  I needed a buckle without a prong and a backing that was supple enough and lightweight enough to encircle the waist and permit sewing on of snaps.   So here was challenge number 2.

Challenge number 3 knocked all my plans into disarray when I found that the green fabric had numerous little spots that would not go away when I washed the fabric for a second time.  I can only think that these spots were caused by perfume I’d spritzed over myself while the fabric was air drying on a rack in the bath tub.  Lesson learned:  once fashion fabrics are no longer dripping move the drying rack out of the tub and into the entrance way.  Never spray perfume, hair spray, air freshener, etc. if clothing or fabric is hanging or drying nearby.  Since I live in a small apartment in a crowded urban setting there’s no way to air dry clothes outdoors or in a separate laundry room.

I’d only bought 1 yard of the green fabric and to my dismay it got spotted along both sides of the selvedges which was important since the selvedge would provide the finish for the underside of the belt.  I found a part of the fabric without any spots at all but it was all on the cross grain for about 12 inches in length.  This meant I’d be working against the instructions for making the belt and also have a less than satisfactory result.  I decided to accept what I had available and improvise the rest.  What you see in this tutorial is an example of making do.  Since this is a 1930s sew-along I like to think this is in the spirit of resourcefulness sewistas had to cultivate during the economic difficulties of The Great Depression.

Source of Instructions

I adapted the reinforced belt making instructions from page 250 of  Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, Seventh Printing, July 1980.

Source for Belt Buckle

Another difficulty of working with the green fabric was that it did not take kindly to the fabric glue used in belt making kits for adhering the fabric to the buckle.  I was able to find an artisan on Etsy who makes various kinds of fabric covered belts and buckles.  Michelle Tan uses a special pressing machine that folds the fabric around the buckle in a way so that it is much stronger and well finished than buckles made from kits that use glue.  Please take a look at her cute buttons and other notions.

Non-traditional belting considerations

I wasn’t sure of which fabric to use.  I first bought a length of crinoline which provided body but not enough to be flexible around the waist.  I then tried a heavy linen type fabric but that was too soft.  I got the bright idea of using Ban-Roll waistbanding since it does not crush and hugs the waist just right–when used in a skirt.

I now had the makings of challenge number 4:  I learned why the product is called Ban-Roll.  It likes to roll and encircle the waist.  It requires a gentle steaming with a press cloth and iron after staying on the dress form for longer than a few minutes.

All these shortcomings aside–I love the new belt.  I have hopes that when I make the next one correctly it will far exceed what turned out this time.

Making a Reinforced Belt When Forced to Cut on the Crosswise Grain

The crosswise grain is weaker and does not favor waistbands with backing.  I think for a self-tie belt it will work ok.  I also learned that for Pussycat Bows you can use it as well, just so long as you don’t mind a bow that lacks the loft of a bias cut bow.

Basic measurements of the piece you will cut for belt fabric:

Width-2 times the width of the belt + 1/2″

Length-waist circumference + 8″

The extra 1/2″ should be measured up from the selvedge

For belting material:

Length of belting=Waist circumference + 7″

Pattern and belt making instructions I used as a starting point.

1a.  Supplies I used:  Banroll cut with a point at one end, hand sewing needles/#6 Betweens, micro tweezers to remove basting threads, mini scissor, dryer sheet as thread conditioner, cotton basting thread, poly/cotton sewing thread, glass head straight pins, artisan made fabric covered buckle; belt fabric and cotton/poly underlining.

1a.  The green fabric shredded which necessitated me pinking the edges.  As a result I had less than the 1/2″ extra that was needed for the belt.  I compensated by using lace hem tape to cover up the edge that would finish the belt on the inside.  This function is fulfilled when the fabric is cut on the lengthwise grain along the selvedge.

The underlining was pinned in place and secured to the fabric using small running stitches with a double strand of thread.  I had to do this to provide strength for the construction.

The lace was sewn over the edge using a double strand of sewing thread  I used tiny running stitches for the flexibility they offer.

The fabric was folded right sides together and stitched along the short side 1/2″ in from the edge.

I folded it to create the arrowhead shape shown in the photo.  Then this was turned right side out.  A press cloth was placed over the fabric before it was steam pressed.

2.  View of the wrong side of the belt before turning the point right side out.

3.   Belting or substitute is inserted into the fabric point matching the point of the belting to the point of the fabric.  The unfinished side (or side without selvedge) is pinned in place.  I then basted it in place since I do not like sewing with pins in the fabric.

4. After this the finished edge of the belt (or selvedge) is turned up and pinned over the unfinished edge.  The fabric proved slippery and I had to tweak the position of the seam and the folds before pinning.  Then this was basted into place.

To secure the edge into place I used a fell stitch which I ended up disliking but left in place.  I plan to use tiny catch stitches the next time.

5.  After the hand sewing is finished, the raw edge is wrapped around the buckle, folded once and slip stitched into place.

Then the upper part of the snap was sewn onto the belt near the point.

With the garment on the dress form, I next placed the belt on to find where I needed to place the snaps.  I rubbed some Tailor’s Chalk onto the snap and then pressed against the belt.  The white dot is a chalk mark that tells me where to sew the lower part of the snap.

6.  The lower part of the snap is pinned and sewn into place.

7.  My label and the size of the belt are sewn in near the buckle.  I like the way the catch stitch looks here.  Since a belt made from Ban-Roll loves to curl I found that the fabric had a tendency to look a little rippled afterwards.  I attribute this to the cross grain.

I made a thread loop to use so that the belt can be stored on a hanger when not in use.

The finished belt was pressed using a press cloth over it.  The iron was held above the press cloth and never placed directly on it.

8.  Belt was then hung up to dry after all that steam pressing.


9.  Close-ups of completed belt.

The dress and belt will be photographed next week.











1930s Sew-along with Norma: Buckle and buttons arrived


Thank you Norma, for encouraging me to get the green glass buckle for the 1930s Sew Along.   The buttons finally arrived and I was knocked out by what a great match they are to the buckle.  Both are Czech glass and deemed vintage by the respective Etsy sellers.

I had to wait for the buttons to turn up as my package acceptance service kept telling me.  Two weeks had gone by and even though the post office got a signature for the delivery the envelope was nowhere to be found.  Finally, the little envelope with the tiny box containing the buttons “turned up” after I showed up to find out what was wrong.  It’s a good thing the seller wrapped these buttons so well.  The envelope had fallen into a space between the wall and a table where deliveries are stacked up.

The buckle dates to the 1950s but for some reason it reminds me of Art Deco.  It might be the grooves in the circular shape of the buckle that adds to that impression.  The buttons could not be dated but I think these, too, are 1950s or perhaps 1940s.  Together I think these will add a nice touch to the dress.

The buckle and buttons are weighty.  I have to figure out how to strengthen the rayon challis so that it will work up into a good belt for the dress.  I have a belt making kit with everything I need but I have to think about how to back and stabilize the rayon challis.  Since we’re going for 1930s techniques I can’t rely on a fusible.  I’ll need to see what kinds of under linings or interfacings were used in that time period.



Belt Making, Part 2: Covering the buckle and finishing the belt

Rather than detail the entire process of my belt making experience, I’ll focus on the parts that were the most challenging for a beginner. At the end of this posting I’ve provided links to the tutorials that inspired me to give this a try. They are each complete in themselves and do an excellent job of presenting the entire beltmaking process for different styles of self covered belts and buckles.

Covering the buckle.

The Maxant Belt and Buckle kit comes with a large paper pattern that is sticky on both sides once the brown paper covering is peeled away. You have to peel one side off and lay it flat on the wrong side of the fabric you want to cover the buckle with.

Close-up of the buckle pattern after applying one side to the fabric.

Although the pattern acts as a stiffener and a backing for the fabric I’d recommend using a very, very lightweight fusible interfacing on the fabric to prevent the metal of the buckle form changing the appearance of the fabric. Next time I will definitely use a fusible interfacing plus the fabric.

A small, sharp pair of scissors is also needed to cut away the center part of the buckle covering.

After cutting out the fabric.

After cutting out the fabric, I then cut around the center of the pattern. This is where the belt bar will be. I wasn’t quite sure about The rest of what should be cut. So, I just cut along the sideways pointing “v” shapes.

Covering the buckle.

Covering the buckle was the tricky part since the fabric had to curve smoothly around the oval buckle. I found that I needed to moisten my fingertips just a little to make the fabric move along the buckle.

Buckle and bar from the inside after fabric covers the outside.

I finally figured out what else had to be slit and moved around the buckle to cover it. Here you can see how the buckle looks from the wrong side after all the fabric is manipulated into place. To prevent fraying I used some Tacky Glue on the inside edges of the fabric (inside the buckle). Fray Check would probably be a good choice, too.

Buckle backing after being snapped into place.

The buckle backing is then snapped into place. Mine got dented slightly when I used the small pliers to press down.

Front of buckle, pliers and prong.

The small pliers are then used to slightly crimp the middle of the belt’s bar. Then the prong is applied and the pliers used to secure it in place.

Back view of finished buckle.

The buckle backing covers all those loose ends neatly. The prong will be held in place by the belting after it has been inserted and stiched on the wrong side of the belt.

Finishing the belt.

My sewing machine was unable to stitch smoothly along the edge of the belt. I wouldn’t do anything to risk breaking the machine so I opted for running a small pick stitch along the outside edges of the belt. I used a double strand of poly/cotton thread and it worked out well.

Finished belt and buckle.

The finished belt worked out very well in terms of length and height. I also added a belt stay to keep the belt in place.

Thread loops as belt carriers.

To ensure that the belt stays along the waistline of the dress, I made two belt carriers from thread loops at each side seam. For a 3/4″ high belt I allowed 7/8″ for the carrier. It worked out well, Thread loops are delicate so extra care is needed when running the belt through them.

The tutorials that helped me in my belt making are:

Coletterie’s Beltmaking Tutorial

Elegant Musing’s Beltmaking Tutorial

A Fashionable Stitch’s Beltmaking Tutorial

Maxant Miracle Products Beltmaking Supplies

Belt Making Part 1: The Tools and Supplies

My fabric covered belt and buckle was a success. Having the right tools and supplies makes all the difference so I will post about those first. I hope these close-up photos and accompanying details help others.

Belt and Buckle Kit from Maxant.

I consider the Belt and Buckle Kit from Maxant a good way for a beginner to start out. Everything needed is included: belting, buckle, buckle backing, five eyelets and pattern for cutting the fabric to cover the belt.

Instructions for the Maxant Belt and Buckle Kit.

The Maxant Belt and Buckle Kit comes complete with easy-to-follow instructions. I’m still glad, however, that I was able to locate several online tutorials with photos to broaden my knowledge of what needed to be done.

Small pliers with spring action used to set the buckle prong.

A small, lightweight pair of pliers used to crimp the buckle bar and set the prong can be found at a hardware store. Be sure to tell the clerk that you want a plier with spring action.

This strange looking thing is called a Crop-A-Dile. It made my beltmaking experience simple and easy.

The Crop-A-Dile is, I think, a wonderful took that makes beltmaking much easier. It looks very unwieldy and heavy but isn’t so once you get used to using it. I recommend saving whatever belting remains after you cut the length you need. This leftover belting will prove useful when practicing how to use the Crop-A-Dile.

3/16″ hole puncher on the Crop-A-Dile.

The 3/16″ hole puncher is used to punch a hole that is sized to hold an eyelet. The depth at which the hole is punched is determined by the little black sliding bar.

1/8″ hole puncher on the Crop-A-Dile.

The 1/8″ hole puncher creates a hole the perfect size for the belt prong to slip through.

The hole punchers make a neat, round hole in the fabric covered belting. I think using an awl would require more work. I recommend using a little Fray Check after the hole is punched. (Test on a fabric scrap before using Fray Check.)

Eyelet and washer setting is done on the head of the Crop-A-Dile.

The head of the Crop-A-Dile is used to set eylets and washers. There is a little cube at the top that rotates for the correct size and combination of eyelets and washers. An eyelet can also be set without a washer. I found that while a washer is not necessary, the reverse side of the belt looked and felt a little rough after the eyelets had been set. I plan to use washers with eyelets the next time.

I found setting the eyelets required just one strong pressing down on the Crop-A-Dile. Some of the tutorials I read described using a small tubular tool plus a hammer to set in the eyelets.

Now that I have the right tools and a successful belt making experience to share, I don’t understand why I was ever so hesitant to give it a try!