photo by York Wilson Photography

Friday, August 24, 2007

 

My Handmade Belt Story.

A tale of obsession, neurosis, and simply having way too much time on my hands.



Note: Because I am a kind person, I present you with the option to skip directly to my notes on construction technique, in the case that you don’t want to read my longwinded explanation of how and why the belt came to be.

This was not my first belt. Nor my first fringe belt. I have been dancing for a little over 5 years and making belts nearly just as long—tassel belts, yarn fringe belts, lame fringe belts (much less lame than they sound, mind you), embroidered belt bases, mirrored belt bases, shelled belt bases, feathered belt bases, corset belts and panel belts. (No bedlah belts yet, but give me time.) When I started dancing, there were no vendors in my area who sold any kind of tribal-looking belts, so my first project was to make an embroidered belt base from scratch. I didn’t have any mirrors or even a clear idea of what I wanted it to look like when I was done, and I never finished it.
A few months later I received a mirror belt base purchased off Ebay for Christmas. I set to work making my first ATS-style tassel belt, using a terrible choice of colors that clashed both with my outfit and with the belt base itself, but when it was done I wore it with immense pride.
Well, I wore it with pride for at least one performance or two, before I went to Asheville for a workshop with Ultra Gypsy, where I saw Jill Parker perform in the most beautiful object I had ever seen tied to someone’s hips (you can see a picture of it here http://people.tribe.net/jillparker/photos/2d38eb8e-bcdc-4f02-8dd6-b8d3eb3136ea). I believe this was in 2003.
In any case, I knew I had to have one. Later I found out that this type of belt was made by Mardi Love, who at that time I knew of from videos of Urban Tribal, and that you could (theoretically) purchase them from her (although good luck doing that if you live on the East Coast on a student’s budget), but why would I want to buy something I could make myself? Right?
I only had one belt base I thought would be suitable, which happened to be the base of my tassel belt, so that was promptly disassembled. I went out and bought some beautiful Manos de Uruguay yarn (this time in a coordinating color), chopped the belt I had in half, and affixed ties and yarn fringe. This solution was satisfactory for about a minute and a half—I made the fringe too short, so it looked kind of dorky, and it bore little overall resemblance to Jill’s beautiful belt. I was determined to try again.
I had acquired a leather belt covered in cowry shells from someone on some other occasion (birthday? Christmas?) and now I was eyeing it with a fresh perspective. So, in 2004, I bought some more yarn and some feather trim, hacked up the belt, and embarked on the most hellish handsewing experience of my life, which culminated in this belt http://people.tribe.net/sarabeaman/photos/758d003c-48cc-4355-92f5-15e8d4d4a872, along with some self-inflicted puncture wounds.
This belt was badass, but as soon as I wore it the feathers started falling out. I only wore it twice.
After my ill-advised adventures with the cowry shell belt, I wanted to find a better canvas for my belt bases. In the recesses of my memory I recalled seeing some handmade belts sold at a workshop sometime in my past that were made with some kind of fuzzy, natural-looking material. I wondered if I could figure out what it was, because its softness and fuzziness seemed like the perfect antithesis to that horrible leather.
Now, the yarn shop expedition for my first fringe belt had slowly transformed me into a knitter. The vision of skeins of wool and alpaca and linen and silk and cotton yarn all piled into delicious little heaps in their own wooden cubbies had worked its way into my dreams. I needed a suitable excuse to buy more yarn than I would ever need for just tassels and fringe, so I taught myself to knit. Somewhere in my knitting books I had read about a process called felting, which transforms a knitted woolen object into a fuzzy little length of fabric as the fibers lock together. Perhaps, I surmised, the lovely material I recalled was, in fact, felt. So I knitted up some little squares of Icelandic wool, threw them in the washing machine on the hot cycle for a few hours, and voila—dreamy felt, just like from my vague belt memories.
Handmade felt is the perfect belt backing. It’s got a good amount of friction to it, so it won’t slip down the sides of your silk pantaloons, and you can sew through it with anything the size of a yarn needle or smaller. (Store-bought felt, on the other hand, completely lacks this latter virtue.) This means you can embroider it with worsted-weight yarn, which in turn means you can do shisha mirror embroidery about 3 times faster than you can with embroidery floss.
I made four belts to sell using felt bases and yarn embroidery, all of which are now with happy owners elsewhere in the Southeast. At some point it crossed my mind that I might want to make one to keep for myself, and visions of Jill’s belt danced in my head once more. So one day, on a long car ride, I set to work.

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