When I first started needlepointing, I was too afraid to design my own projects, opting instead for pre-painted canvases. Unfortunately, this habit proved expensive and at times frustrating when I knew what I wanted but couldn't find it.
Last summer, I set out to find a Virginia Tech football belt. Finding nothing I liked, I decided to overcome my hesitations and jump right into belt design. How hard could it be?
The wonderful thing about needlepoint is that each canvas is a grid. You don’t need to be an artist, just able to count the squares. As it turns out, counting squares gets a lot harder after a glass (or two) of wine. I slipped up a few times in the early stages, making an entire Virginia Tech logo in the wrong color and making a football much too low on the belt. Luckily these were pretty easy mistakes to fix, I just pulled out the thread and started over. No harm done.
Having designed a handful of belts at this point, I have a system that guides my process. I hope these tips prove as helpful to you as they have been to me!
Figure out what size your belt will be
Before stitching the belt, it is important to know how long it will need to be so you can map out your design. To do this, grab a tape measure and a belt that is frequently worn by the needlepoint belt recipient. Measure from the outside edge of the belt buckle to the hole most frequently used. Use the chart below to guide you measurements.
Subtract four from your measurement to give you the length of the belt in inches. So, if you measure 36in, your needlepoint stitched belt length is going to be 32in.
I generally buy a 40in x 4in canvas in 18pt for belts. If you have a local needlepoint store, they will know exactly what to get you if you tell them that you are making a belt. When it comes to thread, I opt for wool or pearl cotton and very often mix both depending on what I have on hand.
Outline belt area on canvas
Confession - I’ve never actually mapped out the entire belt before starting. What can I say, I like to live on the edge. There are some things however that I always do when starting out.
Since you know how long the belt is going to be, use a permanent marker to mark the two ends of the belt. Then, mark two inches inside the canvas from either of those marks. This first and last two inches of the belt will be reserved for background color and will mostly be covered by the leather during the finishing process. Next, mark the top and bottom of the belt. Once you start stitching, it is easy to follow the line so do this near the first mark to help with those first few rows. Keep in mind that the top and bottom two rows of stitches will be folded over in the finishing process meaning it is best to keep designs inside that area. Belt height will vary based on which finisher you choose but 1.5in (26 stitches) is what I usually go with.
When designing a belt, there are a couple of ways to get your ideas on the canvas. A popular method is to use grid paper to map out how the stitches will go, either eyeballing it or placing grid paper on top of your design, holding it up to the window (or light box) and tracing. If you are artistic, you can also paint or draw directly onto the canvas. The American Needlepoint Guild has some great instructions on transferring designs to canvas.
Belts need to be sturdy because they get tugged a considerable amount during wear. It is best to keep to the basics when it comes to stitches and opt for a basketweave stitch.
I usually start with background and alternate between little designs and background as I go along. Another option is to do all of the designs first and do all of the background at the end. There is no right or wrong way to do it so it will come down to what makes you more comfortable.
With this belt in particular, I knew I wanted it to keep it basic so I opted for only two designs that alternated throughout the length of the belt. Knowing the size of the two designs that recur on the belt, I should have measured out the length and decided on spacing accordingly. Should being the optimal word. Still, I got lucky and the belt turned out fine with me winging it.
And now it is your turn! Have you designed your own needlepoint belt? What was your experience like?