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Author Topic: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt  (Read 22472 times)

scott2978

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Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« on: 2014-02-26, 09:04:50 »
There's a lot to say about medieval belts. I'm not going to say it all here. But suffice to say that knights from the 13th century onwards wore leather belts when in both civilian and martial dress. By the late 14th century, the roomy surcoat had shrunk to a tightly fitted jupon, and a belt was no longer needed for it. At that point knights were wearing a single belt that I will not discuss much here, called a hip belt or plaque belt.

To make a 13th - 14th century leather belt, first get some idea what you want it to look like. You can incorporate tooling as well as metal ornamentation. Nearly all belts from this period were decorated to some extent, most often with brass mounts. Look at this chap from an effigy of 1281:




Notice how the smaller belt that cinches his surcoat (and possibly holds some weight of the maille) is decorated with ornamentation. This is pretty common for 13th and 14th century belts. Over time, the style of the mounts and buckle change, but the basic idea remains the same.

13th and 14th century knights often wore two belts outside their surcoat: one to cinch the surcoat and and another to hang a sword. The former could be fairly simple, and in at least some effigies of 1200-1300 it's just a 1/2" thick braided cord. Sword belts were usually decorated with brass mounts and leather tooling, but were still austere by 14th century standards. Pitty there aren't more extant German effigies. At this point in history, not much differed between England, France and Germany armor-fashion-wise though, except that England had some cooler looking surcoats around 1250.  It's not until the age of plate that you start to see a gap in technology, where the Germans notoriously hold on to the older styles longer than anyone else. Anyway here's a good illustration of a period English setup:

 

The most common belts in this period (meaning all belts, not necesarilly sword belts) were made of leather and average about 1" wide. There were wider and skinnier ones, but very wide belts (more than 1.5" wide) were for generally for women, with the exception of sword belts, which were mostly 1.5" wide or so.

Here's a drawing of several 13th and 14th century buckles: http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/ceejays_site/pages/bucklepage10.htm

As with most things about armor, the really good stuff isn't cheap. But a really nice belt, hand made by yourself, is worth more than a mediocre one bought cheap.

You can buy castings of real medieval belt parts from places like Armor and Castings, Gaukler, Quiet Press, or Lorifactor. The leather can be vegetable tanned from Tandy, along with a bottle of dye and a couple simple tools. Veg tanned is not exactly period, but we have to draw the line somewhere. Start by choosing a buckle and strap end that are about 1" wide or slightly wider, then choose one or two styles of simple mounts and buy a total of 10 - 12 of them. The leather strap will need to be long enough to wrap all the way around you with all your gear on at least 1.5 times. Keep this length in mind if you decide to just order a belt from somewhere.

As for tools, here is what you'll need for making a nice historical belt. Many of these are also useful for other projects, like making/attaching/replacing leather straps and buckles on your armor.

  • Good scissors or a very sharp blade to cut the leather
  • A suitable work surface for cutting leather and hammering brass. I reccomend a large piece of wood or a couple of those green/black cutting safety mats
  • A very long straightedge is useful
  • A peening hammer or household clawhammer
  • A good pair of nippers or a dremmel that can cut through a 1/8" brass post on the back of the mounts
  • A dremmel or shears to cut brass sheet with
  • A leather punch, in the same diameter as the mounting posts of your pieces. You can't punch the holes too big or everything will fall apart, and you can't punch them too small or you won't get the brass posts through the hole without stretching and warping the leather. These you can buy a set of various sizes at Tandy for $15
  • A fine file or dremmel for filing down the edges of the cut brass sheet
  • A leatherworking tool called an edge beveler will help make it look finished, but is not necessarry. Tandy has them for $15
  • A bottle of leather dye in the color you want. The Eco-Flo leather dye is on sale at Tandy for $4.49. One bottle will be enough to make lots of belts.
  • A bottle of leather finish, like Eco-Flo Super Shene will help make the belt look finished and resist moisture. It's on sale right now at Tandy for $4.49
  • A pair of latex gloves from any grocery store for about $2
  • A tin of saddle soap, like you can find at most Wal-Marts in the shoe department

You will also need leather, a brass buckle and strap end, and some brass mounts.

To begin, measure and mark the leather to fit your buckle and strapend width. Make sure the length is sufficient, a medieval belt needs to be quite a bit longer than most modern ones. I recommend at least 1.5 times around your body. This can later be cut shorter if needed.

Next, cut the belt blank from the leather. Use either a really, REALLY sharp knife, like an Exacto or a razorblade, or like me use a pair of nice scissors. I use Fiskars brand, and keep them sharpened. Cutting leather with scissors requires some pretty decent scissos, don't try it with cheap ones. Cut as straight as you possibly can, because any slight deviation will be noticable, at least to you. If you want you can also buy pre-cut belt blanks, but most of these are for modern belts and aren't long enough or thin enough. YMMV

With the blank cut, grab your edge beveler. Try this on a piece of scrap leather first. Turn it with the dished side down and place it on the angle of the leather edge, then push it along the edge, slicing off the corner and leaving a nice beveled edge. Do this on both edges on the front of the belt, but not the back.

When finished beveling, it's time to put the latex gloves on and dye the blank. If using Eco-Flo (other brands may vary) soak a clean dry rag in dye, and wipe it on the leather in smooth, even strokes. What you're shooting for is a smoothly dyed surface free of spots, streaks and other anomolies. Get a good coat on the whole thing, and let it dry for an hour or so. Then put on another coat and let it dry. Then put a coat or two on the back of the belt. If you use a cloth instead of a sponge you'll get fewer streaks. Don't forget to dye the edges of the belt as well.

Once all the dye is completely dry (maybe overnight?) the put on the finish. Wipe it on thick just like the dye and let it dry. Once dry, buff it out good with a clean dry cloth.

With the finish on, it's time for soap. Grab your saddle soap and swiggle some on there. Apply liberally to the front of the belt but not the back, letting it dry. Once dry, buff it out again. Viola, now you're ready to add metal stuff.

13th - 14th century belts commonly had some brass mounts riveted to them as well. Mostly they were simple geometric shapes or animals, and they became more fancy over the centuries. These brass fittings had one or more posts on the back for attaching them to the belt. A hole was punched in the leather, the post pushed through, a square washer of brass sheet was set down over the post, and finally the end of the post was peened to mushroom it, fixing the mount in place. The square sheet washer was important, because even a peened post can slip back through the hole eventually. In the late 13th century a knightly belt might have a mount every few inches, and by the late 14th century you can find extant examples of belts with almost the entire surface covered with mounts. My suggestion is to choose one or three styles you like from a vendor, and buy a total of a dozen or so, depending on period and wealth status of your impression. Space them out carefully and evenly the whole length of the belt, remembering the allowance for holes and the buckle and strap end.

The final step is attaching the buckle and strap end. 13th and 14th century buckles were of brass. Around 1250 the common style was a D shape, either with or without a tongue, sometimes lobed with little "blobs" along the curve of the D. By the 14th century some more complex shapes like trapezoids and other more fancy buckle configurations were available. In both centuries the buckle could be attached to the belt either by means of a brass plate that was riveted to the leather, or by running the leather through the buckle to hold the buckle on. The other end of the belt strap had a brass weight attached to it, commonly referred to today as a strap end. Throughout the medieval period strap ends changed a lot from place to place and by the wearer's personal tastes, but a common example would be about 3-5" long and as wide as the belt, tapering to some simple geometric shape or animal shape or something at the end. Both the buckles with plates and strap ends were attached in the same manner as mounts with posts that you peen on the back side of the belt over a washer. 

I suggest test fitting the belt a few times during the process to make sure you've got the length just right.

I'll post some pictures with this later when I have a better camera at my disposal.

Scott





 
« Last Edit: 2014-02-26, 23:34:51 by scott2978 »

Sir William

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #1 on: 2014-02-26, 16:55:32 »
What I find puzzling is how low the swordbelt is positioned on these effigies- is that artistic style or actual fashion?  Or is it just something that needs to be gotten used to?  Fantastic thread by the way, it is funny how much the little things matter.  At first, I never actually gave much thought to ornamentation on garb or armor, going for what I thought looked good together without considering accuracy to period.  Being here and on other similar sites getting to interact with people with the kind of knowledge and experience one could never truly acquire on their own is pretty humbling but I am glad for all of it.  I have learned so much over the last few years, and have gained a new appreciation for this little thing of ours (not that my avatar shows this, I'm a WIP).  ;)  Thank you for sharing!
« Last Edit: 2014-02-26, 16:56:22 by Sir William »
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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #2 on: 2014-02-26, 17:47:33 »
Excellent info, thanks! I already have my eye on a couple of buckles, but I'll have to look into strap ends and mounts some more. I know you mentioned a couple of places to get them, but is there any particular place you would recommend?
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scott2978

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #3 on: 2014-02-26, 23:05:48 »
Excellent info, thanks! I already have my eye on a couple of buckles, but I'll have to look into strap ends and mounts some more. I know you mentioned a couple of places to get them, but is there any particular place you would recommend?

Here's my own personal opinions:

#1 I'd say is Armor and Castings, because their quality and selection is top notch and their prices are reasonable. And by top notch quality remember we're looking for top notch medieval, not top notch 21st century. The downside is that this place is in Ukraine and they make your stuff when you order it, so the wait times are measured in weeks.

#2 IMO has to be Lorifactor, with pretty much the same pros and coins as #1 (this one is in Poland) with the exception that they are generally a little more expensive on certain items. Great selection and great quality though.

#3 would be a tie between Gaukler and Raymond's. Both use extant pieces for making castings, but Gaukler's strength is in the high quality of his small selection while Raymond's is in the larger selection of his medium quality goods.

Then you have several "also ran" sources that have a small number of unique pieces worth checking out. There's tons of them, and by studying my top 3 you can get a good feel for just how historical their stuff is and pick out the gems among the junk. They can take a lot of digging to find the jewel but some nice stuff can be found in this category.

Scott

scott2978

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #4 on: 2014-02-26, 23:23:14 »
What I find puzzling is how low the swordbelt is positioned on these effigies- is that artistic style or actual fashion?

Sword belts are almost always worn low on the hips, in every medieval century. Sometimes I wonder how they were kept up, but the depictions in period art and effigies are too consistent to ignore as artistic license. When I wear a sword, I've noticed that if you keep the belt up high, like "normal" for today, it can be difficult to get your sword out of the scabbard. But when I recently lowered it to effigial standards, it kept falling off me. So I think there is a bit of artistic license in the placement. Not all effigies show the belts so low, but a good number of them do.

...it is funny how much the little things matter.  At first, I never actually gave much thought to ornamentation on garb or armor, going for what I thought looked good together without considering accuracy to period.  Being here and on other similar sites getting to interact with people with the kind of knowledge and experience one could never truly acquire on their own is pretty humbling but I am glad for all of it...

My thoughts exactly.
« Last Edit: 2014-02-26, 23:32:55 by scott2978 »

Sir James A

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #5 on: 2014-02-27, 00:44:34 »
Complete thought here, with no historical basis, but I think that the sword belt is put on first, and the thin belt that cinches the surcoat is also "over top" of the sword belt, or possibly laced through it on the rear, so that it keeps the sword belt from completely falling.
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Sir Wolf

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #6 on: 2014-02-27, 02:09:45 »
gun slingers kept their pistols as far down on the hip/leg as possible.

now kids do that for their wallets lol

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #7 on: 2014-02-27, 04:16:51 »
Wow! Great info! And very easy to follow I must say. Since it seems that these places for the pewter stuff will take a month or two to get to me I may have to order now so when I am ready to make it I'll already have the parts. At first I too thought that the two belts were connected. I do know (even if this is a bad source) that a lot of places sell the two connected. Wait, is that not what a double wrap belt is? I am sure that a double wrap existed during the 13th century. Correct me if I'm wrong.
« Last Edit: 2014-02-27, 04:18:42 by Sir Aiden »
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Sir James A

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #8 on: 2014-02-27, 04:26:51 »
Double wrap belts are the same diameter. Not the same as on these effigies.
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Aiden of Oreland

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #9 on: 2014-02-27, 04:35:15 »
Double wrap belts are the same diameter. Not the same as on these effigies.

Oh ok, my bad.
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scott2978

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #10 on: 2014-02-27, 21:54:50 »
Since it seems that these places for the pewter stuff will take...
Two points I'd like to make:
In medieval times, the people of high social status believed that substance was everything. A rich man wore gold, silver, latten, steel or iron (in that order) but probably not pewter. You'd probably not find a noble or knight wearing pewter belt mounts. While pewter was used from at least as early as the 1230's for belt mounts, it was worn by those of lesser standing, like an accomplished tradesman or craftsman, but probably not by people of even lesser standing nor most of higher standing.

The second thing I want to say is that you can pretty much ignore that in your recreations. While all that and much more can be truthfully said, in the words of a knowledgeable man "You'd need a king's purse to dress like a king." For us, it's probably best to know the truth, but dress more within our means. You don't really want to walk around wearing solid gold belt mounts... do you? For many reasons that's not a good idea. So for most of us, the best balance is to choose brass and pewter. Brass is close enough to the look and composition of gold and latten and pewter (just like 800 years ago) is close enough to silver. These won't cost thousands of dollars, and even better they (probably) won't get you mugged.

Scott

scott2978

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #11 on: 2014-02-27, 22:53:36 »
If anyone is more interested in the history of medieval belts, the girdlers that made them, the smiths, goldsmiths and the triflers that made the mounts and buckles, the tanners and curriers that made the leather, and the politics and economics of it all, I could post at length about it. Holding a medieval belt in your hands represents the work of half a dozen skilled craftsmen.

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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #12 on: 2014-02-27, 23:10:42 »
If anyone is more interested in the history of medieval belts, the girdlers that made them, the smiths, goldsmiths and the triflers that made the mounts and buckles, the tanners and curriers that made the leather, and the politics and economics of it all, I could post at length about it. Holding a medieval belt in your hands represents the work of half a dozen skilled craftsmen.


Who can complain about a bit more knowledge?
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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #13 on: 2014-02-27, 23:24:41 »
Holding a medieval belt in your hands represents the work of half a dozen skilled craftsmen.

That is something that's particularly appealing to me about this time period. Or I suppose any period before the Industrial Revolution, really. You didn't just run down to Wal-Mart and pick out some mass-produced trinket that was stamped out on a machine. Everything was touched by human hands, and even identical items still had their own uniqueness about them. One profession relied on so many others. It's an interesting sort of web, and it just fascinates me how it all worked together to create a piece of armor, or a sword, or something as lowly as a little belt.

I guess you do still have that web today to a certain extent, but I don't know...it just doesn't seem quite as "magical" to me.
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Re: Making a 13th-14th century leather belt
« Reply #14 on: 2014-02-28, 00:07:32 »
Holding a medieval belt in your hands represents the work of half a dozen skilled craftsmen.

That is something that's particularly appealing to me about this time period. Or I suppose any period before the Industrial Revolution, really. You didn't just run down to Wal-Mart and pick out some mass-produced trinket that was stamped out on a machine. Everything was touched by human hands, and even identical items still had their own uniqueness about them. One profession relied on so many others. It's an interesting sort of web, and it just fascinates me how it all worked together to create a piece of armor, or a sword, or something as lowly as a little belt.

I guess you do still have that web today to a certain extent, but I don't know...it just doesn't seem quite as "magical" to me.

I agree completely. But realistically those objects were also more expensive and armor you and I are wearing today is practically a third of the price. When we think custom hand made armor, we think it is incredibly expensive when in fact that is how everything used to be made and it was that expensive. Even clothing was a privilege. Hand made, specifically designed for your body. People didn't own the amount of clothing we do now. This is one of the reasons clothing could show social class.

It makes me think about a lot of stuff made today. Our ancestors built things to last the ages. Things in a sense unable to be replicated. All of this was built by hand for the most part. In fact practically everything was and I think a problem about today is that we under estimate our for fathers in their skill. People believe aliens gave us the technology to be able to do what we did. I think its pure rubbish.
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