Andrew's Custom Needlepoint Belt + Q&A

I was going through my blog posts drafts and realized I had this one sitting here waiting for the final photos to be taken. SO SORRY it took so long! Better late than never??

Last Christmas I wanted to needlepoint a belt for Andrew. I bought him his first belt from Tuckernuck from Smathers and Branson the previous Christmas (which, btw is a great brand to buy from if you don't want to needlepoint yourself). At first he didn't love it but over time it became his go-to weekend belt.

So it got me thinking that I should make a custom one for him. They're also called hobby belts for this reason. In college they were called the boyfriend or breakup belts (because you'd make them for your boyfriend but they took so long that by the time you were done you'd be broken up). I'm not sure if this was just a southern thing or not, but they were big in college at University of Kentucky.

I picked up needlepointing in college for this reason and ended up making three belts and a handful of keychains over my four years. I really took to needlepointing and how fun and relaxing it is. It's also really fulfilling to make something for yourself or others that you love. The hobby belts became my hobby!

Fast forward to 2018, I decided since Andrew liked his Smathers and Branson belt so much, I'd make him his own and it would be a great gift. One that he will love and wear forever (hopefully)! We put together a list of the things he'd want represented and I texted the store I used in Kentucky to place an order.

Here's his belt:
AJL -- his initials. It's very common to always have those right at the front starting off the belt
Golf -- durr
New York -- where he was born and raised. Filled with the colors of the NYC flag
Baseball -- his favorite sport and where he works
Airplane -- for our love of travel
Blackjack -- his love of gambling and blackjack (and the A and J are part of his initials!)
Palm Tree -- for love of warm weather and vacations
Nantucket -- our favorite place
Decadent Ales logo -- his beer company

I texted one of the owners and told her what I wanted. A few days later she texted me a photo of the painted canvas to approve/edit and then sent off the belt and supplies I would need to create it. When I was back in Lexington for a wedding, I took it into the shop to be finished and about three weeks later it was sent back to me complete and ready to be worn!

Q: As a beginner what should I start out making?
A: I started out with a keychain. I recommend doing something small and easy to get the hang of it!

Q: How long does it take to get comfortable with needlepointing? Is it difficult to learn?
A: It's pretty quick, at least for me. It's the same stitch one thousand times over so you get used to it. The hardest part is the color and making sure you're following the pattern correctly. Still, it's not too bad.

Q: Is it expensive?
A: This is all relative -- what do you want to stitch, how big is it, how many items are on it, etc. For the above belt, I believe it was around $195 for the canvas, the painted items (hand painted btw), the thread and needles. Then it's around another $70 or so for the final stitch (which I don't know how to do) and the leathering. It's expensive, but it's handmade, which is more than money can buy!

Q: How did you start? How did you learn?
A: I started in college and made a flat, one-sided keychain with my initials on it. If you go to a store that specializes in needlepoint, they will help teach you how to stitch. Like I said, it's the same stitch over and over and over, so it's quick to learn. They also taught me different ways to do the same stitch -- up and down, across, or diagonally. It all ends up the same. 

There are also a ton of resources online like articles and videos on how to stitch different kinds of needlepoint. For Andrew's belt, since I hadn't made one in years, I took to YouTube to remind me how to start a stitch. You can learn anywhere, but I think it's best with someone there to help show you face-to-face. 

Q: How long does it take to make a belt?
A: This could take anywhere from 1-6 months. It all depends on how often you work on it. This took me three months total, but I could have easily done it in a month. I was in no hurry to get it done over the summer because it was meant as a Christmas present. It's a great project to do passively while watching TV, in long car rides, on planes or somewhere on a beach -- whenever you have down time. 

Q: Where do you buy the materials?
A: Wherever you buy a belt or project, they will (or should) give you the materials you need. When I purchased the belt it came with the color groups for each picture on the belt, a ton of khaki thread (more than needed) and two needles. So whether you go to a store or buy on Etsy, they should provide everything you need to needlepoint the project. 

Q: How long have you been needlepointing? 
A: I started in college (around 2014?) and made three belts and a TON of keychains. I stopped when I moved to New York and picked it back up last year to make Andrew his belt. I have a list in my mind for some things I want to make for our wedding!

Q: How do you secure everything?
A: For my part of the belt, I secure the thread by tying or knotting it with the thread around it. I will leave a loose end and then wrap a colored thread around it. This helps hold it in tight. When I took it back to the shop to be finished, they added the final stitch on the top and bottom. You can see in the pictures above that there is a thicker stitch running horizontally along the edges. That stitch and the leather backing help hold the belt in place over time. 

Q: What do you put on the back side?
A: Other than the leather, nothing.

Q: Can you get custom patterns?
A: Yes! You can get whatever you want (within reason, of course) on the belt or item you're needlepointing. I sent through images of what I wanted and they painted it for me without any issue. 

Let me know if you have any other questions below. Happy to help answer!

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