I know that the belt used in ANH was made with a material that was thin enough to sew, but I wanted to give mine a good, solid look... and to me, that meant thick leather. So, I made my belt out of some vegetable tanned tooling hide that I had on hand. (I think Leia's belt was actually two thinner layers of leather or vinyl, sewn together at the edges.)
I began by cutting a large piece of tagboard to the approximate size that I would need. Leia’s belt overlaps in the back so that it can be snapped closed, so I made sure to cut the tagboard long enough to accommodate that. I folded the paper in half and sketched out the pattern on one side, like the way you draw the pattern on only one side when you’re cutting out a heart design. I then began gradually trimming it to the right shape, always cutting the tagboard while it was folded in half so that the two sides would match up. When I finally got my template to a shape that seemed to match the reference images, I put on my dress and made sure that the fit was still good. It was, so I cleaned up the lines and trimmed away the last bits of excess tagboard. (This was photographed on a 1 inch grid.)
My next task was to design the metal plates that are used to decorate the belt. Templates were needed again, so I used the leftover pieces of tagboard. Using the belt as a guide, I figured out the sizes needed for the central plate and the side pieces. It took a bit of adjustment to get things to fit without looking too small or too crowded, but in the end it all seemed to match up well. I cut out enough tagboard pieces to make sure that they fit all of the way around the belt, then taped them onto my belt template and tried it on again, making sure that everything looked okay.
You need one of these, for the front center of the belt:
And, seven of these! There are three on each side, plus one that is used to hide the snaps in the back.
Once I had all of the templates ready, it was time to start making the belt. I used the first template to cut a belt out of the leather hide, and then used white leather paint that I purchased from Tandy Leather. It looks like standard acrylic paint...but just in case there might be some difference, I went ahead and used the stuff that is specifically marketed for painting leather. I had to use a large, very soft brush to keep the paint smooth and free of brush strokes. It took three light coats to get a really good finish to the paint. I also painted the sides and back to give it a finished look. Once the paint had dried overnight, I used the side of a wooden sculpting tool to burnish the edges of the leather. This smoothed down any stray fibers that were lifted by the paint, and gave everything a more finished look. The paint does tend to lift the fibers of the leather, and then stiffens them, so you have to make sure that they’re smoothed down again. If you don’t, you risk having your new dress get snagged by a stray fiber on the belt!
We have a large sheet of aluminum in the workshop that we cut pieces from every now and then, so I used that for the belt decorations. First I traced each pattern onto the metal with a fine-tipped Sharpie, and then I used tin snips to cut them out. This was a time consuming process, and I had to be really careful because those cut edges can be really, really sharp... but in the end I managed to cut all of them without ever cutting myself. Whew! I then took the mouse sander and ground the edges of each plate, taking off any sharp corners or edges, and giving it all a softer and more rounded look. I also sanded the face of each plate with a piece of 600 grit sandpaper to scuff it up and make sure it was ready for the paint.
The round decorations found on the center of each plate were surprisingly easy to make. I picked up a few boxes of cover buttons from the crafts section in Walmart and removed the wire piece from each one. The buttons are hollow, and I needed a good surface on the back of each one so that they could be glued onto my belt, so I turned them upside down and filled each one with a bit of casting resin. Any kind of filler or epoxy would have worked, also. That’s just what I happened to have on hand that needed to be used up!
Once the filler in the buttons was cured, I spread out the plates and buttons and gave them a coat of silver paint. I considered using Rub N’ Buff, but I’ve found that it can transfer to clothing when it gets warm. I didn’t want to risk getting silver on my dress during a summer event, so I decided to play it safe and use paint instead.
I decided to rivet the metal plates to my belt so that I’d never have to worry about them coming off. That required drilling a small hole in the center of each plate, and punching a corresponding hole in the belt where each plate would be located. From there I riveted each piece in place.
Since I wanted the smooth side of the rivets to be against my dress, that meant the ‘ball’ side of each rivet would be on the outside. No problem... I just took a drill and created a small cavity at the center of the resin in each button. The rivet fit inside the cavity, and the buttons were still able to sit tightly against the belt plates.
I needed the plates to be in the correct shape before I glued on the buttons, so the next thing I did was to gently bend the plates so that they remained form-fitting to the belt even when it was wrapped around my waist. I’ve considered gluing them to the belt, but it hasn’t seemed necessary. If I find that they stick out too much while I’m wearing it, I just might get out the epoxy!
After the plates were bent into shape, each button was attached with a dab of epoxy, and then the belt was left alone for a while so that the glue could cure. In this picture you can see the hole that was drilled in the casting resin before I glued down the buttons. It was very easy to drill, and took very little pressure.
The last job was to put the snaps on the belt. I used four, both to match the reference images and to make sure that it would stay securely closed. It was a bit nerve-wracking to attach the snaps. Putting one side on? No problem! But putting the second side on, knowing that they all had to match up exactly? That was a little more difficult. I checked and double-checked every little detail before I punched those holes in my leather!
In this picture you can see the belt fully assembled, save for the last plate, which hides the snaps. I’m afraid it doesn’t hide them completely because I spread them out a bit too far, but it does help give the belt a more finished look. (Of course, the hood hides that part of the belt most of the time, but it always helps to put in every detail that you can. It’s the details that make costumes great!