Peacock irisdescent green belt
Inspiration from the 20s.

Some number of years ago I was visiting a relative, who was perhaps my mother's age, who had an elegant, but damaged, beaded belt from the 1920s, or so she assumed (it looked like that style) that she offered to my sister and me after we expressed our appreciation. It was loom-woven, constructed of alternating rows of bugle and cut seed beads, and naturally both my sister and I wanted this beautiful, historic, and exotic object. Rather than fight about it, we agreed she would loan it to me, and I would make my own version(s), and then she would repair the original for her own use. —This is not as unfair as I'm making out, since my sister is fashionable and I'm not; I'd be unlikely to actually wear the thing, whereas she'd put it to good use. I don't know if she ever got around to repairing it.

Overall length: 52.5”, from tip of D-ring to end of fringe; width: 1-1/8”; length of fringe: 4-1/4”; largest bead: 6mm peacock iridescent czech. Materials: green wool? backing, monofiliment warps, nylon? thread wefts, iridescent green bugle beads and silvered 3-cuts; blue iridescent seed & 6mm czech beads (fringe only). Roughly 1984–86. Collection of the artist.

In any event, I did eventually construct my own version, in a color scheme more to my liking: instead of all black, I used silver tricuts and iridescent green peacock bugles, and even fancied up the design by incorporating two lengths of bugles. Because I wanted to use it in a SCA costume, in which the belt is run through a loop and then hangs down, I made it long—nearly 5’. Because I'd never taken any weaving classes I didn't have a clue how to manage the warps, and in any event the fancy looms such as Don Pierce has made famous were not then available; just the $5 cheapies with the two wooden dowels, the coiled wire warp separators for doing "indian beaded belts".

—In fact the one I used was from my childhood, for I had once before attempted a loomed, beaded belt, an abortive effort to copy my mother's “Indian Bead Belt”, complete with eagle feathers, my name spelt out in beads and other crimes against Native American iconography. But I never finished the piece, perhaps even then understanding that the romanticized, crafty, “in tune with natur” life symbolized by those belts, with their eagle feathers and thunderbirds, was long gone and had indeed only existed, like the cowboys of the American West, in imagination. In my defense, my mother has little use for adornment and even less for beads; I was lucky she owned this piece, which had such beautiful (and unavailable to me) colors that I picked the fraying thing apart. [1]

The 1920s belt that inspired today's post was different from typical loomed pieces because the bugles were strung on the warps, and slid along them as needed for the design. This meant all the bugles had to be pre-strung, and also since they must continuously be slid to the active work area that the warps could not be tidily wound around the takeup dowel. The need for continuous access to the bugles also meant the warps couldn't be tidily butterflied, (had I even known about this weaving technique, which I did not.) In short, the piece was incredibly tedious to make.

Amazingly enough, I put myself through this frustration not once, but three times (and actually gave one of these 250 hour? dollar? efforts away), which has pretty permanently cured me of any desire to do loom work. (I'm unwilling to say I'll never go back; knowing what I do now, I could solve most of the issues, probably using some sort of bobbin arrangement, as suggested by kumihimo, but that approach was still years in my future in the mid-80s. A score of years on, loom-work, like bobbin lace-making and basket-weaving, still seems comfortably in the category of “been there, done that, long since threw away the t-shirt”.)

As it happens I did actually want to wear my belt: but with a SCA costume, that being (to me) an acceptable reason to deck myself out with loads of ornament. So I increased the length to nearly 5’, put a D ring on one end, and fringe to decorate the other end, which would hang down the front of my costume, such as this rejiquar embroidered tunic. Having seen the problems of tying it about itself, I thought mounting it onto a backing would extend its life. —Now, I'd just warp it on beadalon or the like. I found some matching, vaguely period looking fabric that I thought might be wool, or at least looked like wool, and stitched the beadwork down—stretched out flat, obviously, since the fabric puckers when the belt is tightly coiled, as you can see in the photo.

Alas, I didn't know much about beadweaving, and the fact that I used monofilament for the warps in this piece means it's hardly of archival quality. But though several of the knots for the fringe have snapped off, resulting in bare plastic threads, and the silvered tricuts have long since blackened, the piece has otherwise held up relatively well; I put it on every few years, it seems, for costume weddings. I expect, since it mostly sits in a drawer, that it will likely survive me nonetheless.

stub created 30sep08; post 01oct08. Made file into index 12jan09; repaired footnote, removed indexing, swapped out quotation marks, minor grammatical edit, added tags, added full-size version of photograph back in, 18may2018.

[1]I suppose that belt of my mother's was my first real introduction to beadwork; it is indelibly linked to a memory of standing by the closet door of my parents’ bedroom in the beautiful old 1919 Dutch colonial I grew up in, that my mother spent untold hours stripping the gorgeous living room walnut crown molding —that closet was in one of the front bedrooms, facing a street elegantly shaded by American Elms, long since victim of Dutch elm disease.