Saturday, May 26, 2012

How to Make a Steampunk Pocket Belt from Old Cargo Shorts, DIY with Gail Carriger


Steampunk DIY Pocket Belt

My latest DIY project is making a steampunk pocket belt from an old pair of cargo pants.

A while ago I made this steampunk belt from an old pair of shorts.

I wanted something nice to wear over my longer more formal dresses that I could hang gadgets off and put passes and money inside. Portable pockets, if you will. I also wanted it to be relatively easy to make. Here is an example of what it looks like on an outfit.

Well a dear friend of mine noticed the belt and when a favorite pair of cargo pants lost a battle with a leaky pen, she brought them to me to make over into a similar belt. This time, I remembered to chronicle the project.

The original pants, front and back. (See the pen leak on the back left pocket?) The material on these trousers was a little thin. I suggest something relatively thick, if you can find it ~ khaki or canvas or corduroy. Thrift shop for ones that are well made with reinforced pockets and a sturdy waistband. Ones that already have metal buttons are a bonus. You definitely want some of the pockets to snap or button properly, for security.

Using pinking sheers (just to be on the safe side) I cut the pants off above the knee, merely to eliminate excess material. I didn't want the belt to hang too low, aesthetically I think it works better to keep to upper level pockets only.

Still using the pinks, I then cut around the pockets I wanted to keep, leaving exiting seams (if possible) and at least a half inch allowance (if possible). I find that cutting out the zipper and at points near the waistband I lost seam allowance. That's OK you can cover rough bits with trim or other decoration later. Take care to keep the waistband completely in tact when removing the zipper.

I feel asymmetrical looks better (and less like the belt started life as cargo shorts). Thus I suggest an uneven number of pockets one side versus the other. In this case, because of the pen leak, we had one pocket on one side and three on the other. (If you have leftover pockets keep them for future projects. They make great additions to the inside of jackets for extra holding power.)

Fold over the edge and pin down. Again don't worry if there isn't enough in places. That can be fixed later.

Sew down the seam. (You can do the whole thing by hand if you prefer.) Then go over it and do a binder or whip stitch at those points (like corners) where the sewing machine was no good.

Then comes the fun part ~ decorate! (I handed the brown ones off to my friend and she hasn't had the time to finish the project yet, so we are back to the original belt as an example.)

I stitched a complementary color trim all around the edge by hand. I recommend keeping it in the same color family, so the belt goes with as many different outfits as possible. (I have one belt for browns and one for blacks.) So far as the buttons are concerned, I suggest going from larger to smaller in an angle up the seams (careful not to sew down any pockets). It's all personal preference, I just like the way this looks. Plus you want the most weight at the hem, so the belt hangs nicely. I use both vintage and new buttons, and beading spacers from a craft store as I get smaller. This belts also includes some octopus buttons and necklace pieces, an old broach, a key, and a pin. (Odd earrings can also find a new home.) Hanging off the waistband (in the space left by removal of the rear section of the shorts) I added some metal rings, these are from old curtain hangers. I use strong 100% nylon thread for my decoration, and a lot of it, especially on the rings from which I hang heavy pouches or gadgets using beaners.

Here's another example of the button decorative technique. Note I've also uses spoons and old-fashioned copper paperclips on the outfit.

That's the great thing about steampunk you can find beauty in the oddest household items.

Anyway, there it is. I hope some of you will try your own belt and have a fun time with it.

~ Gail Carriger

More steampunk fashion here.

Belt purse, 1870 via shewhoworshipscarlin tumblr

Traveling reticule fashion plate in Godey’s Magazine, 1859.

Retro Rack is also on facebook where I post additional images and fashion thoughts.


  1. That's awesome Gail! What a great idea!

  2. LOVE this project and plan to make one soon! THANK YOU for your generous sharing of the ideas and instructions! BTW: You look so smashing in that top outfit! LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!

  3. Amazing! Let me add that to my long long list of projects that my lazy butt has to get to.

  4. Oh how I was coveting that utility belt at Teslacon. I am floored that it's something as simple as a repurposed pair of cargo pants - brilliant! Thank you so much for the tutorial.

  5. I love this idea! I can see me using this at street festivals this summer and when I time travel to the Renaissance.

  6. This is brilliant!! What a great way to reuse!!

  7. I just love that googling "make utility belts" led me to a recent post by a fellow costume-loving author. thanks for the tutorial! xo

  8. Fabulous - reposted to my blog with credit - thanks!


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