The instructions are for a 1” (25mm) wide belt that fastens with D-rings, although you could make a slightly wider belt (but see note on materials below) or use a different fastening method. Suitable webbing, D-rings and a zip can be found in any good haberdashery shop or market stall. My gold-coloured D-rings came from Hobbycraft.
What you will need
- A length of 1” (25mm) wide cotton, nylon or polyester webbing, waist size plus about 12-15” (30-38cm)
- An 8-20“ (20-51cm) nylon or polyester zip in a similar colour to the webbing (16“ (41cm) is a good length)
- Sewing thread to match the webbing
- A pair of 1” metal D-rings
- A sewing machine with a jeans needle in it, ordinary and zipper feet
- The usual sewing kit – pins, needles, tape measure, etc
- Fabric glue (optional)
A note on the materials
The webbing needs to be reasonably thick, you don’t want the bulge of the zipped pocket and its contents to be visible when the belt is worn. Any such bulges will be less obvious if it is a dark colour, so choose black or navy if you have any doubts about the thickness of the webbing you can find to buy. Cotton webbing will need to be washed, or left to soak in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes, and then dried before you get started, or it may shrink and wrinkle where the zip has been sewn behind it. If you prefer to use a side-release buckle instead of D-rings you will need a slightly longer length, certainly waist size plus 15” rather than 12”. Also, bear in mind that many people nowadays, particularly the young, wear their trousers and skirts below the waist, so it’s a good idea to make a belt that is generously long. It’s easy to shorten it later.
Webbing tends to look much the same on both sides, which means that a D-ring fastening looks OK despite the fact that the inside of the free end of the belt will be seen. If your webbing has a noticeable wrong side, then a different fastening method that hides the wrong side would be better.
The zip should, ideally, be the same width as the belt, ie 1”, but it doesn’t matter if it is up to ¼” (6mm) narrower, it will just mean that there is less room in the hidden pocket. It shouldn’t be any wider than the webbing. Nylon or polyester zips are less bulky than cotton ones, and stronger. Pay attention to the depth of the pull, if it is too proud it will stick into the wearer. Invisible zips tend to have shallow pulls, but they need quite a lot of force to open and close them, which is not ideal – the pocket in the belt needs to open discreetly without a lot of tugging. It shouldn’t strictly be necessary for the zip to be the same colour as the webbing because it will be on the inside out of sight, but try to find one with the tape very close in colour just in case any of it is visible at the edges.
Before deciding to make a 1¼” or wider belt, check that you can find a zip of a suitable width. Ones that are wider than 1” are often quite thick and bulky. Larger D-rings can be hard to find too.
The sewing thread doesn’t need to match the webbing colour perfectly. You could even use a contrast colour if your sewing skills are good enough to make a feature of all the topstitching. Webbing is often striped and one of the stripe colours could be used so that the stitching appears to be an additional stripe. In the photos I have stitched using honey-coloured thread that matches the central stripe. The only row of stitching that does need to be a good match is the vertical seam securing the bottom end of the zip. This should definitely not be sewn in a contrast colour, you don’t want to draw attention to the fact that there is anything unusual about this belt. If the webbing is a dark colour then stitching this seam in a matching thread should be fine as it will not show. The same applies if the webbing is quite textured, so that the stitches are lost in it. Otherwise you may prefer to stick the lower end of the zip to the webbing using fabric glue, or else to slipstitch it invisibly in place. See Step 2.
Step 1: Positioning the Zip
If your webbing is plain or striped, it won’t matter which way up it goes and you will produce a belt which can be worn with the free end either on the left or the right. But if you have chosen webbing that has lettering on it or some other uni-directional design, work out which end the D-rings and the top of the zip will go and which will be the free end. For a right handed person, it is easier to open the zip if it is on the left, and vice versa.
Start by placing the closed zip, face up, on the back of the webbing with the pull 4½“ (11cm) from the end where the D-rings will go. If the zip is narrower than the webbing, then position it centrally (ie so that there is an even border of webbing along both edges) and pin, then tack, around all four edges. As you pin it in place, curve the webbing-zip combo a little into the shape it will be when worn, ie with the zip on the inside of the curve. For a zip that is the same width as the webbing, position one long edge just inside the edge of the webbing, pin and tack that edge (again, with a bit of curve). Then tack the other long edge also just inside the edge of the webbing – this will make the zip bulge ever so slightly, which is fine, it provides a little more space in the hidden pocket. Finally, tack the top and bottom edges of the zip in place too.
Topstitch both long edges of the entire belt (not just the part of it where the zip is) on the right side. You may need to use the zipper foot, or move the needle to the right hand position, or even sew with fabric of similar thickness alongside the webbing, because you will be sewing close to the edge of the webbing so as to catch the very edge of the zip tape beneath. Start with the zip fully open and stitch from the D-rings end until you get half way down the zip. Stop with the needle in the fabric, raise the pressure foot and carefully close the zip before you carry on stitching, otherwise the zip pull will get in the way. At the free end of the belt stitch across and then back up the other side. Stitch half way up the zip, open it and then continue to the D-rings end. Finish off the thread ends and remove the tacking.
Step 2: Securing the Lower End of the Zip
There is no need to stitch across the top edge of the zip yet, that will be done when the D-rings are attached in the next step, but you do need to secure the lower end. This must be done in a way that is invisible on the right side, or it might be obvious to an observant mugger that the belt contains a secret pocket. This isn't an issue with the row of stitching that holds the top edge in place because it will look like that stitching is there just to secure the D-rings.
With some types of webbing, simply machining the lower-end seam in a matching thread might be fine - see the comments in the Introduction. Otherwise, squeeze a little fabric glue under the bottom end of the zip and press it under a heavy book until it dries, or else slipstitch the free end in place on the wrong side of the belt, being careful that the stitches don’t show on the right side. Neither method will be as strong as the two rows of machine stitching that will secure the top end of the zip, but that doesn’t matter – the top end has to resist the pulling of the zip tab, but all that is necessary at the bottom end is that nothing in the pocket falls out.
Step 3: Attaching the D-rings
Neaten the D-rings end of the webbing, either by using a zigzag stitch on your machine or, if the webbing is of man-made fibre, by running it swiftly through a flame. (Do this over a sink full of water, just in case you manage to set it on fire, and practise on a spare bit of webbing first.)
Close the zip and tack the top end of it in place. Slip the D-rings onto the neatened end of the webbing and fold it over to the inside with the end right up against the zip pull. Tack the end in place, then open the zip to get the zip pull out of the way. The D-rings need to be out of the way too, so keep them up the near the folded-over end. On the right side, sew across through both webbing layers close to the neatened end, pivot at the edge of the webbing, do one stitch parallel with the edge and then pivot again and stitch back to make two close, parallel rows of stitching.
Position the D-rings as shown in the photos, with the lower one (when viewed from the right side) at the fold and the upper one on top of it, but slightly further from the fold, so that the two straight sides of the rings lie side by side. Tack through both layers of webbing to hold the rings in place. The tacking should be as close as possible to the upper ring. Now topstitch on top of the tacking - you’ll need to use the zipper foot to get the stitches right up against the ring. Again, pivot at the end, do one stitch (turning the machine over using the handwheel is best, because the rings will stop the presser foot going fully down), pivot back then sew a parallel row of stitching in reverse. (You will find that you cannot stitch the second row in the forward direction.)
Before you finish off the thread ends, check that the belt can be done up and that it holds securely without slipping. In case you don’t know how to do this, put the free end of the belt through both D-rings from underneath, fold it back on itself and take it through the lower (second) ring only. Pull to secure. If the belt slips, it is because the D-rings are not close enough together, in which case try re-stitching the slot that holds them in place to make it narrower.
Step 4: Finishing Off
- that the hem is not too bulky to pass through the D-rings to fasten the belt; and
- that you have turned it under the right way – the free end of the belt turns back on itself when it is fastened, therefore you need to turn the hem onto the right side of the belt. If you are using a different fastening method, you will probably need to turn the hem to the wrong side, as usual.
A few things to bear in mind, when wearing a belt like this:
- You need to be discreet about taking things out of it. Ideally, don’t do it in a public place, but if you must then open the belt while seated at a table and the table should shield you to some extent.
- Don’t over-stuff it or the resulting bulge will be a give-away. Put banknotes in singly, end to end, rather than a bunch of them together.
- Resist the temptation to keep feeling at the hidden pocket to check your money is still there.