I lead tinkering sessions with kids, which means that I'm always on my feet, and always stick tools and materials in my pockets to get them out of the way or have them available at a moment's notice. This means that I wind up with wildly packed pockets and have to be careful not to throw a sharpie into the wash. Needless to say, I needed a tool belt!
Problem is, most tool belts are boring, uncomfortable, and not always made for walking, sitting, or fitting a woman's hips. Fortunately, I make things. :)
I can sew, but I was recently sent a grommet machine from thediyoutlet.com to play with and review, so I thought I'd go for a no-sew tool belt. Grommets do add a fun and unique look. I am also nuts about the steampunk aesthetic, and want to see if I can do rivets with this machine too at some point.
Step 1: Materials
- At least a yard of a sturdy fabric. I used a neat wine-colored duck cloth.
- A bunch of self-piercing grommets. The machine I got came with 300 grommets each of 3 different sizes, and I made a good dent in the #0-size bag.
- Scissors (big, and optionally small sharp ones)
- Iron and ironing board or towel
- Marking pencil. I used a white water-soluble one as my fabric was fairly dark.
- A couple sheets of big, thin paper for the pattern, like you'd find in packaging. I just collect that stuff as I come across it.
- Duct tape, or something similarly tough
- Shoelace or cord
Step 2: Making Your Pattern
My design for this is longer on the sides of the legs, shorter in the front so it's still easy to walk, and shorter still in the back to sit comfortably. I've also got hips, so I added two darts on the top of either side to make it fit a little better.
When I'm sewing, I stray from others' patterns. I might start with them, but then I wind up modifying for my body or tastes, and it changes. So you can check the photos for the general shape I went with, but I won't be providing any specific pattern. My body isn't like yours, you can make your own pattern. The first thing to do when working from scratch is get a big piece of thin packing paper, large enough to wrap around the intended body part - in this case the waist - then wrap it, tape it in place and, pinch, tape, and draw where you want the hems of the garment to be.
Once you have that, you can remove it, clean up the lines, cut the shape out and put it on again. Repeat the process, making modifications, adding darts, folding, etc. If you find you've cut off too much in one place, tape another piece right there and modify that. I wind up with seriously messy-looking patchwork paper shapes by the end of this step, but it fits exactly right. As the paper is pretty prone to tearing, once I'm close, I'll use duct tape to strengthen the edges. This is a rough pattern; we'll clean things up in the next step.
The darts at the top of the belt are super helpful, as is having hips to hang things on, if you put a lot of weight on this belt.
Step 3: Marking and Cutting Fabric
There are many patterned fabrics that would work great for this. I chose this dark wine color because I thought it would go well with the grommets, and most of my clothing.
Iron the fabric if it's wrinkled and then lay your pattern out upside down on the wrong side of the fabric (if it has wrong and right sides). Make sure to place the pattern at least an inch away from any edges, so you can fold it back over. Once you've got it in place, take your marking pencil and trace lightly around the paper. After you've done that, you can pull it away and sketch it out more strongly, cleaning up any wonky lines and getting the shape just right.
Finally you can cut out the fabric. You'll want to cut not right on the line, but about an inch outside of it. If it helps you cut in the right place, you can draw an outer line too. This extra around the outside of the pattern will be folded behind and will make for neater seams and stronger grommet connections.
Step 4: Prepping Your Seam
Keep the fabric with the wrong side/marked side up. Since I didn't want the fabric to unravel at the edges, I took that extra inch of fabric around the line from the pattern and folded it over. An iron is helpful here to get it to stay in place, and especially if you're working with heavy fabric. As you can see from the pictures, my pattern has a lot of curves, so I needed to do some work to get that seam allowance to fold flat.
The way I accomplished this was to make slits periodically and fold the flaps over so that the curve could lie flat. To help support it, I cut curved strips of fabric about an inch wide that followed the curved edge of the fabric, then pinned them on top of the folded flaps.
You'll see from the photos that I needed to provide some support to keep those darts in place, so I made similar support strips (with at least a few inches on either side of the dart) and pinned them on top of the folded and ironed darts. Grommeting these along with the seam flap will keep the darts in place.
Step 5: Marking Grommet Positions
One last step before starting in with the grommet machine: marking where you want the grommets to go. This part is very much up to your own preferences. I decided, a little masochistically, to put them in every inch or so. You don't want too few, since this method of assembly has no sewing, just the grommets.
Take your ruler or tape measure, and make little dots on the seam strip. It's a good idea to place at least one on each tab of the curves. Once you've made all of your markings, you can transfer them to the front since that's the side you want to have up when you use the machine. You can just make your markings on the front side to begin with if you like, but I prefer to do a first draft on the back, as I had to adjust them a bit sometimes. An easy way to transfer them over is to pinch the seam between your evenly aligned thumb and index finger, with the marking just at the end of your thumb, and then mark just at the end of your index finger.
Step 6: Grommeting
I would never ever want to do this without a grommet machine, and I probably wouldn't do it without self-piercing grommets either. Putting in over 200 grommets is hard enough with the machine, it would be torture doing it manually with a hammer. I don't even want to think about it. Having a grommet machine is a very good thing if you plan to do a lot of them. If you only need to do a couple, it's sorta overkill, unless you have tons of money to burn.
That said, the machine is kinda fun, and therapeutic if you have some frustration to work out. Put the appropriate dies in place, then put the washer on the bottom and the eyelet on top. The top part of the die is magnetic, which is helpful for keeping the eyelet in place. I found that placing the convex side of the washer up worked best for secure attachment. Make sure it's properly centered in the groove (which, even without magnets, does a surprisingly good job of keeping it in place while you're sliding the fabric in). Slide the fabric in between them, front side up, line up your mark in the center (you can gently lower the handle and make a little indentation on the fabric to check alignment), and then push down hard with the handle. Then a little more.
As with all tools, it's a good idea to practice a few times before starting in on the final materials. It can take a little practice getting the right pressure to secure them. You want to push hard enough to not leave them loose, and to punch all the way through the multiple layers of fabric, but pressing too hard can make them look a little wonky.
Now is the part that requires patience and endurance. Punch grommets into all of the marks. Take breaks. Your belt might not need as many as mine, since I'm curvy, but like I said, I wouldn't want to do this by hand. This grommet machine will punch the fabric out most of the time (see next step for when it doesn't), so you can just push the little circles out with a pencil or chopstick. Take the many many circles and use them for fabric confetti. You could throw them out if you really want, but you like fun, don't you? :) Confetti, I say.
Step 7: Glitches and Fixes
This step is where a lot of my review of this machine is. The machine itself is satisfyingly heavy and sturdy, and does a good job crunching the grommets. The magnetic dies are great. I have seen better grommets, but they aren't bad. As I said, I had a few eyelets split, but that's largely avoidable with some practice. Some of the washers are subtly off-center, which can lead to the eyelets not punching the holes out the whole way round. These do hold just fine, but you'll have to snip off the fabric circles (which is why I listed small, sharp scissors in the materials). You can avoid this problem by checking your washers before putting em in, and they do give you 300 of each size, so there are plenty of spares.
Overall, I like this machine, though I might try some different grommets if I need to do much more with it.
Step 8: Main Pockets
Once again, you'll make your own patterns for this. I took out the tools I need on hand most frequently and shaped the main pockets with slots to fit them. The left side has spots for pliers and snips, which fit really nicely with them slightly compressed, keeping them in place, but easily removed.
On the right side, I decided to make layered pockets, which meant making a pattern for the larger pocket, then cutting off the top of it for the lower pocket that lives in front. The little ones are just the right size for a roll of electrical tape and a small spool of wire or two. The larger pocket above it is sectioned to hold long, narrow tools, like scissors or screwdrivers.
To make these pockets, follow the same process as making the base, including leaving seam allowance, folding and cutting tabs to go around any curves, and marking places for grommets. You can see from the pictures that I had some grommets that went only through the pocket, and some that went all the way through to attach it to the base. It's a good idea to start with the ones that go through just the pocket, and it can help you to mark the spots differently so you don't mix them up. I made the just-pocket marks dots, and the attach-to-base marks Xes.
Step 9: Modular Pockets
Since I teach a number of different media, I decided to make some specialized pockets that can be attached only when needed. There's a little one that secures a small set of screw bits, another for a ready supply of screws. There's a sheath for box cutters. There's a pocket for a bunch of Sharpies and pencils, which have up til now lived in my back pocket (accidentally sitting on those is not comfortable). A roll of duct tape has always lived on my wrist, and probably always will.
You can make pockets for whatever you need: camera attachments, chisels, etc. This project is all about customization.
Step 10: Lacing and Loops
I was planning to use a shoelace to lace up the back, but we randomly ran across a spool of paracord at Crashspace, so I decided to incorporate it. To attach the belt at then back, just lace it up like a shoe, and tie a couple knots in either end of the cord to keep it from accidentally sliding out.
The paracord really likes to fray at the ends, so I needed to seal them up. Odd as it is, I didn't have a lighter, but did have a soldering iron, which works well, and gives you more control over the shape of the end than a lighter. Check the pictures for the difference between soldering iron and lighter (which I later acquired). They both work fine.
I felt like lacing some cord through all of the edge grommets, so I measured and cut a length of cord that would make the trip through all of them. Another neat thing to add is a few loops of cord at the bottom that you can hang other tools (like a hammer) through. Doing this with the decorative cord I ran through them all would have made it bunch up in other places, so I took short lengths and tied either end behind grommets three or four apart.
Step 11: Fin
In the end, counting the base, attached pockets, and modular ones, I used 219 grommets for this thing. HOO. I am pleased with it though. It is amazingly comfortable and helpful. I'm also planning to make an attachable power drill leg holster. Maybe both sides so I can also wear an impact driver as well.
Let me know if you wind up making a tool belt like this, whether with grommets or sewn. I'd love to see pictures!