My First Athabascan Baby Belt

This was my first attempt at making an Athabscan style baby belt. I was looking through a coffee table book about Athabscan beadwork and it showed some baby belts. I was intrigued by these as I have also seen them at the Alaska Native Medical Center, which has all sorts of wonderful pieces of beadwork. I highly reccomend visiting this hospital to look at all the awesome works of art they have in collections all over the building. I've always wanted to create something traditional in order to carry on beadwork traditions. I didn't know how to pack my kids using one of these, I just wanted to make them to hand down as keepsakes. Mine is strong enough to hold a baby since it it made with super thick smoked moosehide, but I just never got around to learning how to pack my kids around using one.

It all started after looking through this book. I also plan on making some wall pouches which were also featured in this book. For the life of me I can't remember the name of the book, as I was looking through it at a library or bookstore - can't remember. Anyway, my mom gave me some super thick smoked moosehide she didn't have a use for and I knew that this was the perfect project to use it on. This belt measures 5' x 5'. I did the artwork on paper and used a polar fleece fabric for the backing since I didn't have felt that long. The beadwork book mentioned beadworkers from that era using something called broadcloth to bead on. It looks like black felt. I didn't know what to use so I used polar fleece on smoked moosehide. Smoked moosehide is hard to come by for me since I live in the city and don't hunt moose every year. I'm sure there are people that have some for sale, but I don't think I can afford it. I have another baby belt beaded but I do not have any more smoked moosehide to sew it onto. For now it's rolled up and stored away until I figure out what to back it with - maybe a pig suede instead - or some sort of fabric? I like the idea of using a heavy canvas, I guess I'll look into it sometime.

outlining the beaded  baby belt

final outlines on beaded baby belt

Once I drew out my design I sewed it onto the polar fleece backing material. I usually do bead embroidery without a hoop or quilting frame but this piece was pretty big so I decided to use a quilting frame that had scrolls so I could easily go down the length of the piece without having to re-mound it every foot.

center motif of beaded baby belt

background fill of beaded baby belt

I started in the middle and worked my way out to the ends for both the outlines and fills. Once the outlines were all done it was time to fill in the white background. That took forever and was pretty boring by the time I got to the end. I used a single needle method for the whole belt. The second belt I made I used the two needle method where I could and it greatly improved the final feel of the finished piece. At this point I was still a beginner/intermediate beader and still felt more comfortable with a one-needle method.

final beadwork completed

Once the background fill was completed, I trimmed the extra backing material and tore away the extra paper edging. I don't have any photos of the finishing process (I could kick myself for not photographing this part) but oh well. I had to sew together two parts of the smoked moosehide backing because my hide wasn't long enough. I didn't have a pattern to work from, I just made it up as I went along trying to match the appearance of the belt to the historical photos found in the beadwork books I read through. I made the tassels and poof balls using regular worsted weight Red Heart yarn, moosehide ties, and glass pony beads. There are different ways to finish these belts off and I chose elements I saw on other belts but made mine my own way.

finished beaded baby belt

This belt is rolled up and put away currently. I don't have the money to have it framed or anything so it's just put away until I hand it off to my kids. I'd like to finish two more belts since I have three kids - one for each child. My second belt is beaded and ready to mount onto a backing but I set it aside at that point. It features Icelandic poppies as the floral of choice. It has the yellows, whites, and oranges of the flowers with a sky blue background. My third belt will feature berries - cloudberries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and salmonberries. In fact, I need to start drawing this out - my kids may have kids of their own by the time I finish this project!

First Baby Belt Photo Album

OOAK - First Baby Belt