Mandolin Strap

17 Jan

Since my band, the Barefoot Nellies, needed a mandolin player, I decided to take one for the team a few months ago and pick up the mandolin. I got a Kentucky KM-800 (“Bella Voce”–the most heavily inlaid instrument I own) F-style mandolin back in December and started looking for a cool strap to use with it. (I have an awesome red gingham guitar strap from Sparklecraft that gets lots of compliments).

I picked up a cool raspberry suede strap from the Fifth String over in Berkeley right before practice a few weeks ago, but alas and alack–the scroll on my mandolin is too tight! The opening isn’t wide enough to fit the strap.

What could I do but make one myself? I stopped by Jo-ann’s, picked up a 1/4 yd. blue gingham (44″ wide), 1 1/2 yds. 1″ white cotton belting (I wanted nylon, but the nylon 1″ belting was actually slightly wider), and 1/4 yd. black vinyl (I could have done with a scrap, really, or an 1/8 yd. at most).

Check out the extended entry for my how-to.


I ironed on some heavy fusible interfacing to the gingham and cut two strips from selvage to selvage a little less than 2″ wide. I then folded in the edges and pressed them to the finished width (about 1″ to fully cover the width of the belt).

I used Stitch Witchery to baste the gingham strip to the belting (wrong side down, of course). On my first attempt, I got some bubbles, but I was able to correct this by pressing more slowly and then pressing again on the other side (the things you learn by reading the directions!). I topstitched the gingham on to the belting. My main concern, overall, was strength, so I tried to take every precaution and reinforce as much as I could.

[Lesson learned #1: It probably would have been easier, construction-wise, to make the strap like a purse strap: iron in the edges of two pieces, then stich them, wrong sides together (I’d still use Stitch Withchery to keep the pieces together and avoid using pins, which cause the fabric to bunch up). Mandolins aren’t that heavy, relative to guitars and banjos, and if I used strong craft interfacing, it probably would have worked fine. However, I’d definitely use nylon belting for a guitar strap, especially if I was going to use it with an electric guitar–and especially a Les Paul.]

That was the easy part. My Sparklecraft strap uses a rectangular plastic ring to attach the belt part (cotton gingham and nylon belting) to the vinyl part that connects to the guitar. I couldn’t find one at Jo-ann’s, so I cut out two end pieces and sewed them on the end of the strap. To create the loop that goes around the scroll, I cut a rectangular hole in the vinyl for the other end of the strap to fit through and reinforced it by stitching around it.

At the other end, I sewed a few buttonholes with a rounded end in the gingham-and-belting. This was a pain. Buttonholes aren’t my favorite thing AND I’m out of practice AND these were especially hard (I discovered how tough it is to zigzag around a circle). What ended up working best for me was to straight stitch the border, then do a narrow zigzag as best I could around that line of stitching. That seemed to work OK.

[Lesson learned #2: My Sparklecraft strap just has notches cut in the vinyl. I’ve been using that strap at jams, camps, and onstage for at least a year so far, and it still holds tightly around my strap knob. Next time, I’ll make the cotton/patterned section shorter and attach a strip of vinyl long enough for three strap button openings, so I can adjust the length. I’ll cut the openings with an Xacto knife out of the vinyl, and maybe reinforce that with a straight line of stitching. I may also add a piece to make the length adjustable, and then have just one hole for the strap button.]

I cut open the buttonholes lenghtwise with a seam ripper then cut the cotton threads from the belting at either end of the buttonhole so the button wouldn’t catch.The strap is a little too long, but it’s perfectly functional, and I used it as I practiced Saturday and Sunday and on our Blarney Stone gig.

I think I’m going to try to work on this design a bit more. I want to make one with “NELLIES” written on it. I’d like to try one with the “purse-strap” approach made of quilting (not the calico kind, but the kind you’d use to make a pseudo puffy vest), maybe with cotton batting as a middle layer.

Once I get pictures of the process, I’m going to post it to Craftster.

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