The Role of Belly Plates in Beadwork and Jewelry Making

The Role of Belly Plates in Beadwork and Jewelry Making
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The Role of the Belly Plate in Beadwork

In certain types of beadwork, especially those involving sculptural elements, a structure known as the belly plate forms the foundation upon which the rest of the piece is built. The belly plate serves dual purposes - as a base to attach other components to, and as a shaping element that lends form. When making beadwork sculptures of animals, the belly plate takes on the approximate shape of the animal's underside.

What is a Belly Plate?

A belly plate is typically made out of leather, wood, plastic, or metal. It attaches to the bottom or underside area of a beadwork piece. If the finished work aims to have a dimensional, sculptural shape, the belly plate provides this underlying form. It gives the beadworker a sturdy base to stitch the beads onto. When viewed from below or the underside, the belly plate is visible.

Belly Plate Materials

Leather makes a flexible, lightweight belly plate. It can bend to create curves and smooth textures. Wood offers more rigidity but can be carved to achieve unique shapes. Plastics like polyethylene sheets accept adhesives well for attaching beadwork. Copper and nickel silver work for belly plates too, hammered into sculpted forms. The material choice depends on factors like weight, strength, malleability, and how much shaping is required.

Attaching the Beadwork

Beadworkers can attach the beads and other components to the belly plate using various methods. Stitching directly through leather or plastic plates offers security. Gluing works better for smooth metals or plastics. Optionally, a fiber mesh can attach to the plate first, providing an easier material to stitch through. The attachment method depends on the plate material and the desired structural stability in the finished artwork.

Assembling Turtle Beadwork Sculptures

Bead artists looking to create turtle sculptures or jewelry pieces can utilize belly plates to establish the foundational shape. With an appropriately curved plate anchored to a base, the rest of the turtle's body can be built up using intricate beadwork techniques.

Starting with the Belly Plate

An oval leather belly plate with slight indentations works well for creating a turtle form. Tracing the general curved outline of a turtle onto paper, then transferring this shape to leather provides a template. Cutting the shape out before punching holes around the edges gives holes to later stitch through. Rigid yet bendable plastic mesh also suits turtle belly plates.

Adding the Shell

With the belly plate ready, the turtle's shell takes shape next. Rows of delicately stitched seed beads, crystals, or colored glass beads build up to create a stunning carapace. The beadworker can introduce relief and dimension by contouring some areas, or intricate patterns by thoughtfully planning colors and textures across the shell.

Shaping the Head and Limbs

Smaller leather pieces with punched holes trim the belly plate, becoming the turtle's limbs and head. Bending these into subtle curves makes them protrude slightly from the rest of the body. The trick lies in attaching them securely enough to maintain positioning while allowing some flexibility. Tucking transparent fishing wire into the edges provides invisible supports.

Completing the Details

Finally, further Bead embroidery details the face and feet. More beads fill in background areas around the now fully shaped turtle. With care taken on proper alignments, curves, and contours, the belly plate provides an anchor for stunning, lively sculptural works of bead art.

Belly Plates for Jewelry

Jewelry makers also find belly plates useful in their designs. For pendants, earrings, or other wearable pieces crafted with beads, belly plates lend form and structure from behind or below the beads.


A pendant may hang from a simple cord, chain, or filigree metal finding. But a belly plate component takes it from basic to beautiful. Pressed copper or nickel silver plates give shape, engraved and decorative. Or two-part plastic pieces screw together to sandwich beads between transparent textural sides. The results make striking statement jewelry.


Belly plates serving as the insides of cuff bracelets allow for adjustable sizes, unlike solid bangles. Slim metal plates with etched or cutout details bridge gaps between beads for lightness and flexibility. Or with plastic mesh and plates, reasonably priced alternatives to metal emerge for versatile, vivid, hand-crafted bead bracelets.


For long, dangling earrings, belly plates connect multiple beaded elements while hiding joins and attachments. Disks or small shapes serve as bases to affix the first row of beads, with jump rings, eyepins, and earwires above completing the framework. This allows jewel-toned crystal designs or vibrant glass beads to transform into remarkable earrings.

Whether for jewelry or sculptures, belly plates furnish foundations for stunning artistic endeavors in beadwork. With clever use of materials and forms, bead artists elevate ordinary glass globes into extraordinary turtle shells, ignite metal bangles ablaze with color, and shape glinting crystals into floral pendants, limited only by imagination and the steadiness of the thread and needle.


What materials work best for belly plates?

Leather, wood, plastic, and metal like copper or nickel silver are common belly plate materials. Leather provides flexibility, wood is carveable, plastic adheres well, and metals can be shaped through hammering or engraving. The choice depends on factors like required sturdiness, weight, malleability, and more.

How do you attach beads to a belly plate?

Stitching directly through holes in leather or plastic belly plates secures beads. Glue also works on smooth non-porous surfaces. Adding a plastic mesh first gives an easier material to stitch through. Attachments should be durable enough to hold beads firmly in place.

Can belly plates be used to make jewelry?

Yes, belly plates lend form, structure and shaping to jewelry pieces like pendants, bracelets, and long dangling earrings. Etched metal plates, transparent plastic disks, and shaped leather serve as anchors and bases for eye-catching beaded jewelry.

Do belly plates show when used in beadwork?

Sometimes. For a sculpture, the belly plate is visible from the underside or bottom. But in a wearable jewelry piece, only portions might be visible. Careful design can also completely hide the plate behind a layer of beads for a smooth finished appearance.

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