How to embroider your own Shodan belt

A tutorial by Pauline Van Goethem

Your full black belt is probably the most important belt you'll ever earn, and it's certainly the last one that you'll ever wear! Some people like to commemorate the occasion by personalising their belt with hand-stitched embroidery. In GKR, there are a few guidelines about what you can write, and how, and you check out this guide to ensuring that you put the correct thing on your belt. For now, this fantastic tutorial will show you in clear steps how t go about the actual embroidery.

If you like the idea of embroidering your own –or a loved one’s Shodan belt, but you think it would be too hard, don’t worry, it isn’t difficult.  It does require learning few very simple skills, buying some materials that you may not have lying around the house and a little bit of persistence….  But if you have managed to make it to Shodan-ho then I know persistence is not going to be a problem for you!!

The result will be a beautiful hand-made belt that you can be proud to wear for the rest of your life - or it will make an awesome gift for your favourite karateka.  Well worth a few days of your time.Although the embroidery is not hard to do, I recommend you invest £4 and buy a plain cotton black belt from your sensei, so you can practise first.  The type of embroidery you will do is very hard to undo, so have a practise run on one belt (just one character will do) to make sure you are happy that you have got the technique down.  Then get your second belt out and get started on the real work.

What you need to get started

  • The characters for Go Kan Ryu and your name printed on a sheet of paper
  • Two black belts
  • Scissors
  • A measuring tape
  • A chalk pencil
  • Cotton embroidery thread (DMC 676 is a nice yellow gold colour, type ‘DMC 676’ in eBay and click Search)
  • Sewing pins
  • Sewing needle (it is better not to use an embroidery needle –with a blunt end because it is too big and will damage the belt material - a normal sewing needle works just fine)
"Pailine" in Japanese katakana
Here's my name in katakana. You'll need to get your name translated.
1. First you need the characters you want to embroider printed on a sheet of paper. I used the epgyobld.ttf font for the katakana – the characters that spell your name - and DFKai-SB for the Go Kan Ryu Karate Do characters.  Click here to find out how to download Japanese fonts to your computer. If you have trouble or you don’t have your own computer, just send an email to with the characters you want.

for your name, and I can send you a sheet with the correct characters in the mail.

Go Kan Ryu in Japanese Kanji
2. The GKR characters look like this and are a bit like the characters on your badge.  They are a simple, squared off version of the official characters and are more suitable for embroidery, especially if you are a beginner.
Katakana writing
On the back of your sheet of paper, number the characters in the order they will go on.

Cut out the characters from your sheet in a square and cut off at much white as possible.

Remember that when Japanese katakana and kanji is written top to bottom on belts, the characters keep their orientation, but some modifiers such as the prolonged sound mark, are rotated 90 degrees.
Pin the characters to one the end of your belt.

It is worth putting the belt on at this point, to make sure that when tied, the characters are clearly visible and none of them disappear into the knot.  Watch out for the pins!!  Also have a look whether there is a ‘good’ side of the belt.  If one side looks nicer than the other, make sure you embroider the good side.

Spend some time measuring to make sure that the first character is perfectly centred on your belt and decide how much space you are going to have between each one. I would recommend somewhere between 1 and 1.5cm

Take all the characters off your belt apart from the top one.  Make a note at this point how much space you are going to leave between charactersNow it is time to draw your first character onto the belt.  The best thing to use for this purpose is a chalk pencil for marking fabric, which can be bought from eBay for a couple of pounds (type in ‘chalk pencil’ and click Search).  Chalk pencils have a little brush on the end, which will help you erase any mistakes.With the character still pinned to your belt, lift the corners of the paper and just mark a few of the key points on your belt with the chalk pencil.  You will complete the character freehand later.

Your belt should look something like this

Now pin the bit of paper with the character on it a bit higher up your belt so you can look at it while you finish drawing the character freehand.  If it is not perfect don’t worry, you can make small adjustments while you are doing the embroidery!
Cut off a length of the embroidery thread.  Don’t go any longer than the length of your arm or it will be difficult to pull though and is likely to get all knotted.  Split the length of embroidery thread into three lengths of two threads.  Thread your needle with one length (made up of two bits of yellow thread). 

Because you will be doing a lot of threading it may be worthwhile getting a tapestry eye needle threader.  It comes as standard in most small sewing kits (try the pound shop).  Push the wires of the needle threader through the eye of the needle (this is easy because the wires are more rigid than embroidery thread), now thread the threader (this is easy because the opening is bigger than the eye of a needle) then pull the threader through the eye of the needle to pull the thread through.

You are now ready to sew the outline of your character!  Knot the end of the tread.  Enter the needle into the belt a bit below where you want to start sewing.
Your belt should now look like this.  Pull the thread firmly but with control so the small knot goes though the belt but stops short of coming out the other end, where you want to start sewing.  In the first and last character of the 6 that make up Go Kan Ryu Karate Do, there is a bit in the middle of the character that is a bit small and fiddly.  For those characters I would recommend starting in the middle. If you don’t, because the embroidery stands proud of the belt, it makes it very difficult, when it is surrounded by other bits of embroidery that are raised, to do the middle bit.
Sew the outline of the character using a back stitch or running stitch

Fill in each little part of the character using a stem stitch

Your character should now look something like this  .  You can correct the form of the outline by either making the stitches quite tight or slightly wider than the outline.  Make sure you do cover the outline though, to make it look nice and neat!

If, while you are sewing, you wipe off some of the chalk, don’t worry just draw the shape again. 

Carry on until you have finished the whole character. The small lines on the part of the character that looks like a gate, I created by embroidering the stem stitch around the outline stitches only and not actually going through the belt at all.  This makes it possible to create those thin lines and avoids damaging the top layer of the belt which may split as a result of trying to do a stitch that small.
Now repeat this process for all the other characters.  Your name should go on the same side (as in; top and bottom) of the belt but at the other end of it.
Admire the finished result!
When you come to the end of a piece of thread, wind the thread a few times round the needle, then push the needle out of the belt a bit away from where you are embroiderin
g, which is the opposite of what you did to start embroidering.  Hold the thread tight.  Cut it off as close to the belt as possible.  Manipulate your belt until the end of thread disappears.Good luck and email me on if you have any questions!


Many thanks to Pauline Van Goethem for this fantastic tutorial!