Tuesday, April 30, 2013

No love for the "History" Channel

Dave's getting really tired of watching Game of Thrones with me, I can tell. Not because I keep pestering him to fill me in on stuff I've missed while getting up to fetch another drink or get my scissors or let the dog in or out, no -- it's because of my consistent growling whenever an ad for Vikings comes on.

Have you seen this wreck? I was as excited as anyone else when the promos came out: "Oh boy, Vikings! I can't wait to see this!" But then as I saw more and more of the ads, I realized I'd never be happy with it -- the costuming is all wrong.

It's like the person in charge did no research at all. She claims she did.   But then she says the most infuriating thing:  “I built up a very general picture of how they looked, but I discovered that perhaps there wasn’t enough there to sustain visual interest for nine episodes. I had to take a leap of faith. Overall, I think you just try to be as true and as original as you can and take some liberties to make it interesting.”

'-to make it interesting.' 


Words fail me.

The freaking HISTORY channel says Vikings are so boring that we have to dress them up in ridiculous costumes to keep Joe Average's attention on them for 43 minutes of every hour?

Here. Go HERE. Go and look at Vikings done right by some lovely Norwegian folk who I guarantee will not bore you. Look at the vivid colors. Look at the embroidery and the weaving and the beauty. If these people were a nine-part miniseries, I wouldn't miss an episode. That dog of mine that I love so much would be given a big meaty bone so she'd stop scratching at the door. And my sewing would lay untouched in my lap because my eyes would never leave the screen -- until the commercials, where I would pick it up and start industriously stitching on my own garb because I'd be so damn inspired. 

I'd not even mind that this child was running around, and I'm not a fan of children in dramas because they're always so cutesy and precocious. He's just so awesome-looking! 

Look at all the adorable!
 And before you start handing me any grief about the costumes in Game of Thrones, I remind you that GoT is fantasy and not shown on a channel that pretends to be educational, so they can wear whatever ridiculous nonsense they want and while I may roll my eyes, I won't get offended.

Even if it's a dress that looks like a bucket.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Unsafe at any speed.

I spent three evenings cleaning and conditioning that saddle. As you've probably noticed from the posts I've made in the past, I actually enjoy cleaning tack -- and the worse it looks to begin with, the better. Projects that show a dramatic improvement almost instantly are the best, don't you think?

Working that closely with it, though, I couldn't help but notice some serious construction and condition issues. The leather was cracked in places, which isn't unusual in old leather to a certain degree, but some cracks were pretty deep. Any place where the leather had been in contact with hardware-- nails, screws, or rivets -- the metal had corroded and damaged the surrounding hide.  When I pulled aside the cinch rigging and a chunk the size of a quarter came off in my hand, that was concerning. When I pressed it between my fingers and it crumbled to black dust, I was disturbed. Sure, replacing the cinch rigging would not be terribly difficult, but now I'd need to be ultra-vigilant about everything on this saddle, or it'd be an accident waiting to happen. 

Once I reached the point where it was clean and any further improvements would cost money, I took it to Tack Room Too  and asked their saddle technician to take a look at it. I already knew it was a cheap Mexican-made saddle, but what he said was as worrying as the crumbling leather I'd found. He told me they won't even take in saddles like this for repair -- there's simply no way to make them safe. Mexico makes many cheap saddles for export and their standards are not the same as American-made. The leather is the not the highest grade and isn't as strong, and their tanning methods are questionable. The hardware used is often tin, which tarnishes and breaks down the leather around it, like on my cinch rigging. There have even been instances of the inner framework -- the tree; the foundation of the saddle which is usually made from wood or fiberglass --being made from styrofoam wrapped in cheesecloth. Inner layers of leather are sometimes not even leather, but are made of cardboard. Can you imagine? 

That's not to say that all saddles from Mexico are like this. There are artisans everywhere who are masters of their craft and produce beautiful (and safe!) saddles. But if there's no maker's mark or shop label on a saddle, be very wary indeed. 

The mark on the saddle horn, by the way, was probably branded on by someone who owned the saddle. I'm thinking it may have been part of a dude string where tourists ride in a line of slow, steady horses over a well-worn trail and the barn manager wants to keep track of his gear so it's all marked with the company   brand. You'd think that they'd want to have good safe saddles for these inexperienced riders, but when you're outfitting a string of twenty, thirty, or more horses and want to keep your costs down, the attraction of inexpensive saddles is undeniable.

The fellow at Tack Room Too said I'd done a terrific job cleaning it up, though. I could tell he was impressed. But when it came right down to it, he said, you can't polish a turd. 

I had figured all along that this saddle might be too far gone for any more riding, so I had a back-up plan. I left the tack shop and drove three blocks to an antique place I know. I told the buyer there that the saddle was absolutely unsafe for riding horses, but it would be great for decoration. She said she had a few people that liked western decor and she bought The Polished Turd off me for the princely sum of twenty-five dollars. Not much for my hard work, but I learned a lot and it's not like I paid anything for it. 

I know y'all are just champing at the bit now to see how it turned out. Here's a "before" to remind you of what I started with: 

And here's the "after":

I think it turned out rather well. I just found some instructions on how to turn a saddle into a child's swing. Maybe I'll print that out and take it to the antique shop so the next owner's kids can have some fun! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Saddle up!

I'm on a roll! Yesterday a guy offered me a free saddle to use for practicing my cleaning and restoring techniques on (because I don't want to try anything experimental on my good stuff or a client's item). He said all the pieces were there, but he couldn't tell me anything else about it -- which I think is odd, because even something as general as "I bought this in '87 for a hundred bucks from a neighbor" can help place a saddle in history, but whatever -- free saddle! So I drove out with Dave to pick it up.

That, my friends, is what I call rough shape. And dude was wrong-- the stirrups are missing. I actually found some that would match nicely, on eBay, but I'm not spending money on anything until I know if I can get this piece into riding condition. Here's a picture of the stirrups anyway, so you can see what a nice match they'd be.

That is a really blurry picture! I apologize. The leather is a little light, but with oiling, they'd probably darken to match, and if not, then I have leather dye and I'm not afraid to use it.

I'm using my secret weapon -- my Shark steamer-- to clean the white buckstitch detailing and the tooling, and it's working very nicely. I'll end this post with a Before and After of the stirrup fenders --that's the part that hangs down from the seat and holds the stirrup. "Stirrup" is a funny word, if you really look at it. Stirrupstirrupstirrupsturrip...

Before                                                       After

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Basket of Destiny! *cymbal crash*

You guys!

You guys, I'm so stoked!

You won't believe what was in that basket!

First of all, driving all the way back from Tacoma with it sitting in the back seat was torturous -- not only because of the musty smell, but because I wanted to plunge in up to my elbows and explore -- but I made myself slow down and drive the speed limit and turned the radio up so I could sing to take my mind of it. Funny how all the radio songs were like "I have a basket in the back seat, full of manky intrigue and possibilities..."  I never knew there were so many songs about mildewed leather!

Once home, I hustled it into the garage and began opening it up, feeling like Heinrich Schliemann pawing through ancient Troy. On top were the fleece items. The breastcollar is small, like for a pony, but in reasonably good usable condition. The cinch needs a wash but won't be getting one because the buckles are so corroded I wouldn't use the piece. So that's trash.

Somehow I ended up with only one of the horse boots, but you know what? I'm gonna let that go since they didn't match anyway and the rest of the haul more than makes up for an errant boot.

There was a leather headstall for a western bridle, with the sale tag still attached. I think I know why it never got used -- rather than buckling on the side, there's a giant buckle that sits right behind the horse's ears. I've never seen a bridle that works like this; it would be painful on the horse's sensitive poll. Serious design flaw, in my opinion, but it's in great condition, so I'm hanging on to it and maybe I can use the parts for something.

Next was the green nylon halter. It's pony-sized and in pretty good shape. I think it would look cute on my horse friend Dusty, so I'll offer it to his owner. Sharing is fun! Along with that was a black nylon bridle. I didn't even know they made bridles in nylon, but there you go -- reins, too. I'll give it a clean and stash it away.

Then I got to the crupper and the harness saddle (that's the thing with the rings that sits on the horse's back). Pulling it out, I was delighted to see that yes indeed, there was a complete harness there! But what's this..?

A second harness saddle? And two matching bridles? Could it be..?

TWINS, you guys!

I got two harnesses (although the second one is missing a few pieces) and the bottom of the basket held four coils of what I suppose are the lines and traces and whatnot.

Here's some of one of the harnesses (note the bridle with brass trim) after being cleaned of mildew. They'll dry overnight and then tomorrow I'll do a second cleaning, and then condition them.  The weird western headstall is there too, the brown leather. Maybe I could make a fleece roll to cover that buckle. I dunno. Weird.

Detail shot of the browband on the harness bridle. Look at those wee little horse heads! I just love it!

At the very bottom of the basket was the item with the read hearts on it, which turned out to be a leadrope with a stud chain. The faded paper price tag was still attached: $9.99. I wonder how many years ago that was.

There were two short lengths of chain with leather straps on the ends that I think were for spurs, but the leather was in terrible shape so I threw that out. I kept the chain though. Might find a use for it someday. It went in the coffee can I've labeled "Wee Horsey Whatnots".

Then I found this:

It was jumbled into a odd configuration, so it took me a little playing around to figure out that it's a bit! I can't imagine putting this pinchy-looking jaw-cracker of a device in a horse's mouth, but apparently it had its use. Poor horse! I hope the rider had soft hands and a kind mind. I'm gonna go search around on Google now to see if I can find anything about it.

Oh, wait! There was also this:

I have no idea what it is. The leather is really lightweight, much too flimsy for horse gear. I thought it might be an intricate harness for a small dog or something, but those straps don't make any kind of sense that I can figure out. Anyone out there recognize this item?

Okay, see ya later!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I won! I won!

While I've always adored perusing online auctions, I've never bid on anything before. The postage is where they get you, see? I mean, say I get a stuffed weasel holding a silver handcannon for the amazing bid of only five bucks. But then the shipping and handling is another seventy bucks. Not such a bargain, suddenly.

But then I saw this item on Shopgoodwill.com.

If you know me at all, you'll understand why this pulled all my triggers at once.

1. It's horse stuff.

2. It's a bunch of stuff.

3. It comes in a handy basket for toting, because there is so much awesome in it that you can't carry it all in your hands alone.

4. It has even over-spilled the handy basket, there's so much of it.

5. You can't see what all of it is, but you can see part of what some of it is; intriguing!

6. All of it needs cleaning.

Let's hope the advertising world never finds out that all they need to do to get me to open my wallet and start flinging bills at them is to show me something old and dusty and say "We should probably just throw this away..."

I spent a good deal of time scrutinizing this small, blurry picture, using all of my horse sense. Starting at the left, I can see there's a headstall for a bridle. There are two black rubber horse boots. The bit of red there has hearts on it. I'm thinking dog collar, actually, but who knows?

On the right side of the picture, there are two fleecy objects, a cinch and a breastcollar. Both look pretty clean and I was looking for cinch buckles for another project, so even if they're kinda crappy, I can use the hardware on them for something.

But in the basket! In that tangled jumble I see a green web halter, which is no big deal, but next to it  is the item that set my teeth to jangling: a crupper. And next to the crupper is a wide strap with brass rings on it that I recognized  -- these are harness parts. Is it possible that this basket holds an entire harness?

The opening bid was $19. The headstall, breastcollar, and cinch alone were worth that, secondhand, and if there's a harness in the basket... "But the postage!" I reminded myself. So I checked to see how much that was -- and it was pick-up only. Oh darn. But wait -- it was in Tacoma! Shoot, I can drive to Tacoma and back in no time!

So I decided it would be fun to bid on this, and call it a birthday present to myself since the bidding would end the might before my birthday. I set my maximum bid at $25 and hoped that local pick-up, the unknown contents, and the general grimy condition would prevent other people from bidding.

I got it for $21.99.

I know from my experiences cleaning tack that the whitish crud on that leather is not mildew -- it's "bloom", a cloudy layer of exuded oils (and dirt) which tells me that the leather had been well maintained in the past but hasn't been used in a while. A little cleaning and conditioning, and I could have some very nice, workable items for an exceedingly reasonable price.

I'll give y'all the breakdown once I've picked it up and sorted it through. Happy birthday to me!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Res Bear 2.0, Yeeehaw!

Friday night was opening night and I was stitching the button onto Ivan's jacket literally minutes before we walked out the door. What can I say; it's been a busy week. But we were looking sharp and ready to enjoy an evening at the theatre.

The nice thing about bears is, you can pin their sunglasses to their heads so they don't slip off. 
The show was great, the cast did a fine job, and I saw my name in credits for the first time. That was a bit of a thrill, though Ivan was disappointed that his name did not appear. I'm sure that will be rectified in the future.

Now, I'm going to be putting more pictures of his outfit up later, so check back for that. But right now, I've got a date to go herd some cattle. I'm trying a different horse, Scotty, and neither of us has worked cows before, so this should prove interesting. Here's a pic of Scotty looking super unassuming.

"You want me to what?" -- 16.2 hands of dressage horse, ready to play cowboys for the day.