Saturday, March 1, 2014

Charro saddle work continues

I didn't have much luck finding thick felt to replace the pad on the saddle, so I bought the thickest stuff I could find and layered it. I had a nice golden color picked out and then as I was headed for the cutting table I saw "Tangerine".

Now, anyone who knows me knows I hate the color orange. And I mentioned in my last post how I was going to replace the orange felt with a less jarring shade from the warm side of the color wheel. But then the little conservator in my brain started saying things about how restoration isn't about changing things; it's about respecting and preserving the integrity of the original item as much as possible.

And that's how I ended up with a yard and a half of tangerine-colored premium felt to shape to the skirting of the saddle.

The original felt was about 3/8" thick, and the only stuff I could find even close to that was automotive upholstery padding, and it was black and grey speckled and definitely meant to be covered by something else, but I figured I could layer my premium felt and get the thickness I needed. I cut out four pieces for each side.

I also needed a way to stick all the layers together, to keep them from shifting around and bunching up.  My first thought was to use spray adhesive and then quilt the layers together. But the last time I used spray adhesive, the garage floor was sticky for ages and I knew I'd end up with more orange felt stuck to my fingers than stuck to itself. Plus it's wildly expensive. My second idea was fusible interfacing. I got three packets for three dollars each and ended up only using two. (Plus I had a coupon so I only paid six bucks!)

Fusible interfacing wanted me to use a low-temperature iron which was fine as long as I was putting the interfacing on a piece of felt, but wasn't hot enough to iron on another layer of felt. If I turned the heat up much higher, I knew the felt would melt. So the interfacing didn't work quite as well as I had hoped. It did well enough to hold everything in place while I did the quilting on my machine.

I chose my quilting design from the rising sun on the seat of the saddle. It's a good traditional look and perfect for holding the layers together without being overly fussy.

Remember how there was a decorative edge scalloped into the felt originally? It's not the sort of thing I could cut into thick felt by hand, and cutting tiny scallops into each layer and trying to get them to match up would be ridiculously difficult. I decided I'd have to come up with a different edge option. I decided to try the technique I use on bags, that looks like a braid but is just alternating chevrons of wool roving. I chose white because I thought it would look sharp and go with the buckstitching on the leather. After completing a few inches, I think that I may get some orange roving and start over doing it in two tones, so that the decorative chevrons show up better. As it is, it just looks... well, white.

Stitching the felt to the skirts is an issue. The original felt was held on by the buckstitching, but I hesitate to tear that out. For one thing, new, bright white buckstitching would look odd on this vintage saddle and it wouldn't match the older stuff on the stirrup fenders and tapaderos, and for another, it's a lot of work (not to mention punching it through four layers of felt).  I plan on stitching the felt on with heavy waxed linen thread, burying it in one of the tooled borders about half an inch from the edge. It's a compromise, but the results will look better, I think, than trying to color match and age new buckstitching. We'll see! Stay tuned!

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