Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Getting ridiculous.

Ever since I won the auction for this child's western saddle, I've been excitedly planning. I decided it would be really fun to go all out and make a complete parade set with a bridle and breast collar to match, spangled with silver diamonds. I couldn't even wait for the saddle to arrive, I was so stoked.

I did the bridle first, and I really wish I had a "before" picture to show you, because it was so ugly. I got it in a box of other things from an auction, and it still had the original tags attached -- $79, if you're interested -- but the leather was painted this orange-y brown color. I almost threw it out a couple of times, just because I could never see using it for anything and I doubted anyone else would want it. I decided I had nothing to lose by experimenting, so I tried cleaning the paint off with this citrus-based biodegradable graffiti remover we had in the garage, and it worked really well! Smelled nice, too. It didn't remove all the paint, but it stripped the finish so that I could use some leather dye to change the color. 

Then I started putting on the shiny bits. The tiniest ones are actually paper fasteners I found in the scrapbooking section of our local craft store. I got a bag of 100 for about three dollars. I ordered the bigger ones from a place in New Jersey. The shipping cost as much as the diamonds! But you can't argue the results: it looks terrific.  

I needed stirrups, because the saddle was missing those.  I shopped around and found that new ones are kinda spendy and used ones are hard to find. Until I found this item called "buddy stirrups" -- basically it's tiny stirrups on a strap that you can put on a regular adult saddle so that kids can use it. Seems like just about every barn parent in the county has at least one set of these, and they sell cheap. I got some for ten bucks, cut off the strap, and had my tiny stirrups. I made a pattern out of brown paper for some simple tapaderos, cut them from some leather in my stash, dyed them black, and added a liberal splash of diamonds.

When my little saddle arrived, it was in rougher shape than I had thought it would be. Still, leather has a remarkable capacity to amaze after some cleaning and conditioning, so I dutifully set to work with my saddle soap and sponge.  The color was faded and patchy, so I gave the whole saddle a go-over with leather dye to bring it back to a nice even black. Then I rubbed in conditioner, all the while becoming more confused by what I was finding. 

There were a lot of industrial staples holding the thing together. The felt on the bottom, which I had thought was probably put on to replace old fleece, was stitched on and seemed original. Staples held it to the saddle tree. All the conchos were also held in place with staples -- long, deep staples, but still. I was confused because the design and stamping made me think this was a catalog saddle from the 50s. It certainly looked like one. But some things made me wonder, like, what saddle maker would put diamond spots over his tooling? Were they added later? 

And what were these huge holes in the corners of the skirt for? 

And how exactly were these stirrup leathers meant to work? 

Upon closer inspection, I found that the stirrup straps didn't loop around the saddle tree like a normal saddle -- they were riveted to it. That's kinda unsafe, I thought. But as they needed to be replaced, I figured I'd run the new ones up through the tree like they should be and-- wait a minute, this strap looks like it's to be buckled to something-- were the stirrups leathers buckled together under the horse? That's just weird. 

Wait a minute.

This saddle is missing... the rigging.  The rigging is what holds the cinch, which is what fastens the whole thing to the horse.  Surely the intention was not to fasten this onto the horse by way of the stirrups, which were riveted to the saddle tree? That's like, Ralph-Nader-Unsafe-At-Any-Speed unsafe! 

An awful thought crept into my mind, and I ran to my computer to do a Google search.

Yep. I was right. The first picture I looked at showed my exact saddle, and explained everything.

I had bought a mechanical pony saddle. 

I laughed and groaned at the same time. I had spent $30 on a toy saddle. The holes in the skirting were where bolts held the saddle to the aluminum body. The stirrups also bolted on. The strap underneath did indeed buckle the stirrups together under the horse. 

So much for my vision of selling this outfit to that guy at the barn for his grandkids. My only hope is to find a buyer that restores old coin-op horses, and from what I've seen, they usually just make a brand new saddle. 

I'm hoping to sell the bridle. I got it free and have about eight bucks into it, so if it goes for the $50 I'm asking, that'll recoup my loss on the saddle. I've learned how to set metal spots, and I've found a new method to strip leather, and I've made some cute tapaderos from my own pattern, so it's not like I haven't learned anything -- oh, and I learned to check for rigging to make sure a saddle isn't a plaything before I buy it. If the bridle sells, I'll call it good. 

I need to get started on a dress for a friend's wedding in May, so stay tuned for pictures of that. 

OH! I forgot to post a before and after of the saddle. Here ya go:


Monday, March 17, 2014

Final charro saddle post, I promise!

I finished it last night, you guys, so here's the before and after pictures.

I can't stop looking back and forth between the two; it's a really dramatic difference! I'm absolutely delighted with how it turned out.

If you look around the edge of the saddle, you can see the brown and white wool edge binding I put on the felt skirt padding. I'm so glad I made that choice; it really gives a nice finishing touch. So much better than the plain white I started to go with. It's almost reminiscent of the old corona saddle pads that were so popular in the 50s and 60s.  (I just love the look of those. If they weren't so stinkin' expensive, I'd totally have one. It would look great with my saddle. I'm still trying to figure out how to make my own.)

I have not been able to place this saddle in history. I have only found one that looked halfway similar (based on the original orange felt only) and the website I found it on said it was from 1850, which I sincerely doubt. I think it is probably from the 1960s-70s, based on the buckstitching and the condition of the leather. Without a maker's mark, I can't determine anything for sure.

I can't wait to show this one off to a prospective buyer. I hope it finds a new home soon, because I need the space for my next project saddle -- which I will confess to you here that I have already arranged to have shipped to me and which should be arriving later this week. Here's a sneak preview of my next fixer-upper:

It's a child's saddle, and based only what  I can guess from the pictures, I'd say it's a Bona Allen made for Mongomery Ward in the 1950s. It's gonna be a really fun restoration. Stay tuned for that!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dave: Jedi.

Dave's Jedi robes are done, just in time for the Emerald City Comic Con next weekend. I think he looks quite masterful.

To top off his outfit, he built his own lightsaber, which is hanging on the wall for quick and easy access. It's bits and pieces from the parts bin at our local recycled building materials shop. We picked out a lot of different likely-looking bits and bobs for about $20 and he played around with them until he liked the way it looked. Then he performed some magic in the garage (I had to work, so I didn't stick around to watch) involving soldering and a saw and epoxy and spray-on rubber texture. Looks legitimate! Nice job!

In other (non-saddle-related) news, I picked up 20 yards of 60" olive-green cotton fabric with a subtle pinstripe for ten bucks. I'm thinking perhaps a Victorian-style gown. Can't decide if I want to do the reenactment thing or get a little steampunk silly with it. We'll see. I'll find the right pattern someday and things will click, like they do.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Let's just pretend for a while that this blog is all about saddles...

I got another one. Before you start freaking out and saying unhelpful things about "tack addiction" and "horse crazy", let me tell you -- this is no ordinary saddle.  This one, my friends, is an astride saddle. 

Oh, Wen, I hear you saying, Stop making up silly names for things and just get back to stitching up some 14th century doodahs, will you? 

In a while, man. Listen, let me tell you about astride saddles first. A little history lesson, if you will. I'll keep it short. 

You know about sidesaddles, right? Standard for lady equestriennes because throwing one's limb over and straddling a horse was simply too gauche. Unladylike! Mannish! And (according to something I read and now simply cannot find to link, darn it) would lead to stretching of the nether regions, leaving your lady parts loose and unattractive. Ugh! How frightful! 

Except sidesaddles are terrifying in their own right. I think it's everyone's first reaction when they see someone riding in one -- "How on earth do they not fall off immediately?" Plus I was reading an ancient text called The Horsewoman: A Practical Guide to Side-Saddle Riding by Alice M Hayes (1903), and it seemed like almost every chapter contained dire stories of women who were dragged to death after getting their feet or skirts caught up in the stirrup. 

Once men realized that women were bound and determined to ride anyway (and often liked to go faster than a safe, sedate walk without the fear of being dragged to death) they decided to turn this into a money-making opportunity. Women would not simply use men's saddles --no, no! Women were delicate creatures who needed their own sort of saddle: lightweight, attractive, and padded in the right places to provide comfort, while not being so wide as to promote that stretching we discussed earlier. And so men invented The Astride Saddle around 1900. 

This novelty lasted about twenty years until they fell out of fashion and women began using the same saddles as men because they're not completely brainless.

So, we have a type of saddle that was popular for only a few years about a century ago, so uncommon that some saddlemakers have never even seen one. Imagine my surprise when one showed up on an auction site with a starting bid of $25.  I just about lost my mind. I waited until the final hours of bidding before I put in my bid, and I won the auction for the amazing price of $32. 

Wanna see it? 

Of course you do. 

Here it is moments after I pulled it out of the shipping box.
The brass saddlehorn is missing and it's filthy and in need of conditioning.
The fleece on the bottom is patchy and thin.
Poor old girl. Let's get you cleaned up.

Quite amazing what a little saddle soap and water will do.
Someone used zinc roofing nails to replace missing ones.
Those will have to be removed and replaced with proper brass hardware.
The seat is beautifully stitched!
The seat padding underneath -- probably originally wool or horsehair--
was replaced with foam rubber at some point. Ugh.  

After her first rub with conditioner. What a beauty!

Absolutely gorgeous! 
$32. Worth every penny, and more! 
Okay. You guys have been more than patient with my saddle stuff. Next post will be textiles, I promise! 

Monday, March 3, 2014


I hear what you're saying: Wenny, this saddle stuff is very interesting, but it's not like you actually made the saddle. Isn't this blog called Wenny makes it? Aren't you supposed to be making things? 

Yes, you're right. And so I did! The charro saddle was missing its off-billet, a strap that holds the cinch/girth onto the saddle. So I made one, and stitched and stamped it to match the rest of the saddle.

The flash really washed out the color so it looks like it doesn't match, but I assure you, it does.  And in a Wenny-Makes-It double-whammy, I also made the leather stamp. I used a big nail and filed it to the correct size and shape, and scored the cross-hatching onto it.

Look closely; you can see the leather dye under my nails.
 I'm a manicurist's dirty dream. 

So you see: I am making things. Always! Go thou, and do likewise. 

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!