Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Twenty bucks.

There it is. The Craigslist ad read "Antique Western Saddle With Collapsible Stand. $20".  I had been casually looking for a new project saddle, and this price blew my mind. I actually blinked a few times to make sure it wasn't missing a zero. The ad had been posted only four hours earlier. The stand itself is worth twenty bucks, and even if the saddle turns out to be not worth saving, I could learn from it. I called the owner and said I'd take it.

Then I opened my books and started reading.

"Loop saddles", named for the open areas in the seat where you can see the stirrup leathers, date from 1880-1920, generously. The visible leathers made it easy for cowboys to check for wear or damage to their leathers, and to replace them. Nowadays it takes a special tool and/or a bit of teardown to replace worn leathers, hidden under the seat of the modern saddle. Why this handy system went out of fashion, I don't know.

I was lucky enough to find a maker's mark barely visible on the skirt that read "Great West Saddlery Co, Maker." GWS was one of the biggest saddlemakers back in it's era. Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, with branches in Calgary and Edmonton, GWS made saddles for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as well as the general public. Based on the appearance and location of the stamp, I can date this saddle to 1905, give or take a year or so. And it's seen a lot in the 110 years since it left the shop, shiny and new.

I've yet to discover what the "80" and the "C" stand for. Perhaps the specific location where it was made? The RCMP sometimes marked their saddles with a unit number, so it may be that. The seller that met me was a young guy, and the only history he could give me was that it had been his grandfather's saddle, so it's entirely possible that Grandpa bought it secondhand and it was once a Mountie rig.

Speaking of rig-- the rigging is 3/4 single ring, and I could explain more fully what that means but it'd be technical and perhaps boring. It's pretty standard to saddles at this time.

Look at that thick dust. Years of grime and sweat and oils -- yuck! The leather was curled up, stiff and dry from years of neglect, and yet...

And yet there were signs that this saddle had been someone's home. There were repairs to the skirt and a second row of stitching showed me that the fleece underneath had been replaced at least once -- although it was completely gone now, except for a few ragged bits caught in the stitching.

See the scar and the rivets there on the skirt? Mustangs are tough little horses and I'm picturing a fella getting bucked out of this saddle and catching his spur on the way off, maybe? What else would catch under the skirt there and rip back? That's pretty heavy leather. At any rate, the owner had a patch stuck on, riveted and stitched. I removed the patch because the rivets had rusted so badly they were eating away the leather. Eventually, I'll place in a new patch with fresh rivets, and stitched along the same line.

It this picture you see another interesting feature-- that concho down in the corner. I hadn't seen that on a saddle before! The other conchos have ties that go through the leather, the wooden tree, and back, holding the saddle together. This extra little guy is just there to tack the corner of that skirt down and keep it from flapping. A touch of fancy, if you will.

A little scrubbing with saddle soap shows promise. It'll never be a showpiece with those scars and cracks, but it will look better.  I cut the saddle strings and carefully removed each piece for cleaning.

The greyish-brown gunk in the corner would not wash off. It was like concrete. I'd never seen anything like it. In desperation, I contacted Richard Sherer, a saddle historian and conservator, and asked him if I was wasting my time. I was ready to cut new skirts and tool them to match. I even had the pattern drawn up. His answer reached me just as I was going to start cutting -- don't make new skirts! He said to keep as much original as possible to maintain the historical nature of the piece, and included a recipe for his special soap. I mixed up a batch of the stinky stuff and went back to work.  And it was amazing! The dirt was just melting off! I scrubbed and rinsed, scrubbed and rinsed, and finally the skirts were clean.

The only problem was the seat. Besides the ripped-out stitching, there was a big stain on the seat. I removed the seat and cheerfully attacked it with the Sherer Soap, top and bottom, but nothing seemed to take away the stain. I sent another email to Mr. Sherer asking his advice.

He didn't answer right away, of course, and as I waited, I got impatient. Finally I took a stiff brush and the soap and just went crazy at a little spot in the corner. I scrubbed that postage stamp-sized spot for about five minutes, all the time worried that I was going to scrub the skin right off the seat, but to my amazement, it finally started getting smaller, and smaller, and finally that little spot was gone! Inch by inch, I scrubbed that seat, never sure that I wasn't going to wreck it at any moment, but lessening that grey blotch little by little until finally it was gone!

I wrote Mr. Sherer again and told him I'd solved the seat problem, and he said it was probably old varnish and sweat that had to be broken through. I never have taken a risk scrubbing leather that hard if the saddle hadn't been such a bargain in the first place. And now look what I'd learned!

I finally had to stop, because it was bedtime. By morning, my clean pieces would be dry and I could start the long process of bringing moisture and flexibility into the leather. Wait til you see!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Early birthday!

I found this little guy on eBay and just fell in love. I'm not sure what it says about me that I love him even though-- and perhaps because -- he's missing his left arm. Sometimes you look across a crowded room and your eyes meet and you just know it's meant to be, you know? But he was twenty dollars, far more than I'll spend on myself for a silly old bear even if he is awesome. Instead I linked him on Facebook for my friends to see and made a fuss of him there, mentioning that if anyone was looking for a birthday present for me, this differently-abled bear would be joyfully received. 

Imagine my surprise when I went into the bedroom one night two weeks later to put on my slippers and there he was, sitting on the shelf with the rest of the hug ("Hug" is the collective noun for a group of teddy bears, really! You can look it up!), looking like he'd been there for ages and making himself at home. Dave says he was wondering when I was going to notice; apparently the bear had been there all day and I hadn't seen it in all the times I'd been in the room. But this time I did see him and...

"Albert von Marzipan!" I squealed.

Wait, what..? 

Oh, didn't I tell you? His name is Albert von Marzipan. I named him while he was still on eBay, because I'm strange like that. 

Dave says he was going to give him to me for my birthday in April, but he just couldn't keep him in a box wrapped in plastic bubble wrap that long. Which is a very unusual thing for Dave to say, beings as he does not tend to anthropomorphize bears --or anything really. What an entirely sweet gesture! 

AvM (for short) is a Hermann bear, made in Germany in the 1930s. His sparse coat is meant to look that way; he's not moth-eaten. He has glass eyes and a "growler" that doesn't work, but if it did, would make a sound when tipped forward and back (think of those cow moo toys), and he is very firmly stuffed with "woodwool" -- long shavings of wood that feel like stiff straw.  

His paw pads are in very bad shape, so the first thing I did was cut him some new ones from a matching wool I had in my stash, and stitch them on with silk thread, turning under the edges for a nice finish. Repairs like this, carefully done with appropriate materials, do not detract from the bear's value. I'll admit I was a little nervous, but I think the end result was good.

The seller's picture was very yellowish. This snap shows AvM's true color, and also the soft green wrap I crocheted him to keep off the chill. Elderly bears appreciate a little extra warmth. The neckerchief he came with is linen embroidered with a yellow and orange pansy-type flower, probably a token from an old sweetheart. 

Dave says, "Now you can make him a steampunk prosthetic arm!" And I thought "Ha ha, yeah!" But then I looked at the cheerful demeanor of this little guy and... it's just not his style, you know? While the soft part of his arm is gone, the wood disk and cotter pin are still attached. It would not be difficult to sew a replacement arm for him but doing so in a way that retained his value would mean finding a piece of matching-color sparse mohair, And I'd have to stuff it with woodwool, which takes a certain talent to pack in without gaps or lumps. 

Honestly, I think he looks great without the arm. It adds to his character. I like him just the way he is. 

The whole "hug".
Oh! And I made a second bear from the same pattern as Roy Tulip, using some black faux fur from an old coat. I'm not sure the sweater suits him at all, so when I get some time, I'll make him a red plaid shirt and maybe some overalls.  He looks like an outdoors-y sort. 

That's all for now. It feels like ages since I sewed any garments, doesn't it? And time is ticking by on my Manuscript Project -- which I have been completely ignoring. But this is the thing about hobbies-- you get to do what you want, when you want. Except when it's time to go to work. Which is now. See you next time! 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Roy Tulip!

All the pieces were stitched together, but I had to wait for the joints I ordered to arrive in the mail. The local craft shop had a four-foot section of plastic googly eyes, and next to that another section of safety eyes, plastic noses, wig hair, wings and halos, wire-rimmed doll spectacles, display stands and all sorts of other things, but not a single packet of joint assemblies. Thank goodness for Amazon. 

The blue yarn marks eye placement, and there are scribbled markings to show where everything attaches, but the bear really doesn't look like much in its inside-out, marked-up state. I had a moment of concern that it wasn't going to turn out particularly well. 

But once the stuffing was in and the joints were snapped together, I had a VERY cute bear! A few stitches with tapestry wool added the finishing touches to his paws and claws and gave him a nose and mouth.

I clipped the fur shorter on his muzzle, which gives a nice antique look. Don't tell Dave I used his beard trimmer for that.

A little blue sweater added the perfect cozy touch. I call him Roy Tulip, because that's his name.

I've started work on a second bear (mostly because the packet of joints had enough for another one) that will have black fur and a brown muzzle and paws. I don't know if it'll turn out as well, because I really like the variations in Roy Tulip's fur and the solid black won't have that same look, but we'll see. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Time for Bear Puns.

I'm a latecomer to the teddy bear fan club. I remember a few in the general accumulation of stuffed animal toys in my childhood, but none stood out as a particular friend. I always thought of teddy bears as rather sentimental, cliche objects and as a rough and tumble tomboy, a fuzzy widdle bear was not of interest.

I was at the thrift shop one day, stuck in a narrow aisle behind a rather large woman pushing a cart. As she went along, she knocked a stuffed bear from the shelf and it fell to the floor by her feet. She kicked it aside and continued on her way. It's common manners to pick up something that falls. Kicking it aside? That's just rude. Irritated, I bent to retrieve the bear. And when I picked it up, I thought, Wow, this is a nice bear! 

He was soft, with weighted paws. His eyes shone and an affable smile was almost hidden by his sort of cotton-y golden fur. His expression was not the wide-eyed cheerful idiocy of most modern commercial bears. He had a personality, and I found it irresistable. I noticed the green sweater he was wearing had a few holes and snags. Looks like you've hit hard times, friend. I said. We'll have to get you a new sweater.

And $1.29 later, he was mine. I named him Ivan in the car on the way home.

This is Ivan! You might remember him such previous posts
where he sported an exploring outfit and was a victim in a carjacking. .

Since then, I have added three more of the same style bears to my collection: Henry, Seamus, and Walt. But I wasn't a collector, or a weirdo. I just find this particular bear comforting and friendly! He's a good size and nice and squishy, and I just like him, okay?

Then I picked up a book called Teddy's World , full of photos of European-style bears exploring the history and habits of teddies, and rather began to like the look of these antique mohair bears. And before long, I decided I'd like to have one of those for myself.

And as they are quite expensive and my bear budget seems to be $1.29, I bet you can guess what this is leading to, based on the name of this blog. Yep.

I found a pattern for a 1907 Bear online, printed it out at a workable size, and found an old faux fur wrap in my stash that I felt would look good as a bear. I deconstructed the wrap and began tracing my pattern onto it.

I've decided to keep the satin lining and make a vest or something for the bear to wear. Maybe a dress, but I'm not partial to lady bears. We'll see.

After cutting all my pieces out carefully, I sat down to start sewing it together and that's when I discovered that the pattern did not include a seam allowance which made me say some very crabby things. But handsewing is a marvelous thing and so I'm whipstitching it together and I think it's going to be just fine. Fortunately my faux fur has a sturdy cloth backing.

Body and left leg done. Look at that chubby little leg! I think this is going to turn out very cute. Dave is wondering if he's going to have to stage some sort of intervention for the bear craziness. I told him I felt like Richard Dreyfuss in that Close Encounters movie, and bears are my Devil's Tower. We just need to ride this through until I get it out of my system.  Stay tuned for further pictures of bear assembly and cuteness!