Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tricolor Tapaderos

Designing my parade sets usually starts with the serape, since that is the motif climax.  TSII #455, Miller's Tricolor, didn't stop there.  Not since Cottam's (#422) have I put so much effort into designing just the tapaderos (taps).  This whole post will be about just them - and hopefully show some of what goes into designing these babies.

Number 455 is based on the hexagon.  Partly this choice was because of the great success of my first hexagon saddle, #447; partly it was I "just wanted to."  I had a few good reference pix of this unusual pattern, developed by Bohlin in the 1950s from a beekeeper friend's suggestion.  The ikandi hexes only come in 6mm and 4mm, and I hadn't used the 4mm hexes before.  The horse in question, Breyer's Marwari, is smaller than most Trads.  And I want this set to be a standout.  It's been a long time coming; the order was originally accepted in 2009, six years ago...

None of my existing tapadero patterns used 4mm hexes.  I started with my smallest (it was #440's) and tried to fit in the elements of the serape design.
Right away I had a problem.  (The breastcollar had it too.)  The hexagons can be placed with their flat faces either vertical (sides parallel) or horizontal (top and bottom parallel).  The normal shape of the tapadero would use both these alignments.  How to accomplish a rotation in the middle of things?  The front (leading) edge of the tap had them lined up horizontally.  The rest of the tap didn't.  Wooops...

I tried working things out on paper.  First, try a staggered front edge:
This particular effort introduced the idea of half-hexagons.  But I wasn't happy.  I wanted a copper-colored edge, a silver interior and gold accents that didn't touch the copper.  And that wasn't happening.  (Note that these pictures don't show the copper color very well.)

At this point I changed gears and went after the tooling pattern.  (Typical of me to go haring off in a completely different direction when foiled.)  I gave myself leave to develop a completely new tooling pattern... an expensive luxury, but allowable for our top-of-the-line silver saddles.   I'd found an old Bohlin saddle pic deep in my files.  The fact that the flower was a hexagon leaped out at me.
I stared at those curling corners.  I had been watching the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series way too many times...  the theme was ramping through my brain.  Davy Jones' twisting curling tentacle-beard was before my mind's eye... and before you could say Captain Jack Sparrow, there were twisting curling tentacles all over my new tooling pattern.
The owner of this set and me have something in common:  We're both boat owners and take boating seriously.  It is appropriate, then, that there be a marine influence, however tangential, to this saddle...!

The "Mock-Up" idea has come into its own with TSII #455.  This is laying down some packing tape (using plain tape to hold it sticky-side-up) and test-fitting the actual ikandis on it.  This is ten times better than merely arranging them on paper.  Trust me.  What are a few grabs of tape at your hand, compared to the slightest jostling and all your work instantly, hopelessly, lost?!!?
As it happened this was my first-ever tapadero mock-up.  And right away a great problem was solved.  The spots were lining up beautifully.  All I'd had to do was give up on the prevoius shape of the tap pattern, and let the spots dictate their own.  (The half-hexes also came in handy; thanks for encouragement, C.)
I asked myself whether the above layout couldn't bear to have a bit more nose:  another row of spots, perhaps?
 Yes!!  It could!!  But three pieces of gold were too much.  Take one out.  Move the "airplane" down one to balance this.  But the whole tap was still too big and heavy.  Take off one row from the whole front edge:
It worked.  After all this is a smaller horse...
The center front of the tapadero must bend in the middle, and be as large a single piece of metal as can be managed, within the design parameters of the individual saddle.  Hence the two interlocking shapes there on the mock-up.
Now comes the dinking.  Should I move the 2-spot "peanut" down by one?
Still not happy, though it's hard to say just what bothers me.  I try another insert.
Right idea, wrong shape.  Try something that doesn't touch the copper edge row, is more centered, and which works with the tap outline better:
Yes!  This is it...!!  Now I'm happy.  Whew that was hard.
Next, of course, is matching the tap pattern as a whole, and redoing the tooling pattern.
I struggled with this.  There was no flow to the pattern, no obvious growth progression.  Still dinking.
I had to go to bed on this one.  It just wasn't obvious how to fit the tendrils around those 4 flowers.  Somewhere in the night it came to me:  Don't use 4, use 3.

This is how the big guys do it:  there is always a flow to the tooling pattern.  It follows a growth path.  And so I came to a place I liked.
The hexagons are balanced well in color, spacing and size, and fit into the shape of the tapadero.  The tooling is dense without being too dense --  a fine point in model tack.  In fact I think closeness and refinement of tooling pattern is an individual tackmaker's preference... which is as it should be!  Just so long as it's well executed (and fret not, this tap came out very well).  As a final note, I'm thinking this particular parade set will look best executed in darkest brown, instead of black.  The color of the horse turns out to be chestnut pinto...  which just happens to match beautifully with a "pinto" tricolor approach.
Designing is fun,...  but it's only part of the work to come...


  1. I'm late in commenting on this, but wanted to thank you for sharing. I faced a similar issue on the latest saddle pad that I'm stitching. I almost wore out a piece of graph paper trying to decide how to best fit everything. I'm not sure why it kicked my butt so much, but I guess it happens! It was really neat to see your process and how you try different placements and tooling to get things just right. I'm sure the finished product will be gorgeous! :)

  2. Thanks Bobbie! I definitely advocate wearing out paper instead of leather or cloth for designing!