Friday, September 11, 2015

Enhancing a Crown Strap

 If you collect other people's model tack, it really helps to be able to fix certain flaws.  This beautiful bridle came to me just about ready to break.  This post takes a close look at the process I used to repair it, and incidentally shows how I make holes in leather lace.

It's almost funny how some model tack winds up with a mix of extremely heavy, hefty parts and light, thin, friable, ready-to-break parts.  Call it style, call it ease-of-making (speed!); whatever it is, it greatly enhances the possibility of breaking-in-use.  This bridle, acquired some months ago with a saddle, had a big heavy earpiece and cheekstraps, but a crown strap of dainty fragility.
I loved the color, the design and the intensity of the (real pins!) pinhead silver spots.  The strappage of the ear and cheeks was cut very thick where the pins were.  But for some reason the crown was made of leather so thin it was on the verge of breaking.  The lowest hole in the picture has already ripped.
I knew I'd have to do something.  Usually, when I collect tack, I like to leave it 'as is,' honoring all of the artist's work.  But there are times to bend this rule... (Just like there's times to fiddle with Breyers, which I call The Black Art of O.F. Enhancement.  The skill ranges from white magic on down; maybe more on this later!)  Tinkering with another's work is a vast subject, worthy of thick books and forests of terms: Conserve, preserve, repair, refurbish, replace!  The field of model tack being relatively new (and most questions being relatively minor), I have worked out my own standards.

 Whether the artist has produced a lot of pieces influences me.  When the piece is really broken, is missing something or when fixing requires a skill I need to practice (the 'teaching value' excuse), it's repair time.  If I think I can get away with strengthening or enhancing,  I'll fix it to the best of my ability and time available -- and take notes.  The bottom rung of this ladder, I confess, is "I wanna 'cause it's mine now."  But at least notes are kept...

In this case I thought I'd "line" the crown strap with another piece of lace.  The upper surface would remain the same, but the strap would be thickened.  In model tack thickness equals strength.  I had to find lace that was the same color, type and density, matching as closely as possible. 
This approach called for a whale of a lot of delicate skiving.  I didn't photo that part...  sharpen the knife...  After the edges were feathered to the limits of my skill, the new liner was glued on, flesh side to flesh side, and let dry.

Now for the holes:
 You see here my needle chisel, a miniature slit punch made from a needle and an old paintbrush handle.  Since the holes are already present, one merely cuts through the liner.  Moistening the lace can be done by wet fingers or by mouth.  The needle chisel is inserted and twisted around so as to widen the hole, making the hole circular.  When the leather dries, the circular opening will stay.
Yes, stresses of pulling will close up that opening in time; but an impression will remain (especially if used often).  The impression makes it easier to find the slits.  Slits put much less stress on the lace than punched holes.

A final step is to use a rattail needle file to further open the holes.  The lining has given the crown strap leather to spare.  Since the original featured round holes, this was part of matching the previous artist's style as closely as possible.
 This is what the crown strap looks like now, from above:
And from below:
I was only opening the holes I knew I'd be using.
The earpiece is unusually large.  Proportions are a challenge eh!?  I had to hunt all through the herd for a horse with big enough ears!  Even the Stone Thoroughbred was small for this bridle... The saddle that came with it was Trad scale, and it also showed some proportion challenges.  I did draw the line at shortening the earpiece.  Excuse the thread on the nose; that's only me hating sticky wax and not bothering with PhotoShopping it [the thread] out.
Even on the Breyer Clock Saddlebred, the earpiece is easily too large.  But I still love the design.
The reins drape beautifully and all the elements match well.  It's ready for years of use.

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