Thursday, October 12, 2017

Creating the Snowshoes

For at least 10 years I've been saying I wanted to do a pair of model snowshoes.  In the past month this dream came true.  Now that they are finished, I think the real dream is that I captured the process in drawings and notes, and am on the cusp of drafting several Plates about them.  One plate is already in pencil (the first step).  What could be more me!?  It's almost funny, but these shoes have been a definite step on the way to my next book -- which will be, never fear, about braided model horse tack!

Not every step of making the Snowshoes was photographed.  This post will be an overview.

I began with a jig, or form, made of solid balsa.  I'd inherited a slab of balsa from my father-in-law and it was easy to cut.  This first picture also shows my 'test toe.'  I knew I needed a test piece:  How to do the curve of the toe?  How to lace it?  I was stumped for quite a while, despite my husband's snowshoe book which at least gave me the names of the parts.
 After spending way too much energy attempting to make a metal liner for the toe curve (my test piece still has metal in it), I tumbled to the simple fact that the iron-on strips of wood I was using would hold their own shape nicely on the jig.
I knew about iron-on shelf edging from my own model horse collection shelves.  I knew about using pins to hold things down on corkboard from my early youth, making model airplanes (!).  I had practiced iron-ons with my parade sets.  And, from decades of making 1:9 braided bridles and from this spring's Wicker Chair, I knew what I'd be using for rawhide.  Tandy's Tejas Fine Sinew 30#, of course!

At first, my snowshoe frames were fastened with pins. 
Then I got all perfection-y about it, and decided to use wooden pegs.  I made them from flat toothpicks, of which the kitchen had a bountiful supply.  I shaped the toothpicks with the X-Acto and jammed them through one of my drafting circle templates.  I drilled the holes with the pin vise, visible below (black braided handle).

Sanding and staining were done, and then varnishing.  True to a tackshop's practice, the stain was Leather Glow and the varnish none other than Super Shene, four coats.

The next step was to cut grooves in the sides of the toe and tail.  NOT in the center part, oddly.
Because the tail was the smallest part of the lacing, I started there first.  There is a cord around the inside of the areas of the toe and tail, called a lanyard.
Although it was relatively easy to figure out how to tie the tail lanyard, its execution was challenging.  Bevelling the holes was next to impossible and their sharp edges did a deal of fraying on the sinew.
Lacing the tail, I got into the real heart of snowshoe-making.  Many pictures of both full scale and miniature snowshoes later, I got this far -- I was deducing the math entirely on my own.  I think I redid the tail 4 times before I decided to stop counting the re-dos.
Note that I was most comfortable orienting the shoe tail-up!
(Somewhere in there was a lot of toe-lacing on the test piece.)

If this next shot looks like a success, I can only say it was temporary.  Note the uneven bottom row (next to the crossbar) on the toe.
What happened next was that I finally turned to the vast sea of information called the Web.  In short order I was possessed of multiple ways to tie snowshoes.  On Sept 16 I made up a master cord (toe cord, which carries the user's weight) and laced the center.  To my uttermost astonishment, IT WORKED THE FIRST TIME!!  The math counted out, everything fitted together, and I couldn't be more pleased!!

It had taken all my toe and tail adventures to bring me to the proper frame of mind to appreciate what a miracle that was...
Somewhere in there I had re-laced the toe.  Note there are 6 rows and no unevenness at the crossbar.  I had done both centers by Sept 23rd.  This odd photo made one shoe look larger.
On the 28th, I made a difficult decision.  I was going to undo the toes and re-lace them, for the millionth time, and get them right for once and for all.  It meant undoing even the toe wraps (one of which had been glued).  Those wraps were there to protect the shoes from ramming into rocks and logs -- something my husband insisted happened.  (He was a snowshoer and had definite, if sometimes bothersomely work-adding, opinions... not the case with horse tack.)
I was picky now.   For the umpteenth time I undid the lacing and re-laced... again
 and again.... and
finally got it right.
It was now the end of September and more than 40 hours had gone into the snowshoes.  Pioneering pieces are always going to be longer.  After an almost-argument over the bindings (they had to actually work, so that the user's toes pivoted around the master cord, plus no boot could slip forwards or backwards), I slowly evolved them towards something I was happy with.  The bindings took an extra week.  Why does the littlest detail loom as the hardest to finish!?  Because the artist's mind has already moved on...
My model horse friends would know this was a Betsy Breyer boot.  I was less sanguine about the wider world of doll house miniatures and even less about the Winter Sports section of eBay.  I had discovered there was a contemporary market for miniature snowshoes in the full scale listings!  This was not unlike the salesmens' samples of model saddles in the Old West --- except those saddles were 1:4 scale.  (When an Old West Americana auction says "miniature saddle" they usually mean 1:4 scale, which for model horse people is ridiculously too big.)  The miniature snowshoes, though, were a decent tiny scale.  They had a different problem:  a lack of detail... and a consequent lack of price.
Oh well.....
toys versus miniatures again...
 I knew what I wanted from the start:  to auction these snowshoes but to keep the instructions, drawings, notes and draftings.  That was the real harvest.  With the Guide as my example, I wanted my next book to be based on a pile of inked vellum pages.  Computer aided drawing and PhotoShopping is all very well and good and I intended to use it, but there had to be a starting point.

Photographing the snowshoes was, like every other step, surprisingly hard to figure out at first but then fun and easy.  I wanted to boast about my tackmaking skills but make it clear only the shoes were the subject of an auction.  In the end I dragged out Steve the general-purpose Western Handler, dressed over so many years I can't recall who did what except I did the belt and bolo, LaJewel my best standing resincast, a Williams Matriarch finished by Katie Richards (thanks Katie!), my famous Elk saddle (it has the most rawhide braiding of any in the house) and my only solid-rawhide Fully Braided Rawhide Bridle, the year 2000 one.  There I was, polishing silver with a Q-tip and wondering whether I'd used any coatings on that bridle 17 years ago.  I hadn't.
Then I went outside.  Over the years my favorite photographing spot has grown so much moss I often have to PhotoShop the green out.  It's a problem, but fortunately a small one.
Clouds cannot dim my delight at having finished these shoes.  Light, balanced, exquisitely detailed, they are everything I dreamed they'd be:  the model maker's vision come real.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Engraved Bits since 2009

I wanted to review all the engraved silver bits I'd made since 2009, plus take a look at 3 unusual pairs I've added to my collection.  To my surprise, in the past 9 years I'd made 10 bits:  apparently they occur about once a year!  Even more surprising, the occurrence rate was very uneven.  From humble beginnings (well, sort of), there was an early huge blossoming of extraordinary engraving work -- cheek plates, conchos and buckles on bridles, an amazing breastcollar with 26 pieces of silver - and then things settled waa-aay down.  2015's bit wasn't even an original; it was just customizing somebody else's shanks.  I can only hope this random pattern is not engraved in stone!  oh bad pun...  I trust I can get back to making extraordinary bits and plates, should I want to.  (I do need more Argentium ... get it from Rio Grande.)

I began making my own bits in 1978, but it's not the purpose of this chapter to cover deep history.  Yikes!  Just looking at my scrapbooks reveals a whole 'nother post on reaching today's first bit!  Classic delay, mission creep, distraction and tangential zebras, not to mention okapis ... pause ...  OK, let's focus on the first of my 'engraved,' as distinct from 'made from scratch,' or even 'cut and stamped,' bits.
This bit was offered on a braided bridle as part of the NAN Auction in June of 2009.  The bridle had been offered earlier on Auction Barn, with a different bit; it didn't make reserve.  With the new bit, it sold to Sue Peet (thanks Sue!).  I had just gotten an engraving vise over Christmas of 2008.  This happened because I went to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, and because Rio Grande had what they called Catalog-in-Motion.  (I would've called it the traveling peddlar's show...)  The vise I got was the smallest, and cheapest, that the company carried.  Even so I bet they hardly imagined what it would be used for ...!  I had a steep learning curve to get to engraving such tiny pieces as mine, which involved Therma-Loc, the molding compound I used to hold them in place.  I've done blog posts on this process:  Bit BlanksGoehring Breastcollar Engraved.

Late in 2009, in November and December, there was an unprecedented outburst of creativity.  No less than the Emerald City Bridle appeared, (and a companion Sapphire Halter)!  These pieces were for Jackie Arns Rossi.
Steep or not, I had learned the curve.  The emeralds, of course, could be blamed on the Gem Show (specif., Gems-4-Less).  This was not the first time I'd embedded precious stones in tack (TSII #445, Braided Citrines, was in 2007, if you don't count turquoise halters from the 1980s), but now the bit was between my teeth.  Off and running!

 The next bit in the series has to be Angela Gidding's bridle of 2010.  This piece had a great many meaningful layers put into it, as it was built very slowly over a long time of healing.  Serious medical issues were going on.  But the photo of the bit turned out so fantastic that I've used it ever since as inspiration.  People think it is real (full scale).  Possibly the curb strap helps with this illusion... or maybe it's just a lucky shot.  The degree of close-up-ness came out perfectly.
The elegant twist of the shanks, the added-on depth of the concho over the mouthpiece, and the matching bit shank brace makes a big diff.  This really is my fav.

In 2011 the healing went into high gear with TSII #450, the Golden Sunburst Saddle, with its tie-in to the movie, Tangled.  This was/is my FaceBook Cover Picture saddle, the one with the golden flames on the unfinished Independence.  I am trying to restrain myself to one picture per bit, but this is the last time I'll succeed.

In 2012, an outburst of a different kind happened when Heli of Finland ordered a Hitched Horsehair Bridle like one I'd done before.  Most of the piece was made using a standard cast pewter bit, but at its end I got my act together and made a pair of extraordinary double-eagle shanks.
Here's a close up.  The horse is Ramses, sculpted by Carol Howard.
Near side.  For some reason, a separate shot of this bit was not taken.
So I'll just zoom in for a close-up:

 In 2013 came the most extraordinary outburst of all.  Psychologically this was the hardest year of my life thus far, dealing with my mother-in-law's moving to a nursing home (two different ones in 4 months, at age 93!), at the distance of a thousand miles.  There was nobody local whom we trusted enough to handle the mail, let alone everything else.  I remember that year as terrible, terrifying.  Yet when you look at the tack that came out, it is beautiful, triumphant and celebratory.  The Goehring Mexican Silver Parade set may have taken the longest ever to build (15 months), yet I rejoiced in every moment of it.  It was a never-ending saga of model tackmaking at its best.
Making the Goehring spawned thirteen blog posts.  I counted them just now --- I  had no idea it was that many!  I'm going to link to only one, the last.  I just edited it to include an index of all twelve other posts; scroll to the bottom of this last, 13th post.   Clyde Goehring: Done at Last!
Back to bits:  Here is where the Goehring started, with a bit!  This one, too, had extra conchos laid on top, which adds a marvelous depth and detail.

Moving on to 2015, the next bit I engraved started life as a large curb.  I've seen these around but I really do not know what metal it was made of.  I guess I was worn out a bit (!) on engraving, and took the easy way out.  This is another bit of which no separate photo exists.  The saddle is TSII #454, the Gold-Tipped.

Deep in the fall of 2015, the next bit made its appearance.  This one had lots of character, since it was based on the squirming tentacles of Davy Jones!!!  There is a blog post which includes its saddle design ideas in general: Tricolor Tapaderos
Here's a close-up:
And a view of the near side, on a different horse:
For 2016, I outdid myself, if I dare say so.  Another classic was born, one of the most difficult-to-make and elaborate bits yet.  Another model tackmaker whom I greatly respect pounced on it -- there is no other word!  Thanks, Heather!
This TSII bridle was sold by private auction during BreyerFest of 2016.  The horse is Victrix, by Carol Williams.

For the 10th engraved bit, I was on a roll.  Although this particular design did not involve a lot of engraving, it was tricky and hard to make.  In a bit of bad luck, the method used to hold the bit to the bridle covered some of the upper shank.  Still, it should be obvious what this bit is supposed to represent.
Here's the bridle, making sense of it all:
We may yet have a blog post on this extraordinary set, TSII #456.

I mentioned other bits back at the beginning of this post.  This is going back in to deep history, despite best intentions.  (When you're interested in model bits, time seems to vanish.)  I first purchased a couple pair of the right-hand design (below) in 1991, and have kept one as part of my own Malaguena's rawhide bridle (built 1995).  It's been a touchstone for me, down through time.  "It hasn't tarnished."  Here's that bridle, modeled by Fancy:
I do not know the manufacturer, nor even the source country! of these bits.  I only know my original source is long gone.  We conjecture they came out of Asia, although Mexico is a possibility.  We also suspect they were/are from the jewelry trade.
The size, the detail, the strength:  all are supreme.  Clearly these are part of a set.  About 5 years ago I found the left two pair and purchased them from another model horse hobbyist -- you may be sure at a pretty price!  Then, just this year (2017) the girl to whom I'd sold the other of my original pair let me know it was available.  So it came back to me.  It's not true there was no tarnishing at all, but cleaning was minimal.
Over the years I have sought information on these bits, but it has been frustratingly slow to accumulate, and I still really don't know any more than I've shared here.