Saturday, December 21, 2013

All Good Things: Goehring Skirts

All good things come to those who wait.  And wait we have!  Worth it: the past 3 weeks have seen fruit.  The Goehring tree is finished, and so is its seat leather and both skirts.  There is a use, after all, for a rented house and a field experiment.  (See our other blog, ship chandler.)

I can't thank Ann Bilon enough for her kindness in sending me the Apoxie I used to customize this tree (thank you Ann!).  I had so much fun sculpting and sanding and filing.  But it wasn't until I dyed the thing that I really began to feel like progress was being made.  More than that... I could actually see, for the first time in a year (this saddle was started in January), light at the end of the tunnel!!
I had never colored resin before.  A painter I am not...  but I've been dyeing and staining since the beginning of my tackmaking career.  It was the most natural thing in the world to pick up a brush and dye.  "A good day to dye" embraces the very dry weather we'd been having up in the Finger Lakes area of New York.  Things crackle!  I swear, mold and rot have no chance up there -- you are dry the moment you step out of the shower.  :)

I used plain Dark Brown Pro Dye for most of the tree.  For the wood parts, that is, for those parts which would show in the finished saddle - the bottom of the horn and the bars under the fenders --  I used my Fiebing's British Tan oil dye.  So much fuss about trying to get mineral spirits up to the house so I could clean the brush. --!!   They never did get up and so I wound up using a Q-tip.  Just today, the day we moved back to State College for the two week Christmas break, the oil dye leaked in transport.  Fuss--!!!  You'd think I'd've learned the lesson:  not to transport dye that isn't in a Nalgene bottle...  sigh...
The oil dye gives the lovely reddish cast of mellow wood.
The seat leather piece, seen here merely laid in place (installation must come after the cantle silver), also used the oil dye.  This seat is a model tack situation where I departed from depicting reality.  In reality there is no leather on the rear of the seat.  Bare wood is all that shows.  (Comment out of context: hard ass.)  But in model, I had those little holes to cover up.  Through no fault of Jennifer's (who sculpted this tree), I didn't want those holes.  Most Mexican saddles have them, but not the Goehring.
So I chose to depict the entire seat in leather, and actually this was an easy choice to make, since most of my Western saddles have one-piece seats.  I had lots of experience, and comfort, with such a choice.  A good deal of tackmaking is just such decisions.

The Goehring seat uses a basketweave design of every other square cut foursquare.  No stamp exists for such a design, at least not in miniature!  I could've made one, I suppose, from a minute little Phillips screwdriver.  Instead I just used my needle chisels.  A lot of steady hand cutwork, no more, no less.

Next came the skirts.  No matter how carefully I'd planned, I wasn't going to do soldering in somebody else's fancy resort house, and that meant I couldn't do the main cinch rings next.  Nor could I do the conchos, having not brought ALL the supplies or stamps I'd need.  (Incidentally one I thought I'd lost was later found, brought along after all!  All good things...)  But I HAD brought plenty of leather and my 5-pound tooling block, a gift from Kathleen Bond.
In my original estimate of parts to be made, I had listed the two skirts as two separate steps.  I would have done better to have listed three steps for the two of them:  Tooling/Scalloping, Dyeing/Finishing, and Checkering.  By checkering I mean buckstitching with white.  I'd had the patterns from an early stage, months ago.  What remained was refining of the tooling patterns, and then we could really start.
Here's a quote from my N.A. (tackbench) notebook:
          "I want to explain why the 2 skirts' patterns don't match. (Nor the fenders.)  This saddle represents 2013 to me, a very disjointed year.  Although each separate section is good, each had to start from scratch and was isolated.  Also my reference does NOT show the tooling pattern very well.  ALSO, for the front corners, SVEN'S ANTLERS from the movie FROZEN are influencing me.  He's carrying European Red Deer antlers even tho he's a North American caribou.  Such fantasticalness is typical of this saddle."
 In another typical move, I didn't really allow enough space for the scallops along the edge.  I had to cut them after tooling, even after dyeing, which just made more work for the tackmaker.  All went well with that mindless job, except that now there wasn't enough space for the checkering.  The above shows the first pass of the thread.  Remember how the fenders used three passes?  When this pic was taken I'd finished the second skirt with three threads on one side and only two on the other.  This was made possible by finding a thick, fat thread.  It worked so well.  If I'd found it earlier I would've used it for all of the second skirt, which was thinner and more delicate than the base plate/first skirt.  Why hadn't I found this earlier? -- model tack is full of such twists and turns.

So, how can I fix the problem of no space?  It isn't the common stuff you want to learn from the masters of a craft:  it's how they solve their own mistakes. 
"What does the Master do when things REALLY get tough?" is one of my favorite quotes.  In this case the only choice is to extend the cut slits inboard, into the tooling.  How I managed not to cut the existing white thread is a mystery.  I decided later that the waxing of the linen thread made it into a substance that could easily stand nicks and small cuts.
Two threads all the way around.  Flattening the checkering, with the needlenose pliers, proved excellent. 
And now came a chance I found irresistable.  It was surprisingly difficult to hold all the parts together with only one hand.
A glimpse, out of focus and incomplete, of the almost-despaired-of!!  Impossible as it seems....
Can it be!  Oh, ah, some day soon...  Not years now, not months, but mere weeks... could be even days.  We still have the silver to go, seveal large pieces of it... the cinch rings, the cinch straps and the cinch itself, not to mention the blankets.  But in the outer universe the situation is stable.  And for that I am deeply thankful.
Merry Christmas all.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tree Fun

This is one of those posts that tries to catch up with several subjects: a new location, new material and, not least, making progress when one is completely stuck on a tack project.  As such, I'm afraid it's rather a work-in-progress.  From author Suzannah Lessard comes a word I've used before:  midmetamorphosis.

Where to start!  I just uploaded a whole post on our new digs: Bay To Remember.  It's kind of long, so I'll put in three pix here that take you around the corner of our rented-for-two-months house, and over to the latest incarnation of the TSII.
 This is what you see when you go downstairs.
 And this is what you see if you keep walking towards the door.
 And here is my tack shop.  I brought in the lamps, horses, tools and materials and tack, and the electronic stuff.  (I can't make tack without music, at least for more than a day.)  The desk and chair were already here.  The moment I saw it I knew this was the spot to set up.  Old work desks have a special attraction.  Could it be because Dad used one in our garage? 
And this is the house, just to give a little perspective.

The TSII has set up shop in a multitude of places.  As time has gone on, I've become increasingly proud of the collection of locations I have made tack in.  It started on a card table in my bedroom at home, that is, Fox Hills in Boulder.  It went out to the family basement room on the picnic table, then out into the yard (in summer).  It went to college, CSU in Fort Collins, CO, and happened in several dorm rooms.  It went to the apartments I lived in, and then the houses.  I got an old bin door for a worksurface and leaned boards against walls for tack racks.  When I travelled, I used an orange fishing-tackle box... now famous in its own right!  Over the past 33 years, I've made tack in tents, airplanes, cars, ships and hotels.  I guess this is a miniature list of how travelled I am as a person.

Travel is not always fun, and this year has been particularly difficult.  Although its difficulty is a separate subject, still it bears on my next topic, which is breaking logjams!  You will know that I've been having a heck of a time working on, let alone finishing, the Clyde Goehring Mexican Parade Saddle set.  I started it in January.  Twelve months later, we are finally up to the tree.  Oh, the breastcollar and bridle are done:
But moving beyond this point has proven almost impossible. 
Aside from the obvious, that we've been involved in "family issues," has there been any other contribution to the recalcitrance?
Yes.  This is a saddle of a type I'm not at all familiar with.  I didn't have reference, and worse, I didn't have any identification with it... not the way I identify with Western saddles.  Even English saddles I am at least quite familiar with, and have collected for years in model, even making a couple.  It is a law of miniatures that the more ground-breaking, prototypical work involved, the slower you go.  My first McClellan, Portuguese, Spanish and Peruvian sets all took inordinate amounts of time.
But wait, there's more.  This saddle absolutely involved a tree... no way without it!... and I've been awful slow to use trees in my model tack.

 As noted before, when I discovered TWMHC's resincast Mexican Tree, I knew I had been saved.  Ordering it took time.  Once I got it, I had the further problem that it did not match the saddle I was trying to build.  I needed to choose between going ahead without customization, or doing the deep thing, totally hand-crafting a one-of-a-kind tree with it.  Being the TSII, I chose the latter... eventually.

Time now to mention Ann Bilon.  A hundred thanks would barely be enough!  This lady, ever honored be her name, went out of her way to send me a package of Apoxie... and other aids to specifically get me going on this beast of a project.  I have sculpted very rarely, and not in Apoxie before.  Reading the label, I realized I had to buy disposable gloves to use it.  One more step, one more day...  Step by step, sometimes no more than just sitting at the bench and scraping off the oil dye I'd originally put on the tree, I slowly progressed, while the days went by.

One of those days was spent doing drawings.  The horn of the TWMHC tree canted steeply upwards, whereas the Goehring horn was more level.  It was higher too.  I had to make these drawings to see just what I was trying to accomplish.

On another day (yesterday?) I went online and studied, ever deeper (it is well worth the visit!) Nohuanda's fabulous collection of pictures of Mexican Saddles.
Nohuanda's Monturas Mexicanas.
Nearly five hundred shots of every concievable part!!  Priceless!!!
Friday was the day of Apoxie.
I opened, rolled, squished and shaped.  I molded and sculpted.  After so long in my hobby, I was doing what everybody else did, what I had seen the results of so often: sculpting.  And -- believe it or not -- it was fun! 
I could get into this.

After the Apoxie cured, I filed and filed and filed.  That was this morning.  The X-Acto cuts it beautifully, and my trusty old fingernail file (actually a metal file with a wooden handle) worked like a charm.  Layer after layer, I got closer to where I wanted.  It was a case of creating what I was after in the moment of creation.
Even the bumps on the shoulders are here.  How I'll fit silver around them is a problem for the future.
Silver bumps are exceedingly rare in Mexican saddle pommels; I haven't seen any in all the 499 pictures of Nohuanda.  I did make a pattern for the cantle silver.
A lot of white dust and little grey and white chips.  The pictures barely show the crescent of the old, original white-resin horn poking up through the Apoxie, as the drawings suggested it would.  I had to take off nearly as much as I'd put on, but I think that's par for the course.

This, of course, is the Goehring set.  I still don't know when I'll be finished.  There are a lot of things I don't know:  when I'll ever get to my Christmas letters for instance!  No gift list exists, nor is likely to until next year...  Can we have Christmas in June... ?? ...  But I do know that I'm going to keep trying.  Long-term success is linked ever closer to finishing this saddle and to finishing Rinker.  Until then, thank you for your patience.

Stay in touch.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Organized Chaos

One of the nice things about inheriting family furniture over a long period of time is that you have the leisure to think up where it could be really, really useful.  The key here is "over a long period of time," since she's not dead yet but we've had eleven months so far to try and decide where all the loot will wind up.  This last pass (for those who are counting, it was the fifth) saw us wind up with a great deal of stuff.  A two-bedroom apartment rendered down to a semi-private hospital room generates a lot more loot than a three-bedroom rendered down to a two.  Who'd-a thunk it.

In case it's not obvious, our house is a thousand miles away from the scene of said rendering.  Whatever we desired had to fit in the car.  And our house is already pretty full, as the view above might hint.  Can you find the new furniture?  It's the manila-yellow tower sticking up near the middle.  Otherwise, this is a view of the northwest corner of my tack shop.  The horses do extend along the silver shelves seen at left, and then there's some display tack and another corner.  (Future blog post material.)  And then there's the tack bench proper, a few more horses and vehicles, another corner, a desk and you're back to the door.  Not a large space, really, for such a burningly intense hobby and all its passions.

 These particular views of my tack collection were taken in 2005, so keep in mind these two are from 8 years ago!  But the corner arrangement is basically the same.  The bench itself is to the left of the Western and Parade saddles.


Back to the present.
The new furniture was a set of shelves, in the form of a slender wooden tower.
This is what it looked like right out of the bag, as it was taken from our car.
And this is what I'd had the leisure to think of:  my pile of Lori Batchelor Pony Pouches, or, as I call them, pony pockets.
For years, ever since I started collecting them, this is what they've looked like: a disreputable spill of fabric stuffed into the corner between the shelves.  That corner, the space between the shelf sets, was (in the beginning) carefully set so as to be able to take out a shoebox from the right side set.  You can just see it in the first picture, to the left of the drafters on the fourth shelf down.  That shoebox is full of horse blankets.  In the corner space, other pockets, bags, pouches, etc. drifted in over the years, as well as conglomerations of old (ancient!) horse blankets and Fashion Star Fillies costumes.  Got the picture.

By the most amazing of coincidences -- I did not know for sure until we got back -- the new shelves would fit exactly into this corner space.
This was the underside of the top shelf.  The top had been inexpertly mended by my father-in-law, Ross, and it did not sit well... literally.  It wobbled.  When rescued the shelf set was holding only a telephone and some books. 
I tighted up the screws underneath the bottom:
This was an excellent start, stopping half the wobble.
This is a view of the top minus its shelf:  two large holes, glue residue and (two) strange metallic circular fittings.  When you tried to fit the top shelf in its place, there were problems:
Clearly he had tried to shim with those popsicle sticks, but they weren't doing the job, and the internal screws or whatever they were weren't holding.
My first task was to remove as much glue as possible, and ascertain what was there, and how the hardware worked.  Fortunately the glue was so old  it was brittle.  I flaked most of it off, with some sawing and breaking, and then dug out the circular fittings and cleaned the glue out of them too.  And lo.  Everything was still functional.
It is a great pleasure to be able, and to be allowed, to use one's skill and patience to solve problems merely by being more attentive to what is wrong, and by being more detail-oriented.  Clean off the old glue, smooth off the facing planes of shelf and top, even-up the screws, and figure out how the circle fittings worked.  They were holders for the internal screws.  Whatever Ross was thinking, it hadn't worked very well.  I had much better hopes.
This picture shows the circular fitting opposite to how it will fit into its hole.  Turn it over, slip the internal screwhead into that wedge of an opening, and start tightening.  Really, it was an impressive design.
This is the right hand fitting being tightened.  The top shelf was now down and firm.
And voila.  No wobble.  Slip the rest of the shelves in.
Now for the fun part.
What decades of model horse pony pocket collecting will get you!  Seven different sizes of pony pockets sorted into 5 piles, several Breyer blue velvet bags, a tan/beige Breyer bag, some plain fleece pony pockets, a red plaid bag from a friend, a pile of white fleece fabric, a ziploc bag of costume and another bag, originally a pony pocket liner, containing a bulge of childhood horrse blankets.  And oh yes, the can.  :-)  It's on the bottom shelf.  This is the can used for Raffles!! when, oh rarest of occurrences, the TSII would have a piece of model tack for Raffle during BreyerFest.  Yes, it has happened... think 2006 or so...
And yes, I have hopes of it happening again.
Organized Chaos.
Thank you, Ruth, and Ross too.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Siltsox in Ironton

This post will be about that happy but mysterious confluence of vacation, model horses and photography.  It all took place high in the Colorado Rockies during May of this year.  I love to wander in the cool aspen and pine forests of the high country.  The Castaway Cob has a spiritual brother in my Black Hand, Siltsox.
Who is this horse, and why his funky name?
This shot was taken in the living room of my parent's house in Boulder, using my brother's wonderful light tent.  (My parents're not my caregiving subject.)(Not yet.)  My brother is something of a professional photographer (go to Flickr and search for AllenBPhotography), and he was showing off his fancy gear and stuff.  He wanted to practice on a model horse, which, of course, I had in plentiful supply, even while travelling.  I had purchased my Black Hand sometime between August of 2012 and March of 2013 (for once, a horse gets by my card system!).  Since he was even more 'tubular' than the Pony of the Americas, which I conga, I thought about naming him Siltsox.  Silt socks are those plastic mesh tubes stuffed with straw that construction companies use to block water flow down a slope.  You see them lying around like fat snakes in various colors, black, green, orange.  I just loved the word.

When Sergeant Reckless came out, I immediately thought these two should go together, making a married pair.  It was my husband who suggested the most perfect name for her:  Versalox.  After all she is built like a brick!!  Versalox are precast, self-locking brick elements used in retaining walls...
So that is why the horse with the socks is not named Siltsox... just so's y'know...
So here we are, pulled off on the road down to Ironton, Colorado.  We had been here once before, birdwatching, so we knew it existed.  Ironton is a ghost town.  It was built during Colorado's gold rush days, 1848 to 1868.  We are just off Highway 550, Colorado's million-dollar-highway, about 6 miles straight east of Telluride.
This is the first building you see, and the best.  The poster tells about the efforts of volunteers to rescue and stabilize these ancient structures.  Really that's all they've got going for them.  That's a pile of snow in the lee of the building...  It is mid-May in the high country.
This is what you see turning to the left:  a couple of decrepit barns or sheds, structures for sheltering animals.
And the irresistability begins.  What more appropriate than a barn?  Siltsox has spent all this time mewed up in a pony pocket stuffed in a Stone horse box, riding in the back seat.  He's been there for at least 2 weeks, and he only got out a little during the Utah part.
If I back up I can get some context for the setting.
This barn, or shed, was better preserved than some.  You could clearly tell it had livestock in it at one point.
The cross beams are holding up the roof.  I love the textures of old wood.
Can you spot him?
Here I've walked uphill and back around the first building.  It is a house.  We found out that its owner lived there all her life, even after the town was abandoned.  She passed away in 1965... when I was a child.  This shot features my patient husband, sitting down, slightly right of center. 
It would be a pity if this were lost to the elements.  The roof has been replaced.  Not too bad, when you consider how old it really is...
Siltsox doing what he does best:  posing.

This is my favorite pic of the litter.  The colors of the old woods are fascinating.
This is exactly the same pose, but I've moved the center focus up off the horse and tried to capture what's inside.  I don't know about you, but I'm always curious about what's really inside of an abandoned house.  What went on?
This is looking over his shoulder, as it were.  I suspect some of the boards are replacements:  could such color have survived 200 years of Colorado weather?
True to my previous behaviour (see the blog post on Rikki's Prizes) the horse is getting smaller and smaller, and the surroundings are getting larger and larger.  I'm getting carried away with these ancient old houses.  This one is deeper in the forest from the first white one and to its right.  It is larger and has more outbuildings.
The stairs were built by hand:  you can tell from the irregular corner turn.  The weather is so cold that even stairways get thick walls.
Here is that house from the right side.  The whiter house is behind and beyond in this view.
The structure extends through a series of sheds.  They all have interior runways, so you can get out to the livestock even if buried by snow.
See that miserable little shed on the far right?  That's the outhouse.
This is looking uphill at the right-hand end of the house.  The outhouse is thus located behind where my initials are.
If you ever get a chance to visit Ironton, I hope you can see these reminders of a time gone by.
And don't forget to let the horses stretch their legs!