Monday, February 17, 2014

CG: Almost There

 Progress has moved so far forward on this saddle!  I'm struggling to keep up the blog.  When last seen, there were only two sets of strings, no front girth apparatus and no blanket!  The blanket, you can see, has been happily solved -- by another artist, outside the hobby!  But I want to start in chronological order here... and that means going back to those main cinch rings.
 We returned to State College on the 30th of January.  Shortly afterwards, I made these two rings.  They are sterling silver on the front, with cast whitebrass rings in the back -- engraved ones, almost surely purchased from TWMHC.  I'd had them kicking around for some time, and now, because I wanted the bar at the bottom to have some sort of decoration on it (not be plain), I decided to use them.   They had the further desirability of being cast -- of not having a seam -- so they could withstand pull and stress.  I wouldn't have to solder them shut.
Despite Luis' extraordinary collection of pictures, there are some things you just don't see.  One of them is the back of the Mexican Charro-style girth rings.  God only knows what they look like in real life.  The best I could find was a sidewise view.  But function can dictate appearance (and usually does).  They had to be open enough to allow passage of the suspending straps, the ones that wrap around the tree shoulders.  And they had to come together again at the bottom, because there the rings only support the cinch strap: the latigo strap, just like American Western saddles.
Making the suspending straps, which I called the main girth straps (above), was relatively easy.  The hard part was the lining, and even then it was merely getting things small enough.  Patience was required, but the design work was behind us -- the conchos taught us the material, and the skill called up the X-Acto knife.
This is a blast from the past.  I'm using heat from the red lamp to "hot-oil" the cinch latigo straps, a procedure covered in my Guide [Guide to Making Model Horse Tack].  That yellow stuff is a can of Super 7 leather dressing.   It smells like honey.
Don't go talking about the undesirability and shortage of incandescent light bulbs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At this point, something extraordinary happened.
A saddle blanket dropped out of the sky.  Literally.
Manna from heaven.

I have a friend, Lizzie, who has taken up knitting as a hobby.  She had made me a pot-holder earlier.  She loved horses and knew about my little tack shop, but was not a collector.  I had told her the dimensions of a Western saddle blanket, but I certainly was not expecting anything!!!  I learned that her job required frequent flying, so to amuse herself while in the air, she knitted me this fabulous, incredibly soft, beautiful little gem.  This photo shows the true colors.  The red, green and yellow cover the spectrum and will go with any color horse.
I was amazed, astonished, delighted.  After a quick referral to another model tackmaker who knew more about old-style California saddle blankets than myself (thank you Heather!), I decided my Muse knew what it was doing when it fell madly in love with this blanket coupled with this saddle.
Oh the relief.

And now for the cinch.  Light at the end of the tunnel....
A lot of pictures were taken during cinch making.  Perhaps there is a dedicated blog post here, but for now I'll just include a few.
Thank you Carol Williams.  The idea for the "rack" comes from her.  ("It's a Cinch!")  The skill of tackmaking keeps evolving, so I confess my cinches are now a bit beyond what I've shown in my Guide.  I use this rack instead of hanging them off the anvil.  And in this case, there wasn't any interweaving -- just the color stays.
Even this picture is out of date.  While it shows the central stay and its rings, it doesn't show that I had to replace one of the rings with a much larger one.
But it does show feeding the end of the floss in under the stay wraps.  No knots!!
Making the leather covers for the cinch, clearly shown on my reference.  A little bit of personal, sidewise story:  the lower right covers are made of scrap leather once used on my family car's canoe racks, as padding.  Leather!! one of the world's most recyclable materials...

Voila!  In this picture the concho strings are much too long.   In fact the whole saddle's strings are too long.  Chop chop clip clip point point.  A whole lot of little adjustments happen when you finally put the thing together and fit it on a horse.  Far better to find out if it's going to behave NOW, whilst on the tackbench and in my own hands, than have the customer find out!!   It's not just a pretty-looking miniature, it's a working model, so everything has to actually fit...
The martingale was too long, for instance; and the cinch center ring too small.  Strings too long.
Et al.

And then I realized I hadn't signed it.
The last saddle I signed was the Golden Sunburst back in September of 2011.  Mein Gott, three years...  I can hardly believe it...  And before that, the last saddle I'd signed was in 2009!!  oh my again...  2010 and 2013 really did tear me up...

This photo shows how I carved my initials on the bare tree, something I've never done before.  It also shows circled the year, 2014, cut into the front part of the second skirt extension.

This is the off side.  It shows the saddle number, 451, on the tree.  (The four-hundred-and-fifty-first Western saddle I've made since 1979.)   The circled area also has a 451 carved into it -- extremely hard to see.
This tiny space, under the fender on the base plate, is the traditional place where I sign my saddles.  Alas and alack, there was barely any room on the Goehring; and what marks I did manage to make don't read very well.  I did sign the near side with SBY, but it didn't behave at all.  Hence cutting the tree.  Also, the underside is inked with initials and date.  Drafter's ink, guys, in case you're worrying (rightfully) about pen ink.

So, why am I saying "Almost There?"  Isn't it done?  After a year and a month, isn't it done yet??
Introducing the fancy latigo keeper.
Remember the original reference picture?
For some inscrutable reason, there's always one part of a model saddle that fights to the end -- that I sure wish I could put off.  The blanket and this keeper are it for this one.   I'm actually afraid of that keeper, partly because I didn't know what it was for the longest time (I still don't understand exactly how the back of it goes!) and partly because its size means it's gonna be the hardest part to make.  Such is fate.  I can guess how it folds and tucks -- thanks again to Luis and his Flickr pictures -- so I've just got to buckle down. 
A week in Tucson will be a breathing space.  After a year and a month, another week is no big deal.  But I'd sure love to finish this out.   It has definitely reached the stage of being called "you stupid saddle" and with me, that's a sure sign of an approaching end... !
Look what's next!
The blue headstall...
I can hardly wait.
Thank you, Sue, for your patience.


  1. You are truly talented! I would have very well lost my mind long before getting here on this saddle(I probably couldn't get past the tree :/) and I can not wait to see your version of the headstall!

  2. Thank you Jordan. Lots of people think we're crazy, but I'm taking that as a compliment. : ) Making tack is a great way for me to, not lose my mind, but find it.

  3. I LOVE this charro set. I hope I can see it in person someday to admire all the little details. Thank you for taking the time to share your artistic journey with us. I found it fascinating and am blown away all at the same time.