Thursday, May 22, 2014

Three Mecate Artists

There are only three mecate pictures in today's post, but I think you will find them compelling and interesting.  I first thought of putting them all side by side when I saw Danielle Hart's pink and brown mecate on FaceBook, in August of last year.
She was using a method I had never seen before applied to the model mecate.  I had seen it, a little, in experimental form, for Arab costumes and halters, in the hands of Kate Jennings of California.  I had also seen it in larger scale, that is to say, full scale (by which I mean "real life") in books in the book store and in sewing stores.  It's called kumihimo, a Japanese art of braiding using a wooden form.  The separate strands are crossed (braided) according to their patterns, and fed into a central opening; the rope emerges beneath.
Photo by D. Hart
I wouldn't have thought anybody could have had the patience and delicacy to pursue an entire miniature mecate -- nearly two feet long! -- with this method!
I had also run across the kumihimo approach, or 'mechanical braiding,' in a book on Victorian human hair memorial pieces, given me by a good friend some years ago.  This book did not use the word kumihimo, and claimed the method originated in Europe.  But the approach was the same: crossing the strands above an opening and feeding the result down a central opening.  Weights are used with this method, on both ends of each strand.  Incredibly complex braids resulted.
 Picture taken from eBay some years ago.

Danielle's mecate is superneat and clean.  It looks as though it was made by machine.  Words like 'neat,' 'tight,' 'smooth' and 'polished' come to mind.  It gleams, it does not look shreddy.  If you prefer a near impossibly perfect mecate, one that might almost be computer-controlled,  this might be your favorite method to collect.

At the other end of the spread is Jacquee Gillespie, of Beautiful Horses, down in New Mexico.
This lady does full-scale horsehair braiding, specializing in mememtoes of one's pets and horses that have passed on.  Give her some of your departed horse's hair and she will make bracelets, rings, tassels, keyrings, necklaces and other items from it.  I am positive she knows how to make full scale mecates and bosals, too.
Confession:  this picture is a pinch from MH$P.  However, I'm reasonably sure the photographer is Evelyn Frazier.

The shot shows what a good nick was made when Jacquee discovered the model horse hobby.  She has made her own silver buckles, conchos and ferrules.  In communication with her I found out she uses dog hair and alpaca hair in her model tack.  I am nearly one-hundred percent certain this mecate was spun from some type of animal hair.  It has the shaggy look of a full scale mecate.  If, as a collector, you prefer the charm of the real stuff and its methods rendered in miniature, this is the approach for you.
A full scale, 'real' mane hair mecate.  Picture taken from Hagel's Mecate Gallery.

And then there's me.
I find my own method lands somewhere in between Danielle's and Jacquee's.  Timaru Star II mecates are indeed hand spun -- there is no wooden form or mechanical approach.  (Full scale mecates are often made on turning machines.)  They use thread, not hair spun into thread.  But they don't use rayon or nylon, just cotton with maybe a little polyester covering to help protect against fraying.  (I do not use embroidery floss in my mecates.  That stuff frays way too much, and it is the wrong twist anyhow.)  The 'checkered' or flecked strands, the ones with two colors, are made from much smaller gauge thread (Hand Quilting).  The rest is made from "heavy" thread purchased at sewing stores.  The trick, in addition to designing colors and patterns that work, is to find out how many strands of how many threads will form a correct thickness or gauge for the Traditional, or whatever scale, model horse.
That is the fun part.  I do not seem to be able to leave model braidwork alone. : )
For collectors, isn't it fascinating to find out the variations on a theme?  There is no such thing as "the best" model mecate.  There are only individual artists' different methods of portraying the same item of real horse tack.  The only "best" should be what you, the collector, like best.
Happy collecting!


  1. I've been doing kumihimo for about 15 months. Some of my results: Once you get the pattern down, it's almost something you can do without thinking (or looking at your hands). (Love doing it with beads as it creates such sparkle.)

    I've been thinking about figuring out how to braid for the model horse hobby. Just a matter of getting the "ends" right. The rest should work out with whatever patterns I want. ;-)

    FTR, a 20" necklace with 800 beads takes me about 6 hours to do (from cutting/measuring the thread-material to end of weaving; most end caps require gluing which adds a 24 hour period for drying).

    1. Most of the items pictured are the "round" kumihimo. I do have the "square" kumihimo form, but haven't mastered it to the point I'm satisfied with the results.

  2. Hi Gail, I'm glad to hear this type of braiding is gaining popularity, even when I'm not planning on doing it. Best of luck!

  3. Love that there are as many ways to make something as there are artists. I would not have expected there to be so much variety in mecates - shows what I know!