Friday, September 19, 2014

TSII #453 begun: Welts, Rawhide and Stirrups

This particular picture was taken last Friday, the 12th.  It's the beginning of TSII #453, Feldman's Working Roper, the third saddle under construction this year.  If fate is kind it'll be the third one finished this year!  When I think about the old days when I finished dozens of saddles in a year (1984 etc.)!! ... sigh...  but those had barely a fraction of today's detail.

TSII #453 was ordered to match a piece of headgear already made.  That piece was a Roper set, consisting of a bridle, tie down and breastcollar, created for the competitive English shower Karen Grieve, in 2005.  I made a lot of pieces for Karen.  I hated it when she left the hobby!

 Later that Roper set landed in the hands of my customer.  She entered my Lottery and asked for a matching Roper saddle.
I had made two Roping sets at this point (2005), one for Ann Bilon and the other for Karen.

Jump forward to 2014.  I don't know where most of July, August and Sept went, unless Blanket Fever (collecting Breyer blankets) is something of an excuse.  I'm hoping for a post on that subject sometime soon...
Just like TSII #452, the shoulders and horn of #453 got done first.  One of the big 'pioneering' efforts on this saddle was the braiding on the welt, the line (usually of stitching) that goes up the side of the shoulder of the pommel.  After decades (1979 to 2001) of hand-sewn welts, things changed with TSII #423 (Eleanor's Braided-Edge).  I invented an elaborate way of braiding the welt, which I used for 5 saddles and three years, up to 2004.  Here is TSII #423:
My other saddles that featured this fantastically challenging welt braiding are TSII #424, #425, #426 and #428.  It was a kind of flat braid.  And then came the Elk.
This saddle, built in 2004 (oh gosh it's ten years old!!) changed everything... again.  This time I tried using the welt's stitches as a ladder upon which to do the Three-Strand Applique Braid, which I'd just found out from Bruce Grant.  And to my amazement, it worked.  I've been using this trick ever since.  

Until now.
Why do artists stray from the path?  What makes them unpredictably seek out the unusual, the variations, the spark of difference?  The ability to err slightly, says Lewis Carroll, is what saved our DNA from extinction.  All I know is I did one shoulder with a lengthened Applique and then had no idea how to do it again.
I really struggled.  "Is anyone going to notice if the 2 halves are different?" refers to the thought of doing the usual thing on the other shoulder!  But in the end (it took overnight and 2 tries) I was able to catch and document what I'd done.  And the two halves did match.
Next:  a rawhide-wrapped horn.

I'll be honest.  I don't like Wade trees or saddles.  I think the thick neck looks ugly.  I was greatly relieved, after online research, to discover that not all Roping saddles had to have Wade-type thick necks.  A mere wrap of rawhide around the neck was enough.  But how to do it in miniature... I'd never done this before.
This is my second try:
Yes, that's real rawhide, even though it looks like plastic wrap.  Deep research (thank you Carrie) brought out that often a strip of mulehide was laid up across the front of the gullet; but dang it, I didn't want to cover up any of that beautiful braiding.  Call it pride.

The same thing was giong on with the stirrups.
Despite clear reference showing the overwhelming majority of Roping saddles having rawhide-covered stirrups with ONE row of (very plain!) stitching down their sides, that was NOT what I was building!  In defense I might point to the drawing I had submitted to my customer and she had approved and passed:
which clearly showed a stirrup with two braided edges.  But the truth is I am stuck on my own habits of fancy braiding and will use almost any excuse to do it on as many parts as possible.  Never mind reality; the artist wins on this one.  It's a Working saddle and as such should have plain parts.  I restrained myself on the tooling and on the silver.  But I decided to use real rawhide wherever I could.  Thus it was that the stirrup tread wrap wound up using some of my best rawhide... and covered the braiding as well.  Ah well.  Compromise, in a twisty sort of way. 
I did learn not to waste my rawhide on the stirrup neck wrap, because you absolutely can't see it.
We have progressed to the fenders.  I keep being reminded that even though it's not harness, there's an awful lot of strapwork on a Western saddle.  The fenders are a prime example.  Two buckles (one a tongue), two keepers (three if you count the chafe) and a separate billet with holes... and there are two fenders!  The chafe is there to prevent the buckle from scratching the horse.  A bit of personal trivia:  I make all my chafes out of long-worn-out moccasins.

As it turned out TSII #453 had to have three fender keeper straps made -- one broke.  This is the little troublesome doohickie strap that encircles the whole mess, gripping the fender just above the stirrup.  Some have flarings, or wider parts, which in full scale are sometimes tooled or marked.  At this model scale I consider it an accomplishment to have that flare at all.

TSII #453's flared fender keeper straps were cut from wide lace by hand and custom-dyed, then edged and greased, and handmade tiny friction buckles were put on, by both gluing and wrap-tying (I believe in overbuilding).  Hand-skived, leather is very fragile, and one strap got too thin and broke.  I tried to mend it... you can see the effort above, with the single stitch in the middle of the long right-hand tail of the strap.  But there was no tolerance for a knot (the knot would have been too big).  Glue didn't stick (and I hate glue anyway.  More artist pride).  I just made another one, recycling the buckle.
 And the fenders were finished.