Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tricolor Tapaderos

Designing my parade sets usually starts with the serape, since that is the motif climax.  TSII #455, Miller's Tricolor, didn't stop there.  Not since Cottam's (#422) have I put so much effort into designing just the tapaderos (taps).  This whole post will be about just them - and hopefully show some of what goes into designing these babies.

Number 455 is based on the hexagon.  Partly this choice was because of the great success of my first hexagon saddle, #447; partly it was I "just wanted to."  I had a few good reference pix of this unusual pattern, developed by Bohlin in the 1950s from a beekeeper friend's suggestion.  The ikandi hexes only come in 6mm and 4mm, and I hadn't used the 4mm hexes before.  The horse in question, Breyer's Marwari, is smaller than most Trads.  And I want this set to be a standout.  It's been a long time coming; the order was originally accepted in 2009, six years ago...

None of my existing tapadero patterns used 4mm hexes.  I started with my smallest (it was #440's) and tried to fit in the elements of the serape design.
Right away I had a problem.  (The breastcollar had it too.)  The hexagons can be placed with their flat faces either vertical (sides parallel) or horizontal (top and bottom parallel).  The normal shape of the tapadero would use both these alignments.  How to accomplish a rotation in the middle of things?  The front (leading) edge of the tap had them lined up horizontally.  The rest of the tap didn't.  Wooops...

I tried working things out on paper.  First, try a staggered front edge:
This particular effort introduced the idea of half-hexagons.  But I wasn't happy.  I wanted a copper-colored edge, a silver interior and gold accents that didn't touch the copper.  And that wasn't happening.  (Note that these pictures don't show the copper color very well.)

At this point I changed gears and went after the tooling pattern.  (Typical of me to go haring off in a completely different direction when foiled.)  I gave myself leave to develop a completely new tooling pattern... an expensive luxury, but allowable for our top-of-the-line silver saddles.   I'd found an old Bohlin saddle pic deep in my files.  The fact that the flower was a hexagon leaped out at me.
I stared at those curling corners.  I had been watching the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series way too many times...  the theme was ramping through my brain.  Davy Jones' twisting curling tentacle-beard was before my mind's eye... and before you could say Captain Jack Sparrow, there were twisting curling tentacles all over my new tooling pattern.
The owner of this set and me have something in common:  We're both boat owners and take boating seriously.  It is appropriate, then, that there be a marine influence, however tangential, to this saddle...!

The "Mock-Up" idea has come into its own with TSII #455.  This is laying down some packing tape (using plain tape to hold it sticky-side-up) and test-fitting the actual ikandis on it.  This is ten times better than merely arranging them on paper.  Trust me.  What are a few grabs of tape at your hand, compared to the slightest jostling and all your work instantly, hopelessly, lost?!!?
As it happened this was my first-ever tapadero mock-up.  And right away a great problem was solved.  The spots were lining up beautifully.  All I'd had to do was give up on the prevoius shape of the tap pattern, and let the spots dictate their own.  (The half-hexes also came in handy; thanks for encouragement, C.)
I asked myself whether the above layout couldn't bear to have a bit more nose:  another row of spots, perhaps?
 Yes!!  It could!!  But three pieces of gold were too much.  Take one out.  Move the "airplane" down one to balance this.  But the whole tap was still too big and heavy.  Take off one row from the whole front edge:
It worked.  After all this is a smaller horse...
The center front of the tapadero must bend in the middle, and be as large a single piece of metal as can be managed, within the design parameters of the individual saddle.  Hence the two interlocking shapes there on the mock-up.
Now comes the dinking.  Should I move the 2-spot "peanut" down by one?
Still not happy, though it's hard to say just what bothers me.  I try another insert.
Right idea, wrong shape.  Try something that doesn't touch the copper edge row, is more centered, and which works with the tap outline better:
Yes!  This is it...!!  Now I'm happy.  Whew that was hard.
Next, of course, is matching the tap pattern as a whole, and redoing the tooling pattern.
I struggled with this.  There was no flow to the pattern, no obvious growth progression.  Still dinking.
I had to go to bed on this one.  It just wasn't obvious how to fit the tendrils around those 4 flowers.  Somewhere in the night it came to me:  Don't use 4, use 3.

This is how the big guys do it:  there is always a flow to the tooling pattern.  It follows a growth path.  And so I came to a place I liked.
The hexagons are balanced well in color, spacing and size, and fit into the shape of the tapadero.  The tooling is dense without being too dense --  a fine point in model tack.  In fact I think closeness and refinement of tooling pattern is an individual tackmaker's preference... which is as it should be!  Just so long as it's well executed (and fret not, this tap came out very well).  As a final note, I'm thinking this particular parade set will look best executed in darkest brown, instead of black.  The color of the horse turns out to be chestnut pinto...  which just happens to match beautifully with a "pinto" tricolor approach.
Designing is fun,...  but it's only part of the work to come...

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fancy II: Bosal

Miniature bosals are quite hard to make.  In this fourth and last chapter on Fancy's Hackamore II, I'll show how I make 4B nose button ones.  As I've said in all the previous chapters, I can't show every step; but this is still an amazingly deep plunge into insider detail.  After this, Fancy can rest in peace!

My methods have evolved considerably since I made the first braided-leather-lace bosals in the 1970s.  I've used nylon sinew (miniature rawhide) since the early 1980s.  In 1996 I first used thread for nose button interweaves [IWs].  By 2005, when Fancy's was built, I had perfected the use of 4B buttons for the bosal and was tinkering with 3Bs.  (Someday I'll have to post on my bosal evolution... and my logo evolution... and my...)  Yes, this whole Fancy episode features 10-year-old technology!  I have since moved on, to using 3Bs.  And those are even harder.

One aspect hasn't changed: the core.  Since the early 1980s I have used 20 ga. wire as the core for my bosals.  This shot shows braiding the sinew cover of a bosal core; the wire is hooked to the anvil braiding anchor.
Full scale bosals use rawhide for a core; wire gives models the right heft and strength.  I use Tandy's 30# Fine sinew, brand name Tejas.  Oh how I love that stuff!!  Fancy's has my standard six-strand round braid in what I call "alternate" method, O2 U1 on one side and O1 U2 on the other.  Using the Fine sure beats splitting and peeling the usual heavy sinew -- and the color is lovely.

The next step is the foundation for the nose button.  Note the scotch tape on the left, holding down the dead end (standing end) of the heavy cotton/polyester thread.  It's a 4B long button.  The number of passes (parts) is determined by length.  I haven't counted but it's probably around 13.
The advantage of the 4Bs was I found them easy to do.  Tom Hall refers to this family of knots as the Casa -- the home button.  With this thread they are almost perfect for Trad scale.  There is a slightly squarish cross-section to them, which sits nicely on the horse's nose.  Notice how this long button is spread out:  it's open in the middle and closer together at the ends.  This spreading allows room for what's to come.
Starting the central IWs:
They are spaced both by eye and by using the ruler.  Fancy's bosal had 8 IWs, about the maximum for this gauge of thread.  At Trad scale, 5 to 7 is the sweet spot; 4 is too few and doesn't look good, to my eye.  Below: just about finished with the nosebutton IWs.
In this shot, the central IWs are done, and the doubling of the sides has begun.  Merely doubling these parts of the nose button, instead of raising or expanding them, was easier... and the texture had good contrast.
The scariest step in making a miniature bosal this way is the tightening.  To have to go all the way through each button again!  hoping against hope there are no pierces or snags... 
If there are -- and there usually are!!  the longer the button the more there'll be -- you hope they're small.  You hope your scissors are super small-pointed and sharp.  They must slip into tiny places and snip off the offending fibres, releasing the threads.  A few cut fibres are nothing to worry about:  'lost in the noise.'  It's when you've pierced right through the middle of a thread that you're in trouble.  (Then you have to decide whether to go on with a dangling fraction or to withdraw and start over.)  This why I try to braid loosely the first time around, and why I use a blunt needle.  With blunts I can feel so much more easily whether it's snagged. 
A proper tightening will pull out an inch or more of extra thread.  The button is now half as long as when it started.
The ends are hidden by piercing through and then cut flush, a process I call finishing the button.  Oh yes, use a sharp needle for this step.

Now for the side buttons.  At the 2005 stage of my skill, I was adding side buttons on separately.  Intregrating them into the central nose button, like the grand old masters of the full scale bosals, took me another few years!!
Four-bight (4B) side buttons are relatively simple.  I use a few half-hitches of thin-gauge waxed thread for their cores (or groundwork, in Hought's phrase); this helps puff up the button into shape and helps prevent sliding.
 5P4B with a single IW.  The turquoise color perfectly balances the dark brown nosebutton IWs.  The side buttons are spaced to hold the headstall (bosal hanger), so test them with the horse's head.  No straps in eyes please!!
Notice the bend:  I've started to shape the bosal.  Can ye believe it:  back in the original Fancy's day, up to only a few years ago, I did all the braiding on my bosals AFTER the heel knot core had been tied!!!!  AFTER the thing was the shape of a tennis racket -- !!!  Yeah, shake one's head in wonder, thanks to Gail Hought for setting me straight, and we'll put down such behaviour to the mysteries of adolescent singlemindedness... 

The nose button and side buttons are done, and treated with Fray Chek.  It isn't a perfect job, this one:  I don't like the dark spot just to the side of the central IWs, and the matching of the doubling to the center ends was haphazard at best.  But it'll do.  Handmade tack is like that:  each piece is an experiment.  The day I stop experimenting is the day I stop making tack...
The next step is the heel knot.  I mentioned singlemindedness above.  What I think I had in mind then was strength, sheer strength.  I loved overbuilding tack.  For years I wound the two wire ends together for my heel knot cores.  The problem there was I could never disguise the resulting lumps.  I tried and tried but things always resulted in a wiggly, misshapen core.  When the revelation that bosals were braided while straight occurred, it also dawned on me that I didn't need to try quite so hard to make a strong frame.  I experimented with mere wiring, and was satisfied.  (This seems to be the pattern with me:  a slow surrender of ridiculously hard methods of construction.  We'll see where I wind up.) 
So for Fancy's, the heel knot begins with wiring the two halves together with 24 ga. stainless steel.  I tried it for sizing on her and on Coconino (Smart Chic Olena).  It's very important for the bosal to be symmetrical at this point. 
Next is the heel knot core.  I use crochet thread (hand-waxed a little to grip well), a material which is relatively easily shaped, takes thread pierces well, is cheap and obtainable and will age well.
The perfect Trad heel knot core for me is 5mm x 6mm.
The shape and density of the core matters: upon this the heel knot will be braided, and its power of hiding mistakes is always much smaller than I keep hoping for.  I am still learning that the core must have edges, or shoulders, up and down, to anchor the button ends.  Now is the time to make it oval or apple-shaped or tear-drop-shaped, whatever is desired.  These heel shapes are dictated by fashion, not necessarily by use.
I have learned not to tie knots on the outside of this core.  They make lumps.  Half hitches are the only knots tied, and their ends are fed through (pierced) and cut off.  Coating of any sort, such as glue or Fray Chek, is controversial for me: I think it makes the core too slippery, and glue flakes sometimes work their way out.  Heel knot cores challenge me.
Fancy's heel knot was a 7P6B with 2 x 2 rings of IW.
The foundation was then doubled.  I used dyed thread -- it is more yellow and matches the rawhide sinew.  This picture shows the tightening phase (Sales bosal).
 Below:  the heel knot done (my own bosal).  A finishing touch is to braid a little many-B 3P collar around the two sides just above the heel knot (see below).  This helps the bosal stay in shape, and strengthens it a little.
Right before cutting the tails:
 Cutting off the tail ends is done with the wire cutters, with scissors to help trim any sinew.  Naturally the hard part is not to nip the braiding.  Slow and easy does it, one side at a time.  I use a file to smoothe down the wire ends.

Around about now I start drilling a hole in a domed Rio Rondo concho.  Putting conchos on the ends of heel knots is an idea I got from the real guys:  Ray Huffman to be precise.  Of course, pinning on a concho also means you've got to find room for the pin shank!  There is just about no space between the two wires inside the core.  I shoulda put a pin in there when I was wiring the halves!! (to hold the space.)  Hindsight is wonderful... The Sales bosal's pin winds up a little off center.  It's nervewracking to be squeezing things with all your might while trying not to squish the braidwork.
I press down from above with my fingernails on the heel knot, trying to get that pin in as far as possible.  I've also glued the concho with Ambroid.  When the pin was cut to fit, the resulting mini-barbed-hook at its tip is useful for keeping it in place... but means it's a one-time insertion. (I can put the pin in only once.)  A refinement would be to file down the underside of its head, but this risks weakening.  I decide it's OK as is.
And the bosal is done.
The only difference between the two Fancy's II bosals is a slight variation in the shape of heel knot; my own is more pointed.
And I didn't notice mine was asymmetrical, until my husband told me.
Good thing that's the one I'm keeping!!!  Although this pic makes it (the left) look bad, it conforms very well to the horse's face, proving I tested it on her.  I put it on my headstall and tie on my mecate using the instructions on page 114 of the Guide.

I do still find myself looking for that lost hackamore... but the hole in my collection is filled.  The debt is paid.  It's been great refreshing my bosal techniques -- I love braidwork.  I look forward to further refinements!