Thursday, February 16, 2017

TSII #456: The Corona

I have been greatly inspired by NaMoPaiMo.  Yet I didn't want to paint a horse.  Instead I needed to make progress on a bogged-down saddle order.  It seemed unrealistic to finish out an entire Silver Parade Saddle in one month -- recent ones have taken me 15 months and 7 months, and this one's less than halfway at 5 months -- so I set my sights on just the Corona saddle blanket.  The blanket is a part that I normally do at the end, when I am (normally) exhausted.  Every little part counts...!  though I cringed a bit, recognizing blankets are easy and tack is not horse-painting.  That's part of the reason this post has been slow to appear.

In a burst of bravery, I invented the name LoMoTackMo:  Local Model Tackmaking Month.  In truth every month around here is Tackmaking Month.  But I so wanted to be doing SOMETHING along with all of you painters...
 Shown above is my Corona blanket project on the 8th of February.  This picture and the next 5 are of special importance to me.  Believe it or not ( -- Drum Roll - !!!!!!!!!) these are the Very First pictures I've taken with my cell phone!!!!!!!! 
It explains the lousy focus...  they had to be PhotoShopped later...
 Yea, credit NaMoPaiMo if you're going to credit anything... 
They, plus the two below, were taken at Rachel Mitchell Pierce's house, north of Tucson (Trails End Studio).  All praise to a wonderful hostess who made me feel right at home.  I have been fortunate indeed to visit model horse people in Arizona, and this year it was Rachel's turn.  This was definitely the model high point of my week in the SouthWest!
Here is Rachel:
And Chris Armstrong who managed to come out for a few hours.  Thanks, Chris.
You will spot a pile of horse blankets I was showing off (don't be surprised!!), my Copperfox Marble mare wearing a new one, and, somewhat out of focus with Rachel, a slew of CollectAs with their old 1960s foal blankets.  Yes, the CollectAs travel easy, but, en masse, they are heavier than the Breyers.
A fantastic time was had by all.

The night before the Rachel visit, I had invented a needle threader for my punch needle.  Previous to this, I accomplished every change of color while making a Corona blanket by unscrewing the plastic barrel and hand-threading the metal shank, then re-assembling the entire tool.  Crazy!!??   I have made 5 corona blankets like that!!  Anyway... swallowing hard at my stubbornness... I asked Dad for some fine wire, and with a little fiddling and some 30-gauge, I came up with this.
 My new needle-threader is 4 inches of 30-ga. galv. steel wire.  Note the tiny curve in the very tip of the hook: it makes it easier to squeeze the hook into the needle's barrel.  Slide the threader's butt end gently down the barrel, hook the thread, squeeze to insert, and pull the threader out from the handle end with pliers (with fingers bends it).  The punch needle is threaded.  After that, you have to hand-thread the tip again, for a punch needle also has a hole in its outer wall (below).  But this step is easily done with fingers.  It's even easier sitting at home under a magnifier - yes I was mad enough to try it on the airplane flight home!   It worked, but of course was frustratingly slow there.
With this almost magical equipment, I soldiered on with my Corona blanket.  I usually worked early in the morning while in Tucson.  A week isn't quite long enough to completely adapt to the two hour time zone shift.  My body was still on PA time.

This shot, taken after I got back home (Feb 10), shows the beginnings of some problems.  The fabric I'm using, two-sided fleece, is very stretchy.  As small as my hoop is (gotten at Jo Ann Fabs, the smallest hoop I've ever found), its 2  1/2 inches still provide a wide opportunity to stretch out the fleece.  That very stretching makes dense, overly-tight stitching all the more possible.  Thus my Corona tends to hump up and curl when released from tension.  My desire to double-punch, as instructed by the artist who taught me (thanks Melody!), is creating great bulk.  See the wrinkle starting at the withers?
Another problem was that I went right past the edge of my saddle's base plate (bottom skirt), breaking my own rules about test-fitting all the parts and pieces of a saddle.  (Arrow points to white loops.)
Whoops!!  Now what!!  I'd have to TAKE OUT some of the punching... I'd never done this before...  Sigh.  So much of tackmaking is undoing your own work.  I've often been glad no one could know how great a percentage of my own tack work was wasted like this.  Call it learning.  Taking out the punching turned out to be easy and fairly quick.  I cut some loops and then picked up my Needle Awl.  Between the pliers and the Awl, everything came out.
 It left a series of tiny depressions, like miniature sinkholes.  Below, I'm redrawing my outlines, breaking yet another rule of mine, one about not using pen on blankets.  I couldn't find a pencil that would work on the fleece.
Above, I am about to rework the offside corner.  It looks like the near.  This is a bit confusing, but it's because a Corona is essentially worked upside-down.
Here is our cover picture, taken a few days earlier, of the upper side.  There will be several steps still to go after the punching (looping) is all done.
 Here the corner is turned, now smaller and better fitted to the saddle.  Using Fray-Chek has caused the pen ink to bleed purple  : (  but fortunately it doesn't show on the other side.
 The desire to make the smallest tightest stripes (bands) on this blanket has taken over.  I've never made bands this tiny!!  I'm also noticing they don't quite match the near side....  sigh....  I have a name for this peculiar failing of miniaturists:  "The Enlargement of Intensity."  When I really focus on making something small, sometimes it makes it larger.
(Feb 15) Here is where my heart breaks.  I discover that I've done the near front corner too short, both in height and in distance from rear.  Arrgghh!!
Couldn't I see it wasn't fitting, wasn't symmetric??  What's with me?!!  This is beyond painful.  It's one thing to take out a few bands... but this time, I find myself having to take out 10 bands.

In the midst of my sorrows, I've invented another new trick: shaving off the fleece in just the track I will be stitching.  It makes it much easier to see the weave of the fleece, and it prevents the fleece from gumming up the stitching quite so much.  After 37 years of making tack, I can still invent new tricks!!!!
And here we will stop this post.  You'll have to take the finishing of my Corona on trust.  The loops will be cut, fleece edges folded over and sewn down (that hides the mess and protects the horse), and everything trimmed and frizzed to form the typical padded roll of the Corona parade blanket.

It appears I can make progress on other parts of the saddle this month, so thanks to Jennifer all over again. I've had a grand time sharing all this.  I hope it might be useful to future tackmakers.


  1. Thank you for sharing the trials and tribulations that an experienced tackmaker goes through. It helps us newbies to feel not so bad about our little mis-steps.

  2. You're welcome Donna. I was influenced myself by Jennifer B's complaints; we really are all in this together - !

  3. Oh, I feel your pain and heartbreak! The statement "so much of tack making is undoing your work" is SO true! Thanks for showing this, I was always intrigued as to how Melody's style of blanket were made!

  4. Thank you Bobbi. I'm glad some tackmakers are interested!

  5. While not a tackmaker, I totally appreciate making a tool for the job. Everything goes better when you have the right tool for the job.