Friday, April 21, 2017

Silver Edge Braiding, Part I

TSII #422, built in 2005.  Blanket by Snow
Silver Edge Braiding Part I contains an introduction and shows the preparation of the material I use.  I wanted to cover when and how this fabulous miniature effect came to be part of my model tack repertoire, what it looks like and how to make the silver strips.  This post covers just one of the four methods I use, but it took up so much space and had so many pictures that I chose to use a Part II to cover the braiding itself!  Obviously I'm practicing for my next book...
TSII #422, built in 2005.  Four-strand Round braid on cantle.
The idea of silver edge-braiding on a Western saddle came from, of course, Lisa and Loren Skyhorse, the famous full scale saddlemakers, who made it a trademark.  I encountered their ideas in a two-page magazine ad sometime after 1990.  (I always thought it was Western Horseman, but I still have those pages, and looking at them now, it probably was Arabian Horse World!)  As for the material, at the time I was enamored of Galaxy lace.  This was a 5/32" plastic lace used on belts and saddles and sold by Tandy's.  I had been told about this material by one of the first model horse specialty shop owners, Cheryl Abelson of Heather Hills Miniatures, back in the early 80s.  (I'm pretty sure it was Cheryl; but with my slightly slippery memory, there's a 9% chance it was either Sue Rowe or Carol Howard.)  Galaxy lace worked so beautifully I am still using it today, 35 years later. 
TSII #438, built in 2004.  Four-strand Round braid on cantle.
Galaxy lace gave me what I was looking for:  heft and strength, glorious color and a glossy finish that did not tarnish or rust.  It was a material relatively easy to get hold of, it could be custom-cut to size and it was cheap in bulk.  It was easy to work with, and incredibly tough, lasting through many passes in the course of braiding.  It had some stretch, so skill was called for in its use, which suited me down to the ground.  Its few drawbacks were that it took patience to prepare, and if overused or stretched too much it would delaminate, the gloss layer peeling off, followed by the silver layer.  In some circumstances, such as a dry climate or in direct sun, it would dry out and harden over time, and, in worst case, become brittle and break; but these cases were rare.  I loved Galaxy lace and used it on my own belt for decades, until the silver wore off!  For model tack uses it was just about perfect.
Seat to TSII #456.  Four-strand Round braid on cantle.
What I could not have predicted, when I bought an entire spool in the early 80s, was that by the time I used it up (2017), Tandy's would have discontinued Galaxy lace.  I am so dreadfully sorry to confess I need every inch I still have!  I have looked for it online, and possibly found it in a specialty leather store, Springfield Leather; but I still need to determine that theirs is truly the product I use.  Their pictures show a curiously grained or wrinkled surface; it should be smooth.  The 25-yard spool I bought c. 1982 would have cost the equivalent of thirty dollars or so.
All I've got left.
I employ two different materials with 2 different methods of braiding for miniature silver braiding.  The second material I sometimes use is Mylar tinsel, sold at fishing shops; it has one side silver and one side gold.  Braiding done with Mylar tends to have a goldeny undertone, while the Galaxy has more of a grayish-bluish silver color.  The first method, which these posts cover, is called Four Strand Round Braid;  the second method of braiding I use is Spanish Edge Lacing of 2 Loops.  It's not that I never use any other material, or that other braids couldn't be used; but these 2 braids make up the vast majority of all silver edge braiding I do.
 (Can you tell I've got 2 different lamps on my bench?!  Incandescent left, florescent right)

Although Mylar tinsel makes a smaller braid, I find it more difficult to work with -- it's stiffer and much harder to control.  Nonetheless it is easily obtained and you don't have to cut it to size.  It comes precut in 4 handy widths.
Here's the back of my test piece, revealing much:
This (above) shows the texture of the Galaxy lace as opposed to the Mylar.  Galaxy is thicker and has a white plasticky body, whereas the Mylar is quite thin.  It should also be obvious that the Mylar tinsel ends are a lot harder to glue down;  they have escaped my gluing with ease, so I taped one end down with Scotch Tape.
TSII #447, built in 2008.  Spanish Edge Braiding of 2 Loops on the cantle.
Normally I use silver edge braiding only for the cantle, horn and gullet.  I guess that's one reason a spool of lace would last 35 years!  The saddle I am currently (2017) building (TSII #456, Star Wars) has ambitiously aimed to be completely silver edge braided, something I've never done before.  I am utilizing both my preferred methods of silver braiding with it.  The larger, wider Spanish Edge is being used for the cantle and gullet, the rear of the fenders, the base plate (bottom skirt) and other places where weight, heft and thickness are desired.  The smaller, more compact and smoother 4-Strand Round is being used everywhere else.  Needless to say, I'm going through my Galaxy supplies like there is no tomorrow.
TSII #456 'Star Wars', unfinished

TSII #444, built in 2006.  Spanish Edge Braiding of 2 Loops on the cantle.
Traditionally I have used Spanish Edge Braiding (also called Lacing) of 2 Loops for my cantles.
TSII #454, built in 2015.  Spanish Edge Braiding of 2 Loops on the cantle.
 Galaxy lacing needs to be opened, flattened, peeled carefully and cut into strips.  I have always used shears to do my cutting.

I start with about 18 inches of Galaxy lace straight off the spool.
Straightening out the curl is important; otherwise, wrinkle problems occur.  I smoothe it out by hand, straightening it with my fingers.
There is a seam on one side.  Galaxy lace has a 'stuffing' or inside body of netted fibres, which must be removed.  Start the removal process by folding back the lace longways, parallel to the seam,  exposing the netting.  Fold gently, avoiding wrinkling as much as possible.
I pry with my fingernails, opening up the end, at first just one side.
This is what takes patience:  gradually flattening out the lace and its fibres without distorting it.  Being only human and unable to do the whole 18" slowly, I do a few inches at a time.
It takes fingernails to start the peeling process.  Off with the netting.
It does not take a lot of strength, just careful pulling.  I use about as much force as peeling a green banana.  The extracted netting is thrown away.
The trick is have the side flanges open before peeling off the netting.  A hard lesson to learn!!  It's so tempting to peel everything at once, fast!
 But if I do that, I get this:  warps, ripples, twists, distortions.  The lace is stretchy and once past a certain amount of stretch, it cannot go back.  Yes, it is tough, but in the end Galaxy is a one-time-use material.
Only experience can teach how fast and how much force to use to peel off the netting.  In this picture below, the lower right was peeled slowly, with opening of the sides, and the upper left peeled fast, with less opening of the sides.  I hate those ripples!!
 This is a closeup of when things go wrong.  The gloss layer has delaminated (lifted) and the body is warped.  This curled section cannot be used.
Once peeled and the netting thrown away, the lace is flattened gently again.  I want as few ripples as possible.

I gauge my silver braiding strips to one of the chief tools I'll be using for edge braiding, my big Needle Chisel. This shot shows the blade of the Needle Chisel (with red wrappings) held against the oh-so-handy markings on the inside of the peeled Galaxy lace.  The Chisel cuts the slits in the leather this lace will be fed through.  It so happens that my chisel equals about 1  1/2  to 2 "squares" of the markings.
The start of cutting.  As I've said, I use shears for this job.  Thus I have absolutely no data on how Galaxy would behave under other types of cutters.  However, it should be possible to cut it with whatever is familiar!
Here's where the real skill comes in.  I cut long strips by hand, measuring totally by eye.  Honestly I've never counted but it's about 8 strips per lace.
Taa - daa!!
I use tape cases for storage -- that's just what works for me.  These are the plastic round flat boxes that rolls of vinyl tape are sold in.  Yes, I got them at WalMart.  I tie my stored strips together with a spare bit of sinew, in just a half hitch.  It's important to be able to untie it easily.

Part II will treat the Four-Strand Round edge braiding.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea that the silver edging was leather lacing. Fascinating! I hope that you are able to fund a good supply of Galaxy lace to last you another 100 parade saddles!