Out of the four commissions sitting on my desk, three of them are in tan leather. Or "orange." Which is fine, and actually a nice break from the parade of dressage sets I've been up to lately. It's just that this color of leather tends to be slightly more finicky than the other colors. Black, no problems. Dark brown, piece of cake. It's just tan that you need to be careful around. It's sensitive to gum tragacanth, super glue, and leather finish- all three will turn it darker and it will never be light again. But no pressure, right?
|Bring it on.|
So with that in mind, I set off on making the first of three tan saddles yesterday. And I even took some blurry, one-hand-iPhone pictures while I did it.
This really isn't meant to be a thorough how-to on English saddles. More like a walk through of how I do mine for anyone that would be interested in that kind of thing. I should also mention that I'm completely self-taught; I've never bought a pattern book or really followed a nice and thorough how-to. It's just been trial and error, and so far, it seems to be working okay.
Without further ado, let's make an English saddle!
The first step to any saddle is supplies.
- An assortment of jewelry tools, including needle-nose pliers, tin snips, needle nose flat-mouth things, and wire cutters for the tougher wire.
- Handy dandy pencil.
- 28 gauge wire.
- Scissors (I should probably find some nice tiny ones... but my giant pair seems to work just fine for now!)
- Gum tragacanth (it's magical)
- Pattern pieces
- Stirrups (I get mine here.)
- Dyed skiver
- Regular old Tacky Glue
- Super sharp chopped-up soda can
- And the all-important thumb tack. I don't know how people make tack without them.
I get my leather from Rio Rondo, tools from some local jewelry store a thousand years ago, and wire and Gum from any eBay seller who has 'em. Everything else is pretty common and easy to get ahold of.
My saddle process always starts with the flap. Only one on my saddles, because sweat flaps and billets that small scare me and seem kind of unnecessary at this scale.
I have two different patterns for flaps; one big and one smaller. The big one generally works for G3's and G4's, and the smaller one is better for G1's and G2's, who tend to be more petite than the newer sculptures.
This set is for a G2, so the small pattern it was.
|Labeled pattern pieces= sane tackmaker.|
This is the only piece on the whole saddle that doesn't get skived down within an inch of its life. It actually doesn't get any skiving at all. Rio's skiver is nice enough, and works just fine for what I need it to, but it definitely isn't thin enough to wrap neatly around soda can, or create a clean edge on a knee roll.
But it's nice for the flap.
Next I sketch in the shape of the knee roll on one side of the flap with my pencil, cut out that shape, fold the flap in half and cut the shape out on the other side for a nice match. We now have an odd looking piece of leather.
|Nananananannananananana BAT FLAP.|
|Lonely little tab.|
We then take this little tab and get it through the hole we poked in the bat ear (I really don't think it's an ear).
Once I've done that on both sides, I move on to the knee rolls.
I don't have a pattern for knee rolls, because I basically lay the flap piece over my leather and draw the shape of the completed flap onto it by folding the edges of the flap around the knee rolls and make a nice curve outwards like the knee roll will eventually be and this is a run on sentence.
I then cut out this wonky D shaped piece and use my super sharp knife to slice off the back layer of the leather and really thin the thing down.
|Lots of fuzzies involved.|
We cut that little shape out and glue it face first (good side down) to the center of the piece we just skived.
|Things get funny shaped after they're skived.|
Rinse and repeat on the other side, then I use the same tracing method on the rough side of my leather to produce a piece almost identical to that which we used to cover the tooling leather. I skive that one down a lot too, carefully smooth the edges with Gum, and glue it into place on the back of the knee roll to get a nice clean, finished look on the underside of the saddle.
The last step to the flap piece is to stitch mark around the edges. I use my trusty thumb tack for this, which gives me the ability to make each and every stitch tiny and very, very close together. I've considered looking into a pounce (ponce?) wheel... but there's no way those stitches are small enough for this stuff. And it seems like a wheel would be awkward around tight corners.
So the thumb tack it is.
|I promise there're stitches on there.|
Next up is the tree and skirt assembly! Exciting stuff!