Friday, October 31, 2014

Fright Night

(In the spirit of Halloween, here's a post rambling about my insecurities. Woo!)

(and then I remembered nail heads.)
Today I listened to my Rocky Horror Picture Show playlist ten times and made a dressage saddle that will be part of a lower level set, up for sale in the next few days. 

I also refreshed my site with some updates prices- updated meaning slightly higher, taking into consideration the higher and higher quality of my work (she said humbly), as well as the increase in work time that entails. While I realize that most of my customers won't really mind a $5 increase, it is something that I really wrestle with. 

It's important to me that my tack is show-ring quality and much more affordable than Traditional show-ring quality tack, mostly because I want my tack to be accessible to even those who can't drop $500 on a tack set. But the other biggest reason I want to keep my prices relatively low is that I have this constant fear that higher price tags come with higher expectations of perfection from my customers. 

This is totally unsupported by any evidence whatsoever, but I'm convinced that once someone buys my tack and has it in their hands they'll be able to see every single little asymmetry and flaw in the piece. This is one of those issues where you have a rational brain (mine says "You've never received any feedback like that in the past, and most people just don't/can't see the minutiae of your tack like you can"), and an anxious brain (which says "they must open the box, look at it, and think, I paid X amount of money for this??").

Having extremely low prices (it took me over a year to increase the price for a full set from $20), to my mind, says "hey if it's awful they can't complain because they only paid $X for it!"

Now that I'm charging more (and more), I'm both aware of the improvement in quality and more paranoid about the little flaws in my work. This leads to improvement and refinement in my tack, but sometimes it's more worry than it's worth. The bottom line for me is that I am not a machine or a factory, and every single one of my saddles is slightly asymmetrical, and every single one of my bridles has at least one tongue that's kind of wonky, and sometimes my stitch marks aren't perfectly straight.

And sometimes my panels are completely different sizes and need to be redone.
To me, these imperfections (excluding those panels) give the tack character. I like knowing that even with the exact same patterns, the next dressage saddle I make will not look like a carbon copy of this one.

But I also need to remember that in some cases, others literally cannot see those flaws. 

I'm reminded of this every time I get an email from a customer when they receive their new tack and only have good things to say, or read a positive comment from you guys here- not everyone is out to find the flaws or point out the weaknesses in my work. 

In fact, I'm probably the only one. 

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone! I hope your day is more treats than tricks. 

I'm still reading and enjoying all your comments, keep 'em coming! You have a little over a week to get as many comments in as your heart desires- the more comments you leave, the higher chance you have of winning one of the halters.

I know it's been a little quiet around here, but I've been busy with some exciting projects that I can't wait to share with you all! Look for another update tonight.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Finished the stock halter!

It was weird, working with kangaroo lace again. I've been using skiver-lace exclusively this whole year, and the two different leathers are definitely different beasts. 

Anyway, this baby is shiny black leather with even shinier silver accents- definitely a flashy one! It features two ornate silver tongue buckles (both faux- one is fixed and the other sticky waxes down to the crownpiece for easy on and off), a rolled throatlach and lotsa bling. 

I'm working on a chain/leather lead to go with, but I thought I'd share what I have! For your chance to win this baby or the dark brown stable halter in my previous post, just leave a comment on any of my blog posts.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Holy SMOKES, are you guys awesome!

I am genuinely surprised and absolutely delighted by the level of response the raffle has had, even just so far. I've been out of town all weekend, and sneakily checking up on your comments on my phone, and it's been so much fun. You are all so kind! All of your compliments just makes me want to keep doing what I'm doing!

While I do read each and every one of the comments I receive (and promptly smile like an idiot), I don't have the time to reply to every one. (Most of the replies would be along the lines of "OH MY GOSH THANK YOU SO MUCH WOW" anyway, because I'm not so good at accepting compliments and am easily overwhelmed by kind people like yourselves.)

I've been doing my best to reply to comments that pose a direct question, or ones that I feel like I have something to say in response to (besides above babbling). But I didn't have a post planned for tonight and thought it would just be easier to answer your questions and do some listless chatting here.

  • First up, I had a couple people ask about the horse modeling the five-point breastplate in a post I made earlier this week. That would be this gal...

...a long-time "in the works" custom of mine from the G4 Driving mold, who the eagle-eyed might recall from this post over the summer...

...when she still had the first paint job I tried before I realized she had some fundamental issues, and a sloppy appy paint job wouldn't fix them. (Life is so unfair.)

She was one of my very first attempts at sculpting a whole new neck, and I'm not exactly a pro customizer. I really like the idea of her, and I have her just hanging around, waiting for me to fix her up (something is definitely wrong in her withers-ish area, among many other things).

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, my customizing adventures these days are pretty much exclusively for the purpose of making myself performance horses, and one day she'll hopefully grace the hunter ring. 

Or maybe I'll just try another head-down, nose-vertical custom from the Driving mold in the future, because apparently that's what I do!

  • Dressagekid noticed that I am the same person who ran a customizing blog a while back, featuring my adventures in making Traditional scale versions of the puppets used in the stage adaptation of War Horse, and asked how that was going. 
The life-size puppets in question, for those of you who missed my past escapades.

Short answer: it isn't. 

Longer answer: I am still very much in love with that play, the puppets, the way they're created, the story, and theater in general, but that project was a little too fiddly and ill-planned to really pan out how I wanted it to, and eventually it fizzled out.  I was also running that blog at a time when I was kind of figuring out what I liked and what I wanted to do, messing around and making fun customs in the meantime. I now really feel like I've found my niche with mini tack, and would rather spend my free time working on it than on more extravagant customs. 

(Just between you and me, Dressagekid, I still am entirely planning on making a miniature War Horse puppet at some point in my life. Just in Stablemate scale, of course.)

On the studio front, I have the lace prepared for the stock halter, just waiting to go. I have a chunk of time tomorrow afternoon to assemble it, and I thought it could be fun to kind of do a step-by-step walk through of how that's done. Halters are fun and relatively un-fiddly to make for your models- they're more like assembling a kit than creating a miniature multi-media sculpture, like saddles. 

As for which mold to make the stock halter for, I'm thinking this guy:

But would you guys rather see a different mold? The same G3 Quarter Horse the stable halter is for, maybe?

And finally, another plug for Anna from Ebb & Flow Studios, who is my best friend, spirit guide, co-mini tack maker, and general inspiration in life. Her most recent post features a video how-to of how she makes Stablemate scale tongue buckles, which is kind of similar to how I make mine, and shows off how mini tack shamelessly cheats in some areas where Traditional scale tack couldn't. The video not only features adorable pumpkin finger nails, but also a kind of Bob Ross, relaxing vibe. 

That's it for today! I'm recording all of your entries, throwing them all into the pot so to speak, so keep 'em coming!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Halter Raffle!

As promised, I am now officially kicking off my first-ever blog raffle!

The winners will get to choose between this lovely leather stable halter, and a fancy silver stock-type halter.

I haven't made halters in a long time, and probably won't be making more anytime soon after these guys, so this is a unique opportunity! The stable halter came out great- it has a raised noseband, faux tongue buckle, working hook on the rolled throatlach, and removable cotton lead. Made out of a lovely dark brown shade leather, with gold hardware, for the G3 Quarter Horse. 

The stock halter isn't half-bad, either:

It's a shiny black leather with shinier silver plating, complete with faux tongue buckles (simply sticky wax the right one down to the crownpiece and you're good to go) and a chain/leather removable lead. Made for the G4 Paradressage mold.

Okay, here's how this is going to work:
  • One comment, on any of my blog posts, new or old, equals one entry. 
  • Comment using your Google profile, or by using a nickname- if you go with the second option, make sure you're consistent!
  • Comment on as many posts as you like, but only one comment per person per post! (One person leaving fifteen comments on the same post will count as one entry for that person.)
  • Every entry will be assigned a number, and a randomizer will select the two winners. The first winner gets first pick of which halter they'd like, and the second winner receives whichever they didn't pick. In the event that the same person is drawn twice, I'll redraw until there are two winners. 
  • All comments left before 7:00pm (USA Pacific time) on November 10th will count as entries, and winners will be chosen and announced here shortly afterward. 
  • Shipping to the winners is free!

If you have any questions or I haven't covered something, let me know in the comments. 

Good luck, and thank you in advance for entering!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Studio Update: October 23

Done! Time for a photo dump.

The last five-point breastplate I made was pre-2012, or possibly never. Either way, it's been a long, long time, so this guy presented a bit of a challenge.

A very rewarding challenge! Definitely pleased with how it came out, and even more pleased that its new owner approves!

(The breastplate and girth are off to a new home, but the saddle is mine.)

Lots of real, working buckles on this guy, which is unusual for me lately. It does take a bit of the pressure off having everything fit absolutely perfectly, though, as it allows for some adjustment. 

The girth and breastplate join the six boots and hunter bridle to finish off this odds and ends order.

Now it's off to work on the raffle halter- or halters? We'll see.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Studio Update: October 21

Ugh. I'm not where I want to be, but things are still getting done!

Finished up a full set of splint boots, in a cool neoprene- like material with "sweat-wicking" fabric lining, leather kick plates, and "velcro" closures for super easy on and off (again, much more impressive in person than in photos, pinky swear). I'm really pleased with how these ones came out!

And I am so, so close to finishing this five-point breastplate! I need to change out a couple jump rings, but this order is just itching for its new home.

Guys! Way to give me a tie as the result of the raffle item poll. So it looks like I'll be making a free halter... but silver stock type or shmancy leather stable halter type? I even made up a new poll to see what ya'll want. I mean push comes to shove, I might just make both and have two winners...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Building Blocks: Everything Else

This is (finally!) the last post in this little series about what I stock my studio with. Part One is about leather, Part Two is about dye and lace, and Part Three is about hardware.

For the purpose of making such small tack, there's a lot of clutter on my desk at any given time. Admittedly, a lot of this junk is stuff I only use once per project, or only have in case I need it for a specialty project (like leather paint). I do, however, have a core arsenal of regularly used tools.

First and foremost is something that I almost never put down while I'm working: my trusty tweezers. These I've had for forever, and I don't remember where they originally came from but they're perfect. I use them basically as an extension of my fingers: to hold buckles while I slip lace through, feeding tongues through buckles, holding pieces together while they dry, dabbing glue onto strap ends, you name it. Tweezers are the #1 way to avoid unnecessary suffering and frustration in the process of making mini tack.

As far as actual tools go, I've been using the same set of jewelry-making tools my entire tack making career. These originally came in some sort of fancy roll-up case (and I'm pretty sure there were more of them), but these are the ones that have stuck around:

Needle-ish nose pliers. The tips aren't needle tiny, but the round tapered ends work great for making all different sizes of jump rings out of wire (bits, especially).

Flat-jaw pliers. I don't actually know what these are called- I mentally refer to them as "D ring pliers," because that's what I primarily use them for. The tips are the perfect shape for bending wire into D rings, and the flat jaws are great for tamping on buckles to make them look less like wire and more like cast hardware.

These are my third pair of tin snips, and by now I really feel like I should have learned to just spring for the more expensive kind, but my cheap tendencies have won out. This pair is the mini version, which was a terrible decision, but now I'm determined to get my money's worth from these little suckers. If any of you are thinking about getting into tack making, go for the $15-20 ones.

Moving onto gooey substances, we have my left-hand man, Gum Tragacanth. This stuff is the bomb for taming leather fuzzies, training laced reins to lay flat, making saddle pommels smooth and seamless, and every other leather-taming activity.

Just noticed this is the French side. Whoops.
Super Shene from Tandy is the leather finish I've been using to give tack that nice "well-oiled" finish. Sometimes it also helps hold the color in and prevent staining ponies- but sometimes that just happens anyway. (I'm on the hunt for a finish or sealant that totally stops that- anybody have suggestions?)

I like working on this slightly raised glass board, not only because it's a solid work surface (with straight lines for reference) but also because it provides an edge to skive against. Win-win!

The board is also great for pouring my Tacky Glue directly onto in a little puddle in the corner, before dabbing on tiny amounts where I need them with my tweezers. This scale is just too little to try and use glue directly from the bottle. I've recently learned that I can do the exact same thing with my super glue, in a much smaller (and faster-working!) puddle on my glass board. Both glue types just pop right off when they're dry. I've only ever used Original Tacky Glue for 99% of my gluing (leather to leather) mostly because it works perfectly for me but also because it's cheap and easy to find at just about any self-respecting craft store. I don't really have any brand loyalty in super glue; any clear liquid variation does the trick. I've had a lot of luck with Loctite.

Other stuff I'm constantly using: my big ol' sewing scissors (they seem ridiculously large for this scale, but they do the job!), Xacto knife with tons of extra blades on hand to change out and keep sharp, pointy sculpting tool for marking where on straps buckles need to go, fine-tip Sharpie, mechanical pencil, thick-ish sewing needle for punching holes, double-sided tape, and various textures of fine sandpaper cut into workable little sections. I also recently purchased a little carrying caddy from Micheal's to stow all this junk in when I'm feeling tidy.

I'm sure I've said this before, but what's great about making tack this small is that you almost never have to replenish your supplies. All of this stuff is pretty much a one-time investment, assuming you're not like me and won't lose your knife/glue/snips ten times, buy new ones, then find the old ones. Even stuff like Gum Tragacanth and glue- I bought this little bottle of GT in 2011 and it's probably 75% full. Your supplies are more likely to go missing or bad than run out. Ever.

So to finish off my shopping list:

  • Tweezers -these are my exact ones, but any needle-point style will work (I had no idea mine were $15? Crazy.)
  • Jewelry/beading pliers- I think I got these at my local beading store, but Micheal's and JoAnn's have plenty of their own versions.
  • Snips -this is the pair I last killed off. I can't for the life of me find the nicer, blue-handle kind.
  • Gum Tragacanth
  • Super Shene -I lump mine in with Rio Rondo orders.
  • Cutting mat/board
And the following items from Any Old Craft Store, USA:
  • Original Tacky Glue
  • Loctite Super Glue
  • Scissors
  • Xacto knife
  • Pointy instrument
  • Sharpie
  • Mechanical pencil
  • Sewing needle
  • Double-sided tape
  • Sandpaper
And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes the tour of just about every single thing used in the making of my tack. For those of you who originally requested this series, I hope this was helpful, and to the rest of you, I hope this was somehow insightful or interesting (I don't know about you, but pictures of scissors and wire is my idea of high entertainment). 

If you guys have any tack tips, how-to's, or other "behind the scenes" type posts you'd like to see, let me know!

(By the way, new poll is up! I want to make you guys free stuff. Let me know what you want to see!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Studio Update: October 15

Today I... was generally quite pleased with myself.

I achieved a nice, warm-toned dark brown (far left, not that you can appreciate it in this lovely lighting), which has been a challenge for me with this white leather. With buff leather, you have a warm base to build on, but when you put dark dyes on the white, it's easy for the color to come across as thin and washed out- if you've ever colored a model with pastels, think what would happen if you applied dark dust to a white pony. 

What worked for me was to first dye the piece Chocolate (the dark brown color of the saddle on my site's home page), wait for that to dry 90%, then add a thin layer of Walnut (tan color on the far right of the above pic). Score.

I did some more work on this odds and ends order, which is presenting me with an opportunity to rethink how I do my boots. In the past, my open-front jumping boots have always been a pretty dull affair. I would pretty much just cut out the pattern in the above pic, glue one end of some straps down to one side, and call it a day. 

My boots circa 2012.
In this scale, that's actually totally passable. But this year is all about reforming, updating and improving my old ways, so this pair is taking a little more time and effort.

So far, I've thinned the leather, adjusted the pattern shape, and molded the boot to the model's leg for a more contoured, snug fit.

Boot taco

I'm going for this kind of thing:

And this is what I have:

You can't see the majority of the detail on this baby in the pics- we've got the slotted strap action goin' on, as well as the added layer of the kick plate, and stitch marking galore. It still needs little silver "studs" on the closure end (they really just sticky wax into place), but I've gotta say, I'm really pleased!

(The other one is about halfway done. I'm giving my eyes/brain a break from it by writing this post.)

I might actually write a whole post about girths in the future, but here's today's product. Crappy basement photography doesn't show the stitches or neat edges on this guy, but trust me, they're there!

The pony bridle is also back in one solid piece (almost), with a new, longer crownpiece, but I've already hit you over the head with pictures of that one. 

Now back to that boot.