If it fits, I sits…

7 Jul

Took the Raewyn saddle up to the stables today, and plonked it on Blue’s back (with some padding, of course)

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His Blueness didn’t seem too fussed. I think it will fit him!

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It’s obviously pressing on his wither here, because there’s no panels or flocking, everything needs to come up a few cms. But the points follow the curve of his shoulders quite well, they don’t dig in or gape.

Off to the saddler tomorrow, for the diagnosis – is she salvageable, and what will be the damage to my credit card?

Introducing…. Raewyn

5 Jul

 

So I won this saddle on TradeMe (NZ’s version of Ebay, but sooooo much better) for $100. It’s very similar indeed to Somerset, but it was 1/3 of the price and x3 in better condition. And x3 better packaged for shipping.

Offside

Offside: with intact flap, coin purse, billets, Y balance strap and what I think is a stirrup leather. None of the billets are particularly worn, so I wonder how much this saddle was used

Underside

The underside: will need new panels

Seat

The seat: will need more webbing, it’s all there but the nails have popped or torn out

Near side 2

But the leaping head is fine, and the safe is mostly intact. It needs restitching around the edges, and there’s some rubs and holes that might be okay

Near side

Nearside: fixed head needs putting back together with new padding and leather, but the overgirth and all three billets are there are remarkably intact with little wear

Front view

Front: the back half of the seat leather is perished and needs replacing, as well as the fixed head

So like Somerset, it lacks a cutback head and has a rather dippy seat. But this is NZ, where a Whippy would fetch $4000.  I may be shopping on a concussion, but even I wouldn’t splurge on that.

Also, I am in luck – the NZSSA recommended saddler for the North Island lives just 1.5 hours drive from where I live, where my Grandmother also lives. So I will see about dropping this beauty into him next week.

I purchased this from a lass who had purchased it, intending to get it restored, but never got around to it. She purchased it from a town 45 mins from me, from the widow of a saddler, it was a saddle he’d been meaning to restore for years.

Thanks to a bit of TradeMe stalking (the things you have time for when you have a concussion) the widow’s name is Raewyn, so the saddle is named in honour of her.

A super-overdue update

5 Jul

Its a bit embarrassing to realise that my last post was about 2 years ago. Lots has changed… I no longer live in Australia, I am gainfully employed, and I own my own horse.

Yes, finally, my childhood dream has become reality. In March this year, I was declined Life Insurance. It was a shock to be told that my health and life expectancy is so poor that I was un-insurable. Well fuck you, I thought, if my life is going to be short then I’ll have fun while I’m here. So I purchased a horse on my credit card.

His name is Blue, he’s a 15 year old grey thoroughbred gelding. And I fell off him for the first time on Friday. I have no recollection of the incident, or of the 4 hours after it, but apparently he shied at something, and I was tired and just went splat on the ground.

It’s given me my very first concussion. They are awful things, one thing people never warn you about is how incredibly boring they are. So I got stuck into online shopping.

One thing led to another, and I now find myself the owner of another sidesaddle.

What happened to Somerset? Well, when I was leaving Australia I had to make a hard choice. I’d finally seen the light and realised that most of the saddle was unsalvageable, the leather was just too degraded. The tree was mostly sound, but without a cutback head, is worthless. Wendy Tidbold must have had 20 or 30 of them stashed around her workshop. I was shipping my stuff back to NZ, and NZ Customs is super-strict about anything organic or having been in contact with animals, it would have put my whole shipment at risk to include antique saddlery. So sadly Somerset went in the rubbish. But I did learn so much about saddles from taking her apart and trying to salvage the leather, so it wasn’t a waste.

Update on Somerset

31 May

Somerset has been sitting quietly in the corner of my room for a few months now. I’ve been cleaning and moisturising the remaining leather, in the hope that some of it might be salvageable.

Over the holidays, I finally was able to drive down to Brisbane and take Somerset in to be assessed by Wendy Tidbold, who is a professional sidesaddler. The verdict was grim.

None of the leather is salvageable, it needs to be stripped down to the tree and built back up again using new materials. The cost for this would be the same, if not more, than getting a brand new one custom-made.

Also, Somerset’s tree is the old fashioned sort so harder to ride in, and harder to fit a horse to. And it’s all too big for me, about an inch and a half too big.

However I had lots of fun checking out Wendy’s collection of saddles, and drooling over the new ones she’s made.

So I came home and decided to strip Somerset down to the tree myself. At least this way I get to learn about saddle construction, and the tree will be far easier to store without all the lumps of old leather.

Sadly I didn’t photograph me removing the rest of the leather. It was quite interesting, especially the fixed head. It was wrapped with the cream checked wool fabric and the stuffing was built up to provide the different raised areas around the embroidered part.

Cutting away the old seat webbing

Cutting away the old seat webbing. The shaping for the head and seat are still present – it’s very thick, folded leather.

The tools of my trade - needle nosed pliers and a bread and butter knife.

The tools of my trade – needle nosed pliers and a bread and butter knife.

Inside of the fixed head - compacted fluff still stuck around the nail holes

Inside of the fixed head – compacted fluff still stuck around the nail holes

Can you see the crack at the base of the fixed head?

Oh no! A crack! Where all those nails are

Oh no! A crack! Where all those nails are

But the head is still firmly in place and there’s no movement. On inspection, it seems that the whole tree is made of laminated pieces of wood, and maybe that the head was constructed separetely? The raised cantle is seperate too. The things I learn!

Each nail had to be individually prised out

Each nail had to be individually prised out

Cantle, with the crupper ring

Cantle, with the crupper ring. The join in the wood is visible on the bottom right

The old-fashioned roller bar stirrup assembly. And the screw for the leaping head

The old-fashioned roller bar stirrup assembly. And the screw for the leaping head

Light reinforcing through the gullet. There's another two metal strips underneath. Look at all those nail holes!

Light reinforcing through the gullet. Look at all those nail holes!

 

The underside of the gullet is also reinforced lightly.

The underside of the gullet is also reinforced lightly.

The broken point. Here you can see what the wood looks like.

The broken point. Here you can see what the wood looks like, without the brown paint.

The naked tree!

The naked tree!

No cutback head, but it's a reasonable height and reasonable width

No cutback head, but it’s a reasonable height and reasonable width

Then I tried to work out what to do about the layer of cheesecloth, stuck down with brown… paint? I understand saddlers used to use cheesecloth and shellac to bind saddle trees, but this isn’t laquery, it’s like nasty paint.

I decided to try sanding it off. Didn’t shift my cup of tea at first.

Sanding scum, floating on my cup of tea

Sanding scum, floating on my cup of tea

Sanding the top layers of brown muck off revealed more cheesecloth

Sanding the top layers of brown muck off revealed more cheesecloth

The tree was bound with cheesecloth, then painted in... paint? Something dark brown and nasty, to stick it all down. I assume this was to give it more strength

The tree was bound with cheesecloth, then painted in… paint? Something dark brown and nasty, to stick it all down. I assume this was to give it more strength

 

Sanding got rid of the rough wooden edges, but didn’t really remove the brown paint. It just made dirty powder everywhere that was all tacky. I had to hose off the tree to get rid of it all!!!

Still damp from the wash down

Still damp from the wash down

 

Still lots of brown muck to remove

Still lots of brown muck to remove

I got some of the brown paint off - solvents are up next

I got some of the brown paint off – solvents are up next

So I need to hit up Bunnings for some solvents. But since I have no idea what the brown gunk is, I don’t know which solvent to use!

Somerset’s custom-made cover

2 May

Three things I love : sewing, sidesaddles and history. How excited was I when I saw that the Historical Sew Fortnightly had a challenge that I could do something for?

The theme was Flora and Fauna, which I have loosely interpreted as being appropriate for a horsey-print canvas sidesaddle cover for Somerset. Because she was looking rather sad, dusty and messy in the corner of my room.

So, to find a pattern.
Hmm.
There are none.

So I browsed the interwebs, and had very helpful people like Leila Marvin, Sarah Parry and Suzy VanderPeer  send me photos and info about genuine, turn of the century covers.

Basically, in the days before elastic, covers were made-to-measure for each saddle.

A very nice, fitted vintage sidesaddle cover.

A very nice, fitted vintage sidesaddle cover.

Erk. Look at all those tricky angles! The cover was slashed under the leaping head so you could get it on and off the heads. Many were piped around all the edges, and had split pigskin keepers, reinforcing and/or accents.

I’d never drafted something myself before, and to be honest, a sidesaddle cover was a hard thing to start with. But that’s never stopped me before….

I pinned paper over the saddle, using photos to guide how it was pieced together

I pinned paper over the saddle, using photos to guide how it was pieced together

Unfortunately I didn't have butchers paper to hand. I did have tissue paper, which was a PAIN to work with around a very playful kitty

Unfortunately I didn’t have butchers paper to hand. I did have tissue paper, which was a PAIN to work with around a very playful kitty

Luckily Nibbles can be distracted with her new favourite thing - the washing basket!

Luckily Nibbles can be distracted with her new favourite thing – the washing basket!

This gave me a whole bunch of pattern pieces. The rectangular piece is upside down, I had to recut it

This gave me a whole bunch of pattern pieces. The rectangular piece is upside down, I had to recut it

Nibbles decided the fabric needed to be killed. She is  the left upper lump, and whenever I tried shifting the fabric she'd go crazy

Nibbles decided the fabric needed to be killed. She is the left upper lump, and whenever I tried shifting the fabric she’d go crazy

Pinned the fabric back to the saddle

Pinned the fabric back to the saddle

I had to adjust it quite a bit. Turns out tissue paper falls differently from canvas

I had to adjust it quite a bit. Turns out tissue paper falls differently from canvas

I fussed a lot with the pins, then realised I had to make all these outside-facing seams become inside-facing. I pricked my fingers HEAPS

I fussed a lot with the pins, then realised I had to make all these outside-facing seams become inside-facing. I pricked my fingers HEAPS

Then I started sewing. So far all was going well, but for some reason (it seemed logical at the time) I put the heads pieces together first, then tried attaching all the bigger pieces to that. It didn’t work. Everything pulled out of shape and it was awful.
I guess it was like trying to make a sleeve, then sew the rest of the dress around it.

I ended up unpicking almost everything, attaching the sides to the seat, then last of all the heads. It worked better.

It makes Somerset look so much tidier

It makes Somerset look so much tidier

I used two ribbons i cut off a shirt - you know those annoying 'hanger' straps sewn to the shoulders that always peep out of your neckline? I found a use for them!

I used two ribbons i cut off a shirt – you know those annoying ‘hanger’ straps sewn to the shoulders that always peep out of your neckline? I found a use for them!

I did some shaping to this side but it's hard to spot

I did some shaping to this side but it’s hard to spot

The fit of the heads isn't perfect, but I'm still pleased with my effort

The fit of the heads isn’t perfect, but I’m still pleased with my effort

I'm really pleased!!!!!

I’m really pleased!!!!!

Obviously it isn’t finished. That’s because Somerset isn’t finished. When she has flaps, flocked panels and girthing her underside will be a completely different shape to what it is now. So I can’t exactly ‘fit’ the cover to something that has yet to exist.

I’ve left heaps of extra material on the edges, and have about 2m of the canvas left. So when Somerset is finished (sometime in the never-never) I can finish the cover to match her.

Madame Vionnet’s jabot dress

15 Feb

I have a wedding to go to, and all weddings require a new frock.

The wedding is Art Deco themed, which is wonderful (I love dressing up) and awful (I look terrible in shapeless dresses).

I far prefer 1940s or 50s fashion, it suits me so much more. But oh well.

Also, finding patterns for 1920s dresses is much harder. In the end I decided upon this dress, which afterwards I found was from 1919 so Edwardian/Art Deco. But it looked easy to sew and I could make it flattering on me.

It's a very simple design

It’s a very simple design

There’s no real pattern, but I found an online tutorial on how to make it, at We Sew Retro – http://wesewretro.com/2012/05/20-minute-1920s-dress/ 

It took me a while to understand the instructions, but eventually I got it.

1) Basically, you get four square pieces of fabric, with a length of 1m on the diagonal. Took me FOREVER to work out that I needed around 0.70m along each side to achieve the 1m diagonal. It seems I have forever forgotten high school calculus.

2) You hem all sides of the square.

3) Lay one square on top of another, wrong sides together. Stitch across one corner asymetrically. This will leave a triangle flap on the right sides of the fabric.

4) Unfold, and on one square lay another square, wrong sides together again. Stitch across the far corner asymetrically again. You will have a chain of three squares joined together, with triangle flaps on the right sides.

5) Unfold again, and lay the last square on the chain of squares you have made. Stitch again.

6) You have made a chain of four squares, attached at their pointy corners. Bring the leftmost unattached pointy corner across to the rightmost one, to turn the chain into a tube of squares. Stitch as before.

7) Now flatten the tube of squares, and stitch two top points together. These will be the shoulders.

8) Make a sash.

On the coathanger

On the coathanger

Of course I didn’t make it as easy as that.

Firstly, the cheap satin material I brought was a complete bitch to sew. It was slippery and the weave constantly shifted. Trying to get a perfect square drove me nuts. Hemming it was hideous. I purchased a rolled hem foot for my machine but it just didn’t work. In the end I just folded the material over, straight stitched and then trimmed super-close to the edge. It looks OK but is already fraying madly.

Trying to cut straight lines of the awful material. I only snipped my duvet cover once.

Trying to cut straight lines of the awful material. I only snipped my duvet cover once.

I also got my sides mixed up and sewed the triangle drapey flaps to the inside. More than once. Le sigh.

I’ve also made it too big for me. I probably only needed a 0.7m diagonal. As a result it is unflatteringly long, especially combined with the dropped waistband.

 

Naming day

17 Nov

I feel that the saddle needs a name. Currently I call it ‘the saddle’ or ‘my saddle’.

Firstly I thought it should be called “Miss Piggy” because I think the seat and pommels are made from pigskin. But as the saddle has darkened it somehow doesn’t fit anymore.

Since it’s made on a Somerset tree, I think I should call it ‘Somerset’. Or, it came from somewhere west of Condobolin – but that’s a bit of a mouthful.  So until I think of a better name, it is Somerset.

Condobolin – miles from effing anywhere, and where Somerset was found

Source of all the dirt on Somerset. Endless, endless, red dirt.

 

The gentle moisturising and sponging is continuing, but I think I’ll only get the little flaps straightened out next year. I really want to save them and I’ll have to do it slowly and carefully.

In the meantime I’m preparing it for storage. I noticed that since I’ve removed all the flock and the panels (Linda Fleming informs me that it was wool roving, not horsehair in the panels, which is slightly less romantic) Somerset doesn’t sit on the purple saddle stand properly – all the weight goes through the gullet. That will not do.

In place of flocked panels….. silk cushions

I needed to pad up the other two bars somehow. I have silk cushions I brought back from Thailand. Two, safety pinned and knotted together under the central bar make pretty good padding. Really I should have found an old pillow or something, but this saves me packing the cushions up. And Somerset deserves some luxury after all these years of deprivation.

What luxury!

On top of my gold-striped maroon thai silk cushions goes a cheap lime green IKEA throw, and Somerset nestles nicely on top.

Introducing…… Somerset!

She looks so different to the saddle that arrived in the post.

I do hope that Wendy can re-use the safe, pommels, offside purse lid and both little flaps. Ideally the remaining leather from the seat can be reworked into the offside purse pouch too. And I also hope that she can rebalance the saddle so that it doesn’t place so much weight on the loins, which these old saddles did – because I do want to ride Somerset.

I have gingerly hovered over the top of her and I think she’ll fit me to a T. She won’t be for everyday riding, but for special occasions like displays and shows. I’ll have to get something newer and more rugged for bashing about in. One day……….