Archive | May, 2013

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!

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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.