Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pattern Making

My Achillies Heel is covering the Shoulders of my western saddles.  I can never find a satisfactory way of doing so with each saddle.  Mostly because The trees change with each saddle and because I have a strong desire to make my saddles as real looking as possible.  This is a demonstration and Tour of my frustration over the years.

THe Pinacle of how I'm hoping my shoulders eventually look is demonstrated on my Beloved Terry Newberry saddle. No seams. None. And the shoulders are tooled as well.  I can do no seams because all I'd have to do is stretch some leather over the shoulders while it was wet.  But if I want tooling on them, I can't do this. (I don't think.) 

Saddle By Terry Newberry

Saddle By Terry Newberry

Real saddles are made like this:  The shoulders are covered and then nail gunned or pinned into place onto the tree and then they are tooled.  

I don't think that there is a way that I could stabilize a miniature tree well enough to tool on it or stamp on it.

And just to show it off.. here is the shoulders of my Susan Bensema Young Braided Saddle set.. she can elegantly make a pattern well enough that she can make it look smooth and easy.

Saddle by Susan Bensema Young

This is a saddle by Margaret Olsen. ANd I have a horrible Confession to make that I know that other do as well but I dunno if They'd Fess up to it.  I took this saddle apart. Because I LOVED the Shoulders and when I bought it, I had never seen shoulders covered in this way before. I was both Jealous and in awe.  (I put it back together last week, after 9 years. )  So I MUST Credit Margaret for the way I covered shoulders for many years.

I never ever, even once, took Drafting in School.  I never took any kind of mechanical drawingor used grid paper. I passed Geometry in School by the hair on my teeth!!  I considered myself a "Fine artist" at the time and unless I drew it freehand it wasn't Real art to me and a waste of time. I don't know where I got stupid ideas like that but thats where I was mentally.

So Now that I make patterns and use graph paper and try like heck to make everything perfectly even on both sides, it's exceedingly difficult.  I also have a "right hand" bias that I wish I could get rid of.  But that only comes after practice and a lot of drawing and I don't currently have that kind of time. (when bub gets older though, I will overcome it)

I spend a lot of time drawing one side of something then transferring it onto tracing film and then drawing the other side on paper by flipping the film and finally I have something that is somewhat even.  But that doesn't always work either... sometimes, because of my "bias" i draw it differently.. lol!

Then there is practical Application.  I make patterns out of paper a lot, just to get started and have an idea of shape.  Paper works so well and does exactly what I want it to.. because it's paper and it's easy to get along with.

Then I'll come and use scrap leather. Now I have NO Idea why scrap leather will seem to work fantastically while after I carefully tool, dye and antique tooling leather the same pattern won't fit... or even worse, I'll have an epiphany on how I can do things better and I'll start all over again.

Below are all of the incarnations that my shoulder pattern has gone through:

This is the Direct Trace from the Shoulders of the Margaret Olsen Saddle.
This is the first One Off Incarnation.  You can also see my "backup" plan of using the rio rondo method although I found that pigskin doesn't actually take tooling as well.
This is after I tweaked it a bit.  I can now see how the left side is rounder and longer than the right, although at the time I didn't see that.

This looks like I cleaned up the above pattern a bit. This was on a completely different saddle "plan".

This is the shoulder pattern that I think I eventually used on my last cutting saddle.  notice the new darts in the front adding even MORE seams.. lol!

These are my most recent incarnations of shoulder coverings.  The top is the paper pattern. The second on the right is what i used for my last roping saddle and the other two are my most recent attempts at a good shoulder pattern.

Obviously the pattern on the left is older than the ones above. I have a tendency to want to thin things out.  The one on the right is what I think I'm going to use for the saddle that I'm working on now.  I am actually stretching the leather this time to see if my doubts are correct or if I'm way off base.  
The current Shoulder plan and hope, but I can tell that the back part is wrong.. too long.. but I'll cut it out and try to use it to be sure.
And the saddle that I'm working on now, to try to iron out the saddle pattern before I make Chelsea Nichols saddle. Keep In Mind that the fenders will have to be redone.  The new Tree is one of TWMHC's Jennifer Harris Trees with actual stirrup bars.  My pattern was for a rio rondo type tree previously and the stirrups were rigged differently.

I do this for every type of saddle that I make.  (you should see my saddleseat drawings)  My other achillies heel is the second skirt.  those are NEVER right and I'm constantly redrawing them as well.  I can show that in a later post..

I really should find some Computer Aided Design software because I have no fear of computers but I wouldn't even know where to start with those..

Now the world knows why it takes me SO Dang long to make a western saddle!!


  1. If it doesn't work out there you should give it to me to hide from the public so your name isn't sullied. :D

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  3. Duplicate! Was so excited to be first to claim the out-takes I guess - ha! :D

  4. I am really glad to see that I am not the only one who spends so much time and energy obsessing over the details!! This post made me feel a lot more normal. :)

    I don't make very many Western saddles, but I've had the same issues with the swells. They are my very least to favorite part of the entire saddle.


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