“What exactly is a handmade bridle and why do I need one?” may be a question you ask yourself when you see Saddler’s post about their handmade bridle work.
The Making Process
Firstly, everything is cut, prepared and stitched by hand, hence the word ‘handmade’.
Preparing the Leather
A Saddler selects a leather hide, brushes it and checks for scratches, stretch marks and any other imperfections that could affect the overall strength, durability and look of the bridle.
The leather is cut into strips using one of three Saddler tools; a plough gauge, a strap cutter or the round knife.
The edges are rounded off by shaving them with an edge shave tool and then stained with a coloured edge dye, usually to match the colour of the hide.
A creasing iron is warmed and run along the edge of the leather to form an imprinted line which has been traditionally done on bridle work and saddlery for decades.
Leathers used for bridles, saddles and harness are notoriously strong and thick. In order to stitch a buckle and ring to straps of leather, the leather is skived down, to a manageable thickness, using a small manual skiving machine or a saddlers knife.
The most common stitch used on saddlery is called a ‘saddle stitch’. This is a long piece of waxed linen thread with a needle on each end. It is then passed through a pre-awled hole that is created with a sharp hand tool called an awl. The needles go in and out the same hole, crossing each other to form a locked stitch within the hole. The wax on the thread helps to seal the thread and offer some form of protection for the thread fibres. This process is what Saddlers refer to as hand stitching.
When stitching leather with a machine, a light polyester or nylon thread is often used. The stitching is done in a continuous line with the bottom thread just catching the top thread to create a stitch. These stitches are not locked individually and therefore if one was caught and snaps it often unravels the whole line of thread. This process is called machine stitching and is not as strong and durable as the waxed linen thread used in hand stitching.
Some manufacturers will pass their items off as ‘handmade’, even if they have been machine stitched, purely because a part of the making process has been touched by hand. It’s a play on words and a naive customer, who knows no different, can be mislead into thinking they have a high quality item.
The Final Process
Once the stitching is complete, the leather where a buckle turn is or where two or more pieces of leather have been stitched together are often sanded level, stained again and then boned (a process using a bone tool) which creates a seal and a shine.
Strong and Sturdy
All these processes take time to complete by hand and therefore is reflected in the cost of these ‘hand made’ items, but one this is guaranteed and that is you will have invested in a strong, sturdy and beautiful piece of saddlery, that will last a lifetime, as long as you look after it correctly.
Another advantage of having a handmade bridle is the customer care you obtain from the Saddler, It takes years to train and perfect their craft, they have invested as much into your item as you have and therefore will always welcome contact from you if ever you have any questions about your item they have made. I know I certainly do.
Most independent Saddlers know where their leather comes from. Therefore, if there is ever a question about ethical or sustainability issues, then they can very often go back to their suppliers.
Saddler’s normally offer a repair service as part of their business. This is very useful to have on hand as we all know how accident prone a horse can be. Snapping a pair of reins or rubbing the buckle off their cheek piece is so easily done if the horse is left unattended. Whatever the reason, a Saddler will gladly help you get your item back to looking like new.
The advantage of leather is it will always break under extreme pressure. Definitely what you want happening especially if a horse is tied up, for example. The leather breaking will ensure that the item does not cut and embed itself into the horses flesh; Something like a nylon headcollar could do.
The added beauty of good quality leather work is that you can always repair or replace it. It will be as strong and durable as when it was first made. Giving you a true investment for life and not just for Christmas.
I personally have received bridles and head collars in, for repair or to be treated, that are 50 years old. They have then gone back into use.
I love doing this type of work. The leather is very often of an excellent quality and although old it is still beautiful to work with.
An Lifelong Investment
“An Investment for life.”
A handmade bridle is a true investment of your money. It is an investment for life. When the time comes, you can repair or add to it and not replace it.
My life long goal is to continue hand making bridles and other saddlery accessories at The Lady Saddler. By using only the very best leather and fittings, a younger saddler in 50 years time will hopefully have the same experience as I do.
However, this can only be possible if you as the customer invest in high quality leather craftsmanship. By taking care of the handmade bridle as much as we do making them. Only then will it guarantee a long lifespan.
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