Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Blankets 7

Time for another chapter in our Stable Blankets series!  I'm taking up where we left off, listing them more or less in chronological order of acquisition, starting in the fall of 2016....  with a little wiggling to lump like items together.  You would think after six posts on Blankets I'd've covered the subject.  Not a bit of it!!  I've found some of the most interesting, intriguing and usable blankets in just the past year - !   Partly because new ones keep coming out ... partly because the field itself is so vast that it takes an individual just forever to accumulate everything they want.  "consumer-driven economy..."

Here is my very-nearly-absolute-favorite blanket ever, the beautiful Horsewarm!!
I saw this blanket on eBay in October 2016, in a 5-pc package of blankets.  I had never heard of this brand before ... which shows how separated I am from real live horses and dogs!  Horsewarm, and its sister Dogwarm, is a small company in Rhode Island.  They started as an equine laundry in 1985 and in 1990 began making specialized dog and horse blankets.  I have no idea what put them onto model horses!  only that the result was outstanding.  The fabric is thick and soft and the colors go very well together; the design is striking without being garish.  The blanket uses velcro, always my favorite fastening method.  The girth band is a bit long, but this is easily fixed with a knot --  I'd rather have a girth too long than too short.  Too long can accommodate a saddle, whilst too short does nobody any good.  The quality and detail are apparent in the four different types of fabric and in the stitching.  This is one of the few times I'm showing the underside of a blanket!
In the same package came a Horsewarm cooler.  There are ribbon chest ties and a velcro ribbon for under the tail.
I doubt these model blankets contain the Thinsulate the company advertises it uses, but then, what do I know.  Modern technology is sometimes miraculous.
A minor further miracle: one of the 5 pieces was this mesh blanket.  It's none other than Breyer's No. 3951 Fly Sheet, issued from 1995 to 1999.  I'd always wanted some of Breyer's meshes, and this was my first.  Of the three I'm aware of that Breyer released, this is the finest, the most 'sheer' and see-through.
All 5 of those blankets together cost under $19.   Thank you eBay.

Didi Hornberger is a longtime collector, shower and hostess of the great Intermediaire/INTERSPORT model shows held in October in Harrisburg (PA).  She is also a wonderful friend.  Although it took her more than a year, she made me a gift blanket.  I got to choose the fabric ("Seasplash" -- goes well with a horse named Riverfront Property!) and the design.  The finished product arrived fall of 2016.  This may look like a simple machine job, but the entire piece is stitched by hand(!).  The professional t-hook latches are smaller than the ones Breyer uses.
Thank you Didi!

Remember my struggles to find blankets for my CollectAs?  Breyer's StableMate (SM) blankets turn out to be perfect for CollectA foals!  The SM blankets could qualify for a post themselves, but for now I'll settle for a reminder from my very first Blankets post.  The SM blanket shown on left was my first.  Thanks again Carrie for breaking the set for me - it came with a 10-horse display box, part of the 2010 WEG releases.
Back to October of 2016, I picked up a Lavender-with-Pink-binding SM blanket.  It was sold as being a SM horse blanket, but I now know it is a dog blanket!  It's from Breyer's Best Friends (No. 61082), containing matching lavender blankets for a Classic horse and a Shetland Sheepdog!  Best Friends was first released in 2014 and I think is still in issue.
Starting in 2010, Breyer began releasing various sets with SM blankets, such as the Stablemates Deluxe Animal Hospital (No. 59204) and the Stablemates Jumping to Conclusions (No. 5502).  The first blankets were red with white binding.  Almost immediately there were white with red binding versions.  Within a few years, other colors turned up: lime green with hot pink binding, Breyer blue with yellow, dark blue with white binding -- you name it!  What's amazing is the early red-&-white variations had decorative ribbon ties on the chest, and girth straps that fastened with double rings!!  For a Stablemate scale blanket, this speaks of astonishing, not to mention difficult to fasten, detail.  I do not think it could be kept up...
The SM Foal blanket surely qualifies as Breyer's weensiest blanket.  Shown here on a CollectA foal, it was part of Breyer No. 5413, Stablemates Horspital, first issued in 2014.  Thanks to Margaret L. for helping me get these.  This veterinary-themed set has been released several times over the years, but this was the first time it included such a tiny scrap of a blanket!  And can you believe it, the girth fastens with the double rings!!
I suppose sewing on velcro bits would've been too much.
Sometimes blankets just give me fits of laughter.

(Editor's Note.  Later releases of the Stablemates Horspital, and/or something called New Arrivals, included something even weensier, a pure red felt foal blanket.)
(Collector's Note.  I'm willing to pay rather prettily for the Graceland blue/white SM blanket...!)

 By far the most popular, most famous, most numerous and surely the most played-with blankets Breyer ever made were the green felt Clydesdale Mare and Foal Gift Set ones.  It is with some shame I admit I did not grow up with them.  This seminal Gift Set was first released in 1971 and carried until 1992, an amazing 22 years.  You can find these on eBay with no trouble.  I finally got my act together in November 2016, and bought some.  I've seen these in every condition: faded, new, beat up, shrunk or well cared for.  My pair pretty much qualifies as 'shrunk.'
 They are a good play value, lasting well and inspiring countless imitations.  The earliest releases had painted-metal hooks and dees, seen here.  Later releases used velcro.  An interesting feature, constant across all the years, is that the stitching is green, not white.  I had fun finding models that could fit in them - the neck binding is not openable, and the hook girths are not adjustable.  'Shrunk.'  Still, no matter their size, these blankets are always welcome.

Neatly bridging 2016 and 2017 was my Crystal Christmas blanket, purchased in December and arriving in January.  By now Breyer has released three sets of matching mares & foals with matching blankets for the holidays.  (They know how to get us by the short hairs...)  For 2016, the third set, the molds chosen were the Grazing Mare and Foal, in a delicious hand-dappled grey for the mare, Crystal, and a darker grey for the foal Crispin.  Blanketwise, there was a clear change in pattern.  You can see how the neck opening is larger, the chest fastening dropped down to accomodate that lowered neck, and how the back seam is longer.  Once again the Breyer tag is on the Off side, apparently standard with these mares!
It is interesting to see all three at once.  Crystal's pattern change is obvious.
Again, the rump seam extends further back on the Crystal.  The Grazing Mare is a big horse and simply needed more fabric.
So, okay, I admit I haven't got Crispin's blanket yet.  I'm willing to go pretty high for one...

The Horsewarm blanket opened my eyes to other manufacturers of model horse blankets.  Even so I was delightfully surpised when I spotted this gem on eBay in December of 2016.
The tag says "Chelful."  This time it was a foreign manufacturer.  Chelful is British, famous for making doll clothes and props.  I think of them as a rough equivalent to Barbie or Grand Champion.  My blanket arrived in January.
The fabric is much thinner than the Horsewarm; it is thinner than Breyer's similar plaid cooler (see Blanket Collection 6).  However, the cut is generous, the colors delightful and there is a velcro girth strap inside.  The binding is wider than on almost any other blanket I own, lending a cheery note and protecting the edges well.  Again I'm choosing to show the underside:
 This blanket is seeing almost constant use.

In January, my friend Margaret, mentioned earlier, visited me in person, and I got this blanket of neon stripes.  It's one of the four versions of the Colorful Blanket Assortment by Breyer, No. 2053.  These were first released in 2014, clearly a good year for new blankets!  The Colorfuls are all characterized by metallicism in some part, usually the binding. Neon and bling are apparently still in fashion, albeit ground down and mashed together by mass production.  The fabric is polyester, smoothly silky-feeling, reasonably heavy and lined in white.  There are 4 velcro fastening bands, giving a lot of adjustability.  Of 4 eye-popping colors the stripes were the coolest for me.
Something unusual about these blankets is the 'rise' or extra scootch of material on the sides of the neck -- yet another new Breyer blanket pattern.
It's good to have a friend who is a dealer.  Thanks, Margaret.

A fitting ending to this post is the very special Vintage Club offering of the Clydesdale Mare and Foal Gift Set, Blossom and Belle.  They were released early in 2017 in glossy medicine hat pinto, and glory be, they had blankets.  Not the old green ones!!  Beautiful dark blue felts!  The moment I saw them I wanted those blankets, and wouldn't you know it, somebody on eBay was willing to sell.  In February my treasures arrived.
Consistent with the past green felt Clydesdale blankets, the stitching is blue not white.  What must have cost Breyer are the hooks and rings -- these are indeed white-painted metal.  I can tell you they're harder to fasten because the hooks are so tightly bent.  They take some careful but hard wiggling to close.  But once on, they're not budging!  The blankets are lined with thin white cloth, a very useful feature in these days of stain-worry.  (To the best of my knowledge, the old greens never stained.)
These blankets are thick and soft, and a most beautiful shade of royal blue.  They feel wonderful with their heavy and long-lasting felt.  These really are a crown jewel of my collection: history, beauty and quality all in one.
I am glad to have them!

There will be future Blanket posts, but give me a while to accumulate more material.  Pun intended.  You can never have too many blankets.

Previous Blanket posts:
Three Strands at Once
My Blanket Collection
Blanket Collection Part 3
Blanket Collection 4
Felts for Foals: Blankets 5
Blanket Collection 6

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Toots Geyer Saddle

I was thrilled to recently add a Toots Geyer saddle to my collection.  Thanks Diane!   There aren't that many pieces out there by this artist, yet she has definitely achieved her own style.  This saddle is dated 2004.  (Thank heavens it's actually dated and signed!!)  As it happens, the few pictures I have of pieces by Toots Geyer are dated 2005 and 2007.  So I'm guessing this is another talented tackmaker who was active for a handful of years about a decade ago.  If I'm wrong, let me know and I'll update this!

This is the "before" picture:  Before I added the missing tug straps, polished the silver and did some cosmetic disguise work on the seat.
Notice there is no blanket.  I had fun hunting through my collection trying to find a suitable blanket.  This saddle is HUGE.  Nothing I had that was cross-stitch or sewn was going to fit!  I had to fall back on my gotten-in-the-70s pile of Mexican recuerdos (souvenir) serapes.  I could barely find a horse with a long enough back.  Matriarch is immensely long, yet this saddle looks no more than normal on her.  It might even be a scoosh too big!!

My Matriarch was finished by Katie Richards.  (Thanks, Sue Peet, again!)  The orange serape tied everything together;  it brought out the gold tones in the horse and the saddle.  Other blankets, such as pink, white or red, did not look quite as well as that orange.  Although it's not my final choice, the serape did well enough for pictures.
The lacing has not tarnished.  I'm not sure why.  If it's sterling it should have tarnished a little.  If it's aluminum, I did not know aluminum lacing was available.  Go figure.

One feature of this saddle I found interesting was the corner carved leaves.  They were tooled separately, cut out and glued on.  I had never seen this before in model tack.  There's no reason this couldn't happen in full scale and it probably has. 
Another interesting feature was the breastcollar.  The three-part design meant that it fit the horse perfectly, without any choking pressure on the throat.
The seller had clearly stated the tug straps were missing.  I dug up some Rio Rondo buckles to match what was already there, and cut and dyed some kangaroo lace to match colors as closely as I could.  No leather keepers were found on any part of this set; only the martingale had one ring.  If the original tug straps had only rings for keepers, that would lend weight to explaining how they might have been lost.  There was nothing permanently fastening the straps on.  Let the rings slip or drop, and there go your tug straps...
Forensic tackmaking!!
Of course the hard part was polishing the silver.
Breastcollar rings, beads and crimps of the bridle and reins, and bits all needed it.  Even the curb strap was tarnished.  I was tickled to discover the bits were stamped .925, the universal indication of sterling silver.  And yet their 'tarnish' was of a golden-y color, not at all the expected black.  Eventually I decided I was seeing the remains of some kind of coating, probably nail polish.  I had to scrape it off the long beads of the bridle.
Below:  polished on right, unpolished left.
All hail the power of the microbrush!!  Ask your dentist for a few...

I mentioned cosmetic disguise work on the seat.  Even good artists make mistakes, and using a pink or red or purple ink pen to trace out the seat pattern was definitely a mistake.  I hate pens -- the petroleum-base ink always stains and smears!  This saddle had neon-pink stains on the edges of the seat.  The picture does not do them justice.
First I tried to scrape and cut off the worst-offending fibres.  Fortunately I had just sharpened my knife.   This helped but didn't really solve it and did start to endanger things.  Then I brought out my dark brown Edge Cote and gently painted all around the seat edge with a small pointed brush, blending in and touching up without heavy contrast.  That helped immensely.  It covered the pink and gave the saddle a subtle professionalism it hadn't had before.
Toots used sinew in various places to tie parts together.  The cinch, latigo and bridle all feature sinew ties, and these harmonize with the back skirt hatching/lacing.  I loved the Western flavor this gave.
Here are a few other examples of Toots Geyer saddles.  I collected these pictures in 2005 and 2007.
taken from the Web.  photographer unknown
taken from the Web,  photographer unknown

taken from MH$P.  photographer unknown
probably taken from MH$P.  photographer unknown
taken from MH$P.  photographer unknown
All these saddles give a clear sense of Toots' style.  She liked large tooled and colored leaves, particularly oak leaves and acorns, and she used cut-outs to great effect.  She liked large fringe on the blanket.  She liked rawhide-type braiding on the cantle and gullet, sometimes on the horn.  She liked using sinew (rawhide) ties.  Clearly she liked silver lacing and sometimes buckstitching.  Warm earth tones, basketweave stamping and irregularly shaped or angled edges round out some common aspects of this artist's work.
Speaking entirely personally, I find the flavor of Toots' tack to be quite similar to the flavor of Fara Shimbo's.  It may not be supremely detailed or refined, but its scale is part of the appeal, large-hearted and charming.  The effect is of a friendly, comfortable yet hard-working piece of tack.  I am well pleased to have found this example.

Eclipse from space: Dupage satellite loop

Based on Dupage Nexlab GOES 16
Always marry a meteorologist.
In our house, a great deal of time and attention goes to watching weather loops of one sort or another.   They impact our life, dictating everything from the timing of dinner to the course of a vacation.  They are IMPORTANT, and also beautiful.
Recently a fantastic improvement in the quality of these loops was shown to me, as more modern technology, data processing and satellites come online.  Although I'd watched weather service satellite loops for years, I never dreamed of some of the views I've been seeing recently.  When I first saw them I was like a little kid.  "Look, this is what God sees!"  Any one of them I could watch for hours, taking in all the details.  Words fail me:  the tops of clouds in motion are sublime.

And then came the Eclipse.

It was interesting enough to view the darkening of Oregon and Washington -- how the ink-stain spread out swiftly, killing the clouds.  (It took them a while to grow back.)  The black shadow-band swept across, and such a view was surely enough for a lifetime.  But then my husband told me about a ghost.  "Have you seen the white patch?  In the middle of the black!!  You gotta see this!"
What??

After it was all over (I spent my Eclipse on the back deck, holding a pinhole card, and in my neighbor's front drive, borrowing dark glasses and chatting), we went back to the Internet and dug up the relevant frames, aware that within 24 hours the lovely product would be unavailable.  The warnings were all over:  This product is experimental, it is undergoing testing.  Well it wasn't the only thing undergoing testing.  I really struggled to save it, and had to call in the resident meteorologist, Dr Young from Penn State.  Who just happens to be my husband.

This track was seen on the College of Dupage's experimental NEXLAB GOES 16 satellite page, the day of the eclipse.  Dupage Nexlab  We fiddled and downloaded, cropped and saved, and in the end had an animated gif of nearly 35MB.  As of now I can't get it smaller (or slower).  Across the country, from one end to the other, tracing that fabled path, ran a white circular ghost the size of South Carolina.  In the middle of the darkest hour, a white artifact bloomed forth, for all the world a moon shadow in photographic negative.  ("Shadow of the Moon,"  I started singing, from Blackmore's Night album.)  It gave me the eeriest feeling.  A white raggedy ball was wheeling along in the blackest center of the eclipse, a bouncing alien bunny of a cottontail, both terrifying and freeing.

Naturally I asked, "What's causing this?!"  And he explained it was what the sensors had been programmed to do when they detected less than nothing:  no light at all, "below black" on the scale of responses.  You can see it as the edge of night if you follow the daylight on the original loop -- or any day's loop for that matter.   That white patch was, indeed, human-caused...  after a fashion.
Okay, that explains it.  But it doesn't explain the amazing thrill I get when I watch it.  Nothing less than divine artisanry made this.

Eclipse from space: Dupage satellite loop 
(give it time to load)

When you marry a meteorologist you get a front-row seat on some of the most beautiful, amazing, incredible sights you never dreamed existed.  You have to be ready at any moment to drop everything and look up, to pass into a trance of awareness of wonder, to be amazed and thrilled and awed, only deeper, at these gifts we have been given.   I have seen the green flash, fire rainbows, heliocentric rainbows, ice pillars, ice volcanoes, auroras and iridescent clouds...  without ever taking a class in meteorology.  All I had to do was look up, be ready to look.
               "And every common bush's afire with God,
                 but only he who sees takes off his shoes."
                                          Elizabeth Barrett Browning 

I am so very grateful. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Peacock Bosal Hackamore: finished

When I photographed the finished Peacock Hackamore, it looked so fantastic on this horse that I couldn't resist showing off here.   I think it is his blue eye and the faint golden tones of his coat that go so well with the blue-and-green and the accenting braided-rawhide golden notes.  Plus his pink works very well with the natural leather.  Yes, this is the reward:  Finding which horse it goes best with, even if it's not the one you made the piece on!
 Not that that horse is a bad one.  Not a bit!!   This Hackamore has a color that goes best with cold-colored horses:  whites, grays, blacks. 
Hah!  It goes just fine with red chestnuts and bays too (even if my camera gets washed out a little):
 I  hadn't realized blue and green were so versatile... but should have guessed, with turquoise being so classic a color.  I've never made a Hackamore in this color combo of white, green, blue and rawhide before.  It has promise!
The tack-wearing debut of my Kaalee, known as Jezail here in the herd:
The bosal had to be pushed just the littlest bit to get over her nostrils.  She is a big horse!!  And the length of her!!  I may have to establish a new sidewise policy on part of the shelves...

My Perlino's story is told in my BreyerFest Goodies.
 He did indeed enter my life with a bang.  I'd always wanted one but never figured I could afford one.  When I saw this unique finish, as glossy a matte as I'd ever seen, I decided to plump.  I named him Shahzada, a name from M. M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions, which means Prince.
This is undoubtedly the first tack he's worn in his life.  Hackamores are for breaking in young horses, so they say...
The Peacock Hackamore is planned to be offered on Auction Barn as soon as I can write it up.

And what happens after this??
Can you believe:  Snowshoes --?!
Stay tuned!

Peacock Mecate II

When we left off, the popper had just been tooled, and it was time to start the final twisting of the Peacock Hackamore's mecate.  One of my challenges had been to connect the blue strand with the green.  I achieved this with the help of that great tackmaker's friend, Elmer's.
Here you can see that the headstall ornamentation has been completed on the cheekstraps.  This shot gives some idea of the incredible lengths of thread involved.
The next step is to hang everything off the popper and start spinning.  But now there was a snag.  The button I tried to put on the popper didn't look right.  I hadn't allowed for its bulk, neither width nor depth, nor for the button's anchoring (not sliding).  This button had to be beautiful as well as strong and tight, as I would be pulling on it all during final twisting.  What to do?
The answer was to cut a notch.  This tiny cut made room where there wasn't any.  It had to be done with a sharp X-Acto, one edge at a time, by eye.  In hindsight I should've put in a core wrapping, to help shaping, but the notch worked out anyway.
I painted the bare leather with Edge Cote.  Then I tried 3 different times to get this crucial button right.  Sometimes it takes that many tries.  In the end it was a Spanish Ring Knot of 2 Passes that worked.
Now we can begin!
Starting the final twist on this mecate was as hard as anything I've done on this Hackamore.  I struggled and struggled.  I knew one white strand had to disappear:  it was the core.  But how to start to wrap the other strands!?  At last I went back to earlier notes.  I put a weight clip (a clothespin works nicely) on the white core strand, so I could tell which one it was, and spun the 2 whites for about 3 inches.  This three-inch length is just right for these mecates:  I make them 3 inches at a time.  Then I added in just the green.
This picture (above) shows the 3 steps.  At the bottom, my green and white, as tight as I could make them.  Next, I put in the blue, in between the two whites.  Lastly, I took the two checkered strands and twisted them together by themselves for about 3 inches... and then combined them onto the green-and-blue.  The combining opened them up, in a larger version of the twist that made them in the first place, and they turned out to cover one of the whites.  It was this white that became the core... it disappeared.

A whole lot of pulling takes place during these steps.  In particular the white core will get pulled, and inevitably it gets longer.  In hindsight (again) I should've allowed for this lengthening, and hung it a little shorter to start with.
Below, you can see the checkered strands held to the side (the clips), the completed white/green/white, and the blue in mid-spin.
It took me four days to finish this phase.  Every inch is tweaked and adjusted by hand during spinning.

I ran out of one of the checkered strands first, so that determined how long it was!  The last part of any mecate is the tassel knot. Here I've started the core of the tassel knot:  a 4-part Undercrown, with the white core strand as a center.
Then a 4-part Overcrown and Wall, giving the appearance of a 3-strand braid along the edge, miraculously.
I didn't take pictures of every step.  I didn't shoot the insertion of the tassel hair.  It was 8 strands of unwaxed dental floss, as are all the white tassels here at the TSII.  : )  Nor do I show the careful clipping of the strands below the end knot, once so hard-won and now so much dross.  Nor have I shown the covering knot to the tassel end knot, an exotic button I got out of Tom Hall's books.

My attention went to the popper end.  I needed another knot to tighten up the rope and disguise some ends.  While full-scale mecates don't have buttons here, I frequently need them for construction purposes!  At least it will match.
What a relief to unwind everything and see it all laid out!  The ultimate test of a spun thread rope is whether it will stay twisted by itself when the tension goes off.
And this one did.
The tassel end knot was another button that took more than one try.  It didn't come out perfect.  Here is the other side:
Unable to resist, I opened the Guide to page 114 and tied on this mecate to the waiting headstall and bosal. 
There you have it.  Only the throatlatch to go.