Monday, December 21, 2009

Tack Tips--Preparing Lace

It's a sad fact of life--if you want to produce top quality tack, you will never be able to use leather lace straight off the spool. Even the highest quality kangaroo lace is going to need a considerable amount of prep work before it's ready for use. In fact, I suspect prepping leather is the single most time consuming part of nearly every project I tackle.I have developed my own three step process for preparing lace. Here's a quick look at my prep kit. That's a bottle of Gum Tragacanth, an X-Acto knife with a number eleven blade, 220 grit sandpaper and a cutting board.
The first step is skiving the leather. Skiving refers to the process of splitting leather lengthwise to reduce its thickness. Lay the lace flesh (bottom) side up on the cutting board. Hold the knife so it is nearly parallel to the lace and carefully cut away from your body. Most people prefer to skive with a very sharp blade, but I actually like my knife to be a bit duller than that. Similarly, I do best with the number eleven blade, but know of others who prefer a curved blade. There is no one right or wrong way. Don't be afraid to experiment to find what works best for you.Close up of the knife blade cutting through the leather. Skiving is definitely a learned skill. Most people will struggle with it early on. Thankfully it does get easier. However, there are still days when I just can't skive at all.
Here's a look at the flesh side of the lace after my first pass with the knife. It is a little ragged and uneven. At this point I'm not worried about that. My main goal is to have reduced the bulk to a similar degree throughout the length of the lace.
Step two is sanding. I hold the lace flesh side up with my left hand and sand down on it with my right. The sandpaper will even out the ragged sections and also continue to reduce the overall bulk.
When the lace has reached the desired thickness, it's time for step three. Stick your finger in the bottle of Gum Tragacanth and...
rub a generous amount onto the lace. The Gum Tragacanth will "knit" the flesh side back together so that it is smooth and easy to evaluate. Slide the lace through your fingers to check for uniformity and thickness. Expect to find some areas that need to be reprepped. I nearly always go back in with the sandpaper at least. Sometimes I start all over again with the knife. This is boring work, but it makes such a difference in the quality of your final product. It's worth taking the time to get everything just right.
Here's the before and after picture of the lace used in this tutorial. As you can see, the prepared lace is much thinner and has a better "drape"
Questions, comments, input? I know there are other ways to prepare lace, and although I'm comfortable with my own method, I'd love to hear about yours!

26 comments:

  1. THANK YOU!! I am new to tackmaking and I have just been using it off the spool. I experimented with skiving it with an exacto knife but it seemed a bit "stretchy" and sometimes it pulled apart. I think I will go get some Gum Tragacanth and try it again. I have been wondering how you get your leather straps smooth on both sides...

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  2. Hey Jenn, if you are using natural lace that you dye, do you use the gum tragacanth before or after dyeing?

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  3. Thanks for the tips! I would have never thought to use sandpaper after skiving. I assume the gum tragacanth is applied only to the flesh side correct?

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  4. Rachael--Wait until you see the lace I'm going to send you. I think you will find it much easier to work with than the craft store lace you have.

    Anonymous--I don't usually dye my lace, but I don't think it matters either way. The Gum Tragacanth doesn't affect the way leather takes dye or its glue-ability. I use it in all stages of tack constuction without any problem.

    Linda--I just glop it on the lace any which way. You really only need it on the flesh side and edges, but it doesn't matter if it gets on the grain side.

    In regards to the sandpaper, I have one friend who insists she will never be able to learn to skive effectively so she *only* sands. There's nothing wrong with that as far as the final product goes. I don't have the patience, though. Skiving is a much quicker way to reduce the extra bulk.

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  5. I've just started skiving, man I'm cut through so many times -.-, but you're right! It does get easier :D Thankfully.

    Do you know if the Gum Tragacanth is available in Canada, or something else that can be used?

    Thanks so much for keeping this blog so updated, you have been such a help and inspiration. :)

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  6. Jennifer--

    I had been trying to use that lace but I didnt have any luck, it just didnt look right. I bought some Rio Rondo lace and have made several bridles and girths with their lace. Though I would like to use the craft store lace for something, I am thinking it is a dead end. Thanks again for the lace. Also, any suggestions or comments on the tack I've made so far would be much appreciated. The website is www.ruffianstablestack.webs.com . Thanks again for the lace!

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  7. Great article! I'll have to try the sandpaper and gum tragacanth (and I has me a 50% off coupon from Tandy...!)

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  8. I used to use leather lace for everything, but I got so annoyed with skiving and preparation that at the beginning of this year I decided to change my ways. I bought some very thin calf leather and I cut all my laces, that way I get exaclty the right width I want, and the leather is already the right weight so no skiving! Woo hoo! Unfortunately the leather I bought was a bit of a one-off so I'm worried about what I will do when it runs out. But I have made a lot of tack from it this year and less than half way through....

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  9. What method do you use to cut lace from a piece of leather? I've tried it in the past and it goes all wonky! :-)

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  10. I originally just laid the leather out on a surface that would give a little, like an old catalogue, and then cut using a steel rule and a sharp knife. I found sometimes the edges would end up with little waves on them, especially when the leather was quite thin. So now I stick masking tape on the leather and then cut, then I write on the tape what bit it is so I don't lose track. Then when you come to do more with the lace you can just peel the tape off and it doesn't affect dyeing or anything like that.

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  11. This tutorial has been essential for my forays into tack making. I found that the wide number 11 blade works the best for skiving, although sometimes it works so well I cut right through the leather! Actually my favorite is to work with both that knife and a regular exacto that is sort of dull, which I can use to sort of scuff off the excess leather without fear of going through.

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  12. Leah--I definitely prefer a slightly dull blade when I'm preparing lace. I'm mostly using the knife to reduce the excess bulk quickly. It's not a finishing tool--at least not for me!

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  13. Jennifer,
    Thank you thank you! The Gum Tragacanth was the one missing component to my leather products. So so excited to try it out :D Just ordered some this morning.

    Best wishes,
    Sarahbeth Barlas

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  14. Lauren Islip
    Thank you for sharing! What a wonderful idea!!

    Have a happy holiday :D
    -Sarahbeth

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  15. Where do you go to get lace that isn't "traditional" colors, i.e. pink, red, etc? Or do you dye your own?

    ~Mara

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    1. Amazing Lace has some great lace, but the colorful stuff can be quite thick. I buy the usual blacks and browns there too as I think their prices are pretty cheap.

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  16. A couple weeks ago, I placed an order with this store. The lace has yet to arrive (it's coming from Australia), so I haven't mentioned it on the blog yet. If it's as nice as I hope, I'll definitely spread the word!

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  17. I would have never thought to use sandpaper!

    Sarah
    CuttingHorse

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  18. Hey Jennifer,
    I was wondering if this same process will work for larger pieces of leather(such as skiver and tooling leather). If not, could you possibly share with me what to do? I was also wondering where you get your leather lace. Currently I order mine from rio rondo, but it can be tricky to work with and it's hard to get the quality I want sometimes. It would be great to her your input; thank you for your time.
    -Kate

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  19. Hi Kate,

    This is pretty much the process I use to prepare all kinds of leather, including skiver. Depending on the leather's thickness, I may add or subtract a step, but usually it's skive-sand-treat.

    Most of my lace comes from the Unicorn Woman, but I also have some from Amazing Lace (see link in comments above) and Rio Rondo. Amazing Lace seems to be the most consistent as far as colors go, but their lace is thicker and takes more prep work. Great colors, though! The Unicorn Woman's lace is thinner and easier to work with, although my newest brandy spool is a slightly different shade than all my other brandy spools. I hate that!

    Rio Rondo's supply seems to be the most hit and miss. However, their customer service and prices are great so sometimes I buy from them, too.

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  20. Thanks so much! Is there a way I can contact Unicorn Woman? I would love to look into and possibly order some from her:)
    -Kate

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  21. Search my blog. I know I've listed her web address at least once.

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  22. Interesting to know that it's possible to get the leather thinner without skiving - I have practised and constantly tried and I will NEVER be able to do it! Usually the leather and my scalpel don't stay out for very long before I throw them back into the toolbox in disgust...

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  23. I read this and spent a couple of days practicing (minus the sanding, I don't have and 220 grit) and I must say it does get much easier! My scrap lace is over a 1/4 inch thick, so it took a while...
    Do you always buy lace pre-dyed?

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    Replies
    1. Usually, but it depends on what I'm making. I'm more likely to dye to match with Western than English.

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  24. I set up a guide, like for rolling dough or clay, taped to my tooling block and a single edge razor blade. I hold the blade at about a 45 degree angle and slowly pull the lace thru, too fast and it can cut thru,then heat treat over candle, be careful too close will curl lace.

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