Friday, June 17, 2011

Tack Tips--Keepers

Keepers are not my favorite thing to make.  They are small and fiddly and have to fit just right.  If they're too big, they look sloppy.  Too small?  Then they're impossible to use.  Still, they are an integral part of most strap goods, and any tackmaker worth her salt should know how to consistently produce well fitting, in scale keepers.  I'm sure there are lots of ways to achieve that goal, but this is the method I use.

As per usual, the first step is to prepare a long section of lace.  For this particular project both my straps and keepers are going to be made of 1/16" lace.  If I was going to put 1/16" keepers onto a wider strap, I would have to prepare two sections of lace--one in each width.
Once the lace is ready, it's time to start cutting the keepers.  They should be approximately three times the width of the strap.  It's a bit hard to see in the pictures, but I've also skived the cut ends of the keeper to almost paper thinness.    
Double the strap lace over onto itself and wrap one end of the keeper around both pieces. 
Dab a little bit of glue on the other end of the keeper... 
and fold it around the straps.  As precisely as possible, place the glued end directly over its nonglued counterpart and hold in place until the glue sets.
If you aren't careful with the gluing, you can end up with crooked keepers.  These look sloppy and don't function particularly well since one end of the keeper is smaller than the other.
I usually make keepers in batches.  This hunter bridle needs six identical 1/16" keepers--two for each cheekpiece plus two more for the caveson's cheekpiece.  It will also need to keepers for the caveson's noseband and the throatlatch, but those will be made separately since they are not the same size.
Once I've finished making my keepers, I gently slide them together to check that they are all the same size and shape.
Assuming they pass inspection, it's time to move onto the final phase of keeper construction.  For this you will need a bottle of gum tragacanth.
Apply a generous amount of  gum tragacanth to the straps...
and slide the row of keepers back and forth over the gum tragacanth.  This accomplishes two things.  It slicks the insides of the keepers and also stiffens them into a nice open shape.  Both these things will make the keepers easy to use.
I should also mention that it's not unusual to break one or more keepers during this process.  That can be frustrating, but try to view it as a positive.  It's always better to fix the weak ones before they're actually part of a bridle!
Questions, comments, random keeper observations...  Please post them in the comments section!


  1. I love tips like this. Seeing how someone else works helps me think about the things I do and figure out better ways of doing them.. Thank you!!

  2. Amazing!!! I was impressed any way, but this kind of detail work blows my mind.

  3. Thank you for sharing! I usually make keepers one at a time and that makes a bridle seem to take forever to finish - but I didn't think to double up the other leather first and make the keepers around that!! Thanks again!prearg

  4. You're welcome, everybody!

    NFCS--I always try to prepare lace, make keepers and finish the buckles first. Those are the boring parts of tackmaking. Once everything is ready, the actual building stage is fun and moves very quickly.


  5. Thank you for more tack making tips! I love these posts-like Sian said, it helps me think about how I do things and evolve from there.

    I would LOVE, love, LOVE it if you could give any tips/pointers on making buckle tongues and getting them to work properly without bunching, etc. I struggle with them constantly and hate the little devils! :)

    Thanks again for another great post!

  6. Anon--you should check out my older posts on buckles. Those cover adding tongues to photo etched buckles and shaping the buckles to allow the straps to go through them more smoothly. Hope this helps!

  7. Thank you so much for making this!

  8. It is learning the details such as this that increases even more my admiration and respect for tackmakers! Even though I'm not showing any more, I still appreciate and enjoy all the talent that goes into the whole process. Thank you for sharing!

  9. I love these tack-tips! Thank you!

  10. Thanks so much!

    Do you use 1/16" lace for all keepers for bridles?

  11. Again, thanks everyone! I will try to do more of these tutorials in the future.

    Sonshine--I make most keepers out of the 1/16" lace but that's not set in stone. Occasionally something looks better with a wider keeper. It all depends on the type of bridle (and the size of the critter's head!).

  12. I really should try making keepers in batches, instead of one at a time as I need them. It seems much more efficient! Thanks for all the fabulous tips!

  13. I just have to agree that keepers are NOT my favorite thing to make. In fact, I can easily say that I HATE keepers grrr. As nice as they look, they seem to sit and laugh at me while I try to make them...

  14. SUCH a helpful tutorial.
    Do you always use 1/16" lace for the keepers? Thanks!

  15. Does anyone here make plastic keepers for biothane bridles?

  16. Oh cool, I never tried the gum tragacanth trick. That stuff is kind of surprisingly awesome.