This is a key stage in saddle making and the first of many involving the saddler craftsman in the lengthy fabrication process. It is also vital in determining the saddle’s quality. The leather is scrutinized for the slightest imperfection – scars, density loss in certain areas, vaccination marks and signs of pests – all of which must be avoided.
The saddler craftsman must be totally familiar with the different degrees of elasticity in any given leather. For certain zones are more elastic than others – a quality that is more or less sought after for each piece making up a saddle. Once this process has been minutely worked out, the craftsman can then place his different pieces for the pattern cutting.
There are two different leather cutting techniques: the traditional method using the saddler’s standard tool, the half-moon, and the digital method using an advanced machine that is immensely reliable and less physically demanding.
This stage consists of perfecting the appearance of the previously cut pieces and preparing the various stitching outlines.
The pieces are re-split to obtain the required thickness. The resulting slices are lighter than the grain and are therefore lightly dyed to retain overall homogeneity. The saddler craftsman then rounds off the exposed edges with the edge shave. The stitching outlines are drawn with a silver pencil or sliced part way into the leather to protect the stitching holes on those pieces most subject to abrasion.
The pieces are now ready to be assembled. This stage is divided into several jobs, distributed between the various main groups: the saddle tree, the flaps, the seat and the panels.
It is at this stage that the unique characteristics of each saddle are made: the tension and curve of the saddle tree, the foam joined to the leather of the flaps, the first tightening of the seat’s leather which is plunged into water to make it flexible and then dried in the air to retain its natural qualities… The craftsmen respect each stage of fabrication, exercising the utmost quality control.
This stage of the fabrication calls upon all the saddler craftsman’s know-how and dexterity to control the machine while following often quite complex curves in a material, leather, that is thick yet delicate to handle. A real talent resulting from years of experience.
This is the most demanding stage for our saddler craftsman. Firstly, the leather is pierced right through with an awl. The stitching is done with thread and two needles, which become entangled as the stitches progress, thus producing the famous saddle stitch. Hand-stitching is vital in joining the seat to the skirts.
This is the stage during which the saddle as we know it comes to life. The saddler craftsmen join all the pieces together: first the leather seat is joined to the saddle tree, followed by the flaps and girthing, and then the padding. The saddler craftsman’s know-how is what ensures the overall symmetry.