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Why I don’t use the measurements Pony, Cob and Full.

To a non-horsey person that must sound like utter gibberish, but the horse lovers amongst us know that every item we purchase for our horse to wear (apart from rugs and saddles) tends to come in three sizes, “Pony”, “Cob” and “Full”. Now that’s perhaps a little brash, some places now offer “X-Full” or “Warmblood” as measurements or perhaps “Small Pony” but realistically there aren’t enough options given the range of horses we have.

Firstly, how many of you have a horse that fits one of these sizes perfectly? “She’s not quite a “Full” but too big for a “Cob!”” “The “Full” fits, I just need to punch some extra holes!” “I just bought the bridle in two sizes and use the “Cob” headpiece and the “Pony” cheekpieces.” Sound familiar? If you just think about it, there are so many different breeds and types of horses, how can we possibly think that 3 sizes will fit them all? Let’s use a bridle as an example. Is a 12hh show pony really going to fit the same size bridle as a 12hh Exmoor?  Will a 16hh thoroughbred take the same bridle as a 16hh Irish draught? I think not.

But even two remarkably similar horses, say two 16.2hh ISH geldings, may have small differences that could result in their bridles fitting differently. One could have a slightly longer head, a narrower nose or longer cheek bones. Another factor to be considered is what type of bit are they ridden in. A bridle may fit a horse beautifully in his snaffle, but change to a leverage bit for cross country and suddenly the cheekpieces are far too long.

You may have read all of that and think, ok that makes sense, but I actually have a horse that genuinely does fit a “Full” size. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no consistency with sizing across brands (ladies I’m sure you can relate!) Just now I have googled “Full size bridle measurements” and for the cheekpieces alone, I found four different measurements: 9”, 9.5”, 10.5” and 11”. So, when someone asks me to make a “Full” sized product and I just stare blankly back, this is why, I don’t know what size that is?!

To summarise, I’m sorry if it’s a bit of a pain having to get actual measurements for me, but I promise that there is good reason for it and hopefully a better fit as a result.

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The Dream Workshop 2.0

Now some of you may remember a blog I posted last year about my less then ideal workshop. Although it was lacking in a number of areas, it did serve me well and I found ways round lots of the challenges it presented me with. However, if the last year has done anything for us, I think it has taught us that we really need to focus on what truly is important to us. I also think it has shown us that we should do the things we want to do while we still can. Now before you go and get excited, no I am not doing anything wild like jumping out of a plane or travelling the world, I just updated my workshop!

The past year has given us all lots of time to think, and as you can imagine, I have spent even more time than usual stuck in my workshop. A number of issues have been bubbling away under the surface for a while now but what really cemented the need for change was inviting my sister into the workshop for a day. I have recently had a lot of people asking me about whether I offer leatherwork training, and I thought I could test this by inviting my sister in for the day to make a belt. It quickly became apparent, that although I have managed to adapt to my set up, it really isn’t ideal. As I sat and watched her struggle to punch holes the only advice I could give is “The wobbly bench doesn’t help as it adds too much vibration, you could try punching them on the floor?”

I suppose it’s also the time of year where we are reflecting on the last year and thinking about our goals for the new year. It goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic this year has definitely stopped us all from doing the things we would have liked to. Personally, I believe that 2020 was a great learning curve for us in so many ways and I have decided that 2021 is going to be the year to “go big or go home!”

 

So, stage one of the new motto was setting up a better workshop. This mainly consisted of a proper work bench and a change to the layout. The new workbench not only allows me to work in a standing position but provides a much larger working area (which means I no longer have to cut new hides on the floor!) It also provides much better storage for my leather and tools which means they are all easier to access. The new workbench is also positioned along a different wall so I have more light from the window, plus I can watch the squirrels skipping along the fence! I’ve also added a few more practical additions such as a whiteboard for my “to-do” lists and order details and some hooks for hanging up bridles and other leatherwork. (The hooks were made for me by “Horseshoe Hearts” using my horse Victor’s old shoes.) There are a few small additions I plan to make over the coming months, and it still isn’t the idealistic workshops of Instagram dreams, but you know what I blooming love it!

Looking on to the new year, I shall have to remind myself of my new motto. I don’t for one minute believe that when the clock strikes midnight on the 31st, all of our troubles will disappear. I am sure we all know that this pandemic is far from over. However, this is just another challenge life has thrown at us and instead of letting it defeat us we should look for the small window for opportunities we CAN find in these dark times and grab them by the horns!

Happy New Year!

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Support small businesses!

I am often encouraging people to support small, local businesses, but with everything the world is going through at the moment it is more important than ever! For obvious reasons, this is something I am extremely passionate about and where possible I try to practice what I preach. I appreciate that at the moment money is tight for a lot of people, but did you know there is a lot you can do to support small businesses without spending a penny?

With the wonderful world of social media, there is so much you can do without even leaving the sofa to support small businesses. Perhaps the most obvious is to like and follow their various social media pages. You can even go one step further and share posts amongst your own friends. Another thing that I feel really helps is to interact with businesses on these platforms. Liking and commenting on posts can really help us to see what you like, and what you don’t. Personally, I often put posts asking for feedback and the more I get, the more I can steer my products towards my audience.

Something that a lot of people take into consideration before making a purchase is reviews. If you did make a purchase from a smaller business and were pleased with the product or service, please, please, please give some feedback! Facebook pages often have a section for reviews, but I also love it when a customer messages me directly. It is also a huge help if you can recommend to friends. When you buy a product or service keep a hold of their business card or label so when someone asks you where you got something you can tell them!

Once we are able to leave the house again (when this lockdown finally ends), lots of small businesses attend shows and fairs such as craft and gift fairs. Obviously, the main aim at these events is to sell, but I know personally I really appreciate people coming over just to say hi and that they like my products. It is a fairly small gesture but people being nice to each other can give a well needed boost.

At the end of the day, businesses can’t survive if no one ever buys their goods or services. Obviously, I am not going to tell you to buy goods or services you don’t want, need (or can’t afford). However, if you are looking to buy something that is also offered by a smaller, local business, perhaps consider supporting them instead of one of the industry giants.

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Making small changes

Global warming. Something we are all very familiar with. While it’s difficult to completely transform your ways of living, there are so many small changes we can make to just do a little better! We are all getting very used to reducing our single use plastics, recycling and reducing emissions but we can also be selective about who we buy products from.

As a business I feel conscious that I should set an example and I am always working to ensure my products are as sustainable as possible. For example, my current packaging comprises of 100% recycled tissue paper and recycled cardboard boxes. These materials are perfect packaging, storing and transporting my products and can be recycled again once they are no longer needed.

In terms of the products themselves, I am always being asked about the sustainability of leather as a material. Although there is a fair amount of controversy on this subject, I do my best to keep up to date with the news. The majority of the leather I use is cow hide which is taken as a by-product of the meat industry. Now the tanning processes of leather do have the potential to be damaging to the environment as harmful chemicals are often used and not always disposed of responsibly. I always try to opt for veg-tanned leather because rather than using chemicals, the leather is tanned using plant matter. These materials can be recycled after the tanning process and have little impact on the environment.

I do my best to know where my leather is coming from too. Personally, I think that English leather is the best, but I also prefer to buy English leather to reduce emissions from transport. I tend to buy from only a couple of suppliers, so I know where my materials are coming from.

Furthermore, if high quality leather is used and looked after, it can last a really long time. I think a great small change we can all make is to buy higher quality items, so we only have to buy once, thus reducing the amount of waste we produce. Even when leatherwork starts to become worn, it can often be repaired or have sections replaced rather than needing a whole new item.  The added benefit of using genuine veg-tanned leather is that it’s biodegradable, so when it finally is time to throw it away, it isn’t going to have the same impact on the environment as a synthetic version.

Now I do appreciate that some people would rather not use leather and I totally respect that. I am trying to keep up to date with alternative materials or “vegan” leathers. As far as I am aware, at the moment there isn’t any appropriate alternative material. The majority of synthetic leathers are plastic based, and I think we are all trying our best to reduce the amount of plastics we use. The processes used to create some of the plastic polymers used in synthetic leather, can be extremely damaging to the environment and obviously plastic materials cannot biodegrade so the waste has more of an impact too.

That said, I know that there is a lot of work going into developing new alternatives. From using materials like plants to make synthetic leathers, to growing leather in labs. I am doing my best to keep up with new ideas and look forward to trialling some of these materials once they are more readily available. However, for now, I’m happy to stick with the real stuff!

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National Saddlery Competition 2020

Well it’s that time of year again; the days are shorter, the weather is horrible, and all the saddlers in the country flock to London for the annual National Saddlery Competition.

This year was another big year for me. After signing off from my apprenticeship in 2019, it was time for me to collect my completion certificate, officially marking the end of my training as a saddler. As some of you may remember, when I signed onto my apprenticeship back in 2017, I was presented with my portfolio by HRH The Princess Royal, master of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers. So, what better way to bring things to an end than being presented with my completion certificate by Her Royal Highness. It feels both sad and exciting, the end of an era but also the start of the next chapter.

I also chose to enter the competition itself. I decided to go a little wild this year and enter the President’s Choice class. This class is a little different to the other classes, which consist mainly of saddles and bridlework. This year the class was for any leather item with a nautical theme, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers’ voyage on the Mayflower. The only other guidelines given were that it should be made using traditional hand skills. I “ummed and ahed” about what I could enter but by Christmas I had come to the decision of making a lighthouse! Giving myself a bit of time off over Christmas meant that I then had two weeks to create a lighthouse out of leather.

I tried to keep to a fairly simple design for my lighthouse, and luckily, I had both some red and some white leather left over from previous projects. This coupled with a lovely hexagonal marmalade jar made for a lovely traditional looking striped lighthouse. I added a few fun little details like windows, doors with little gold doorknobs and a little wind vane on the top. Thanks to a little help from Dad, I was able to run a light up the lighthouse into the jar which was switched on via a little switch hidden in some leather rocks.

When we attended the competition at Saddlers Hall, it was fantastic to see the huge number of entries across the classes. The standard of work was excellent, and it really is a wonderful showcase for the trade. I was absolutely thrilled to be given a premium award for my entry. These awards are given to entries that demonstrate excellent craftsmanship and to receive one on my first entry in an open class has given me a well needed boost for the start of the year!

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The Dream Workshop!

As much as I try not to be, I am a social media fan and spend a fair bit of time scrawling through posts and pictures. Recently though, it’s been getting me down. I follow lots of other small businesses and see a lot of beautiful workspaces; picturesque views, clever storage solutions and rustic furniture and equipment plucked straight from a showroom.

 

I couldn’t help but feel a bit bleak looking around my workshop. To start my business, I moved back in with my parents. The room I work in used to be the children’s playroom so hidden in a cupboard you can find old pieces of Playmobil, the sofa wears a pair of rather fetching shoes (apparently a child’s dream…!) and the view from my window is of a rather dull fence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for my parents’ support and workshop space help, but it’s hardly the stuff of Instagram dreams…

 

It got me thinking about social media in general. Posting pictures of items I’m making and of the things I am doing is a crucial way of getting my name out there. When I’m taking a picture of a lead I’ve made for example, I do take some time angling it in a way that will make it look best, accessorising with some autumnal leaves or putting it on an attractive live model (thanks Beano and Ivy!). I’m selling things that I have worked hard on and am proud of, so always want (and want others) to see them in the best light possible. And sadly, that’s not often with the backdrop of my workshop.

 

I can’t be the only one wanting to make things look the best they can on social media. I am seeing beautiful workshops – who knows if the people posting those pictures even work in those perfect surroundings?! A lovely hut in the country might be beautiful, but maybe can only be an efficient and comfortable workspace for a maximum of a couple of hours since heating is limited and that rustic stool is incredibly uncomfortable!  They could all be in similar workshops to me, a room that’s used for multiple purposes, just altering their online image to something more idealistic.

 

It goes deeper than just businesses portraying products in a certain way. We all have that friend brunching with cliché avocado toast for the third time in a week, or that couple we know who are on holiday for what seems like the hundredth time – we can’t let this make us feel inadequate, we are only getting a glimpse into their lives, not the whole story.

 

So this blog is a quick reminder to not let the beauty of certain images make us feel less worthy – I may work in a small, crammed room that isn’t the perfect workshop, but it doesn’t stop me creating some beautiful things.  Don’t measure yourself by what others ‘appear’ to be doing; be proud of who you are, how you work and what you believe in. I’m going to continue to be proud of my workshop – so keep an eye out, you may be seeing more of it in the future!

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Can we just all be a bit nicer to each other?

Recently the horse community has been getting me down a bit. I find it really sad that this group of people who have so much in common, seems to be so judgemental and full of anger and hatred towards each other. Now before you all come at me, I know full well that it is only a minority of people causing problems, but the negative always seems to make more of an impact than the positive.

Everywhere I go, people are judging others for their riding ability, tack choices, what shoes they put on their horse, if they don’t put shoes on their horse at all, whether they turn their horse out, what colour rugs they buy, if they choose to go un-rugged, the list just goes on! At the end of the day, the one thing I’ve learnt about horses over the years, is everyone has their own way of doing things. Now isn’t this the same as everything in life, we all do things our own way, and if that works for us, what is the problem? It’s like marmite, you either love it or you hate it, but neither is wrong!
I appreciate people have the right to an opinion, but there is no need to push your opinion on others in such an aggressive way.

On the other hand, I have recently got first-hand experience of the best side of the horse community. I posted on a Facebook group last week, looking for some advice. I have been having some motivation issues since the retirement of my horse. (I won’t go into all the details now but if you’re interested let me know and I will write another blog about it.) I posted fairly cautiously, fully expecting to receive a number of judgemental and blunt responses. In fact, the response was so heart-warming I could hardly believe it. I received numerous kind words as comments on my post and a few people even took the time to privately message me. The vast majority of people didn’t judge or pry into my choices or decisions, they simply expressed empathy and shared personal experiences.

So please, can I just ask that we’re all a little bit nicer too each other. Rather than judge how others choose to do things, let’s just be supportive and encouraging. It’s great that we have such a huge community of crazy horse people and we should make the most of it!

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“How did you become a saddler?”

A question I get asked a lot, is “how did you get into saddlery?” The short story I tell people is that I stumbled across is by accident while trying to avoid going to university. That may sound like a bit of a joke, but it is the truth!

During my time at school I always did well academically, what I struggled with was motivation in subjects I wasn’t passionate about. Unfortunately, at school the advice we got was all based around university. Alternative routes weren’t really covered and there was a bit of a stigma around not going to university. So, I did as I was advised, looked at university courses that interested me and applied to universities.

A Levels are a stressful time, with the pressure of making important life decisions and being told that your exam results will determine your future. While I knew I didn’t WANT to go to university, I was constantly being told that it was normal to feel anxious about it and it was the best thing to do. I was fortunate to get an unconditional offer to study at university which took the pressure off my exams, and then I decided to defer my place for a year to give myself time to think without losing my place.

I am fortunate enough to say that my parents have always been very supportive. While they have always said I should do something that makes me happy, they also didn’t want me to miss out on opportunities or settle for something just because it was the “easy option”. The deal was, if I was going to turn down my place at university, I needed to have something else lined up. So, from the moment I left school, I was on a mission to find my way out of university!

During this year I also planned to do a lot of horse riding while I had so much free time. The horse I had at the time was an interesting crossbreed, which meant that he didn’t really fit the conventional, shop bought equipment. I was planning on competing a fair bit, so he needed to have a smart, well-fitting saddle and bridle. This is when my mum suggested I find a saddler to custom make them for me, and it was like someone had switched on a light-bulb! It sounds so stupid when I think about it now but somehow, I had never even thought about saddlery being a career, let alone a potential career option for me! Two of my greatest passions were horses and crafts, and this seemed to combine both.

Luckily, as I was on a gap year, I had far too much free time! This gave me time to research saddlery as a career option, but all my research pretty much brought me back to the same place. The saddlery world isn’t that large, and the only way to qualify as a saddler is to find an apprenticeship or go to college. I was lucky enough to find a couple of Master Saddlers to chat to, who gave me some brilliant advice and before I knew it, I had turned down my place at university and enrolled on the Saddlery course at Capel Manor College.

The further in I got, the more my passion for Saddlery and Leatherwork grew. Once I completed my course at Capel Manor, I was incredibly lucky to be one of the three students that year that was offered an apprenticeship with a master saddler. Feeling more determined and inspired than ever, I packed my bags and moved myself, and my lovely horse Victor, 150 miles from home to Shropshire. It was something I never thought that I would have been brave enough to do, but my passion for saddlery and leatherwork just seemed to overwrite everything!

After completing my qualifications in Shropshire, I decided to move back home to Hertfordshire and set up Lucy Ellis Leatherwork. This has given me the time to work on some of my own designs and the chance to be a bit more creative with my work. Although the reason I chose saddlery was largely due to the equestrian aspect, I have found a passion for all sorts of leatherwork and really enjoy making and repairing all sorts of items. While I don’t know what the future holds, at least for now I can say that I genuinely enjoy my work.

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The Hertfordshire County Show 2019- Worry and Self Doubt

As I am sure most of you know (because I’ve been constantly posting about it on social media for the past few weeks), last weekend I had a trade stand at the Hertfordshire County Show. I’ve been going to the Herts Show almost every year for just about as long as I can remember, and as it’s just 10 minutes down the road, it seemed like the obvious debut for my business.

Leading up to the show, I tried my best to get as prepared as I could. As most of my work is bespoke and made to measure, it was quite tricky to work out what to take. I just had a feeling that whatever I made wouldn’t be the right size for anyone who was interested in buying it. In the end I just tried to make some basic items and then a few of my own favourite styles so that people could see a few of the options available. I could then just take orders for bespoke work if people couldn’t find the sizes or styles they wanted.

Something I hadn’t prepared myself for, was the psychological impact of taking my work to the show. Now that probably sounds a bit dramatic, but for me it wasn’t just about the show, it felt like another launch of my business! Anyone who knows me will know that I am a perfectionist and very self-critical. While I find this helps me to maintain a certain standard and always strive to do better, it does also create huge amounts of self-doubt. The products I took with me, have effectively been in the making for 4 years and are very personal to me. The thought of laying them out on a table to be judged by anyone who walked past was terrifying.

Recently I have been watching a lot of the “TED talks” on YouTube. If you aren’t familiar with these, get on YouTube now and have a watch! I started watching them for business tips and inspiration but actually they have helped me a lot with everyday life. One of the notable messages I have tried to take from the talks, is to try not to stress about the things that are out of my control. Everyone has different likes and dislikes, and there is no way to please everyone. Therefore, I just tried to tell myself, if people like my products that’s great, but if people don’t like my products that’s fine too, its just their opinion and they are entitled to that.

Keyrings- Stamped words

The show itself actually went rather well. It was really nice to meet some people who were interested in my work. There were also plenty of people who clearly weren’t interested in my work, which was fine, I know it’s not personal! I was lucky enough to win a prize for my trade stand and a 3rd place prize for my entry into the Saddlery Competition there. I entered the box work class, and this was my first time in the open classes up against all the master saddlers. I decided to just make something a bit fun, so I created a dog poo bag holder which clips onto my dog leads.

I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who helped me with all the preparations for my stall. Also, my lovely friend Jessica who stayed and helped me all weekend and Ivy, one of my canine models, who came to the show on Sunday to model some collars. But most importantly, a big thank you to everyone who came over to chat to us over the course of the weekend.

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Rain, rain, rain!

I am afraid I am being very British and writing an entire blog based on the weather…but really, here in Hertfordshire the weather is vile. According to the local weather forecast, its going to be sticking around for a while! For all dog owners, equestrians and country lovers its business as usual but maybe with slightly less enthusiasm.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no fair-weather rider, but when you’re lying in bed in the morning, listening to the rain hammering on the windows, the last thing I want to do is get up and brave the weather to feed horses and walk dogs (and get cold and wet in the process!) While we always strive to carry on as normal, there are many jobs that are put on pause during weather like this. Therefore, I think it’s the perfect time to be doing some basic leather maintenance.

Ideally you want to avoid getting your leather wet…but unfortunately in the UK that’s just not an option! If your leather does take a good soaking it is important to make sure you dry it out thoroughly. Please try to avoid putting it near a heat source, I know it’s convenient and quicker, but it really isn’t great for the health of your leather. The best way to dry leather is just in a well-ventilated area, at room temperature.

Funnily enough, water damage to leather causes it to dry out. This is due to the fact that the water molecules bind to the oils in the leather when it becomes soaked, so when the water evaporates it takes the oils with it. Therefore, it is really important to refeed your leather if it has got very wet, once it has dried. Personally, I like to use a beeswax-based leather balm that contains a mixture of natural oils and fats, but there are many products on the market to choose from. Try to avoid using neatsfoot oil unless your leather is REALLY dry, as it can make the leather greasy and cause the stitching to rot prematurely.

Even if you are staying indoors until all this weather settles down, your leatherwork would still appreciate a little spa treatment. Also, while you are taking the time to treat your leather, it’s an excellent opportunity to perform a basic safety check (for help with these I’ve done a blog post about basic tack safety checks).

Whether you are planning on braving the weather this week or staying indoors, or maybe you are fortunate enough to not have rain this week, have a lovely week. Please remember if you have any queries about your tack or leatherwork, speak to a professional.