Last week I was a competitor in the trainee saddler competition at the BETA international trade show. This was the second time I’ve agree to take part and after the event I am always glad I went but I’ve got to be honest, I tend to find the day rather stressful. I am very comfortable working when tucked away in my little workshop but the atmosphere at BETA is a little different. The competition is usually run at a workbench in the centre of the exhibition hall, within the Saddlery area, with just a rope surrounding us so that anyone passing by can look at what we are doing. Some people will just walk past and glance in our direction, but others like to come right over and watch, ask questions and even take pictures. I find it all a bit intimidating and on top of all that we are supposed to be competing!
Luckily, we are all in the same boat and being quite a small trade, I know most of my fellow trainees fairly well and it tends to be more of a supportive atmosphere than competitive! This year we were asked to make a raised noseband, but to our horror we were informed we would have to stitch it in white! Now I will admit, I think bridlework stitched in white thread looks beautiful, but I’m not sure people understand the amount of extra work that goes into stitching with white thread compared to black or brown. Firstly, because white thread is such a contrast it really highlights each stitch, and therefore highlights EVERY imperfection. This means there is more pressure to get every stitch perfect or it will stick out like a sore thumb! Also, when working with leather we also have to stain the edges we have cut and as the name suggests, it will stain anything it touches. So, the thought of trying to keep white thread clean and get the stitches perfect, all while trying to compete for first place had a few of us sweating before we even started!
Thankfully we all finished within the time and without any major injuries or breakdowns! I didn’t envy the judges this year as when the pieces were all laid out on the bench, we could barely recognise which one was our own. Anyway, they were able to come to a decision and I was excited to learn I was awarded the runner-up award. It must have been so close to judge as I think there was only 1 mark difference between 1st -2nd place and 2nd-3rd place. It’s great to think that there is such a consistent standard of work amongst the trainee saddlers, after all, we are the future of the trade!