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National Saddlery Competition 2021

A couple of weeks ago it was that time of year, where all the introverted bench saddlers put on “normal” clothes and head into London for the National Saddlery Competition. Usually held in February, the annual competition was postponed this year due to obvious reasons. It’s so strange to think back to the 2020 competition, where we naively joked about the “coronavirus” that was just starting to appear in the news. Little did we know that a few weeks later we would be in a national lockdown.

Anyway, it was fantastic that the event was able to go ahead only a few months later than originally scheduled, and it was great to get back to a sense of normalcy. I did my classic thing of over anticipating how much I can do and entering more classes than I should have (will I ever learn?) I did however manage to complete two entries for the competition.

My first entry was for the President’s Choice Class. Most of the classes are for fairly standard saddler items but this class is a novelty class with a theme that is picked by the President of the Society of Master Saddlers. The other fun thing about this class is that it is displayed at BETA International, and part judged by members of the public. The theme this year was “For the Love of Dogs”. I decided to improve on my previous design of a poo bag holder, but this time I also added a little poo carrier attachment. I have found this is an incredibly difficult item to describe so I will insert the pictures of it in action to help you understand.

My second entry was in the Intermediate Bridle Class. This class is for members who have been in the trade for less than 7 years, so it was my last opportunity. This year the class requirement was to make “Any type of leather Headcollar or Halter for Horse or Livestock.” Conveniently I had a headcollar order placed a few months earlier and my customer very kindly agreed to a slightly longer wait time than usual. I made a simple headcollar design using an Australian Nut coloured leather with my signature stitch pattern in a gorgeous turquoise coloured thread. As those of you who follow my social media accounts will have seen, I was lucky enough to be awarded first place and a premium award for my entry.

One of my favourite things about entering the National Saddlery Competition, is receiving feedback on my work from some of the best saddlers in the country. Throughout my training, every piece of college work was assessed and every item I made as an apprentice was checked by my employer. Since completing my apprenticeship I have to assess my own work, and as my harshest critic that results in a lot of negative feedback! The feedback sheets at the competition are always so positive and encouraging, and that combined with some of the stunning pieces of work on display motivates me like nothing else. Remember, every day’s a school day and we can always strive to be better!

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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 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.