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Efficiently Utilizing Materials

Most of us do not want to waste expensive hides and because of that some are afraid to start the cutting process, keeping hides for months or even years before doing so. My goal in this article is to give you techniques that will help you feel more secure about using your materials and that will help avoid costly waste.  

For 17 years I braided tack full-time. I began while raising our 4 young children. During those formative years, I was taking my braiding everywhere with me – I braided while riding in the truck even when watching my boys play Little League baseball.  I braided so many bosals that I found it easy to braid on a noseband and watch baseball. Those were the days that taught me to be careful and conservative. This discussion covers some of the most useful strategies I found to efficiently and judiciously use materials. 

Average sized bosals are easiest because I can simply stick to a predetermined number of strings and lengths, while  smaller bosals take less string both on the nose button and especially on the heel knot.  Usually I do not worry about string numbers or their lengths.

Spanish Ring Knots found on reins and headstalls are the best examples of the efficient use of materials. I can cut enough string at a length long enough to braid 2 buttons at a time. Using one string to braid both buttons saves approximately 3 inches for each pair.  There are times when I measure the total length of string and it is a little short, I can then braid 3 Spanish Ring Knots with the one string because of the amount of string saved by braiding one button after the other.  I really do not like to cut extra later.  It is too easy for it not be an exact match. 

As I have written in my books, with any new or long project, when a series of buttons is called for and I have any doubt about the length of a particular button, I cut the first string of that button a little long, braid it, then before tightening, measure the excess length at the end of the unfinished button (more than needed to braid comfortably).  Then I can determine how long that button’s string need to be and cut a multiples of it at one time.  I like to do this then tie the bundle together when they are leather or gather them together in a plastic bag, when they are rawhide. I may do this with all the button strings in the series I have chosen. 

I have braided buttons on so many headstalls that Eric has made, either for bits or bosals, that I know those string measurements by memory. My list is below. Please remember, if you plan to use my measurement list, that a small difference in strap depth can make a sizable difference in string length, as can the unique style with which each of us braids.  So, if you use my string sizing, do not cut all the string beforehand without test braiding a sample button first. 

1/2” diameter doubled & sewn leather:
          2’ 5” for solid 6 bight Turk’s head with gaucho interweave.
          2’5” for foundation string on long pineapple button.
          1’ 5” for foundation of 6 bight Turk’s head.
          1’ 5” for herringbone interweave of the 6 bight Turk’s head.  
          1’ 8” for 2 Spanish Ring Knots.

 5/8" diameter doubled & sewn leather:
          2' 7" for solid 6 bight Turk's head with gaucho interweave.
          2' 7" for foundation string on long pineapple button.
          1' 7" for foundation of 6 bight Turk's head.
          1' 7" for herringbone interweave of the 6 bight Turk's head.  
          1' 10" for 2 Spanish Ring Knots.
*These are only examples.  Remember the variations in strapwork depth, how experienced each of us is and our individual braiding style make a difference. We all have to gain experience and experiment with this.
On the subject of cutting up roo hides, after learning the more traditional method, I learned to cut the hide in the way I illustrate in The Art of Braiding The Basics - Second Revised Ed.  After cutting my wider strips, I found I could make better use of the hide by pre-stretching each strip before cutting my small strings. 
Whenever strings are cut for projects, often there is excess. This surplus has value for smaller items as well. A hint for keeping those assorted strings readily available is to place them into individually labeled plastic bags. Depending on the string, the label may denote a certain roo color with the date it was cut (which would mean it was all in the same dye lot).  Hide colors vary from dye lot to dye lot.  There have been times when I need to go back to these same dye lots to match another tack item for the same customer.  Sometimes I mark them as good for key fobs which means the strings I put in the bag are miscellaneously sized with colors that might work on a key fob or other small project. 
That brings up another subject that I am not always up to date on.  The more organized you can be when storing your extra string and strips - whether in plastic bags, tied together or laid neatly in a drawer or whatever method you choose, the more use you will obtain from your hides.  The main concern is to keep them out of direct sunlight and to make sure they do not become overly dry.  This is of more concern if you live in a hot dry climate. 

          The more experience a braider acquires the more efficient he or she will become at gaining the most value from the materials.

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