steve mason

sheepskin direction?

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I am lining skirts on a saddle today and it got me to thinking. I have been shown many ways to place your skirts on your sheepskin, back to butt, back to neck, bar pads to middle, bar pads out, some say it does not matter other say it does not matter all. I am curious what all you opinions are.

So, what way do you all place your skirts on the sheepskin and why? Like photo A,B,C,D or another way altogether.

thanks much









Edited by steve mason

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Hi Steve,

I place mine like photos A or B. I know some people have their reasons for having the top edge of the skirts on the spine of the sheepskin, but I haven't seen anything that makes me believe it makes a difference. I always run mine with the front of the skirts towards the front of the sheep, but again, I'm not sure it makes a difference as long as both skirts are running in the same direction. I haven't had any problems with my skirts this way so I see no reason to try anything else. One thing I do like is for the most visible edges of the skirts to have consistent thickness to the wool, simply for appearance sake; I usually get this with the bottom edges of the skirts toward the spine.


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I do mine like "C". Front of the skirts at the butt of the hide with the pad area along the denser wool of the spine. Reason being wool grows pointing back on a sheep and this placement helps hold blankets better. Run your hand on a sheepskin back and forth from front to back and decide for yourself. This placement is probably the one that requires the largest hide of the ones shown though. Greg

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Hi Steve I've always used "A" or sometimes "B" depending on the skirt size. I was taught that the main thing was to keep them in the same direction or orientation. I have seen saddles that have spit out a Navajo a time or two. Blake

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Hi fellas(in this case), my first time posting here. I also belong to a motorcycle board and rarely get time to post there either, but I thought I'd chime in on this one, No particular reason.

I learned saddle making from a guy who learned from some of our recent 'old timeres'(Don King,now gone, Bob Marrs, Franklin, Sevier and Hamley)

Consiquently I found that a lot of things that were passed on to me were based on 'tradisional techniques. They all had a reason for being, but some also can be updated.

Placement of shearling may be one.

As short as possible here is what I was taught.

Run your flat hand back and forth across the nap to get a feeling for the direction as in my experience sheeps wool doesn't only run from front to back. More like straight out but it tends to go more one way then another thus the nedd to double check. As mentioned the direction is significant because if the nap tends to run to the rear on your skirts, a Navaho will work back. I've seen then even turn around, by a fleece with a diagonal run nap. Point here is that a forward facing nap will act like 'velcro' keeping a navaho in place. Now the question is, how many folks are using a single folded Navao blanket these days?

With many of the dencer blankets on the market now I think the issue almost becomes mute. However, I will still place the nap running forward just because that's how I do it.

As to the top of the skirt being towards the spine or towards the belly, I was taught to keep it towards the belly because of any thinning of the nap would be less apparent. I can see the wisdom however in placing the dencer nap in the area where there is more weight baring taking place, which is at the bars. As I look at the restoations I have done ant the oldtimers I have seen it is obvious where the majorety of the ware is. With the jumbo hides we have today there probably isn't much need to scrimp by putting the top of the skirt to the belly.

This is a fun site and I like seeing knowledge fro all experiences being shared.


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I have been reading through many of the saddlemaking posts a little at a time.

In talking with many older saddlemakers (never had the privilege of being able to work under one of them but struck up some good friendships over time) this was what I derived from their discussions. I will say that it was what I was taught.

I was taught that a saddle blanket (assumed to be a Navajo blanket) may crawl out from under the saddle. This was due to the woolskin not being correctly installed in the proper direction.


From them, I derived two major NO-NOs. These were to never angle the skirt across the woolskin or to turn one skirt opposite of another. Even though this may seem an economical use of a woolskin it denotes poor quality and you should reject the woolskin. These would be definite reasons for the saddle blanket to crawl or slide out from under the saddle. As I said these were NEVER TO BE DONE per all of them.

Placement of skirts on woolskin

Here's what I derived from these conversations.

(1) Place the front of the skirt on the butt of the woolskin and

(2) Place the bottom of the skirt along the backbone or center of the woolskin.

Justification for Placement of Woolskins

Butt Placement to Front Skirt

Reasons stated for the butt placement were twofold (1) Hair growth on a horse [ brushing a horse from front to back was smooth whereas brushing from back to front was going against the hair growth and made the hair stand up. (2) Saddle blankets are unlikely to move forward as it is pushed against the shoulders and withers as well as going against the direction of the hair growth.

Center Placement to Bottom Skirt

Reason for the bottom of the skirt being placed along the center of the woolskin was that this was the thickest portion of the woolskin and this is where the greatest wear was at.

Other things to make sure of was to work around the parts where the wool was light and always make sure that you had an extra 1-2" of space away from the light ot skinned portions.

However with that said I worked on a ranch for a while after high school and used a Slim Green saddle on and off. This saddle was a pain because the blanket (Navajo blanket) would always slide out from under the saddle on the right side especially when riding uphill. At the very end we used a newer type orthopedic pad and this pad did not slide out at all. They had another saddle that was a production type saddle that had a similar problem and the orthopedic pad didn't slide out from this saddle either.

I later had an opportunity to talk/discuss with Slim Green about this particular saddle and woolskin placement. He assured me that he NEVER had anyone ever complain about that. He also stated that he would NEVER swap directions or place them at an angle and that he always put the skirts on the woolskins in the same direction. He also conveyed to me that these were considered quality issues that a quality saddlemaker would never make with placement at an angle or placing the skirts in opposite directions. Several others have also conveyed that sentiment as well.

Years later I was discussing this with Bob Dellis and he just laughed. He said when they were building saddles that they had one person whose job was to review woolskins. This person who reviewed woolskins had two different jobs to perform. These were to QC the woolskin and check for nap. The quality control portion of the job was to reject the ones that had issues. Here's what they considered to be issues

(1) Not large enough - 1st step in rejection.

(2) Any other defects like improper tanning or knicks in the woolskin that couldn't be worked around.

(3) Here's the one that surprised me --- Ones that had the wool going in two different directions. He said that these woolskins were rare but had seen about 15-20 during his lifetime.

(4) Diagonal naps were also rejected.

The other portion of the job was to determine the nap of the woolskin and mark it. They used the same method that has already been described with using your hand to determine the direction. Sometimes they did not follow the standard direction.

He also confirmed what we had seen with the two "slipping" saddles that an orthopedic pad would usually correct the woolskin placement issue.

He likewise said that these old rules or guidelines would be less of an absolute due to the fact that we were getting jumbo woolskins and that many no longer used Navajo blankets but instead used some form of orthopedic pad.

I found it interesting that G. Hachett, Hidemechanic, likewise mentioned the denser pads and jumbo woolskins as being reasons that the traditional placements could be updated. Likewise he also mentioned diagonal naps.



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