Creighton Side Saddle – The Big Reveal

The treatment of the Creighton Side Saddle included many different types of materials, a variety of repair methods, and over 100 hours to complete!  Some of the most challenging treatments included the saddle blanket and the seat. If you haven’t read the first two blog posts about the side saddle, including the saddle’s history and the rest of the treatment, you can read them here and here before the big reveal at the end of this post!

Saddle blanket before treatment showing distortions, fraying, and losses

Saddle Blanket Before Treatment

The saddle blanket was a mess!  It was severely frayed and showed evidence of extensive insect damage.  In order to carry out treatment, the saddle blanket was removed from where it had been partially tacked to the bottom of the cantle, which is the upward curved part of the seat. The blanket was vacuumed and the accumulation of broken fibers and insect frass trapped within the layers of the blanket was removed. Because the five layers of the blanket were so misshapen, each layer had to be humidified using blotter paper dampened with deionized water and wrapped in Gore-Tex, a material that allowed water vapor to pass through without wetting the fibers. The wrapped blotter paper was slipped between the blanket layers, and the entire blanket was covered overnight with a piece of polyethylene plastic.  Once humidified, it was possible to align the torn and tangled burlap and twisted strands of wool.  The blanket was placed on a sheet of Ethafoam and extremely thin entomology pins were used to tack it in place as the materials relaxed.


Saddle blanket with insect debris that was removed

Insect debris that was removed from the Saddle Blanket during treatment.

The next challenge was figuring out a way to stabilize the five layers of fabric that composed the saddle blanket.  Sheer polyester fabric appeared to be the answer because the inert material could be used to back the layers and to mend them without being visually obtrusive.  Pieces of sheer polyester fabric were coated with a heat activated adhesive and were applied to the back of the burlap to support it.  The tangled burlap fragments were arranged in place and a heated spatula was used to set them.  Large pieces of the sheer fabric were also applied to the top of the burlap and both sides of the wool layer of the blanket to help stabilize the frayed fragments.  Small patches of the polyester fabric were layered and applied over the bare patches of the wool blanket to help minimize their appearance.


Interior layer of saddle blanket repaired with sheer polyester fabric

Interior layer of saddle blanket repaired with sheer polyester fabric.  This method stabilized the materials and improved their appearance.

The torn leather triangles on the blanket were mended using goldbeater’s skin and the repair material was inpainted to match the surrounding areas. Goldbeater’s skin is a flexible transparent material made from animal intestine, traditionally used in making gold leaf and to repair parchment, vellum and leather objects.  The leather triangles were re-secured to the blanket layers through the original holes using embroidery floss toned with acrylic paints.  Corrosion products on the copper alloy rivets decorating the leather triangles of the blanket were mechanically reduced and the rivets were coated with a protective coating of paste wax.


Repair to leather corner of saddle blanket before inpainting.   Repair to leather corner of saddle blanket after inpainting

Repairs to the leather corners of the saddle blanket, before (left) and after (right) inpainting.

A backing was created for the blanket out of 100% cotton muslin which was attached with cotton thread. Black sheer polyester fabric was sewn over the top of the saddle blanket and was loosely stitched together with the blanket layers, and the muslin backing.  After all of these steps were taken, the saddle blanket as stable enough to be displayed with the saddle as intended without the risk of further damage.


Saddle blanket after treatment with sheer fabric overlays

Saddle Blanket after treatment with sheer fabric overlays.

The seat of the saddle was in need of considerable repair.  Leather was missing from the cantle and the seat had extensive tears and losses, which were stabilized using goldbeater’s skin coated with a heat-activated adhesive and applied using a heated tacking iron.


Top view of damage to side saddle seat showing losses and cracks in leather

Damage to Side Saddle Seat.

Pieces of oak-tanned leather, similar to that used in the creation of the saddle, were used to fill the large loss areas.  These were skived with a knife so that they would be the appropriate thickness.  In some cases, it was necessary to shape the leather fill material with water and heat to replicate the surface conformation of the area to be filled.  A layer of goldbeater’s skin coated with a stable wax/resin adhesive was used to adhere the fills in place.  The fills were toned with acrylic resin mixed with dry pigment similar in color to the surrounding leather.  All components of the saddle were given a coat of paste wax to help protect the surfaces and enhance the appearance.  A dry pigment was mixed with the paste wax in some areas to modulate the color.


Thinned, or skived, leather applied to the back of the seat   Repair to the back of the saddle after treatment

Left: Thinned, or skived, leather is added to cover the loss on the back of the seat.  Right: Repair detail after treatment.

Top of saddle seat showing goldbeater's skin repairs to cracks and losses

Goldbeater’s skin repairs to cracks and losses before painting.

A large section of the leather covering the back bar was missing and needed to be replaced.  A piece of oak-tanned leather was cut and shaped using water and heat to resemble the design of the leather that remained.  Sheets of goldbeater’s skin were used to reconnect the new leather fill at the front of the bar with the original leather on the back of the bar. The goldbeater’s skin repairs were toned with acrylic paint to make the surface more visually cohesive.


Loss on back bar and, below, the leather patch for the loss.   Patch in place on the leather bar that has been toned to match the surrounding leather.

Left: Leather patch made for back bar.  Right: Back bar with a patch in place and toned to match.

After hours and hours of testing and treatment, the Creighton Side Saddle was finished!  Before it could be returned, however, a mount was made for it out of an archival blue board that is sturdy enough to hold the weight of the saddle, but lightweight enough that the saddle could be easily moved when necessary.


Blue board saddle mount

Custom-made saddle mount made from acid-free, lignin-free blue board.

Though it still showed its age and use, the saddle was stabilized and looked much more like its original appearance.  The saddle has been returned to Creighton University and was displayed at the University for a time so students, faculty and the public could learn about this fascinating project, but it is now housed in the University Archives.  Thank you to David Crawford, archivist at Creighton University, for his help in this series.



Left: Proper Left side of the Saddle Before Treatment, Right: Proper Left side of the Saddle After Treatment.


Left: Proper Right side of Saddle Before Treatment, Right: Proper Right side of Saddle After Treatment


Left: Proper Left side of Saddle Seat Before Treatment, Right: Proper Left side of Saddle Seat After Treatment

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