Why award-winning saddler criss-crosses the Irish Sea to keep in touch with colleagues.
Lucy Cushley has been named ETN/SMS Bench Saddler of the Month for June.
The award, presented in conjunction with the Society of Master Saddlers (SMS), recognises those who uphold the highest standards of leathercraft skills.
Lucy was nominated by Master Saddler Helen Reader,who says:“Lucy is based in County Down, Northern Ireland. She works hard to come over to the mainland for training and to keep in touch with people and the industry face-to-face.
“Lucy’s business, The Irish Saddler, focuses on bridles, harness and leather goods; she’s made a great niche for herself in the region thanks to her determination to be successful.
“Lucy has an infectious personality and, once met, is never forgotten.”
ABOUT Lucy Cushley
“I thoroughly enjoy the craft of leatherwork but certainly don’t think I’ve a gift for it,” says the ever-modest Lucy.
Yet she clearly has the drive to keep going. “Sometimes it’s been tough getting over to England for training,” she admits. “It can be more demoralising than cutting a strap too short!”
As a youngster, Lucy loved doing things with her hands, be it putting up fencing, painting stables or digging daffodils in the garden. And horses have been a constant in her life.
“Sadly for my parents, I was born trying to climb into the saddle,” she says. “I’ve always loved horses whether it’s mucking out or galloping down the beach.”
Childhood weekly riding lessons grew to competing across Ireland and the UK with Pony Club and riding clubs. Then Lucy began work as a freelance groom in riding schools, polo and eventing yards.
In fact, she’s never strayed too far from the equestrian lifestyle. “Currently my horses are enjoying a well-deserved retirement, so I’m lucky to get out for adventures with friends’ horses.”
Specialising in harness
Despite her horsey passion, Lucy had never considered a career in saddlery – until she was asked to make a seat-saver from a sheepskin. “And then it all suddenly clicked into place,” she recalls.
Lucy studied at Capel Manor College for two years. In 2019 she won the Abbey England Scholarship, and was selected as a beneficiary of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.
Harness has become something of a speciality for her. “I love harness, it’s so vast,” she enthuses, “from how many horses [are being driven] to what type of vehicle, to all the different pieces…
“I love it all, especially when there’s a story to it. I recently received a beautiful bridle [for repair] which had stunning ship ornaments.”
Pride of place goes to the ‘Ferarri’ driving bridle Lucy made in college. “I tried to cram in as many different techniques as I could and it ended up looking pretty cool.”
Lucy also enjoys making unusual things, such as a leather mask for an SMS competition – “although all the really good stuff usually comes with an NDA [non-disclosure agreement]!”
Best and worst
Lucy goes great lengths to cross the Irish Sea regularly to train and network.
“The best thing about the saddlery industry are the people who are willing to teach, share and mentor you throughout your career - many without having any financial incentive to do so,” she says.
“I doubt you’d find another trade with such support in varying locations, specialities, age range and business set-ups.”
On the flipside, she adds, is the isolation involved with being a one saddler workshop.
“It’s very easy to get inside your own head and listen to all those nasty feelings of self-doubt. Thankfully I’ve plenty of supporters who are only a phone call away with support and advice.”
Despite saddlery being a hands-on craft, Lucy believes the internet has brought it great benefits.
“Due to the pandemic, the huge shift towards having an online presence is great,” she explains. “Being able to ‘bring people into the workshop’ [virtually] and show them the love and effort that goes into each piece is a big step forward.
“Giving out information to help people make an informed decision about what they’re purchasing has been a real help too.”
Lucy’s also a big fan of online learning. “With lots of webinars, seminars and professional online get-togethers, it’s great to be able to brush up on your CPD while you can keep stitching in the background.”
A self-confessed workaholic, Lucy still loves being outside – “preferably not in the rain” - working in the garden or the fields. She also enjoys exploring new places then curling up in front of the fire with Bagel, her dog.
How to nominate a bench saddler:
Everyone is invited to nominate bench saddlers they feel deserve to be named ETN/SMS Bench Saddler of the Month. Candidates for the award must be a member of the SMS and based in the UK or overseas.
To nominate a bench saddler, email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why this person deserves to be put in the spotlight. Please include the bench saddler’s name and business name too.