This award-winner would like to see a UK revival of the process.
Katy Warriner has been named ETN/SMS Bench Saddler of the Month for December.
The award, presented in conjunction with the Society of Master Saddlers (SMS), recognises those who uphold the highest standards of leathercraft skills.
About Katy Warriner
A scene from the first Lord of the Rings movie set the then 12-year-old Katy’s heart on a career working with leather.
“I remember watching Liv Tyler and Frodo galloping through the trees,” she says. “There were close-ups of the saddles and bridles and I remember saying to my mum, ‘I want to make saddles and bridles for the film industry.’”
Katy never gave up on that dream, but it took her until her 30th birthday to make it a reality…
By 16, Katy was a working pupil on an eventing yard. Then when she turned 18, she was accepted onto a saddlery course at Capel Manor College.
However, she deferred her place for a year, went travelling around the world - and never took up the place on the course. It’s something Katy says she regrets, although travelling meant her career took a different path - building festivals and then into the creative production of festivals.
Shoe-making vs saddlery
The desire to work with leather remained. So, for her 30th birthday, Katy treated herself to a two-day leather-working course in Dartington, Devon.
The skills she learnt there were enough for her to continue to teach herself.
“I knew that this is what I was meant to be doing,” says Katy. “I managed to get a role making leather props for a reality TV show and started my business, Devon based Warriner Leather, four years later.”
Katy’s aim is to be a master of her craft, which meant taking a professional qualification was key. She flipped a coin; it was shoe-making or saddlery. Saddlery won.
Katy enrolled on a saddlery course at The Saddlery Training Centre with Mark Romain and has been training with him for the best part of three years now.
She has completed Levels 2 and 3 City & Guilds in bridle and saddle-making, and is now embarking on City & Guilds Level 3 harness-making. By next year, Katy hopes to be fully qualified in saddle, bridle and harness-making.
Lost art of tanning
Katy cares deeply about the sustainability and traceability of leather.
“The tanning of leather used to be so important in the UK but this is sadly no longer the case,” she said. “We’ve lost this industry and now just ship leather away to other countries [to be tanned] because it’s cheaper.
“Since the end of the Second World War, we’ve lost over 400 tanneries in this country, it’s a dying art and that’s sad. We have the ability to tan in this country and we should be bringing it home.”
Belts and bridles
Katy loves making belts, and her skills were rewarded earlier this year when she was a runner-up at the SMS National Competition.
“It was my first time entering,” she says. “I really didn’t expect to come anywhere, so I was blown away when the waist belt I made for the Special Open Class took second place.”
Katy’s National Competition prize was awarded just four days after she had surgery on her shoulder – and was still on a high dose of pain killers. However, she says that seeing her work next to other people’s, chatting to like-minded folk and rubbing shoulders with masters of the craft was an amazing experience.
As well as continuing to make belts and bags, Katy plans to launch a bespoke bridle-making service in 2024.
“Horse owners are now more aware of the importance of a correctly fitting bridle and are looking for handmade, made-to-measure bridles rather than buying off the peg,” she says.
Katy wants to learn more about Iberian style bridles and Western saddlery, and remain involved in making things for the film and TV industry too.
Looking after bodies
A keen gardener in her spare time, Katy is also a yoga teacher. In fact, she enjoys helping people to look after their bodies and is a fan of exercises that can be incorporated into the working day.
How to nominate a bench saddler:
Everyone is invited to nominate bench saddlers they feel deserve to be named ETN 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 email@example.com and tell us why this person deserves to be put in the spotlight. Please include the bench saddler’s name and business name too.