DIY: Dyeing a saddle

While I love my new-to-me Childeric dressage saddle, I was not thrilled with it’s appearance. The seat had faded to a sickly looking shade of green, with splotches of uneven color complete with old mold spots. The flaps were in better shape but the front of the knee roll area on both sides was starting to look green and scratched as well. A very thorough conditioning helped a lot, but the faded greenish pallor persisted.
childericdeglazerI had read a lot online about dyeing saddles, and since I dyed a pair of tall boots a while back I’m a little less scared of the process in general. So I scoured the internet for tips, ordered my supplies on Amazon, and bolstered my bravery. Oh yeah, and I had a hard cider before I started.  Liquid courage helps. Several of you asked me to share the process and results here, so… here ya go. I’m not saying this is the best or the only way to do it, but this is what I did. I know it looks like a lot of writing, but that’s only because I tried to be as specific as possible. It really isn’t hard at all, don’t be deterred by my rambling.

1FB074CB-F7D8-40FE-A411-A671C32DCA6A
top: before, bottom: after

First up: Supplies. I went with all Fiebing’s products because a) that’s what I used on the tall boots, b) that’s what most of the online folks were recommending.

  • Deglazer (which I think is just acetone but I wasn’t taking any chances with getting the wrong thing)
  • Leather Dye
  • Tan-Kote
  • Resolene
  • Brushes (I used foam, but microfiber or regular paint brush would work too)
  • Rags (tons – the microfiber ones from the dollar store work great)
  • Latex gloves
  • toothbrush
  • your adult beverage of choice

I bought all the Fiebing’s products and foam brushes from Amazon for $35 with free shipping, and the rest I already had lying around. Not a bad investment.

childericdyesupplies
adult beverage missing from photo because it was already consumed

First I cleaned the saddle thoroughly, then went at it with deglazer and a rag. I wet the rag with deglazer and started rubbing in circles. This removes the clear top coat from the leather. Without this step the dye won’t penetrate the leather very well, so while scary to rub what is essentially fingernail polish remover all over your saddle, it’s important. Just take another chug of your adult beverage, you’ll be fine.

childericbeforefront

Childericbeforeseat
the gross seat

Once you’ve removed the top coat (you should be able to tell once it’s gone, the saddle will look very matte and thirsty all over), let it dry thoroughly. Take a few more chugs of that adult beverage, pull on your gloves, grab your brushes, and start applying the dye. It was a little bit of trial and error for me to figure out which method I liked the most, but by the third and final coat I decided that I preferred to get some dye on the brush (not much, you don’t want it running all over the place), paint it onto the saddle, and then rub it in with a rag. That made the color very even and it absorbed into the leather well. I did one area of the saddle at a time – the seat, then the back and panels, then each skirt, then each flap. To make sure I got into all the little cracks and crevices I used a toothbrush. By applying the dye in sections, it helped keep everything “under control” a bit better. You don’t really need a lot of a dye to get the job done – I used less than half of a 4oz bottle with three light coats.

childericfirstdye
first coat of dye

Between each coat I let the saddle dry for about an hour, and after all 3 coats were applied I left it to dry overnight. The next day I took a clean rag and rubbed (in circles, circles are your friend throughout this entire process) all over the saddle to help lift off excess dye.

Then I got out my Tan-Kote, poured some onto a rag, and started putting on a top finish. Some people only use Tan-Kote, some people only use Resolene… the results that I found online that I liked the most used both, so I used both as well (it’s also good to note that Resolene is water resistant and Tan-Kote is not, so Tan-Kote is more of a finish and Resolene is more of a sealant). Tan-Kote is resin based and feels sticky as you’re applying it. Don’t worry, just keep rubbing it on in a thin, even layer. As it dries the stickiness will go away.

childericaftertankote1 Childericaftertankote2

Once the Tan-Kote dried, I again buffed the saddle with a clean rag. At this point very little dye was leeching onto the rag, but there was still a bit of color transfer. Time for the Resolene. I applied this stuff the same way, although it was very runny and watery compared to the Tan-Kote. When you first rub the Resolene onto the leather it leaves a white-ish blue film that is semi alarming, but it quickly turns to clear. For me this was the trickiest step, because if you didn’t get the Resolene fairly even, you could tell as it dried. It wasn’t difficult, you just had to pay attention and not glob it all over the place. For that reason I opted to do three very thin layers, allowing it to dry between each one. I also recommend doing it in an area where you have really good light (direct sunlight is best).

childericresolene
Post-resolene.

Once it was dry I buffed it again, put on a light coat of lederbalsam, and voila -all done!

childericafterbarn3

IMG_4527

When I first mentioned this project, lots of you were concerned about the dye leeching out onto your breeches. Here’s a dry paper towel (left) and a wet paper towel (right) that I rubbed on the seat as hard as I could for 20 seconds:

childerictoweltest
no dye

When properly sealed, dye leech shouldn’t be an issue. The Resolene is what provides this barrier. Important to note – once you seal the leather with Resolene, the pores will no longer take oil. If you want to still be able to oil the saddle, stick with the Tan-Kote. That said, without the Resolene you would get some dye leech. Just something to be aware of while weighing the pros and cons of each type of finish – it really comes down to personal preference. Once you’ve sealed it with Resolene, you’re really only going to be able to condition with lederbalsam type products (which is typical of any kind of sealed leather, such as Sedgwick).

Considering that it cost only $35 and a little bit of elbow grease over the course of two days, I would definitely call this one a worthwhile DIY. For value I’d give it 5 out of 5. I think the saddle looks so much better, and with minimal investment. For difficulty I’d say 2 out of 5. Dyeing a saddle is definitely not rocket science, it just requires a little bit of patience and common sense.

 

 

50 thoughts on “DIY: Dyeing a saddle

  1. It looks lovely!!! Will that same procedure and list of products also work on tall boots? I’ve got a 30ish year old pair of custom Vogel’s that really need this!

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  2. amazing. you even answered my would it rub off on my breeches in pouring rain question before i even posted it 🙂 Great job and it looks wonderful! How exciting. I really think you could do this shit for a living 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It looks really awesome!!! Thanks for sharing your process! I definitely want to give it a try over the winter (I posted the pic of the saddle with awful water marks on the seat on your fb post the other day). Being freaking cold out already now (here in MA) would mean I have to do it inside which would mean 1) no natural light..maybe I can bring all the lamps in the house down to the basement, and 2) it might stink up the house for a while (but would be totally worth it). How much do the products you used smell?

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  4. Wow, what a massive difference! I haven’t done the research to know how to do this properly but when Nibbles comes home with her saddle, I am totally doing this. Thanks for taking the time to break it down and snap photos.

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  5. My husband dyes leather regularly for jousting armor purposes, but he’s not going for such a refined look so it never turns out nearly as nice as your saddle. That thing looks practically brand-new!

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  6. Wow what a difference! Your saddle looks great now. I wish I had the nerve to DIY my saddle. I’m not patient enough with that kind of thing, I know I’d end up messing it up.

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  7. This is the exact process I’ve used to dye tack:) you’re right that its simple… But usually theres some degree of mess involved, unless you wear gloves! That saddle looks lovely!

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  8. Amanda C. – THANK YOU so very much for breaking it all down. I just redyed my L’Apogee (calf and buffalo leathers) Dressage saddle, following your guidance, and the results far exceeded my expectations. I didn’t want a super gloss finish, so I did three THIN coats of the Tan Kote, with circular buffing in between coats, and I’m very happy with how it turned out. It should accept conditioner and maintain a soft seat with a subtle grip. It is also not showing any signs of leaching. Note: I dyed but did not Tan Kote the panels and the underside of the flaps, leaving the pores open for regular leather care. Thanks again!

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  9. Do you have any advice for dyeing a saddle with a buffalo seat and buffalo knee rolls?? It’s like textured leather- a lot of little nooks and crannies. Just be extra careful and thorough?
    Thanks!

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  10. Looks amazing. Thanks for sharing. Are you still happy with the results several months later? What do you do on daily basis as to cleaning? I am getting ready to do my saddle.

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  11. Thank you for posting this! Just finished the first coat of dye on my “new”, used Trilogy dressage saddle. I got a great deal on the saddle (although still pretty pricey), but it was pretty faded. You gave me the “courage” to go ahead and do the dye job myself and it is looking GREAT!!! It’s a little scary looking after the deglazer, but even the first coat of dye makes a huge difference. The only things I did differently (up to this point…) were to use those sheepskin daubers they sell to apply dye and I really rubbed out that first coat of dye to even out the color. Finish it tomorrow. Again, thanks!

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