Last year — nay, nearly 18 months ago! — Amanda posted about re-dying her Childeric black, and I became strangely obsessed with the idea. I even offered to pull it off on my trainer’s lesson dressage saddle, which is looking rather greeny-browner than black after many, many, many sweaty lesson butts have graced it. I never got around to the project for my trainer, but once I got my Anky I knew that I would be embarking upon this particular DIY. I followed Amanda’s excellent instructions pretty closely, but encountered enough little issues that I thought it worth another write up.
First, gather your adult beverage.
I have been informed that no DIY project that starts without an adult beverage is worth embarking upon. I chose a beverage with a horse on the logo.
Second, gather your non-drinkable supplies.
You will need:
- Deglazer or denatured alcohol*
- Leather dye in the colour of your choice x 2
- Microfiber cloths or rags**
A couple of notes on supplies. You can’t ship deglazer to California, so I had to look around for an alternate stripping agent. A quick search on some leather work forums and a look at the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Fiebing’s deglazer, and it’s mostly ethyl acetate with some ethyl alcohol. However, the good peoples of the internet seemed to think that denatured alcohol would do just fine, and to move up to ethyl acetate only if the finish was particularly resistant.
Amanda also used foam brushes for a few parts of the application, and I used them for a few steps also, but found that they weren’t really the best tool for the job. Microfiber cloths worked much better, but the ones I ordered from Amazon had to be cut down to a more manageable size.
Step three, deglaze.
My saddle was not in the worst, greenest state, but it was fairly faded and had one noticeably funny spot on the seat. Based on the location, I can only assume that the previous owner of my saddle leaned back rather far in the tack and the center belt loop on her breeches made this spot. More importantly, however, I’m sure that any and all finish that had ever graced its leather was also gone. I rubbed and rubbed with the denatured alcohol on a rag, but didn’t see very much change. But I went for it on all parts of the saddle to make sure that the dye would soak in well.
When using deglazer or ethyl acetate DO use gloves and work in a well ventilated area. This stuff is not good for you and can make its way into your liver through your skin or lungs.
After this step and slopping ethyl alcohol all over my saddle, I let it sit out overnight to evaporate all the spare alcohol and go finish off that case of horse-themed beverage.
Step the fourth: paint it black.
The next day, you should start your saddle dying playlist.
The leather dye came with a little brush applicator which worked really nicely to get dye into all the nooks and crannies. It also worked pretty well to get dye on the bigger areas, but in this step I also used a foam brush to get the dye on. Amanda recommended three thin coats, which she evened out by rubbing the dye in with a rag after putting dye on to one section. I was not that competent at making only “thin coats” with the dye, but fortunately, I found that unless you had majorly uneven sections with huge differences in the amount of dye applied, it pretty much evened out as it dried.
This part was a little challenging since I had to do the underside of the panels, which required a little creative wrangling while I painted and rubbed it down. I left the saddle upside down to dry for a little while and imbibed some more.
For the rest of the saddle, I moved back and forth between different sections to let one area dry before applying the next coat. My saddle soaked up a fair bit of dye, and after two coats everywhere looked good to me except for panels and knee rolls. I ended up ordering two more bottles of dye, because I offered to do my MIL’s old Kieffer at the same time. Since both panels are dual flap, there is like 2x the surface area of a monoflap to get covered so… this makes sense. The bottles are so cheap that it wasn’t exactly a hardship to crack open a second bottle.
You should also know that the dye is super, super thin — thinner than water — and will flick all over your face if you sweep a brush toward yourself. You may need to take off a layer of skin to get the dye off your face before the pizza party.
You can also see in the pictures that I painted over the logo buttons. I didn’t intend to, but I accidentally did it on one side and just didn’t care about the other. I do plan to pull this extra dye off, probably using a q-tip and some nail polish remover. The D-rings and stainless buttons on the saddle wiped completely clean without problem.
Step five: Tan-kote.
I let the dye dry for a full 24 hours, then gently buffed the saddle with a microfiber cloth before applying the tan-kote. This step was stupidly easy: pour a little tan-kote (the consistency of Elmer’s glue) onto a microfiber rag, and apply to saddle all over. You can see the leather soaking up the tan-kote and getting a healthy-looking luster to it as you go. I’m definitely not known for my less-is-more philosophy, and used a fair bit of tan-kote in this step.
When I buffed the saddle dry almost no dye was coming off of it, but as I applied the tan-kote there was plenty of dye coming out on the rag. I let the tan-kote dry overnight before moving on to the resolene.
Sixth: Seal and finish.
Resolene is a sealant and finisher, and Amanda recommended that you apply it in full sunlight. Warning: do not apply this in full sunlight on an 80+ degree day. The resolene was drying so fast on the saddle that I couldn’t rub out any of the uneven spots. This was also a step where the foam brushes were useless: they left streaky marks of finish and weird bubbles on the panels and seat especially.
Six-point-five-th: redo steps 1-5 where you borked it the first time
I actually did such a poor job with the resolene that I ended up stripping the seat and starting over. I suspect that because the seat is so smooth and flat you can see any imperfections in the finish much more clearly (though ultimately, they’ll spend most of their time under my ass soooo maybe it was unnecessary). But really… it looked absolutely awful.
I had to work a fair bit harder with the ethyl alcohol to strip the resolene off of the seat, and really scrub it on there, but it did come out eventually. I let it dry, slapped on some more dye and then tan-kote, and went back to sealing the rest of the saddle.
The best way I found to apply the resolene was to pour a small amount onto a small rag (I cut my Amazon microfiber cloths into quarters). I had folded the rag into a sponge-like shape so the application surface was smooth. Then I rubbed that resolene across the saddle in one direction. After moving indoors, I just did this in really good lighting, and for the knee rolls and flaps it was fine. For the seat, I worked carefully outdoors in the shade one morning.
It is also really essential to let the layers of resolene dry properly between applications. When the resolene was partially dried, I ended up smudging it around with the next layer (leading to the above snafu). I’d give it at least an hour between layers, and if you’re doing this as a summer project, avoid doing it in the heat of the day. I’m not really sure, but it seemed like the resolene dried out enough to get tacky really fast, but didn’t really “set” in the heat. I ended up doing 3 layers on the seat, knee rolls, and tops of the flaps, 2 layers on the inside of the flaps, and 3 on the panels and underside of the flaps.
At left, my freshly dyed and sealed seat done much more carefully. The funny belt loop smudge is almost gone, and you can’t see it out of really good light.
Once again, you could probably go easier on the resolene than I did. It gives the leather a great, shiny finish — the back of my saddle almost looks patent now — but it also makes the leather a little stiff and squeaky.
Seventh: finishing touches.
I didn’t even buff the saddle again or apply lederbalsam before riding, because I have a dressage show on Saturday that I really, really needed to practice my test at least once for. The seat now has a little smudge in it from the buffing action of my butt, and the resolene around the leathers and where my leg goes has worn off already. Honestly, this didn’t surprise me. I wouldn’t (and won’t) re-seal those parts of the flaps in the future. There was also a fair bit of color transfer from the underside of the saddle on to my saddle pad, just around the bottom and edges of the flaps — I chose an old pad for this ride for that exact purpose.
Overall, I definitely did not do as good of a job as Amanda. The project required some time, planning, and thought, and wasn’t just a straight up weekend project for me (but it might be for you if you drink fewer horse beers). My saddle was out of commission for five days, including fixing my resolene mess up. However, considering that my saddle looks AMAZING now that it’s done, it was completely worth it.
10/10, will definitely do this again. If only I can find something else to dye…