Western Saddle Blankets

Today, most of my studio time has been spent working on saddle blankets.  Earlier this year, I experimented with printing them on fabric. It was a huge success, and I've had a few requests for them.  The original designs were sort of thrown together, and I wanted to create a fresh set for some projects I have as well as sales.  Since I'm waiting for leather to dry, I thought I'd talk a little about how I put them together.

First, a word on software.  I design my blankets in Photoshop, but I suppose you wouldn't have to if you wanted to try this at home. Most real show blankets are in geometric patterns, so with some creativity and a steady hand I don't know why this wouldn't work in, say, Paint.  It would be easier to do more complicated patterns in Photoshop or some equivalent, though.

In Photoshop, I create a sample pattern in a grayscale PSD that I can manipulate.  Each element of the pattern is in it's own layer, which allows me to change the color quickly and easily.  The photo below shows you my layers palette, the grayscale template, and a finished pad.  Over each layer, I created a second layer that has been told to "group with previous," or CTRL + G for PC users.  This means that I can use the paint bucket to dump a color on that layer, and all the elements of the layer it's grouped with will take on that color.  Any transparent areas will stay that way.  This is much faster than using the paint bucket to dump color in every little area.

Once the template has been built, it's all about playing with color!  That's the funnest and hardest part.  When I'm putting together a pad, I take a peek at what's winning in the real world and the model horse world.  That helps me figure out what's popular right now.  No matter what's "in" right now,  Hobby Horse's color wheel is a great reference.  It makes some awesome suggestions about what color families best compliment specific horse colors.

I'm trying to make sure that the sheet of blankets I'm putting together will have at least one blanket for every horse.  I have five color palettes (for now!) that I'm using for the sheet of blankets I'll be selling.  The colors in each palette are repeated in the three patterns that I'm offering.  I don't think I'm explaining that well, so here's a screen cap of the sheet of blankets so far. The patterns run in rows, while the color groups are in columns.  

It can be challenging to repeat the colors and keep each set of three feeling like they belong together.  Some colors work really well on one pattern, but it's hard to pull them into a different one.  In some cases, I found it easier to drop a color all together on the other blankets.  The blue/green ones (second from the left) are a good example.  I just couldn't make the orange accent from the top pad work in the other two.  I figured that was okay, though, since not everyone will want to make that much of a statement.  Once I have the pad done, I save it as a JPG and insert it into a MS Word document.  I'll print the pads on some inkjet printer fabric that I picked up at Hobby Lobby.

My original plan was to offer 15 blankets, as seen above.  That's about half a sheet of fabric.  I could fit another three rows below that, and I had planned to print out extras for myself.  After messing with the margins in Word, I found that I can run these things six across and squeeze in eight rows.  Now I'm desperately trying to come up with a sixth color palette and a fourth pattern! At $6 for four sheets, this fabric is not cheap.  For my sake and the sake of my customers, I want to get as much mileage out of it as I can.

I hope you had fun seeing how I make these blankets.  If you'd like to see how I do anything else, drop me a line in the comments! I'm always looking for ideas for the blog.