Calving book creation turns into hot seller for Marchant
for The Fence Post
Scouting the internet for an easier way to keep track of her livestock records has jump-started Ashten Marchant’s leather crafting business.
Her idea to make a leather-bound calving book has turned into a hot seller this holiday season, after she advertised one for sale on her Facebook page, A Bar Leatherwork.
“Within hours, I had sold several, and ran out of books for the inside. Since then, the orders keep pouring in. It has definitely been a jump-start for my business,” said Marchant, who is from Newcastle, Wyo.
The calving books take anywhere from 2½ to 4 hours per book to make, depending upon the difficulty of the brand. “Brands with basket stamping have by far been the most popular design for the calving books. I do most of the brands on the computer, but when I get something more difficult like a mill iron or a cotter key, it takes more time because it is hard to draw those on a computer,” she said.
A 4-H PROJECT
Marchant first learned leather craft in the sixth grade while working on a 4-H project. Her aunt, who now makes chaps for the junior National Finals Rodeo, taught her. “Most of the things I have made have been for myself. I haven’t made a lot to sell until now,” she said. Her first leather project was a couple of bronc halters for some miniature ponies. “I spend a lot of time competing in rodeo, and all my horses have money names, so in the beginning, it was just bronc halters or headstalls to keep up with the money names,” Marchant said. “Lately, I have been getting into making chaps and calving books. I have also made a lot of leather covers for legal pads and calendars, and I also make belts. Those things are my biggest sellers.”
While in college at the University of Nebraska, Marchant had a business teacher who recognized her talent for leatherwork, and told her she should make her hobby into a business. “I packed my leather sewing machine into the dorm my last two years of college. It was a job in itself to get it up two flights of stairs in a building with no elevator. Those machines are heavy,” she said. “Luckily, my roommate only lived in the room a couple days a week, so I was able to use her side of the room for all my leather.”
It was there that Marchant designed her first pair of chaps. “They were supposed to be made from mohair, but they came in Islamic sheep hide, so it was straight hair about 6 inches long,” she said. “I hated it because I had hair all over when the hair came out. Everyone at school probably thought I had a dog, because no matter how much I would sweep and vacuum, the hair was all over the room and all over me,” she said. “The chaps were hard to sew, but when they were finished, they were beautiful. Making them was a learning experience because I had all the hair to sew through. After that, I decided I liked them, so I have made a couple pair of leggings and some chinks.”
With her flair for design, Marchant has custom made all her own tack, with the exception of her saddle. “My favorite item is probably a tripping collar I made for my breakaway horse. I like feathers and headdresses and lots of color, so I made it with 75 colors. I spent a lot of time painting it. I wanted every color to match, and I didn’t want to use any color more than twice. It was a lot of work,” she said.
Everything Marchant makes is custom, and developed from pictures and ideas she finds on social media sites like Pinterest and Facebook. Other ideas come from things she sees on the road while competing at rodeos. “Sometimes, I will see a picture on someone’s facebook page, and think to myself how it would look on a headstall or breast collar. I also make a lot of belts, and they are not just plain basket ones. I like to use crazy colors, feathers, Indian skulls and money signs,” she said.
Marchant finds most of her supplies at a big leather show held each year in Sheridan, Wyo. “They have a lot of hides to select from, so I pick up several different colors and tooling hides. If you are going to do it as a profession, it takes a lot of leather, tools and patterns. Leatherwork is not a cheap hobby,” she said.
Hoping to one day turn her talent into a lucrative business, Marchant said she learns a little more with each item she makes. “The first year I went to the show, I picked leather based solely on what I like. I learned that my taste may be a little more on the wild side compared to what some people like, so now I pick more neutral colors. I also try to buy a lot of leather in teal, because it is a very popular color,” she said.
She also has support from others. Locally, saddlemaker Nevada Norton helps her find patterns and critiques her work. Although Marchant sells some of her work through local businesses, most of it sells through facebook at A Bar Leatherwork. She can be reached at (307) 629-1772. ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.