I was quite Horse mad when I was young. I attended Horse Riding classes and dreamed of one day owning my own horse but until that happened I needed to be content with filling my photo album with images of horses including cut out pictures of collectable horse figurines and several photos of Dandy who often grazed in the ‘Horse Paddock’ to keep the grass under control.
Two of my favourite books were written by Monica Edwards. They are “Wish for a Pony” and “The Midnight Horse”. Reading “The Midnight Horse” had inspired me want to create horses using fabric and other materials.
My Mum had an old Treadle Sewing machine. She used it to make clothes and toys for us when we were kids. I had learned how to sew using it by turning the handle round and round as my legs were not quite long enough or strong enough to work the treadle peddle.
I often watched Mum draft out patterns for toys and sew them on the old Treadle Machine. Mum made all three of the Soft Toys in this photo. For my little sister a dog (possibly called ‘Pom Pom’ or ‘Poochie’), for my brother a Penguin called ‘Pengy’ (FYI: the Penguin had a musical noise maker inside that that was activated by pushing him side to side) and for me an Astroboy doll! I quite liked the Astroboy cartoons on TV (BTW I am talking about the very original series not the more recent remakes or movie.) When I asked or rather ‘begged’ Mum to make me an Astroboy doll I had hoped that he would have boots that could somehow convert to the flames like they did in the cartoon but as it turned out that was asking a little too much. I have to admit though every now and then I try to imagine ‘how’ it might be possible to achieve this task!
Part way through reading “The Midnight Horse” I told my Mum about the ‘cloth horses’ and how I wanted to make some. I asked about the Treadle Sewing Machine but Mum thought that hand sewing would be more appropriate for me than machine stitching. She also suggested drawing a pattern on paper rather than drawing directly (as described in the book) on the ‘cloth’ or ‘fabric’ as it is usually called in Australia. (FYI I had grown up knowing both terms as Mum had been born in England). Having read about the mistake Tamzin had made which caused her horse to split when it was stuffed I was keen to avoid ruining my horse so Mum explained how to make an “under-body” or ‘gusset’ as she called it. Always being a very ambitious child I wanted to make several horses. I wanted each horse to be able to stand up unaided. I also wanted one that looked like it was walking just like the ones described in the book! Mum was not sure that this was possible but also knew I was stubborn and determined enough to try!
Not long after reading “The Midnight Horse” I designed and made my first ‘cloth’ horse when I was only 12 years old.
My horse was a little bit different as I had made a Skewbald (FYI: Skewbald is the English term for a horse that is white plus another colour rather than black & white = Piebald. In other countries these horses are also referred to as Pinto or Paint horses).
Perhaps you would like to have a better look at my first ever horse “Tarralea”, if so please watch this short Video.
My Next horse was Liza. I named her after Liza Minneli as I thought the song about being “Liza with a ‘Z’ not Lisa with an ‘s’ because Lisa with an ‘s’ sounds ‘snuzzed’” was quite amusing!
I don’t have Liza anymore as she was too damaged by age, moths and silverfish to be salvaged. 😦
I have tried to draw her from memory. She was dark brown with a white mane & tail and white hooves. When I was drawing her I kept thinking that the fabric had a sort of speckle through the weave but looking Tarralea and seeing that he has a speckle it is possible that she only had a white or cream fleck rather than the multicoloured specks I have drawn. The ‘walking’ stance is as accurate as I can draw and I have to admit I disliked how stumpy and ungraceful her feet were but it was totally necessary in order for her to be able to stand up. Plus her nearside front leg was a little too long! Like Tarralea she had wire in the legs but no horseshoes this time! The wire helped her stand up but because the offside legs were almost touching in the middle I needed to be careful to make her balance with near and off legs slightly splayed out from her body. All in all it worked quite well and even Mum was surprised that I achieved what I had set out to do!
Softly drawn in the background of this picture is another horse called “Horsa” who was a Draft/Draught Horse, also known as a ‘Heavy Horse’. She was a very light grey and wrapped around each of her feet was a strip of imitation fur fabric to represent the feathering that many Heavy Horses have.
Horsa had very straight legs and no wire at all. I was a little dissatisfied with her from a conformation point of view so I tried a new, shapelier version using a dark red fabric. The result was a horse called “Jaffa”.
Then there was “Gundy Gay” …..
Gundy Gay was the first foal sired by champion race horse “Gunsynd”. Gunsynd was a crowd favourite. He was bred & born in Gondiwindi. A song was written about him called the “Gondiwindi Grey”. Gunsynd came third in the most prestigious annual Horse Race in Australian called the “Melbourne Cup” in 1972 (Piping Lane came 1st). I was not at all surprised that he came third. I used to decorate my bedroom with clippings from the Racing section of the major Newspapers. Another favourite horse of mine called “Tails” had often raced neck & neck with Gunsynd and had narrowly beaten Gunsynd in his last race before retiring. My logic was that as Tails had come third in the Melbourne Cup the year before (1971Silver Knight came 1st) then Gunsynd would only gain third place too. Strangely that is exactly what happened!
Above is a Newspaper clipping that used to hang on my bedroom wall. Later I glued it in a Scrapbook which I still have 🙂
I made this portrait of Gundy Gay when she was just a little foal (after seeing her photo with her dad Gunsynd) I even entered the completion to choose a name for her. Her mother (Dam) was called “Highly Gay” and they wanted a name that combined the name of her Sire and Dam. My suggestion for a name was “Gaysynd” so I felt like I was fairly close!
Rather than a racing bridle or other simple Bridle I decided to make Gundy Gay a very complicated Bridle that I copied from one of my Horse books. It features double reins. Gundy Gay has no wire in her legs and will stand up for a little while but tends to twist and fall over! I think this is because one of the back legs is positioned forward of the other in the common pose used for photographs. It still amazes me as to how I managed to get Liza to stand so well but she did have wire in her legs which obviously helped a lot.
Another horse that was very special to me was Phar Lap. I made a model of him too. Because he was made using a wire armature and is hollow in the middle he can’t really be called a Soft Toy therefore I included him in a separate Soft Sculpture section.
Like Liza, Horsa and Jaffa were far too damaged to salvage. I was so glad that I had kept Tarralea, Phar Lap and Gundy Gay with me when I moved away to college. I had thought that the other horses would be safe in the Stable that Mum had built for me. The Stable was designed in a really clever way with two roof sections that hinged in the middle of a ‘V’ shape to give access to the horses that were inside. There were four stalls and each had a little wall mounted feed container and ‘split stable doors so the upper door could open while the lower door remained closed. That way my horses could stand and look out through the open doorway. The floor was chipboard with ‘straw bedding’ painted on. The stables had been made using any scraps Mum could get her hands on including Plasterboard (also known as Gyprock TM, Sheetrock or Drywall) for the centre partition and Chipboard/Particleboard for the Floor and V design hinged roof. I remember being really happy when Mum complimented my ‘very steady hand’ when I painted the lettering that read: “TABLETOP STABLE”.
I retrieved the Stable from my Dad’s place many years later (after my parents had divorced) but the sign on the Roof that said “TABLETOP” was missing and some AA Alkaline Batteries had corroded and damaged the floor. Later when my first husband, kids & I moved out of the rough (non rat proof) ‘shed’ that we had called ‘home’ into the Pole House we had built the Stable was left behind up on top of an old wardrobe. Building materials & odds and ends were stored in the room too but the roof developed a leak and the Stable became even more damaged. At the time this photo was taken it was beyond repair.
People often ask why I don’t make more of these small horses as a PDF Pattern. I wish I still had a copy of the patterns. Maybe one day I will try to redraw them. Knowing I sewed them by hand with my much younger, more dextrous hands and neater Backstitch seems a little bit of a barrier to making Patterns that would work well on a sewing machine. But maybe one day…..