Leathercraft hobby turns into thriving business for Newcastle cowgirl
Newcastle – When Ashten Marchant first learned how to tool leather and make leather items in the sixth grade, she never imagined the items she made would turn into a profitable business.
The Newcastle cowgirl started with a few bronc halters, but now, she makes a variety of items from leather bound book covers and belts to bronc halters and chaps.
Scouting the internet for an easier way to keep track of her livestock records jump started her business. Leather- bound calving books Marchant designed have become a hot seller this holiday season.
“I advertised one on my Facebook page, A Bar Leatherwork, and within hours, I had sold several and ran out of books for the inside. Since then, the orders keep pouring in,” she explained.
The calving books take anywhere from 2.5 to four hours to make each book, 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.
Starting in 4-H
Marchant learned how to make leather items as a 4-H project, crafting a couple of bronc halters for her miniature ponies. Her aunt, who now makes chaps for the Junior National Finals Rodeo, was her teacher.
“Most of the things I have made have been for myself. I haven’t made a lot to sell until now,” Marchant said.
“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 explained. “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 six inches long,” she explained. “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 continues, “The chaps were hard to sew, but when they were finished, they were beautiful. Making them was a learning experience because I had all that 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 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, 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 explained.
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 rodeo.
“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.
“They have a lot of hides to select from, so I pick up several different colors and tooling hides. If I am going to do leatherwork as a profession, it takes a lot of leather, tools and patterns. Leatherwork is not a cheap hobby,” she said.
Learning and growing
Hoping to one day turn her talent into a lucrative business, 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 has also found a lot of support from others in the leathercraft industry.
Locally, saddlemaker Nevada Norton helps her find patterns and critiques her work. Although Marchant sells some of her work through local businesses, most of her work sells through Facebook at A Bar Leatherwork.
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.