Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Creating Custom Tack: An Interview with Kira Karpinski by Gina McKnight

Creating Custom Tack:
An Interview with Kira Karpinski
Archived from the September 2018 issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No duplication without permission.

A tack room needs to be colorful, filled of quality tack that fits your horse and your equestrian lifestyle. Adding custom tack is fun and worthwhile! From Pennsylvania, USA, custom tack designer, Kira Karpinski, is the proprietor of Double K Leather Works! Kira is up to the challenge of placing your ideas on leather! From halters to chaps, Kira is a pro at her profession.

Welcome, Kira!

GM: Double K for Kira Karpinski! Are you a self-taught leatherwork designer, or did you have a mentor who introduced you to the craft?

KK: I am completely self-taught. I did have a few people in the trade give me pointers, and send me some goodies to help me, but I figured out methods and techniques on my own. I would look at existing work, pick it apart, and dissect it, try to figure out how it was done, and then how I would want to do it. I actually started out and found a few groups of makers, there to guide and show work. I did learn some things in those, but quickly left the group. I was consistently told my work was wrong, not standard, and sometimes downright ugly. Since I was just learning, I felt it was detrimental; to figure it out for myself. The words of another tack maker whom I’ve always looked up to often play through my mind. She told me there were no “borders” to hold my work in. I took that and ran with it. 

GM: No borders! So true. As an artist friend of my says, “Art has no rules!” How do you begin from start to finish to create beautiful leatherwork?

KK: All of my pieces begin with a sketch.  Once I have my plans laid out, I can cut out my pieces. The process of putting my art on the leather varies from piece to piece, but always starts with design transfer, cutting in and tooling, then color and sealant. After that is the job of putting it all together with my vintage Singer (my favorite machine which I refuse to upgrade... call me quirky), and then finishing edges.  

GM: When did you begin creating and designing your own leatherwork?

KK: I guess it all began about six and a half years ago, I was pregnant with my fourth child, and looking for something to pass the time as a hobby. A friend told me I should paint on existing leather, because my sketches were so nice. So I started playing with that, and people were actually interested in my work, which was amazing to me! I started asking the Amish folks nearby to cut pieces for me to paint on, and when I outgrew that, I figured I would try to learn myself. 

GM: As an artist and designer, you have created stunning leatherwork for celebrity and everyday cowgirls around the world! Do you have a favorite piece that you have created?

KK: Oh my goodness!  To pick a favorite would be very difficult! I have been so fortunate to work for amazing men and women all around the world, and the vast amount of awesome things they’ve ordered has been so fun. I have made everything from tack to chaps, bags, belts, wallets, even horse armor and a leather bra and corset!

GM: Owning custom tack is a dream. I would love to have your handiwork on my horse! When you are designing a custom piece, do you require a specific sketch or just an idea for a design?

KK: Most of my customers come with an idea, or a theme in mind. Occasionally I will have someone give me their own sketch. If requested I will lay their ideas out in a quick sketch to show layout. Very rarely, I will have someone throw me a theme, or an idea, and say, “I trust your judgment, run with it!” THESE are my very favorite people to work for! I always say that my best work happens when I’ve been left unsupervised.  It is rather difficult sometimes to align my creativity with someone else’s vision, but at the end of the day, I will always work it out until the customer is happy, even if that means making something over.  

There are multiple options for ordering, options are usually limitless!  For something like a halter, you could order only the noseband, or choose from rope, nylon or leather and I would provide it.  Of course the leather halter would all be done by myself, but for the other two options, I order them from a supplier so you get a nice new, quality piece. Waiting times vary, and I usually have a 2-3 month wait time.  Sometimes, when my lead time gets fairly long, I will put a hold on custom orders, until I catch up a little bit.  I am a one woman show, so I am not as fast as some places that have employees, and since my designs are one of a kind, they do tend to take a little longer.  I would love to eventually offer mostly stock inventory, and take very select few custom orders.  I find that most of my customers love the unique art I come up with, and will scoop up stock right away, but it is a slow process switching over to that.  It’s something I’m working on.  

Ahhh the color process, sometimes it is my friend, sometimes it is my enemy lol!  It took me a long time to find products that I personally enjoy using and have success with, and also a method that works for me.  I feel like each maker has their own way and favorites. It was really trial and error finding premium leather products that I could manipulate to work the way I needed them to.  Although I don’t like to give away all of my secrets, Feibings is my favorite brand of dye and leather care products.  As far as finding a perfect palette, I feel like each piece is a work of art.  I have always been influenced by great artists of the past, but also the many brilliant tattoo artists out there today!  (I know, weird huh?). I find color schemes and palettes that are pleasing to my eye and replicate them.  However, with much of my work being custom, I usually have to base my color scheme off the preferences of my clients, most of the time it works great, and sometimes it can be very frustrating when my own vision contradicts theirs.  

GM: Are you a cowgirl, too? Tell us about your horses...

KK: I am a cowgirl!  I have been riding horses since I was old enough to walk, or maybe even before that!  I grew up on a Western Pennsylvania farm, riding trails and taking English lessons.  As a teenager I attended my first rodeo as a spectator and was hooked!  It took me a long time to actually get into barrel racing, and even now it’s a hobby I enjoy, though I'm not seriously competitive, but I would love to be someday.  Currently I have one horse of my own, he is my heart horse.  I rescued Cinch from a kill buyer’s trailer four years ago.  He is an 18 year old Grade QH gelding, A beautiful grey who is a stout 15hh.  I trained him for barrels myself and we usually hit 3D times, and have placed 2D a few times too.  We also enjoy all types of events such as parades and judged trail rides.   We also have my daughter’s horse Atari, who is a 5 year old Arabian mare.  

GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?

KK: I feel like there are so many cliché ways to describe horsemanship, but in essence, it’s truly just your ability to communicate thoughtfully with these animals.  It’s an art, just like making tack.  If you push it, rush it, or throw it together, it’s gonna turn up a hot mess.  But if you nurture it, and cherish it, and truly do it from the heart, it’s a beautiful thing.  There is no greater feeling than being able to handle these amazing animals, and seeing them work with you, through trust.

Gina McKnight is a freelance writer from Ohio, USA.

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