Photos by Verna Barr
Ryan, Owen and Zoey Janssen were fascinated with the tools used to stamp leather. Dick provided scraps of leather and told them how to make original designs during “Night on the Town” at Pioneer Town.
"I'm not real sure how I got into it," tells Dick McGuire. "Maybe when I was looking at the side of a knife sheath and saw that the blade was contacting the stitches from the inside. I sandwiched a third piece of leather between the two outer layers.
The blade then came in contact with the extra piece instead of the stitches, extending the life of the sheath. Back when I started . . . that had not been done. More expensive sheaves have the extra piece, cheaper knives do not.
McGuire is a leather worker, creating an amazing variety of things from garments to holsters and sheaths.
An original pattern and a holster in progress are shown. This one has already been folded with some tooling added, illustrating the first steps in making the two holster sets shown in the next photo. This one will have a strap that goes across the back for the belt to slip through.
When making a holster, a pattern is first made of paper, traced from a pistol so it will fit. The pattern is copied and cut from masonite then onto leather. The cut piece of leather can then be stamped or carved with a design, and then rough finished edges are sanded down to a 400 grit sandpaper and a wax material added and finished by rubbing, rubbing and rubbing before the edges are stitched.
"We moved from Farmington, N.M., two years ago. I belonged to the gun club there. Several people shot black powder. I got interested in that and going to rendezvous. Some of the mountain men attending wore buckskins, and other leather items. I thought if I can make a knife sheath maybe I can make a shirt."
He not only made a shirt but went on to make pants and moccasins. It got to be fun, something he really enjoyed. He has also made vests, dresses, belts and holsters.
Dick began selling a few shirts. "I'm not going to make a living doing it. Now I actually can pay for attending the rendezvous and transportation to and from the events. I've been going to the gatherings for seven or eight years."
"Cowhide, buffalo hide, deer, and elk hides are expensive," Dick said. "You can get 10 or 12 oz. leather . . .
that's used for saddles a lot; the heavier it is the stiffer it is. I'm not going to try making a saddle, that's way beyond me!"
"You can be a seamstress and stitch a garment. A step up would be a tailor to measure, cut and sew to fit. Another step up is the artist. I consider myself to be a fair to middling seamstress with a long way to go. I can sew things, I can make things to fit me, but it's difficult to fit other people. I made a pair of pants for a man that turned out pretty good . . . the problem was his feet, size 13 or 14 making it difficult to get the pants on.
"There is a lot to consider when making clothing for others. You have no idea of how many pieces I've made, then taken apart and redone. This has been trial and error all the way. If something doesn't work out, I try something else."
When machine stitching, Dick uses an old cast iron Singer sewing machine. It's heavy enough that it will sew quarter inch leather, though his preference is to sew by hand.
Dick McGuire’s shirt is made from two deer skins one for the front, another for the back. The bottom is left uncut and unseamed. The sleeves are attached with lacing. The yoke is made using the back side of the hide for contrast. The buttons are made from deer antlers, sliced and drilled. The two hide dress, made of buckskin, is the first dress that he made. The yoke is decorated with petrified shark’s teeth and glass beads. Dick is holding the belt for the dress. It has been stained, then buffed on the hair side.
Native Americans used sinew to sew pieces together. It is stringy and incredibly strong and is found in strips in the meat of an animal. The material Dick uses is artificial sinew, looking very much like the real thing. He believes it to be a nylon waxed material. Pieces of rawhide are often used for lacing. Lacing varies from very simple (in and out stitches) to involved, even weaving with more than one strand.
His wife gave him a book on braiding. It's amazing to see the number of different braids that have been figured out. There are thousands of them.
Human hair and horsehair are also used, attached like fringe to hold pieces together. Dick made a copy of a Plains Indian shirt. It is tied together using his son's hair.
Working with leather became a hobby that has taken up some of the costs of going to the rendezvous.
"My dream is to attend workshops for holster making and they've got workshops for carving leather. I'm sure there are easier and better ways to do what I'm doing. I'm ready to learn and want to attend several classes. I've seen them listed and will probably have to go to Arizona or Wyoming to learn from those who really know what they are doing," he said.
"Working with leather is fun! I want to get better at it, and I will!"
Two examples of Dick’s holster work.