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Kathleen Threlfall pursues a passion
By Maddy Butcher
Many of us know a little something about trailblazing in a Man’s World.
Starting out, I worked in the Providence Journal’s large, sports department. All men.
Then I moved to another newspaper with an all-male sports department.
You learn to pursue your passions. Barriers and judgments notwithstanding.
Kathleen Threlfall is doing just that with her
new leatherwork business
in British Columbia, Canada.
At age 24, she’s showing how a savvy cowgirl can excel in the male-dominated world of saddle work.
Two years ago, Threlfall began an apprenticeship with renowned saddle maker
in Merritt, B. C. She started with chaps-making and advanced into saddle work.
In photo at right, all the gear was made by Threlfall, including saddle, back cinch, bosal hanger, and leggings.
“She’s very good, very attentive,” said Loewen, who was honored this year with the Joe Marten Memorial Award for the
Preservation of Cowboy Heritage
in British Columbia.
“She knew what she wanted and worked pretty hard at it.”
Breaking into the saddlemaking business can be challenging:
There’s the equipment, costing about $5,000 and including a good sewing machine, hand tools, stamps, and a marble work piece.
There’s the fierce competition
There’s the cost of maintaining an inventory.
Threlfall has started wisely and modestly by focusing on chaps, armitas, chinks, and other leatherware. She works out of Loewen’s Merritt shop, maintains a website, and has taken her goods to trade shows.
As wearers will attest, the key to leggings is in the fit. Threlfall makes a pattern for every pair.
The result? Happy customers.
“She’s mastered pattern fitting,” said Loewen.
Rancher Tim Thomas likes his armitas so much, he’s hardly worn them. (He donned them for
a recent branding. See photo at right)
He discovered Threlfall's work at the Mane Event, a major horse expo in Chilliwack, BC. While there, he had his measurements done and ordered a pair.
“They’re beautiful. I don’t want to get them dirty,” he laughed.
Thomas runs a large cattle ranch in British Columbia’s interior and stays busy with about 1,200 head of cattle. He said he has about six pairs of leggings. “But these fit way better than my others.”
For Threlfall, the leatherwork is part of a bigger passion that includes horse care and horsemanship. She’s worked with Jonathan Field and Stefanie Travers and recently moved from coastal BC to a small ranch in Merritt where she looks after seven horses.
While her biggest customer pool is of local, working cowboys, she’s shipped her wares to elsewhere in Canada and Europe.
Her goal is to develop her own line of gear, including saddles. As she progresses, she learns and incorporates new ideas into her products.
Established saddle makers like Loewen, she said, “produce artwork...based on a lifetime of work. I’d love to produce leatherwork of that caliber…It just takes time.”
Her commitment to the Western lifestyle hasn't gone unnoticed.
"It’s really good to see a gal like that interested and dedicated..not just in leatherwork but in horsemanship," said Thomas. "Young people don’t necessarily follow their passions, but she does. She’s going to be something."
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"Anyone who is concerned about his dignity would be well advised to keep away from horses." - Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
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