Maurizio nicoletti: Leather-- from shoes to saddles

Story by Patrick Snyder

Maurizio Nicoletti fumbles with a new piece of leather that nearly overtakes him. He eyes a few belts and brass buckles across his workshop. He lays the tanned cowhide back down but knows he’ll deal with it later. After all, there are too many other details to cut, buff and stitch on his latest horse saddle.

Maurizio is one of three Italians who currently make saddles, he says. Tuscan cowboys and Italian horseback riders make up the bulk of his clientele. Each finished product requires more than 100 hours of labor. He sells two, maybe three per month. Starting at €2,000, each saddle’s value skyrockets with options, styles and upgrades. While working alone allows him to reap the full benefits of each sale, he’s vulnerable to overwhelming work orders.
“Last week there were 30 saddles that needed fixed,” he says.

Maurizio learned leather from his father. The two crafted shoes together in a confined space just big enough for themselves and their stacks of handmade shoes. His father’s teaching, coupled with his own passion for horses, drove him to his current profession of saddle making. His expertise was not honed by an instructor. Just as mechanics dismantle and rebuild engines to gain understanding, so, too, did Maurizio as he refined his saddle-making skills. He learned his craft by ripping threads, then restringing them. He polished that craft in repetition, perfected it through creation.

Though it’s been decades since Maurizio has worked as a cobbler, his current shop reeks of new-shoe smell. Italian, Spanish and American saddles – some more than 100 years old – line the walls. Some are mementos from his heroes. Others declare his skill and craftsmanship. Leather-scrap confetti sprinkles the worktables and machinery in his shop space.

Maurizio slaps three saddle harness belts across the table, then wiggles them one at a time into his two-foot wooden vice grips. After buffing the brass buckles, he hand sews them into the folded, leather bands. The perforated line along the harness belts guide his needle. His eyes focus on his hands as he stitches frantically, but not recklessly.

 “I study the old to create as new,” he says.

Maurizio leans across his worktable and digs through the pile of tools and gadgets. Standing up again, he purses his lips to the side as he shuffles toward his wall of countless contraptions. Ah hah! He grabs the leather hole punch gauge he was searching for and notches the buckle holes.

At last, it’s time for finishing touches. He turns on the leather polisher; its buzz overtakes the room. First, he buffs the five feet of the strap’s flat side, then the other, then each edge.

Maurizio lays down his handiwork and retraces his steps for the next belt as he looks at the handful of other straps to make for this particular saddle.

Only 99 more hours to go.


Maurizio Nicoletti hand-stitches the leather belts of his saddle's undercarriage.

Maurizio Nicoletti stitches a buffed brass buckle into a leather strap for a horse saddle.

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