Crosby Equilibrium Refab, Part 2

dyeing saddle leather black
I decided to dye my vintage Crosby Equilibrium saddle black. I warmed up to the idea after refabbing a vintage Courbette Stylist that was originally black, but the color had faded. For a gal that lives life in a thousand shades of brown, I thought the rich, low gloss of the black Stylist was lovely.

There's a big difference between adding color back to a saddle that was originally black compared to one that was not. In one case, you're matching an existing color, where the leather was dyed through-and-through black. In the case of the brown Crosby, it was never anything close to black in its heyday. Most likely, the Crosby Equilibrium was originally London Tan or Newmarket, if the plasticy finish on the seat was any indication.

mystery coating over leather seat
Whatever coating Crosby used on some of their old seat leather, it was certainly durable. It laughs in the face of deglazer.
The Crosby had a mystery coating on the seat. It came from the factory that way. While some of the coating had rubbed away over the years, there were still large areas where the coating was very much intact. As for longevity, that stuff is practically bulletproof. As for aesthetics after 30-some years, it's dreadful. A traditional penetrating dye would not penetrate, so I had to find a coating that would cover the old completely but not rub off.

Hey, if Crosby did it during the Cretaceous period, why couldn't I?

Stripping the Old Finish

No matter if you're restoring an existing color with dye, or changing colors completely, the first step is to remove the old finish. The most common product for this is called deglazer, made especially for smooth leather. Deglazer also dissolves old coatings, soaps and oils that would inhibit dye from penetrating evenly.

Fiebing's Deglazer with natural cotton rag
I apply Fiebing's Deglazer with a pure cotton rag. I purchase the larger economy size, but it's also available in 4 ounce bottles for smaller projects.
I use a lot of deglazer. By that, I mean I use it, then use it some more. I give everything a thorough rubdown with a nappy microfiber cloth in between deglazer applications to eliminate any hidden buildup of deglazer residue. That said, microfiber cloths are synthetic, and should not be used anywhere deglazer is still wet and active, or they may literally melt.

Especially in areas under the stirrup leathers or a seat that's been worn smooth from hard use, I use deglazer to open up leather fibers that have become compressed/tight/smooth and consequently more difficult to dye. Those areas typically take a few applications of deglazer.

deglazed saddle leather
A couple more sessions with deglazer, and it looks like a huge mistake that can never be salvaged.
Once the leather is stripped, dry and parched looking from deglazer, the fun starts. Or tears, depending.

Base Coat of Black with Vinegaroon

Before dyeing, I wanted to put down a base color of "black" using using vinegaroon. Vinegaroon works by reacting with the natural tannins in the leather, turning the leather darker. Ideally, it turns the leather black, but results vary from gray to dark brown to black depending on the type of leather, the original leather color, the strength of the vinegaroon, and how completely the vinegaroon can penetrate. One of the biggest benefits of vinegaroon over traditional dyes is it colors the leather from the inside out, meaning it's permanent and does not rub off.


Frankly, vinegaroon works best on untreated, natural leather, or leather that was black to begin with. Old saddle leather isn't always the best candidate for vinegaroon because it may already contain dyes and oils that prevent a complete color change. I had removed so much of the old finish on the Crosby with deglazer I felt vinegaroon could deepen my target true black color. I did not expect it to turn black with vinegaroon alone.

vinegaroon in plastic jug
I keep homemade vinegaroon under the sink with a little disclaimer not to throw out, despite its nasty appearance!
I applied the vinegaroon with an old cotton T shirt, working in small circles and rubbing in completely. The color change only takes a few minutes, so you can see lighter areas that might need another application.

saddle panel treated with vinegaroon
Left panel deglazed only. Right panel deglazed, then darkened with first application of vinegaroon.

vinegaroon applied to saddle flaps
As a base for blackest blacks, vinegaroon is the bomb! The color change with vinegaroon only takes a matter of minutes. The flaps and skirts accepted the color change well, but the seat was impervious to any color change whatsoever.
After 3 coats of vinegaroon I achieved maximum color change. After that, a fourth coat did not offer any darker/blacker color.

Eventually, the vinegaroon turned the a fairly uniform near-black color. This would have taken several days and coats of traditional black dye to accomplish, with all kinds of buildup that would inevitably result in years and years of rub-off.

Neutralize After Vinegaroon

After the final application of vinegaroon everything gets bathed in a solution of baking soda dissolved in water to neutralize the vinegar chemical action and reduce the offensive vinegar odor. Afterwards, rinse, rinse, and rinse some more with clean water.

With the vinegaroon neutralized and the leather rinsed clean, I left the saddle to dry completely 24 hours before going to the chemical leather dye step.

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