What can be done with sleigh bell straps?
Use original strap as is or repair it
Some people ask me if their old sleigh bell strap can be repaired. Frankly, most bell straps we see are in tough shape. Even if a strap is still looks reasonably good, the leather fibers are usually weakened from age and use. Leather in that condition really cannot be repaired successfully. Gluing or stitching a reinforcement or patch along one part of a strap puts more stress on adjacent leather and hastens its deterioration.
If you are lucky enough to have one of the few straps that is intact and in fairly good condition, congratulations! You may want to consider having us remove the bells; clean and condition the leather; make minor repairs to the strap; and replace the bells.
Photo: Typical sleigh bells and strap before restoration. This hardened, cracked strap is not a candidate for cleaning and repairing. Its design could be used as a pattern for a new strap, however.
Make a new strap similar to the original
Many of our clients ask us to make a new strap that is similar to the original strap, if it still exists. We ask that any parts of the old strap be sent with the bells, if possible, so we can match our work to the original. Sometimes the strap was discarded long ago, and only the bells remain. If that is the case, that is not a problem. We have the background and experience to re-create a new strap that is period-correct for the bells.
Iif the new strap is made to the same standards as the original bell strap, the new strap will not reduce the value of the bells. This rules out the use of purple leather and rhinestone buckles, but it still leaves a lot of room for creativity. There were many different bell straps made 100 to 150 years ago, so there is a wide variety of historically accurate designs to choose from. To learn more about bell strap designs, please see these sections in our website:
For restoration work, I recommend sticking with historically accurate leather colors -- black, dark brown, or medium brown . Dark brown is the most popular. View a color swatch...
Make a new strap different from the original
Lots of people like sleigh bells, but some are concerned that a long, skinny sleigh bell strap will look awkward hanging on a wall. Other folks want to give heirloom sleigh bells to family members without hurt feelings or fights. Still more people have just a few bells they would like to enjoy and want to know how to display a small group of bells. The solution I've found for these situations is to adapt traditional designs to smaller pieces that better fit our modern use of sleigh bells as decoration. Here are some ideas:
Design a shorter version of the original long strap: It is fairly easy to shorten a 6 to 8 foot long "body" strap into a "neck" strap 3 to 5 feet long that will look great hanging on a door or wall or lying on a mantle piece. We usually accomplish this by spacing the bells closer together. Sometimes the buckle and billet ends can also be shortened a bit. See our article about Neck Straps and examples in custom projects. Another way to make a shorter piece is to put two or more rows of bells on a wider belt of leather; this is a style called a "pony" strap. There are examples of pony straps in custom unlined straps.
Make one or more short "display" straps: A display strap is basically a section from the middle of a sleigh bell strap. A display strap typically has a hanging ring at one end and an attractive "tip" of leather at the other. Because display straps are simpler to make than a full-blown sleigh bell strap, they are a cost effective way to share sleigh bells with family and friends. See ready-made door straps and custom door straps.
Create entirely new designs: We have created a number of custom designs for past clients, often using traditional harness decorations for inspiration. We construct these pieces with traditional harness-making techniques and materials. See our "dag", "harness drop", and other custom designs in ready-made door straps and custom door straps.