I am often asked what the difference is between a manufactured bridle and a handmade bridle. The short answer is time, manufactured bridles, while made by people so could be classed as “handmade”, are made on a production line. One person cuts a batch of about 15 bridle parts out, the next stains and polishes, the next preps for stitching etc. They are usually paid per item so the pressure is on to get as many finished as possible.
Buckle turns and billets are often hand-stitched on the higher end manufactured bridles, headpieces, browbands and nosebands are machine stitched. The lower end bridles are entirely machine stitched which can explain why keepers fall out prematurely due to the machinist not being able to get the machine to stitch close enough. Read more about machine stitching versus hand stitching here.
Due to the bridles being batch produced, one bridle is not made from the same hide therefore discrepancies can occur in colour and quality of leather. This would explain one cheekpiece stretching more than the other for example.
Sewing machines, while limited to their operator’s skill level, can stitch up to 2,500 stitches per minute while even speedy hand stitching is around six stitches per minute.
A handmade bridle is cut out all at once from the same hide apart from the odd circumstance when a hide isn’t long enough. In this case the maker will take great care to match the hides up in quality and colour. Platforms and buckle turns will be full thickness leather for strength, while many manufactured bridles have had their platforms and turns split down in thickness to make it easier and therefore faster to stitch through.
Keep in mind that cost does not always guarantee quality but if the bridle is low priced there will be compromises made along the line to achieve this, whether it is materials or time. Any bespoke bridle maker will be happy to explain the processes of how they make the bridles so do ask if unsure as to what you are paying for.