Chaps by an Artisan

05 Apr 2021

The softest leather, an original design and meticulous hand tools create this utilitarian style item for riders

By Lesley Berkshire Bradley  »  Photos by Brandon Williams

Sandy Hinton’s resume covers a lot of ground —  wannabe jockey, turkey farmer, thoroughbred racehorse trainer, Certified Nursing Assistant —but here in the Sandhills she is best known for her exceptional bespoke leather chaps. In fact, her nickname is ‘The Chap Lady’.

Chaps, abbreviated from the Spanish chaparreras, are leather leg coverings originally designed to protect cowboys’ legs, and are worn over jeans or riding britches. Today, chaps are worn by all manner of riders, from cowboys to dressage riders to jockeys. They are as much a style item as they are utilitarian.

But the fit is the key. “They should fit like a glove and be well-crafted. You can see it and feel it”, explains Hinton. “The way the yoke (the part that fits across the rider’s hips) spreads and comes down the side is critical, and making sure the leather on the legs doesn’t roll when the rider is in the saddle.”

Hinton started sewing 30 years ago when she needed to make a Halloween costume for her young son, and kept going from there.

“I was sewing everything from bikinis to ballgowns!”

With no formal apprenticeship, she began working with local leathercrafters, mostly men, helping make repairs to leather goods, fixing zippers, and “doing the little things”. Then, she started measuring her family for chaps and using them for practice, amassing the needed supplies and tools along the way; the knives, mauls, mallets, punches, edgers, burnishers. Learning to select the leather, cut the hide, size it, gauge and stitch the line, burnish the edges.

“Practice, practice, practice,” Hinton reflects.

Her shop houses five specialized sewing machines, bolts of fine leather, leather works-in-progress, and jars of well-worn, wooden-handled leather working tools. Her favorite machine is a Singer sewing machine circa 1906. The 50-pound Singer is mounted to a board so she can carry it to events and do her work on-site.

Artists work with paint, brushes and canvasses. Hinton uses leather and her special tools to create one-of-a-kind chaps and leather goods for her clients. For her hand-tooling, sometimes she creates her own designs, and other times she may use a design made by local artists.

She estimates that she has made “hundreds” of chaps, and many customers have multiple pairs.

She rattles off the names of local horse people, celebrities really, who have worn her chaps… “Leonard Short at Mile Away… huntsman Lincoln Sadler…renowned equine veterinarian Fred McCashen…he has five pairs.”

She is not afraid of working hard, trying something new or “doing men’s work”. Afterall, she was a woman turkey farmer who raised 4,000 hens and 350 Toms. And, as a self-described wannabe jockey, she put in her time as a groom in order to work her way up to training racehorses.

“My Dad taught me to set my goals and work to achieve them,” Hinton says.

Before it closed, Southern Pines Tack and Saddlery was her home-base, promoting her chaps. Hinton is more comfortable doing the behind-the-scenes work, not the marketing.

“People would line up to get measured…they had to get a pair of Sandy’s chaps,” she says, chuckling.

And she takes enormous pride in her work, doing all of her leather work by hand. A pair of custom chaps can take a week to complete.

“I don’t rush through things; I want it to be right.”

The Chap Lady custom chaps are best known for their fit, beautiful leather (cow or elk), leather color choices, hand-tooled details and engraved conchos (like a medallion).

Donna Verrilli, a member of the Moore County Hounds, owns a pair of Hinton’s chaps embellished with hand-tooled dogwood blossoms and foxes on the yoke along with an engraved sterling silver concho centered on the back.

“Sandy is a meticulous artist in her profession. As she was fitting me and measuring me, we fed off of each other’s ideas for the design. I knew I wanted the softest leather available since it is the easiest to break-in,” explains Verrilli.

Not afraid to try something new, when Sandy was approached by a biker who wanted to recover his motorcycle seat, she said “yes”. And, from there she began attending biker events from Myrtle Beach to Daytona Beach, selling motorcycle leathers.

“The bikers will say, ‘You made that?!’,  surprised that a woman does leather work. The bikers are great to work with and are big tippers!”, she laughs.

Hinton’s work goes beyond chaps and biker leathers. “I just like to make stuff” she explains.

The Chap Lady makes brow bands in stable colors, belts and dog collars made of top-of-the-line English bridle leather and even passport covers, which she sells directly to customers and at local craft shows. She even made a series of leather baby moccasins using bright colored butter-soft leather. She is currently experimenting with women’s handbags; practicing the techniques needed to create the right look and feel of a couture designer purse, completely handmade and hand-stitched.

“I usually will do something three times before I get it right; practicing making each piece by hand. If I am not good at it, I don’t do it.”

Hinton happily shares her workshop with her son, Tom, who makes the custom Heirloom bags  for local leather goods maker and retailer R. Riveter. Tom learned the craft right alongside his mom, sewing his own GI Joe clothes (no wonder he joined the Army after high school), then learning leatherwork, creating a holster for his cap gun. Tom joins his mother afternoons, working quietly alongside each other.

“We like the work that others find tedious,” Hinton adds.

Hinton feels blessed to live in Moore County surrounded by other horse lovers, her husband (a local farrier) and her son, and living a quiet, but useful life.

“I am lucky to be doing something that makes me jump up in the morning,” declares The Chap Lady.

For more information on The Chap Lady visit or via email at

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