I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
The joys of brain tanning
June 8, 2019
Dirt under the fingernails from a day in the garden is blissful. Why not take it one step further with animal flesh under the fingernails? I spent the day scraping raw hide from a lovely mountaint goat and it was glorious. Every animal has enough brain to tan itself.
It’s another one of those moments in life where you do that double take like seriously there ya so so much to learn. Even in this one skill, the complexities and subtleties are endless. I’ve tanned a couple of skins now and I reckon I need to put about 9,999 more hours in befor I get to that sweet spot. (They say that you’ve got to put your 10,000 hours in to master a skill rifght?) actually, to get the skins beautiful, soft and luscious like the true buckskin trousers of Old you’d probably need a few more hours on top of that.
I’ve got to say, I loved the process and even made my son a nice rabbit fur hat, this one tanned with oil and egg yolk. Every one of these traditional skills is so labour intensive that you can see how the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ theory applies. Yes, I dabbled in tanning but mastery. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. (Certainly not before I find a reliable source of skins.)
So the basic process was
Skin the beast
Deflesh the hide with a specialised defleshing knife. It’s easier if you keep wetting it a bit so it’s nice and slides to work with
Make sure to remove the fascia- my rabbit had really stubborn, thick fascia. This meant that it was really hard to get off without ripping it but my mentor advised a pumice stone for next time (fascia is the collagen, cotton-looking layer that holds the muscle together)
Get skin to the ‘not wet not dry’ point by leaving in the sun
Stretch and pull the flesh in your hands so it can absorb the tanning solution
Coat in tanning solution and keep stretching and pulling it
Give the skin a little rinse
Smoke the skin
These steps are seemingly fairly basic but a huge part of the art is the timing. Feeling the skin and knowing exactly how long it needs and working with the weather conditions to get the timing in the sun right. My hides were too wet and not stretched enough when I put the tanning solution on and I’ve ended up with real tough skins.
The whole process of a days work to make a hat got me thinking
‘Clothes maketh the man.’ Was I working to make the leather or was the leather working to make me?
As usual, another traditional skill that burns a huge number of calories for a very small product. Except that means a tangible connection to the thing made, a story in the garment worth telling, a fine day meeting people, and a better thing to do with your hands than the depressing Instagram thumb scroll.