The other day I saw rain in the forecast for the first time in a while and thought, “how do sheep get clean?” I had the idea to set out a couple of the skins to be rained on, hoping that the wool would be washed out. This seemed safer to me than washing them by hand – I’m worried about felting the wool by mistake.

Though the rain certainly did the skins no harm, it didn’t leave them completely clean either. I’ll still need to hand wash them either in my bathtub (undesirable) or under the hose outside (cold).

Usually I would wash blood and gunk out of a skin after fleshing it, before acidification, but I obviously didn’t get the wool clean with these. I was rushing, fighting the weather and running out of time, just trying to preserve them from decay and wool loss.

The rain experiment wasn’t totally worthless though, because one of the wet skins is a shearling hide that it turns out I had actually soap tanned back in ’19. I could tell by the way the leather repelled water; it beaded up on it.

The shearling just needs to be oiled, smoked, and washed at this point!

Today I finished scraping and breaking the big white one.

I’m really happy with where it’s at. It’ll be getting a dressing of soap and oil in the next few days to soften up the stiffer bits that I couldn’t work on without damaging. This is mainly the edges, which I’ll trim to some extent anyway. Especially the nape, which I suspect is not just stained but actually dyed by old blood.

I’m surprised at how easily this hide is breaking without having it stretched on a frame. To compensate, I’m draping it over a tall painting easel and gripping the top with one hand while I scrape with the other.

I love the sound my new breaking tool makes against the leather. It reminds me of the whisper-shush of a scythe blade from when I used to mow buckwheat. I stood outside in the cold and worked my sheepskin today; it was quiet and I was alone but for my work and my thoughts. Good company, actually.

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