Today I worked on one of the shearling skins that I tawed and tanned in ’19. I didn’t remove all of the membrane, which is the very thin layer of peel-away epidermis on top of the skin that gets nice and smooth and soft when turned to leather. Removing the membrane is part of the fleshing and scraping/breaking/softening processes.
Since I had already applied my soap tanning solution to this hide, today I just rehydrated it a bit with pure neatsfoot oil, my fave leather conditioner and part of my tanning dressing. This was a good idea on my part as it made the leather really nice and supple.
Here’s where you can see membrane that I’m scraping away, and the slight darkening effect of the neatsfoot.
I brought my work into the garage; it was in the 40’s, meaning Minnesota is remembering herself and not going to be faffing about with this unseasonably warm weather anymore.
I also got to put a tanning dressing on a stiff, long-wooled hide today. I think this one had been tanned but not broken or softened, or smoked. If I tried to work the leather as is, my tools would have pushed right through. It was that hard and therefore brittle.
I was able to dress it with my tanning solution because I made soap last night. (I’ve written pretty extensively on Hubpages about soap-making, so I’m not going to explain it here).
To make my tanning dressing, I boil a pot of water and grate a bar of plain, unscented, handmade lard or tallow soap. When the water boils, I add the grated soap and stir.
I keep stirring with the pot on the heat until all the soap is dissolved. For those playing along at home, the mixture will be cloudy, slightly bubbly, and still water-thin at this point.
With the soap dissolved, I remove the solution from the heat and pour it into a bucket. I then immediately add a good portion of neatsfoot oil (probably 1.5 cups) and stir.
Do not judge my dirty bucket and cracked spoon, lest ye shitty containers and utensils be judged!
I stir gently until the oil, water, and soap have formed a homogenous solution. Then I stir occasionally until the whole thing cools down to room temperature or a little warmer.
Then I spread it all over the skin of the hide! I let this soak in until the skin is opaque; could be a day or two. I might apply more as time goes on. It depends how things are looking.
For the hide I’m doing now, I think it’ll only need to sit with the dressing overnight. I did my best to work it into the dry leather. We’ll see if it works to get the skin back to a state I can do something with. If it doesn’t, I feel pretty shrug about it. I have other skins.
Here’s the shearling after oiling but before I took the mezzaluna to it.
It’ll be nice when it’s done. I’m not sure if I’ll put it up for sale or try to make something out of it.
Also, I haven’t forgotten about big and wooly! That sheepskin is needing its dressing and smoking, but honestly I wanted to test this tanning dressing on a hide I care less about first, since I haven’t made it in a while. If all goes well, I’ll be smoking the big one, the shearling, and maybe even the un-stiffened one sometime this week.