You guys. It’s cold. But. I did hide work for a couple hours after dark today.
This bad boy, who is definitely getting split into 2 pelts after smoking, finally doesn’t have wet wool anymore.
I was getting a little worried about this one because the skin side felt a bit strange – like a little extra greasy from the tanning dressing maybe. I worried it wouldn’t soften or the leather dry correctly. But it’s acting just as I expect it to.
That’s just from hand stretching. Pulling on it, basically. Where it’s white, it’s done. Where it’s yellow- brown, it needs to be broken and softened. I used my hands and my ulu to work it tonight.
You can see the difference that softening makes. It really transforms it.
This sheepskin isn’t even dry in the leather yet, so I’ve got much more stretching and breaking to do. I’ll need to keep doing it – softening with hand and tool – until the leather is totally dry. Then it will (finally) be ready for smoking.
I also started dry membraning the custom deer skin.
Basically I just sat on the floor with it and scraped it with my dull tools. I needed to scrape off the stuck salt, and then get at the membrane. It’s not as dry as I thought it was (thanks weather!) so I didn’t get all the membrane off tonight.
Hopefully you can tell from the photos what the membrane is, if you’re not sure.
The membrane is that thin, papery layer. It lives between the flesh of the animal and the actual skin. If you think of the skin as an organ (because it is…) it makes sense that it would be encased in its own membrane. Almost like the skin’s skin. Technically you can tan with it on, but removing it yields a softer more supple result.
I’d really like to get it off before I tan this deer. I just don’t enjoy wet membraning as much, and the cold isn’t conducive to it.
Next time I’m able to get back to it, it’ll be even drier and I’ll get the rest of the membrane off. I have some pumice coming, which I’m excited to try and expecting to be a tremendous help.
Progress is happening, but for the sake of my purse I wish it was faster.
With highs in the low 30s and lows in the teens, Minnesota is definitely getting ready to welcome Winter. I have to plan my tanning work around the weather, balancing the feeling of rushing for holiday hide sales with how cold I’m willing to be, and taking care of my baby and unrelated small business while my husband works full time.
All this is to say: I haven’t gotten a lot done lately but I’ve done a few things!
Progress on sheepskins today! I scraped the shearling that I’d recently pickled. It was mostly done already, but I got some membrane off.
I also stretched it a bit over my beam because it’s stretched unevenly, which I’ve noticed seems to happen easily with lamb skin. Then I got a tanning dressing on it. I used my trusty soap, water, and neatsfoot oil solution.
When I apply the tanning dressing, I spoon it on first to try to control it. I don’t like it running off the edges and sinking into the hair/wool if I can avoid it. (If you’re a real stickler for that, then make the dressing with less water so that it’ll have a more gel-like consistency when it cools.) Then I rub it in with my hands.
I scraped the large hide that I had pickled as well. It’s still soaking wet and not likely to get any drier until I get it on a frame, so I applied the tanning dressing to it.
It’s a bit oddly shaped. The edges of it were actually nibbled on by rodents; this happened because I hadn’t fleshed it fully before curing and storing it in my garage for, oh, years. Rodents will apparently eat salt-cured sheep fat, and happily. I don’t usually trim hides until I’m done stretching them, but I made an exception here and cut off a couple parts that were just silly.
These two hides will sit with their dressing for at least 24 hours.
I’ll hand-stretch the shearling, but the full-fleeced hide will have to go on a frame; it’s the only way I can imagine the wool will dry. It’s just so wet still, and not going to dry easily in this freezing, snowy weather we’ve been gifted.
I need to get the woodstove set up in my shop, but I also need to buy a couple pieces of chimney pipe and I’m quite broke at the moment (life, etc.) so it’ll have to wait!
I’m very grateful to have sold two sheepskins recently, and to have the potential for some paid custom tanning in my near future.
My little daughter is asleep at my breast as I write this and I. Am. Tired. My body is remembering what it takes to do this work of tanning skins the traditional way. I’ve got a couple blisters forming on my hands where old calluses had softened. My muscles are sore and my back is stiff. It’s good though; I’m rebuilding my strength. The muscle memory is still there.
This morning I gently washed the skin in my tub (smelly). I got the whole sopping thing back outside to dry, and by this evening it didn’t look too bad.
I’m surprised at how much lanolin washed out of the wool. I’m not sure I like that, and think I’ll forego the laundry soap with the next one I wash.
I applied my tanning dressing (soap, water, and neatsfoot oil) to the big creamy wooly one; I don’t think I had done so in ’19, and I don’t think another coat will hurt anyway. Here’s that guy:
I’d like to give it just one final scrape with my blunt tool tomorrow and then smoke it. We’ll see. If the other big one actually dries I’ll feel more confident washing this one.
The weather – that I was so stressed about – has given me a bit of a reprieve. Looks like I’ve got 5 days before freezing nighttime temps.
In other news, the shearling is looking and feeling great, and I’m dreaming of sheepskin mittens. I found a pattern that I think even i can follow to success.
It’s raining, 40*, and the sun went down at 6:30. So naturally I actually had time for hide work!
I dragged one of the 2019 wooly skins into the front room of my house; it’s the least nice room and unfinished, so I feel justified doing weird and dirty projects in there.
This skin is large, the wool thick and long and creamy. The dried blood in the nape has long oxidized to purple. It still smells exactly like one of my sheep, and I’m hit with a pang of nostalgia as I think about my empty barn, which now houses only a riding mower and, probably, mice.
Since the world only spins forward, I focus on the work in front of me. Right. The wool is filthy, there’s still salt stuck to the skin, and though I’ve tawed this hide, I can see that I did a half-ass job fleshing it. Maybe I was crunched for time, maybe I was exhausted. I can’t remember, but either way I’m going to have to finish fleshing this thing before I can wash it.
Fleshing is removing the flesh and fat that’s still attached to the skin after skinning. It’ll rot the hide if not removed. Well – it would have, if I hadn’t tawed it with salt and alum. I’ve found that alum forgives a multitude of tanning sins.
What I accomplished tonight was just brushing out the wool. It’s too dark out to work on fleshing outside, plus it’s raining. And that’s not something I’m willing to do in the house with an infant.
So here’s where I’m at in the process with this big wooly:
Finish fleshing, possibly including putting a soap and oil dressing on so that it’s soft enough to work