Win a copy of Bioshelter Market Garden this week in the Market Garden forum!
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • James Freyr
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Anne Miller
  • r ranson
  • Mike Jay Haasl
  • Dave Burton
  • Pearl Sutton
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Joseph Lofthouse
garden masters:
  • Steve Thorn
gardeners:
  • Dan Boone
  • Carla Burke
  • Kate Downham

Making goatskin and sheepskin rugs, shoes, and clothes

 
gardener & author
Posts: 655
Location: Tasmania
319
homeschooling goat forest garden fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation pig wood heat homestead
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I thought I was a few months away from researching this, but it turns out that a sheep butchered for us ended up having more wool than was expected, and there's enough on there to make a sheepskin rug! The skin is now in salt, so I now need to figure out what to do next...

I found this video, and this looks like a good method of making rugs without toxic weird stuff:


From the video description:

This is how we make really lovely sheepskin floor rugs - using only soap, salt, oxalic acid, washing soda and oil. They're so cheap and easy to make and you mostly just need household products to do it.

There are different ways of curing, drying and tanning skins and fleeces, depending on what you want them for. But most use seriously nasty chemicals. Our method is simpler and much less toxic, and they end up perfect for floor rugs or for taking outside by the bonfire, but they are not soft enough for, say, making a coat  (you'd need to tan them for that and that's a different process).

So this is a really easy and inexpensive method and you end up with something lovely and warm and friendly -- but it's a little bit stiff too. Ok?

The abattoir should just give you back the skins from your own sheep/lambs/goats/calves. And even if you don't have any sheep of your own, you should have no problem getting some -- the abattoir get next to nothing for them. Pick the best and cleanest you can though, and save yourself a lot of work.

YOU'LL NEED:
Salt -- the cheap and cheerful sort
Washing Soda -- again cheap and cheerful
Neatsfoot oil -- from your hardware shop or saddle shop
Saddle soap -- from the same places.
Oxalic acid -- through your chemist/drugstore or order online. This is the same acid that's found in rhubarb leaves so theoretically you could make your own, but it's very cheap to buy.

You will also need:
a large bath or barrel
Wire brush/comb -- hardware shop or petshop
Somewhere to hang the skins while they dry - which could be a week or more.

The precise amount you use isn't absolutely critical. For each 2 gallon bucket of water, we use approximately:

1 kilo salt  (about 2lbs)
1 cup of powdered oxalic acid

Then later, for the first wash,
1 cup of washing soda crystals for each bucketful water.


WARNING -- these go through a smelly stage while they're drying out, so be warned!


But I was also wondering if there are alternative ways to prepare the skin that would make it soft enough to use the skins for clothes or houseshoes/slippers?

I was reading in John Seymour's "Forgotten Arts and Crafts" that tanning was done with tannin-rich plants such as oak bark, but there's no precise instructions on how to do it.

Does anyone have any ideas, stories, or information to share about preparing skins?
 
Kate Downham
gardener & author
Posts: 655
Location: Tasmania
319
homeschooling goat forest garden fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation pig wood heat homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here's another video I found:

This one uses alum in the soaking water (I'm not quite sure what that is, and what an alternative for it would be)
Instead of oiling the skin with neatsfoot oil, it uses egg yolks, and then sands the skin once it's dry.
I wonder if I could follow the washing soda/salt method from the first video, but use egg yolk instead of oil? Or if it would work with sunflower oil/olive oil/other easily-found oil instead?
 
Kate Downham
gardener & author
Posts: 655
Location: Tasmania
319
homeschooling goat forest garden fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation pig wood heat homestead
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I found an article going into detail about doing this: https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/tanning-sheepskin-zmaz75ndzgoe


[1] OBTAIN THE HIDE . . . no problem if you have your own sheep. Otherwise, check with someone in your area who does slaughtering. The commercial houses don't buy any sheepskins from our local man, and he'd been throwing them out . . . so we've asked him to save them for us.

Remember that sheepskins must be cooled before they're salted (how many hours this cooling takes depends on the weather). If someone is saving hides for you, ask him to spread them flesh side up and not to stack them. Then, pick up the skins as soon as possible and get them treated.

[2] SALT. First cut off any large pieces of meat and fat and trim ragged areas from the edges of the hide. Then apply a good half inch of plain granulated salt on every square inch of the pelt’s flesh side. Watch for folds . . . the skin can putrefy at those points and the smell will be terrible. And don't try to cut costs by skimping on the preservative! There's no need to do so anyway . . . we paid $1.95 for 100 pounds of fine salt at the grocery.

[3] SCRAPE OR FLESH. After four days brush the salt off and with a knife (or bare fingers, if necessary) pull away the thin adhering layers of meat and fat. Be careful not to tear the hide by getting too rough with your blade. A railing, sawhorse, or stall divider in the barn can serve as a fleshing beam on which to spread the skin while you work.

An hour of effort should get the worst of the scraping behind you. As the flesh pulls free you'll also be removing much of the muscular inner skin, which must eventually come off altogether to reveal the fine, already leather–like area beneath. You can attack this residue periodically while the hide is in the tanning solution.

[4] TAN. As I've already mentioned, the tanning solution we used consisted of 1 pint of salt and 2 ounces of oxalic to each gallon of water. It's possible to do as we did the first time and brush the chemical onto the flesh side of the skins. Keep the surface dampened by applying the mixture twice a day, and between applications stack the hides two-by-two with their back sides together (or fold a single pelt in half, flesh side in). This process should take four days.

Now that I've had a little experience, though, I think it’s preferable to just immerse the entire hide in the liquid. Then you can work from time to time at getting off that darned thin muscular layer without having to repaint each pelt with the solution every time (since you'll 'be submerging it again anyhow). The skins will be ready after 48 to 72 hours soaking.

If you go this route, of course, You'll have to find container — such as a large canning crock or wooden barrel that won't be eaten up by the acid solution. The drum liners which bag companies supply for the shipping of chemicals could, however, be used to adapt a plastic or metal vessel for your purpose.

[5] NEUTRALIZE AND WASH. Rinse the hide in water, and then give it two washings in several gallons of water which you've added a cup of washing soda. Follow this important step — which removes the acid from the skin — with several launderings in soap, detergent, or Woolite. Rinse until the water remains clear.

[6] DRY AND SOFTEN. Wring out as much water possible, since the wool acts like a sponge and would take forever to drip dry. If the weather is warm, you can hang hide outside. Otherwise, you can proceed — as we did — to a very cautious use of the clothes dryer on its lowest setting. (Lacking both a dryer and a sunny spell, you'll have to resort to a hair dryer, or lots of wringing and separating the wool to encourage the moisture to leave.) In any case, the fleece will dry first . . . and while it still feels a bit damp is a good time to apply saddle soap and neat's-foot oil or leather conditioner to the skin side of the pelt.

As the hide dries, keep pulling and stretching it in all directions. This separates the leather fibers and keeps the rug from hardening like a plank. The skin may look yellowish in areas where the surface is drying, but its hue will lighten as you work. The finished product should be white (or slightly tan from the oil dressing), soft and supple.

Don't think that you can just apply a bit of softening agent to the damp hide and have the skin turn out like glove leather. Pulling, rubbing, and stretching periodically while the drying goes on Is the only way to produce a nice inner surface rather than a brown board.

[7] COMB-OUT. As long as the skin and fleece are damp it's very easy to pull the wool out, so resist the temptation to get on with the brushing until the whole thing is dry. Then draw the fingers of fleece apart and groom the curly mass into a finished product (after which you. may want to add a backing to your rug). Shorter-wooled hides make great slippers, vests, and so on.

 
Posts: 59
8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Subscribed with interest!
 
Kate Downham
gardener & author
Posts: 655
Location: Tasmania
319
homeschooling goat forest garden fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation pig wood heat homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
More links...
Lots of helpful pictures on this one: https://www.yellowbirchhobbyfarm.com/how-to-make-a-sheepskin-rug/

A long and confusing comments section on this one: https://www.backcountrychronicles.com/how-to-tan-a-hide/

One comment said that using 2 quarts of white vinegar to every pound of skin and pound of salt can be used instead of the oxalic acid in the water. I'm not sure how much the skin would weigh without the wool on it, so I don't know how much vinegar to use, but the oxalic acid amounts recommended by people seem to change depending on who is writing the directions, so I don't think I can go too badly wrong with vinegar.
 
Posts: 15
Location: Nelson, VA
7
kids rabbit homestead
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The process above is not actually tanning the hide, it's called pickling, and was a common process used to preserve the hides for short periods of time for transport or to save enough hides to sell, and to preserve the hair by preventing bacterial growth. Oxalic acid doesn't have any actual tanning properties. Pickling works short term, but isn't a great option if you want a durable long lasting hide.

My main suggestion is to use emulsified oils and woodsmoke. It's how I've done most of my hides. The brain of the sheep is a wonderful source of lecithin, a tanning agent. You can boil the brain in a small amount of water and apply to the flesh side of the hide. This is a very common practice called brain tanning, and it was one that native Americans used all the time. Another source is egg yolks. You can research both of these methods online, their is a great deal of information about them, including the chemical process. But basically, you mash the boiled brain and water, and apply the brain-paste to the flesh side of the hide. You then rub and work the solution into the hide, and fold the skin flesh sides together, and allow the lecithin to do it's work.

You can also brush the back of the hide with vegetable tannins. I make a solution using acorns and oak galls. I brush the tanning solution onto the skin about 3 times a day and make sure it doesn't dry out in the mean time. The tanning solution is made by soaking the acorns in cold water for about a week, then removing the vegetable matter (you don't want starches in your tanning solution)
Once the hide has been tanned, cut a small strip from the edge and look at it from the side. You want to see the literal tan color all the way through the skin, if it's white in the middle it still needs to continue being treated with the tanning solution.

Once the hide is tanned, I always smoke the hide to add tannins and ensure the skin is tanned, and to waterproof the hide, as moisture is a hides worst enemy. Again, you can research this process online, but the basic method is to tie it up near a stove or fire, and let the smoke billow onto the skin continually for several hours. The creosote and chemicals in the smoke continue tanning the hide and preserve and treat it against moisture. I made a special smoking stove with a perforated pipe off to the side. I tie the hide around the perforated pipe, and the cooled smoke billow up the pipe and onto the skin.

Good luck with your hides! I'm sure they will be beautiful 😍
 
Kate Downham
gardener & author
Posts: 655
Location: Tasmania
319
homeschooling goat forest garden fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation pig wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you Amanda!

Good timing as well, I just picked up the hide and meat yesterday. I'd asked for the head as a friend of mine wanted to try an Icelandic dish that uses it, so if I can figure out how to get the brain out, I can use that.

I will post pictures here.
 
pollinator
Posts: 638
Location: SE Ohio
42
goat rabbit books fiber arts sheep homestead
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Using alum is the easiest way to do and soften it /but/ if it gets wet you have to soften it again. it's like the 'for decoration' tan. from what I've seen/read/heard.
I'm getting things in order to do 3 ram lambs and a 2y/o ram myself. So I'm also trying to decide what to try with the hides. At least if I have a go and ruin them, they won't be completely wasted. And if any turn out, even better! ha!
 
You’ll find me in my office. I’ll probably be drinking. And reading this tiny ad.
A rocket mass heater heats your home with one tenth the wood of a conventional wood stove
http://woodheat.net
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!