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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 12, 2002 - Issue 53


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Craft Series - Tanning - Preparing a Hide for Clothing

by Lynne Sageflower Pennington

First, I want to Thank everyone for understanding about my computer problems. My husband had to replace our motherboard and a few other parts in our computer.

I had an appointment to speak with a friend of my husband about tanning hides however a week before we were to meet his wife called to inform us he had passed on from a heart attack. I felt lost at that point. 

I tried to contact another man via email because he also is a tanner and has some great articles on his web site about the history and tanning but he never e-mailed me back so I am attempting do this article myself. So here we go.....

Preparing a Hide for Clothing

I was only going to do this article just on Brain Tanning but decided to do two articles starting from after the hide is removed from the animal to the finished product.

This first Article will deal with two of the processes that are done to a hide and the tools that are used, Fleshing and De-Hairing a hide. The next article will deal with Brain Tanning-Dry Scraping and Wet Scraping, Stretching a hide and Smoking.

From prehistoric times to the present, one of the ways people all over the world have clothed themselves is with animal skins. Before making the clothing, the hides had to go though several processes to soften and make them pliable. Around the world people use different methods of achieving this.

There is are some excellent sites that talk of the history of brain tanning. I have put the links below under History. I have found these articles very interesting to read. There are also some excellent books on the market which I have also listed below plus a video.

What is Fleshing?
Fleshing removes the membranes, fat, meat, and other tissues from the hide. It is best done while the hide is still fresh, after it is thawed from being frozen or if the hide has been re-hydrated after it has been dried.
How is it done?

The tools used in fleshing are a knife, and a hoe like tool. In the past they were made from the bones or antler of an animal with a piece of metal or flat stone attached to them. Today tanners use knifes at different angles, cement trowels, a piece of flexible box strapping and a small hand hoe-one used for a garden tool.

Below are some picture of tools from the past as well as present day tools.

Hide Tools
The pictures on the left and right are fleshing tools.
The middle one is a scraper

Fleshing Tools
Modern fleshing tools
What is De-Hairing the hide?

De-hairing depends on the project you have planned for the hide. If you are making a pouch you may want to leave on the hair however if you want to use the hide to make clothing you want to take the hair off.

How is this process done?

There are two ways to de-hair a hide.

One way is to soak the hide in water for several days until the bacteria that builds up loosening and separating the epidermis layers and the hair. After this occurs it is then stretched onto a frame or laid over a beaming log. Scraping tools are used against the grain of the hair to remove it.

The other way is to take wood ash lye and spread it all over the hair side of the hide. Then it is rolled up, hair side in, and tied. After 4-5 days it is unrolled to see if the hair will pull out easily. If not a little more wood ash lye can be added and then it will be rolled up again and checked every few days. When the hair is easy to pull out a scraper is used against the grain of the hair to remove it.

Below are some pictures on past scraping tools used and tools that are used in the present.

Past Scraping tools
Past Scraping tools
Modern Scraping Tools
Some of the Modern Scraping Tools
Beaming Log and Beaming Scraper
Beaming Log and Beaming Scraper
Cree Woman from Canada working on beaming log with her hide
Cree Woman from Canada working on beaming log with her hide
Three Stoney Women on the Morley Reserve in Canada scraping a hide
Three Stoney Women on the Morley Reserve in Canada scraping a hide
Woman Scraping a hide.
Woman Scraping a hide.
The other processes of Tanning to be continued in the next issue.
Related Links:

Tanning  - Awesome site filled with numerous articles - MUST READ site


I will put more sites on the next article

  • The Complete Book of Tanning Skins and Furs by James Churchhill
  • Home Book of Taxidermy and Tanning by Gerald J Grantz
  • Tan Your Hide by Phyliss Hobson
  • Deerskins into Buckskins by Matt Richards
I will put more books on the next article

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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