Tanning A Sheepskin Naturally


That's right, the Parks got a new rug!

My casual, totally normal, down to earth hobby this Summer was tanning my first sheepskin straight off the rams back that we butchered. You know those bleached mohawk sheepskins at Ikea that look more like the abominable snowman than a sheepskin? Well, I did the complete opposite of that... Zero chemicals, lots of sweat (like seriously), all organic. Why? Because almost every carpet on the planet is a toxic wasteland of synthetic fibers drenched in synthetic chemicals that "outgas" into your home. Because of this, Mike and I are in a slow transition to have all organic and natural fiber carpets, rugs, bedding, and even clothes. So this year represents only the first of many sheepskins to flood our floors and all other amazing uses...

So here are my non-comical steps to how I did it (which I learned with the help of this awesome tutorial) accompanied by semi-comical photographs. So for those who actually wants to know how to do this, can read, and those who just love the weird things I do, be my guest and photo binge!





SUPPLIES NEEDED


Tanning Stage:

  • A raw sheepskin
  • Large container of salt (get this at your local livestock feed store)
  • Palette or board
  • Large container with lid

For Frame:

  • 4 long young tree trunks for frame (longer than hide width and height)
  • 4 short thick branches (crossbeams for frame)
  • Handsaw or jigsaw
  • Screwdriver, hammer or rope
  • 50 feet of small rope 

For Treating the hide:

  • Organic/natural dish soap
  • Carding brush or dog brush with metal inward pointing bristles
  • Bristle/scrubby dish sponge
  • Sandpaper between 200-300 grit or pumice stone ( Can find these at London Drugs)



1. FLESH THE SHEEPSKIN

Once the hide was off the lamb, I took a sharp and small knife to separate any leftover flesh from the skin. The boys left me some lovely holes in the very center of the hide when they were stripping it... But because it was their first lamb skinning, I didn't give them a hard time ;) Thankfully holes, although inconvenient in the process, do not ruin the hide as you never see it as a rug or you can stitch them up after.








2. STORE IN SALT FOR AT LEAST 4 MONTHS

After fleshing, I put an a layer of salt of about an inch thick all over the skin, and had it slightly angled on a palette for two weeks to drain any excess blood. Once I reached the 2 weeks mark, I folded it in half, skin to skin, and in half again, then into a big plastic container with a lid. Let it sit for at least 4 months. While in storage, the salt actually tans the hide and preserves it.







3. BUILD A HIDE FRAME

Once the weather was warm and dry in July, I created a simple frame made out of young trees from our woods notched and screwed together with smaller cross beams for more support. You can also bind the beams together with rope or hammer them with nails. Layout your hide, (skin side up and a board underneath to keep wool clean) to measure how large your frame needs to be. My frame had about 1-2 foot spacing between itself and the hide.










4. CUT HOLES INTO THE HIDE

When cutting holes I used an exacto knife making all cut about 2 inches away from the edge of the skin, and 2-4 inches apart. I cut the small slits parallel to the beam that the particular hole would be roped to. So all cuts are completely horizontal, vertical or angled  (for the angled cross beams). That way the rope won't tear through. You also want to aim your holes at ever hill and valley of the hide.








5. TIE UP THE HIDE

I used about 50 feet of small rope for the entire frame. I started in one corner, tying a slipknot to the hide as my first knot, taking the rope under the frame and over , then through the next hole from the top. It's important to always have the rope enter in the hide from the same direction with every knot. After doing one corner, stop, and start the opposite corner, that way your hide is centered and you can adjust the two corners instead of adjusting the whole thing. For each corner, I had the first and last knots on a horizontal and vertical beam, and then diagonal in the middle for the cross-beam. Continue to the other corners and then fill in the gaps. Keep a good consistent tension that lifts the hide off the ground but not too tight to rip it. I used slipknot's to easily adjust tension where needed. Make sure you always have a knot tied to the hide consistently around as the rope can slip in the beams but not on the hide.










6. SET UP

Lift your frame up and place it wool side facing the sun and where there is no grass or trees. The salt from the hide will drop down into the soil below and will kill any plant life near it! You also want the wool side always facing the sun because if the skin side is showing, the sun will actually heat up any fat on the skin and burn a hole in your hide! You also don't want your hide in the rain because if it's wet for too long the wool can fall out. I covered mine with a tarp when it was forecasted to rain, and moved it completely under cover if it was going to downpour for a long time.







7. WASH

Pick out any big thistles and sticks, but don't worry about the small stuff. Get a hose and natural/organic dish soap, and SOAK and SCRUB the wool side intensely with your hands. Using your fingers to dig in and get all the way through. You'll want to wash it when there will be a good stretch of hot dry days so that the hide can dry completely. I used my two hands as a "Squeegee" by flattening my hands and putting them at the top of the hide and then, with a good weight and not all my body weight, moving all the way down to squeeze the water out. This speeds ups the drying process.








8. BRUSH

Once the hide is dry (usually takes 2-3 days with good weather) get a carding brush or a dog brush (cheap at pet stores, metal bristles that are angled inward) and brush the WHOLE THING! This loosens up the dirt and fluffs it out.








9. REPEAT: WASH, DRY, BRUSH

Do that whole process one more time! It's worth it!







10. SAND SKIN SIDE

Take the hide out of the sun and flip it so the skin side is facing you. First take a dry scrubby dish cleaning brush and rub it all over the hide to smooth out any salt or dirt chunks. Then take sandpaper between 200-300 grit, or a pumice stone (get these from London Drugs) and sand the skin until it become linty and velvet-like to touch. In my case my dad has an air hose and I hooked it up to a disc sander, saved me hours!






11. SHAPE AND CUT!

Final step! If you cut the hide from the wool side your knife will become dull VERY quickly, but the wool side shows you what you want to cut out. That's why I flipped it back to the wool side and made a few small cuts at the main point I want cut out, so that I have a template to cut out on the other side.
Flip it back to the skin side and start cutting at the bottom to the top (so the skin doesn't fall on your while you're cutting it!). Then pull that baby out and voila! I got myself one VERY expensive sheepskin that I paid in full with sweat!










There you have it!

I hope you enjoyed this episode of "What strange thing will this non-traditional millennial do next?"

Till next time!

Victoria Rose Park








3 comments

  1. Wow! I've been waiting for this post, and it did not disappoint! Lots of photos and details of every step. What a lot of work, but I'm sure it was totally worth it. Plus next time it will probably feel like less work because you already have the frame made.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awww cool! Oh yes, it's nice to have the frame pre-built for next time for sure.

      Delete
  2. Congratulations. That's my job. I need to admit, 4 months it´s a long time, you can have it done in 2 days. Of course using the right chemicals. But i'm impressed.

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