Natural Hide Tanning

by | Jan 4, 2020 | Ancestral Skills, Hide Tanning, Sheepskins

Hide Tanning is sacred work

From a skin that was about to decompose, I transform it into a skin that can live again for many years to come. It can clothe us, protect us from the weather, keep us warm, hold our belongings, and so much more. And it’s biodegradable. Truly biodegradable. It leaves no trace. And it honours our Ancestors.

I tan skins the old way. No chemicals and no machines. Only natural fats and oils and tannins, antler, bone, wooden and metal tools, and a lot of physical work. No water polluted because water is sacred. It’s just… a LOT of work But it’s so very worth it. To honour the animals this way, to make them live again in a new form. Shapeshifting.

hide tanning

The skins I tan are either salvaged by me before they are destroyed/buried, or offered to me by people who wish to honour the animals that they took such good care of. All sheepskins so far came from free range animals. This is not to say that I won’t tan a skin that comes from a factory farm. Because I will. I hate factory farms, but I will honour any animal skin that comes my way.

Hide Tanning is an ancient skill. Softening animal skins for clothing is one of the oldest human skills on Earth that exists since the Stone Age. Killing the animal and honouring every part of her meant using the meat, the organs, the bones, the tendons and… of course, the skin. It was a way of life where everything needed was provided by Nature. My Ancestors and the Greater Community of Beings are my main inspiration for my work.

Natural Hide Tanning

There are many ways to naturally tan a hide. The two methods I use are Oil Tanning and Bark Tanning. Both 100% chemical free and handmade.

Oil Tanning

In this method, brains, oils, eggs and other fats plus smoke are used to tan a hide. The brain of an animal is usually enough to tan his/her own hide, which for me is just pure beauty. When tanning sheepskins, I do roughly the following: after the hide is defleshed and the wool washed, I stretch the skin and let it dry just enough to spread the homemade oil solution. The solution stays on the skin for several hours until it has penetrated the skin. Then, it’s time to soften the hide, which means working it constantly in all directions until it is soft, malleable and completely dry. The last step is to smoke the hide. The smoke will preserve it as well as avoid the skin to become stiff again if it ever becomes wet.

The Oil Tanning method is also used to make buckskin, which is probably the most amazing material to make clothes of 🙂 In the images bellow, you can see a small pouch I made from a piece of reindeer skin tanned this way. You can also tan fish skins with this method!


Bark Tanning Method

In the Bark Tanning Method, the hair is usually removed (if that’s the aim; otherwise, it’s yet another different method eheh) and the skin is submersed in a bark solution. The used bark is rich in tannins, which will tan the hide naturally (indeed, it seems the word “tanning” comes from the word “tannin”). Different kinds of bark can be used, such as Oak’s, Willow’s, Birch’s, Mimosa’s, Spruce’s, and many others. The hide stays immersed for several weeks, sometimes even months, depending on its thickness and the result desired. When the skin is finally tanned all the way through, it is oiled and worked soft until completely dry. The end result is a stronger kind of leather, ideal for shoes, belts, coats, bags and much more! Even fish skin can be tanned this way 🙂

Why buy naturally handtanned leather, instead of industrially Chrome tanned?

Most industrial leather is Chrome tanned. This leather is usually very cheap and can be produced extremely fast since the process can be automated and finished in a day. You can find it in most clothes, car seats, sofas and shoes. However, it comes with a high cost: pollution of water streams and health problems to the tanners, the local human populations and the Other-than-Human community (specially when the waste water is left untreated). Also, chrome tanned leathers cannot be recycled (unless the chrome is removed from the skin) and do not allow the skin to breathe as naturally tanned leathers do. Fortunately, there are still some industrial tanneries that focus on bark tanning, and if you are looking for industrial leather, then for sure support those companies that have the least environmental impact. 

Sheepskins after tanning them naturallyHowever, for me personally, there’s nothing that can substitute the touch and smell of a naturally handtanned hide. Many times I say half kidding that they are the best anti-depressants in the world eheh indeed, every time I bury my face on a sheepskin or smell my bark tanned bag, I instantly feel calm, happy and relaxed. And personally, I also feel this profound connection to a thread that goes back thousands of years, to a People who knew the value of these skills as they were essential for their daily lives. Last but not least, if you decide to purchase a hide from a small tanner with good ethics, you will support his/her/their work and, therefore, help these Ancestral Skills to not be forgotten! They are important for us and for future generations. Thank you! ^_^

Naturally tanned skins & Leathercraft

In my shop, I mostly offer tanned sheepskins with wool on, leather pouches bags and altar pieces decorated with natural pigments. I hope to keep on creating beautiful, useful handmade products that honour the Earth and our Ancestors. I hope you stay tuned, and don’t forget to visit my online shop to check out the latest listings and follow me on Instagram to keep updated with the latest news! ^.^

Come visit my Online shop and see my latest handtanned hides and crafted goods!


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