Hello dear friends! I really hope all is well with you 😊 In this post, I will continue to share about the Stone Age Winter Experiment I was so lucky to be part of, which happened last month at the Kierikki Stone Age Centre in Yli-Ii, Finland. Today, I’ll focus on my Winter clothes’ making journey!
For our Stone Age Experiment, we were expected to bring with us as many handmade garments as possible. Since I had virtually no handmade Winter clothes that I could use to protect me from the elements, I decided to embark on a journey of intense creation – one with plenty of ups and downs on the way -to make my own leather (and felt) garments!
My hope is that this information inspires and motivates more people to create their own garments and use them out in Nature! 🌿
Making Winter clothes – how it all started
It all started back in July 2019, when my dear friend and teacher Lynx Vilden sent us all an e-mail sharing that Leena Lehtinen – the amazing woman behind Kierikki – would like to invite us back for a Stone Age Winter Experiment. As soon as I read that e-mail, my mind was just like “wait… what??? are you serious???”, and I immediately answered “Omg, yes please!!”, and half joking added:
“Just wondering… it must be really cold in Finland during the Winter, right? Just asking for a friend 😅”
Can I really handle the cold?
Yeah… as soon as the whole idea started to sink in, the uncomfortable question of “Can I actually do this?” started to creep in. How would I create garments that were warm enough to handle the possibility of -20ºC? I had very little experience with such a cold climate, and no idea how handmade leather clothing would perform in such conditions.
So this is when the amazing Joan Kovatch (@feral.lion) showed up. Learning about what I, Lucy (@wildawakeireland) and others were up to, they sent me a message showing support, sharing their knowledge about cold climates and offering me help in case I had any questions. I started by asking if sheepskins would be good enough for such a climate, since sheepskins were all I had access to at the time. And oh my gosh… Joan was just so profoundly helpful. Truly.
Thanks to them, I could finally start to visualize what I needed to make this experience happen for me (thank you so much, Joan!!) and that was the first step to start this whole journey.
Purchasing the book “Secrets of Eskimo Skin Sewing” by Edna Wilder was also immensely helpful as it allowed me to start familiarizing with patterns for cold weather garments, such as how to make a parka or a pair of mittens.
Now, we received the invitation via e-mail in July 2019 but the actual confirmation only happened later in the year. Adding on top of that some travelling, a house move, a shop collection launch and plenty of other responsibilities,
I suddenly realized I had less than 3 months to prepare for this adventure.
In December, I mostly focused on getting my hands on as many sheepskins as possible, the only type of skin I could easily find at the time. For this, I decided to stay as long as possible at a small home my husband and I have in a rural village not far from our land, where I know a few shepherds personally. During the Christmas period, shepherds usually kill some of their lambs to sell, and almost all of those skins are wasted.
So I had a plan: I would go around the village and ask every shepherd I could find if they had any skins they planned to throw away.
And it worked. Slowly, sheepskins started to pile but, unfortunately, not as many as I had anticipated. I had arrived too late in the season. So, all in all, I only managed to get 10 sheepskins, plus 2 hare skins and 1 fox skin (road kill). To these, I could add another road kill fox skin, and 6 other sheepskins that had already been tanned by me. This was what I had available to work with. Somehow, I had to make it work.
And… I got sick
Once I finally grabbed all the sheepskins possible, it was time for me to start tanning. I decided to begin with two of the largest sheepskins I had available, which were destined to become a warm coat. I fleshed and racked them, applied the tanning solution and… I got sick. With the flu. Great. Exactly what I needed (not!).
Well, maybe I did need that… I mean, the resting time, not the flu. During the previous months, I had been running from one place to the other, trying to fit everything in and make everything happen. So it was actually no wonder when my body demanded rest. Thanks to Pedro, the kindest husband in the world, I slowly recovered my health and about a week later I was back on track.
Damn, those were some intense days. Overall, it took me about 2 weeks to tan 6 sheepskins, 2 fox skins and 2 hare skins, as well as re-soften 4 already tanned sheepskins. Almost all of them were egg tanned, with the exception of the two hare skins and one sheepskin that I decided to vegetable tan with eucalyptus bark.
During these 2 weeks, I learned A LOT. I tested different homemade tanning solutions and experimented more with hand softening, discovering new things as I moved through this journey. Both the fox and the hare were a novelty for me, and I really learned a lot of lessons in a very short time (the hard way). Nevertheless, one of the fox skins came out quite nicely, and I did use her as a scarf during my week up in the North!
No time for buckskin…
Initially, my idea was to make some trousers and a shirt out of buckskin. For this, I tried to contact some hunters in the hope I could get my hands on a few deer skins, but with no luck. Then, I messaged my dear friend Ana Teresa and she gave me the contact of a shepherd who takes care of goats. However, once again I had no luck as he had already disposed all of the skins.
At this moment, I started to consider making buckskin out of some of my sheepskins, but ended up giving up on the idea. I wasn’t confident I had enough skins for buckskin trousers and a shirt plus everything else I needed to create, and, even if I did, it would require investing quite some time in the tanning process… and as you already know by now, time wasn’t really on my side. Also, sheepskins tend to be quite thin and so trying to make buckskin out of them, specially under time pressure, seemed quite unwise. Therefore, I tried to look for alternatives, and that’s when I decided to go with felt, a non-woven textile made out of wool.
oh hello, felt
At the time, I had quite a lot of carded wool at home that I had previously ordered from Saber Fazer for another project. So, I decided to make a second order and then use all of the wool to create two felt blankets with which I hoped to create my trousers and shirt.
The felting process was quite challenging, specially because I decided to do it in my living room… Yeah, not the best idea 😅 There was soapy water everywhere and I had to build barricades with towels so the water wouldn’t reach the furniture (it reached it anyway 😂)… The good news is that I ended up felting both blankets (one better than the other 😆) and create both the trousers and the shirt! If you’re curious to know more, I’ll be writing about how every piece of clothing performed in a future post, so stay tuned.
Are those really Stone Age?
I can already hear some voices asking… is sheepskin clothing really Stone Age? What about felt? Well, perhaps these voices are only in my head 😅 Nevertheless, these are still interesting questions to ponder about. My own personal research seems to confirm that, yes, some Neolithic peoples did have access to sheepskins because sheep was domesticated around 11000 BCE. Woolly sheep appeared later though, around 6000 BCE. Felt is the oldest known form of textile and, due to its biodegradable nature, it has a low survival rate in archaeological records. The oldest findings I know about are from Turkey from around 6500 BCE.
What I think is important to explain is that our Stone Age Winter Experiment did not aim to re-enact the Neolithic period of Finland with precision. As my dear friend Lucy O’Hagan, from Wild Awake Ireland, wrote in her beautiful blog post about this experience:
It’s not about looking to the past and trying to ‘re-create’ exactly what we think our ancestors did. In this way, we are not like experimental archaeologists. It is about having a deep respect for how lightly our long past ancestors lived on the earth. Learning how they lived on the earth for so long without disrupting the natural cycles, whilst also living well and abundantly from and with nature is something that can be of enormous benefit to us in this time of the Anthropocene.
Therefore, my aim during my Winter clothes’ making journey was not to stress out about where I could possibly find seal and reindeer skins to be period/culture accurate, but actually to use the mindset of our Ancestors to make the best decisions. What are the materials available to me right now where I live? In my case, sheepskins and wool!
Anxiety creeping in…
I am not the best person to deal with high pressure situations over long periods of time. Thus, dealing with the time pressure I had subjected myself to was nerve-racking at times. At one point, I did consider giving up altogether because I just couldn’t see how I would manage to create so much in such a short time. However, my dear tribe held me tight and helped me navigate through my anxiety. I couldn’t be more thankful to them.
Time to enjoy…and be grateful
After about 2 months of intense preparation, my Winter clothes were ready and I couldn’t believe I had actually made a whole outfit “all by myself”. It is of course far from perfect, and yet, so perfect in my eyes ♥️
It is truly an empowering thing to make our own clothes with our own two hands, then use them outdoors, making them come alive, adding to them yet another layer of beauty and story. It is deeply nurturing and so rewarding.
I feel so happy and proud of myself, which is quite a big thing for me as it isn’t always easy to feel proud of the things I make (perfeccionism sucks). But I am. I really am. Also, the lessons I’ve gained with this experience are simply invaluable, and I really hope that by sharing as much as I can about this journey, I hopefully motivate others to try to make their own garments themselves. It is so worthwhile!
I am so incredibly grateful to so many people, both human and other-than-human, without whom I wouldn’t have succeeded in this journey. Deep gratitude to my lover, Pedro, to my Clan, my family and friends, to my followers and supporters online, to sheep and eucalyptus and chicken and foxes and hares… to the people behind Kierikki, to all the amazing hide tanners and wool witches in the world that helped me in one way or another (I’ll definitely share more about them in the future!), to the Land I live in, to the Land I lived on in Finland, and to the Ancestors. Thank you so much. Profunda gratidão.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article about my journey into making my Winter Clothes for the Stone Age Experiment in Kierikki!
If you have missed my first blog post about this experiment, you can read it by clicking on the following link »» Stone Age Living | My Week at Kierikki Stone Age Centre
See you on my next blog post!
Have a beautiful day ❤️
So much love, Filipa 🌙
Hi! Thank you so much for this inspiring read. I have tanned about 6 sheepskins myself with fat, and I got about 15 sheepskin from a friends farm this winter- I just ordered your book to go deeper. And! Im obsessed with these winterclothes, gonna order the other book you recommended. Do you recommend bark tanning to make clothes with – with sheepskin as well?
My sheepskins are from the beautiful – gamalnorsk spælsau – the wild sheep of Norway. Their fur is extremely thick and long, and Im wondering – if I should trim it abit so I dont look three times as big. I made a vest from two hides, and I look like a cute furmonster <3
Much love from the westfjords of Norway!
Hello there! Thank you so much for your comment, so nice to know you’re into sheepskin tanning as well eheh Yes, you can definitely use bark tanned leather to make clothing! I recently created a bark tanned suede top + skirt outfit, I shared about it in my instagram. The outfit was created with sheepskins that had their grain removed and were then bark tanned using eucalyptus bark. You can also bark tan your sheepskins with the hair on, depends a lot on what your aim is. I can relate with looking like a furmonster 😀 Yes, you can definitely trim the wool, and use it for something else! I hope this helps 🙂 sending you back much love from Portugal