My interest in clothing has been leading me in new directions over the past year. One interest in particular has been buckskin. Buckskin is made from deer, elk, moose and hides from other ungulates with a time tested tanning process that involves oils, smoke and lots of work to create a beautifully soft hide. This has become a symbol of Native American dress and frontiersmen but is actually a way of making clothing and gear that was once practiced in cultures the world over in one form or another.
Deer hides are easy to come by in North America with the large population of deer and hunters who often don't make use of the hide when one kills a deer. Above is a photo of me preparing a deer hide using the wet scrape method in which the hide is soaked in water and wood ash for a number of days until the fur begins to fall out and the epidermis loosens allowing both to be scraped away from the hide with a dull blade.
When fully scraped the hide is ready to be wrung out, stretched and brained. There are a few options for adding oils to the hide that keep it soft and supple. One of these that works the best is the brains of the animal. Yep, seriously! The hide is saturated with brains and then stretched dry creating a soft white hide. Afterward the hide is smoked over coals with punky wood. This turns the hide a warm tan color and preserves it in a state of soft, wearable leather. Without the aid of smoke, a hide that gets wet will again return to stiff rawhide when it dries.
I have tanned quite a few hides over the past 3 years. This photo depicts from left to right a dried deer hide with the fur on, a brained unsmoked hide, and a tanned hide along with a couple of projects (a small bag for sewing needles, awes and thread and a wrist guard for archery made from deer leg fur and buckskin)
The above photo shows a wool sweater and long underwear that I recently dyed with black walnut hulls. The hull is the green fruit around the nut that can be gathered in the fall. Both garments were originally white. The wool was simply simmered in a dye bath of hulls for 5 hours. I love things that are the colors of dirt and earthiness!