[Photo: me, in deerskin clothing 21 years ago on my wedding day]
In addition to the spiritual and human relationship aspects that I have focused on since starting the Emerge Wild blog, another way we can connect closely with the Earth is through the physical learning and practice of Earth-based living skills. These are practices that our ancestors developed, and passed down for thousands of years. One of these practices is a process that turns an animal’s skin into leather used for making clothing. This is something I learned many years ago. Making leather from animal skins has an incredibly long history, clothing humanity for many millennia in all parts of the world. This most time-honored method of leather making is still around, having been passed down from person to person over the past 30,000 years at least (Paleolithic cave paintings in current day Europe depict the wearing of leather clothing). These ancient methods are known today as brain tanning in most northern latitudes of the world whereby the brain from the animal is used in the process of making the skin into leather. I am excited to offer a workbook that I’ve published that focuses on the basics of brain tanning deerskins with step-by-step photos throughout. The process results in high-quality leather using natural materials. The workbook is titled “Natural Deerskin Tanning Workbook: Garment Quality Leather from Wet-Scrape Brain Tanning”. You can get the workbook through Amazon books: (4.99 for Digital version: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2JMZGG 8.99 for Print version https://www.amazon.com/dp/1730826342, the proceeds of which will go towards continuing the Emerge Wild blog. If you get the book, I encourage you to post a review on Amazon – Thank you!)
The difficulty with homespun leather tanning is that getting great and consistent results is not a sure thing unless you really know what you are doing. Creating leather from an animal skin can be frustrating without experienced guidance. Just as most successful hunters learned from a mentor, so to I learned brain tanning from an experienced tanner named Jim Miller – a man who had years of natural leather tanning wisdom. Through my journey of brain tanning several hundred animal skins, furs, and buffalo hides, I’ve read and seen most of the available literature and videos on this subject, some of which are very good. I’ve also heard over the years the comments from hunters, re-enactment enthusiasts, and back-to-the-landers interested in learning leather tanning. They’ve explained to me their frustrations of learning these methods. Many say what they need to get started is not the theory of tanning, nor methods that require convoluted steps. A simple, straightforward step-by-step with enough detail and photos to get through the process the first time is what most of these folks have requested. This is what I have set out to offer with this concise, but effective workbook. I won’t explain the why of each step in detail, but rather I aim to deliver to you a clear how-to D.Y.I. quickly, using text and up close photos to help you to avoid major pitfalls that most beginners encounter.
Why is using a natural method of leather production better than the modern all-chemical process? Better or worse may not be the best way of framing this choice. Today, people who use ancient, time-honored methods of making leather have a variety of reasons for doing so. They may have spent a good portion of their life honing their hunting skills to procure a wild deer. They now want to turn that deer’s skin into leather using a natural process. Similar to how learning to hunt is a nature-focused process for many people – indeed even a spiritual experience – making and wearing your own leather garments also brings a sense of pride and deeper connection with the cycles of life and nature. When done properly, the natural leather making process will produce a long-lasting, soft, garment quality product. This natural leather won’t smell “chemically”, off-gas, or leach any chemicals into water or your own skin. These are all perfect reasons for making the investment to learn how to turn animal skin into natural leather.
If you are a hunter or know someone who is a hunter, I encourage you to consider how you/they can respectfully use the whole animal. Learning how to turn the animal’s hide into a useful natural leather product is a very good step toward accomplishing this practice, and connects you more closely with the animal, life and death, and the Earth.