Caveman DIY: How “primitive” leather was treated
Since Prometheus saw fit to grace the earth with his gift, man has been making use of animal skins not only to clothe himself; but also to store food and drink, swaddle babies and build shelter. Leather, which particularly in the modern era has proven itself infinitely useful and diverse, was once a staple fabric, produced by hand by the same hunter or clan who had hunted the animal for its meat. This ancient practice of using the whole, wild-hunted animal has been on the rise again in the modern world where the rise of environmental-consciousness has driven the masses to call for more ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable alternatives to caged and bred animals that are slaughtered for a single purpose and not wholly used.
In celebration of this return to the ancestral, ecologically conscious world-view; we here at Freedom of Movement are excited to bring for your edification:
The caveman’s multi-purpose fabric
While the process is today referred to as “brain tanning”, which would have been the preferred method of hide treatment for “primitive” civilizations, the process in fact bears little resemblance to the tanning process that leather is put through in our own era.
If brain tanning is not actually a tanning process then what is it?
Brain tanning involves stretching and working the raw hide into a usable and stable state as opposed to the chemical baths and soaking that modern hides undergo during the tanning process.
The fresh hide (not one that has begun the process of decomposition) is soaked in water for a number of days; the water is changed regularly and the hide kept completely submerged at all times. Rocks can be used to weigh down the hide and ensure complete submergence.
After the soaking of the hide in water has resulted in the hair being easily removed; the hair is “slipped” or removed, and the fleshing may begin
The water is wrung out of the hide and the remaining flesh, fat and hair is stripped from the hide. It is also at this point that the hide is worked to a consistent thickness and overall uniformity. The hide is put on a stretching frame.
Step Four: Putting the “brain” in brain tanning
The brains of the deceased animal is mixed with a little warm water and mashed into a paste. The brain mixture is applied to the hide until the hide is soaked through.
The hide is removed from the frame, washed in water again and wrung out. The rinsed hide is reattached to the frame.
At this point the hide is “broken”, or stretched, by various means in an effort to create leather which is supple, soft and even.
The hide is coloured and preserved by being smoked. The hide is tented over hot coals covered in wet oak chips or corn cobs and smoked till dry and brown.