Natural Hide Tanning
Apprenticeship Learning Group
October 2019- March 2020
About the apprenticeship:
If you want to learn natural tanning, this is your chance to receive tailored instruction on your self directed projects in an organic, small-group apprenticeship type model. I want to give you the groundwork skills and understanding to help you become the kind of tanner you want to be.
Together the group will create our schedule, in accordance with the natural flow of tasks of one tanning season ~ for instance, harvesting & storing wild tannic leaves in October & November, acquiring and salting hides in November & December, fur tanning in December & January, etc.
Class meeting days may take place 1-3 times per month, at group member’s houses (wherever group members choose to create their tanning set-ups) or out in nature harvesting materials. Class days will teach fundamentals of hidework, from sourcing and storing skins, to harvesting, collecting & scavenging all the materials and tools necessary for tanning, to creating your own tanning set-up at home, to, of course, the science and art of the tanning process.
In between class times, group members will be working independently on their hide projects, and working together on tasks such as picking up skins, & networking to source local materials, etc. The instructor will be on-call for over the phone help, and in-person check-ins and guidance.
Can you tell me more about the program's structure?
This is a cooperative, small-group learning format of an apprenticeship style. This means that although you will be receiving instruction from a teacher over the course of the program, and some meeting days will resemble classes, much of your work will be independant (both on your own and with your group members), and will involve incorporating the tanning work into your daily life and your home.
Natural tanning doesn’t fit into a box. It involves lengthy processes and asks for a deeper personalizing of each person with their hides and materials. Every hide is different. Every tanning plant is different. Every day the weather, air temperature, & humidity are different. And these all inform the ways and decisions of a natural tanner. This is why a real-time, seasonal method of learning works better than a short class.
What can I expect to learn & accomplish?
Expect to tan some really beautiful hides! To have a set of tanning tools you know well and are familiar working with. To have both the knowledge and the hands-on experience (& muscle memory) of the many steps and aspects of natural tanning, so that you can continue tanning and expanding your learning on your own in the future. To have the confidence of knowing that you can source skins, build/create your own tanning set-ups as needed, harvest your own plant tannins, and make many of your own tools. To have built relationships with fellow tanners with whom you can continue to collaborate, have fun, and give and receive help in the future. You may also have begun a leather-working project crafting with your finished hide or hides.
How is the schedule formed?
Together as a group, we will schedule class meeting days (which calls both for everyone’s commitment to the learning and greatest willingness to be flexible in finding dates that will work for everyone, even if occasionally that means compromises). In between scheduled class meeting times, some get-togethers may be more impromptu, such as, if someone picks up a roadkill deer, one or more other of the members (including the instructor) may get together to help and make use of the learning opportunity. Likely not every member of the group will be present for every meeting, task, & event, but all working together, we will help everyone advance through their learning path.
What kind(s) of tanning will I learn?
The basic curriculum of the apprenticeship will cover tanning fundamentals such as skinning, preserving skin, fleshing, understanding the actions of tannins, etc.
Beyond fundamentals, the independent learning format means that different group members can be focusing on different projects and styles of tanning as they wish, while observing and learning from the projects of others. These can include:
Small Fur Tanning (vegetable tanned & braintanned)
Bark tanned/Vegetable tanned Deer leather
Leather from small animals (such as raccoon leather & squirrel leather)
Bark tanned/Vegetable tanned deer suede
Braintanned Deer Buckskin
What's the role of the instructor?
The instructor will serve as a general guiding influence throughout the length of the apprenticeship. Her role will be to clearly lay out the tasks required by the group and to give advice and suggestions about how the group might go about creatively dividing and tackling those tasks. For example, she will give a list of suggestions for acquiring animal skins in the area. It will then be up to the group to make the phone calls, do the networking, etc., by working together and dividing tasks as necessary to source, pick up, and store those skins.
The instructor will teach all the needed skills & techniques along the way, including all the ins and out of the tanning processes, tool making, plant harvesting, etc. Yet, it will be up to the members of the group to continue and finish these tasks in between class times and to support and help each other with problems or questions on their hides outside of group class times. This gives everyone the opportunity to actively practice the skills they are learning, and to creatively apply them when questions and unexpected circumstances happen (which in natural tanning, they always do!).
The learning and the tanning can only happen if group members dedicate time to their hides & projects throughout the days and weeks in between class meeting times.
The instructor will also be on call, by phone, to all the group members for questions, and for setting up impromptu meetings in the event of unexpectedly acquired animals/hides, etc.
The goal of this program is to make it accessible and affordable to each person’s life situation. Therefore the cost of the hours of instruction will be well below the typical cost of classes (which typically average about 10$ per teaching hour), and can be worked out on an individual basis as needed. What is most important is your commitment to the learning and willingness to set aside the time to devote to the apprenticeship.
Each person can expect to invest some money in their own tanning work, and this amount depends upon how much you are wanting to buy versus how much you are willing to make yourself, refurbish or scavenge. Each participant can expect to buy salt, perhaps some vegetable oil, perhaps some wood 2x4s and plastic 5 gallon buckets, but more importantly, tools like good quality knives, a sharpening stone, a metal hide scraper, a drawknife, & a hatchet.
Broadly speaking, a tuition for the apprenticeship could range from $50- $80 per month.
The apprenticeship also includes access to relevant workshops Victoria is teaching in the area this Winter, such as bone tool making, & roadkill wise, at no extra cost.
Examples of activities of the apprentices:
Acquire skins by reaching out to local processors, hunters, farmers, & backyard rabbit raisers
Find creative ways to source tanning materials such as wood ash, fat (from pig farmers, bear hunters, or taxidermists, etc.), quantities of vegetable oil (such as from dumpster diving), & wood for building frames
Harvest wild tannic leaves, and dry & store them for the Winter, plus source & strip tannic bark from felled urban trees.
Make and acquire tanning tools & leatherworking tools, as needed
Create one or more small tanning set-ups in a group member’s backyard or other usable setting
Pick up roadkill and/or be on the lookout for other opportunities for acquiring unwanted killed animals
Do all the in between tasks of the natural tanner, as they arise, such as rendering fat, building hide frames & fleshing beams, sharpening tools well, salting & drying hides, brewing tannin solutions, etc.
How to apply:
To become a part of this learning group, email by mid October.
Please briefly include:
1.) your reasons for wanting to join the apprenticeship
2.) any particular tanning aspirations you are wanting to learn
3.) what you home situation is/where to intend to do your tanning
4.) how many full days per month you would be able to devote to group class meeting