At Home Sheepskin Tanning

AUTHOR: AMIKA RYAN

DIY Sheep Crafts | At Home Sheepskin Tanning | Shepherd Like A Girl

I never intended to tan sheep pelts into beautiful sheepskins in my bathtub… I started off like most sheep owners. After sending my lambs to the butcher to be processed and wrapped, I wanted to send the pelts (of my bloody, dirty, and generally icky Icelandic Sheep carcasses) to a tannery and magically get back perfect, soft, clean and beautiful sheepskins.

However, when I picked up my freshly skinned pelts from the butcher, there clearly was a problem. All seven of my pelts had gaping holes in them! Nooo! You can imagine my horror and frustration.

I took the pelts home and set them up in my garage, salted them, and then began calculating. I quickly concluded that the cost of shipping the salted skins to a tannery would exceed the value of the finished sheepskin. What was I going to do?

I put on my big girl pants and tanned those thangs myself…at home… in my bathtub!

Want to know EXACTLY how I did it? Read on or JOIN the at home Sheepskin Tanning video course HEREDIY Sheep Crafts | at home Sheepskin Tanning Course | Shepherd Like A Girl

At Home Sheepskin Tanning

Do you have a pelt that has been salted and is now completely dry (cured)? And, have you thought about maybe tanning it yourself, instead of sending it out to a tannery? If your answer to both questions is an enthusiastic, YES, then you are ready for the first step.

And hey! I’ve put together a comprehensive video course to walk you through tanning your own sheepskin pelt at home! It includes videos for each of the 7 steps on sheepskin tanning, as well as a TON of bonus materials and downloads. Learn more HERE.

What You’ll Need

 

Step 1: Bathtub, Meet Sheep PeltDIY Sheep Crafts | At Home Sheepskin Tanning | Shepherd Like A Girl

Knock off all of the loose salt and your bathtub is ready to meet your pelt! Now, you don’t HAVE to use your bathtub to begin the process of tanning your sheep pelt. You can use any suitable container that holds water, as long as you are able to get the water comfortably warm.

Get the brine solution ready by making a concentrated brine solution of fine salt and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in a relatively small (kettle-sized) amount of very hot water. Use 2 pounds (1 quart) of salt and 1 pound (1/2 quart) of baking soda. Mix with a utensil of some sort until respectably dissolved.

Put the entirety of the concentrated brine solution, into the tub or other water container of your choosing. For the bathtub, fill it about 1/4 of the way with warm water. Mix well.

Throw your pelt into the brine in your bathtub, flesh-side down. Use your mixing utensil to submerge the pelt so that the fleece gets soaked through. The heavy, wet fleece should be enough to hold the pelt underwater. You may add more water at this point if the pelt is not completely submerged.

The pelt will need to soak for 3 to 6 hours. Stir the pelt occasionally, and make sure that it is fully submerged each time.

After 3 hours or so, the pelt should be completely rehydrated and soft. A good way to check this is to feel the legs. If they are still stiff, the pelt needs to soak longer.

When your pelt is soft, you’ve made it to Step 2!

Step 2: Rinse, Wash, Rinse, Wash, Rinse

DIY Sheep Crafts | At Home Sheepskin Tanning | Shepherd Like A GirlDrain the brine water from your bathtub. Rinse the soft, yet dirty (very dirty) pelt in clean, warm water.

Next, wash the fleece (the fiber-side of the pelt) with Unicorn Power Scour. Unicorn brand is great because it is pH balanced. But, feel free to use Dawn dish soap. I have many-a-time, with no adverse effects. Rinse.

Then wash and rinse the fleece again! And maybe again, if you have a very dirt pelt. The result you are going for is pretty clean, but not perfect.

Done? Now, you’re ready to flesh!

Step 3: Fleshing Is Fun

Get your fleshing tool! It can be a fleshing knife, kitchen knife or, my favorite – the Fleshing Tool by Trap Shack. For my fleshing beam, I use the rim of my bathtub, skin-side up. I find that the shape of my bathtub edge it perfect for fleshing. Alternatively, you can make a fleshing beam from a 6” PVC pipe if you want to work in an upright position (blueprints coming soon!).

DIY Sheep Crafts | At Home Sheepskin Tanning | Shepherd Like A Girl DIY Sheep Crafts | At Home Sheepskin Tanning | Shepherd Like A Girl

Fleshing is a skill, somewhat of an art, and definitely a labor of love.

Scrape as much of the flesh, fat, and membrane from the skin as possible. Put some muscle into it, unless you are using a sharp knife to flesh, then be very careful. You don’t want to puncture the skin, or scrape too far down into the hair follicles.

Practice makes perfect. Be patient and take your time. This is the hardest part, but you’ll feel great when it’s over and you have a pretty pelt to show for it.

Step 4: Degrease & Final Wash

DIY Sheep Crafts | At Home Sheepskin Tanning | Shepherd Like A Girl

Once you get the pelt nicely fleshed, wash the flesh-side of the skin using Dawn dish soap. Dawn is a great degreaser and you’ll want to make sure there isn’t any oil on the skin. This makes the tanning formula absorb well.

Wash the fleece again with Unicorn Power Scour.

Rinse the entire pelt in warm water two or three times, until the water is clear.

Before you can proceed to Step 5, the pelt needs to be somewhat dry. Meaning, the pelt is soft and moist, yet not dripping wet or dry and hard. You can achieve this result by hanging the pelt over a sawhorse for a few hours and letting it drip-dry. I prefer to expedite the process by throwing the pelt into my clothes washing machine for the spin cycle only. Just the spin cycle!

Step 5: Sunburn-free Zone – Tanning

Is the pelt the perfect amount of dry? Now, you’re ready to apply the tanning solution! Finally, right?!

DIY Sheep Crafts | At Home Sheepskin Tanning | Shepherd Like A Girl

Warm the bottle of Deer Hunter’s & Trapper’s Hide & Fur Tanning Formula in a pot of hot water.

Lay your pelt out on a flat surface, skin-side up.

Once the tanning formula is warm, shake the bottle well (with the cap securely closed, duh), and put on a Nitrile Glove. Apply an even layer of tanning formula to the flesh side of the pelt, rubbing firmly into all areas of the flesh. Use about 4oz for a large sheep pelt.

Fold the pelt in half, skin to skin, and lay it on a large towel. Leave it folded for 12 to 16 hours. I usually time mine so that it tans overnight. In the morning, open the pelt skin-side up and let it dry slowly over the next 2 to 3 days on the towel.

Step 6: Stretch It Out

Now is a good time to stand up, stretch, and take some deep, relaxing breaths!DIY Sheep Crafts | At Home Sheepskin Tanning | Shepherd Like A Girl

Stretch the pelt periodically with Nitrile Gloves on, starting 8 to 12 hours after you initially opened up the pelt after the first night.

The second night, fold the pelt in half, skin to skin. This will slow the drying of the pelt and allow you to sleep, not worrying about the pelt getting too dry and stiff while you’re busy counting sheep 😉

On day three, you will really need to be on top of your stretching, as the pelt should be almost dry.

I stretch over the end of a 2” x 6” piece of wood (that also happens to be a very narrow bench in my case). Get creative, many normal-looking things around the house can double as an implement of stretching. Think, bed post, top of a chair, handrail of a staircase, etc.

Need some extra pointers on how to stretch a sheepskin? I made a video just for you! Get it HERE.

You now have a sheepskin! Hooray!

Step 7: FinishingDIY Sheep Crafts | At Home Sheepskin Tanning | Shepherd Like A Girl

I use most of the pelts that I tan to make home decor items, such as pillows or upholstered benches. This means that nobody is ever going to see the flesh-side of the sheepskin. So, I don’t need to worry about the color or texture of the skin. I sew or patch any holes and get on with my crafting.

If you’re going to enjoy your beautifully home-tanned sheepskin as-is, you may use sandpaper to even out the texture and color of the flesh-side of the sheepskin.

You will also definitely want to trim around the edge of the sheepskin with sharp, pointed scissors. Be careful not to cut the fleece as you trim.

 


Are you ready to join the At Home Sheepskin Tanning COURSE? Seven videos, PDF downloads, lifetime access and lots of bonus materials. Instant access available now…

DIY Sheep Crafts | at home Sheepskin Tanning Course | Shepherd Like A Girl


And there you have it! Tanning your own sheep pelt in your bathtub can be a gratifying, rewarding, and economical experience. I encourage you to try it and share you experience by leaving a comment here or joining the conversation at the DIY Sheep Crafts Facebook Group. And remember to always

Shepherd Like a Girl!

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Amika teaches online courses and workshops for craft business owners, artists and fiber enthusiasts to help them create sustainable and profitable businesses. She's dedicated to helping you succeed with your handmade craft business in the noisy online space that is the internet today.

Comments (3)

  • I have a couple of questions on tanning a pelt (can you believe it, I’m finally ready to do it!!).

    On Step 2, how do you wash the fleece? Do you use your finger tips and rub all over? Is there anything you should NOT do when washing the fleece?

    If I get to the end of Step 2 and I’m not ready to start Step 3, is it ok to let it wait until morning? If so, what do I need to do to protect it from drying out?

    Step 3, I have heard the best way to flesh the pelt is to use a pressure washer. What is your opinion on that? I did purchase the fleshing tool you suggested here, so I’m prepared to do it either way. But before I take out the pressure washer I wanted to know your thoughts.

    Thank you so much for your time!! I can’t wait to get started on this project!!!

    Terry

    Reply
    • Hi Terry! Yay! Definitely let me know how your sheepskin turns out!

      When washing your fleece, you want to avoid agitating it so that it doesn’t felt. You can either soak it in Unicorn power scour, or use Dawn dish soap. With Dawn, I rake in one direction (the direction of hair growth) with my fingers.

      I don’t like my skins to be wet longer than they have to. I’m always worried about the hair starting to slip, though, I have never had this happen. I’d imagine that it would probably be ok to leave overnight, but have not tried it. If you want to give it a try. fold the pelt skin to skin to keep it from drying too much. You’ll want it “drip dry” dry anyway before you start fleshing.

      A pressure washer would sure do the trick! I’d worry about making little holes bigger or tearing the skin, though.

      Thanks for your questions! Definitely keep me posted!

      Reply
  • The at home Sheepskin Tanning VIDEO course is now available at the DIY Sheep Crafts school on Teachable. Check it out on enroll here:
    https://diysheepcrafts.teachable.com/p/at-home-sheepskin-tanning-course

    Reply

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