March 18, 2015
finished product close up
Finer salt works best. Alum (aluminium sulfate) is a pickling compound that can be found in bulk at feed stores. I like it for bunnies because other methods of tanning such thin hides have resulted in a lot of work for semi-softened product. I recommend trying various methods to see which you like best!
1. Mix 1 cup salt + 1 cup alum + 2 gallons of H2O
Use 5-10 bunny hides, case skinned, fur side in and no de-membrane necessary. Case skinned means you pull off the skin like a sock. The membrane is the layer that holds the skin to flesh. The middle, the layer we want to work with, is an epidermis layer. The part that holds the fur to the skin is called the grain.
Soak hides for 2 days, stirring twice a day to make sure all folds get equal access to solution.
case skinned hide, just out of the solution
2. After 2 days, take out bunnies and squeeze solution from them back in to bucket- save solution! Peel off membrane (non-fur side). It is easiest to start at the bottom near the rump. Peel off all that you can- the hard work will pay off, the easiest time to peel this stuff off is now. Peel until pure white under-layer is exposed. A rule of thumb is peel until there is nothing left that can peel. The neck is usually the thickest and hardest to work.
Feed membrane to pigs!
3. After adding another 1 cup salt + 1 cup alum to the previously used solution, put bunnies back in solution. The bunnies need more of these compounds because they've probably already soaked up most of what you had put in the previous solution. So stir, and add bunnies back in.
4. I've found it best to let bunnies soak (stirring twice a day) for 5-6 days. I've been using frozen bunny hides mainly, so maybe that makes a difference, but I have found that hair tends to shed around 7+ days. The book says 7 days, so use your own judgement. Take out bunnies, toss solution, rinse, soap, and repeat the washing process again. Hides should be fur side out at this point. I think most soaps are good, I've used pine tar and dish soap before, and both seemed to work fine. Get all solution and soap out by the time you are done.
5. At this point you have some options. You can string the bunnies, hair side in, and let them dry and wait for a convenient time to work them. Or, keep them moist for a few days while you work them in batches. I recommend working 2-3 at a time, maybe more if you get a system down.
If you decide to work on a few now, then part hair down the middle of the belly and cut to make one flat hide. I part the hair to reduce the trimming of long hairs along the edge. Cutting along the belly is a good and common rule, but if you have a hole in the hide you might choose to cut a line including the hole to reduce holes in the main body of your hide.
6. I have found it useful to drip dry bunnies overnight and allow them to become a bit tacky before stretching. Stretching really wet hides doesn't do much good and creates opportunity for ripping.
If you want to sew up any holes, do it before the stretching process with a tiny needle and trimming the corners of the hole to create an even surface when the hide is flat. Any thread should do, stronger the better probably.
7. So now is the fun part! You can stretch the hide all kinds of ways- between your hands, using your knees, over the back of a chair or on a corner. Get the middle and the edges, keeping a close eye on what seems to be drying and work it to keep it supple. If some part (usually an edge) is hard or yellow, give it a firm but gentle pull to release it into opening up. It will turn soft and pure white. I like to work the middle on the chair or a corner, as well as giving sharp pulls with my hands. Careful! Bunnies do rip. And it will happen. So test your boundaries and learn at what stage is best for what kind of stretching.
8. You will find out just how much time is needed in babysitting your hides. They don't need to be stretched every minute, just keep an eye on them. When they are fully dry, give them a good shake and roughing up. It will help loosen things a bit. While drying keep at a cool or neutral temperature. Don't heat or put by fire! They get crunchy! Sometimes it takes me 2 days to let a hide dry. Just let it take its time, it's worth it!
...just cause it's cute...
I wrote a little ditty on harvest day of these rabbits. Warning: graphic content.