I, too, can tell what I know about what to do with hide. The cleaning and preparation of hide isn’t done in just one way. What I saw, that is what I taught myself to do. I watched my mother and my mother-in-law, Daisy, what they did when working on hide, and that was where I taught myself how to work on hide. I do not do it exactly but just how I think it should be done. No one does their tasks in just one way when working on something.
In the bush, I saw that the skin of a caribou or moose was immediately immersed in water soon after it was skinned. When caribou were killed, there were usually no lakes nearby but I saw melted snow used. The snow was melted and the caribou skin was immediately immersed in water and left to soak for one day. The flesh loosens as it soaks and then it is fleshed.
After the flesh has been removed, it is then watered again. Now, the hide is washed vigorously to make the epidermis come off easily when it is beamed. Since I’ve been around here, I don’t soak it for one day because I don’t seem to have enough time. However, in the bush, I saw the hide soaked for just one day. After the flesh has been removed, the hide is soaked again and then it is scraped on a beam which removes the hair and epidermis. The dark epidermis on top of the hide on the hair side should be completely removed when beamed. When the hide is tanned and there is some of the epidermis still on the hide, the brain solution used for softening the hide doesn’t go through. I heard that if the epidermis is not completely removed when beamed, then the hide is scraped a lot. When the hide is scraped on the epidermis side, it seems that it gets scraped too much and the hide loses its durability. However, on the flesh side it doesn’t matter if it is scraped a lot.
I don’t think it matters too much when there is a bit of epidermis still on the hide when it is used to make snowshoes. However, it is said that when the epidermis is not completely removed, the hide string doesn’t fully stretch. Hide string is first stretched when making babiche. That is the reason why the epidermis should be completely removed. When I was in the bush, that was when I did exactly what I saw and soaked the hide for one day. When I am in the bush, I don’t look at a clock when I work.
When the tanning process begins and the removal of the hair and the epidermis has been completed, slits are cut around the edge of the hide and it is immediately pegged to freeze outside. The hide is then scraped. After scraping the hide, I immediately soak the hide in brain solution which was made earlier. Today, I make the brain solution using one bar of Dove soap and half a pound of lard. I put a lot of water in a large pot and boil the soap and lard for a long time. I boil it for a while until the liquid becomes thick and becomes slippery like gel.
What is really good to use is caribou or moose brains. That is what I saw used along with the tanning process. I don’t do what used to be done when the hide was rubbed. I saw rolled oats used. I, too, boiled rolled oats with lard and brains together. When it became thick, it was then rubbed on the hide. The hide was hung and then rubbed with brains, rolled oats and lard. Then the hide was soaked in the brain solution, after it has been pulled and stretched.
Today, I don’t rub the hide with the brains. I just make that solution out of soap and lard. I throw the hide in that liquid. That liquid should not be very hot because the caribou and moose hide burn easily. The brain solution is chilled first and then the hide is thrown in that liquid. The hide is soaked for a long time. It is not soaked for just one day. I work the hide in my hands – squeezing and pressing, trying to make the liquid go through the hide. When the liquid comes through, that is when the hide is soaked through and will be soft. When the soap liquid doesn’t come through, the hide will not be soft. That is done for a long time – trying to make the liquid go through. If there is a bit of epidermis on the caribou moose hide when it is tanned, the liquid doesn’t go through when the epidermis is. That is why the epidermis should be completely removed.
What I saw done was that the place was made hot with the fire or wood stove. The brain solution was heated and made to sink in and dry in the hide during the process of pulling and stretching the hide. Two people worked on the hide when there was someone to help. My grandmother used to say to me, “It is like it is hit when the hide is pulled suddenly.” I don’t think people today make the place very hot where they do the pulling and stretching of the hide, I simply don’t stop working and stretching the hide when I don’t make the place hot with the fire or wood stove. The stretching of the hide is not stopped. The hide starts to make a sound as it starts to dry. The hide is hung for a while and the brains that were rubbed in dry and sink in the hide.
Then the hide is thrown into the liquid again. Now it doesn’t matter if the liquid is heated a bit. The hide now contains some of that brain solution and it won’t burn as easily. I heat the brain solution a bit but not too hot because it can still burn when hot liquid is used. The hide is left to soak for a while. Then you try to make your brain solution sink and dry in the hide with heat. Those who are capable just do this process once. For me, I’m not capable to do it only once. If it is a small thin hide, it is done only once. Some caribou skins are done only once. Moose skin is what is difficult to work on. Caribou skin is not as difficult as working on moose hide. When beamed, the hocks of the moose hide are extremely difficult to work on.
When you are finished soaking the hide and have made the liquid go through the hide again, it is pulled and stretched again. Now, I pull the hide for the second time. I don’t stop stretching it where it is not soft. In spots, the hide seems stiff and that is where I pinch and rub the hide between my fingers. When the hide was not soft, I saw my mother rub the hide with rolled oats liquid. I saw her make this liquid with rolled oats and a bit of lard but there wasn’t much lard around in that time. Long ago, people just used the brains and scrubbed soap into the hide. Today, I don’t use the brains very much. I just use soap and lard.
After one has tanned the hide, it can be used for anything. After one has completed making the hide and thinks that is how soft it will be, the hide is smoked. The hide is folded and sewn closed. At the head, that is where the hide is not sewn. That is because that is where the skirt is sewn so the pot of punkwood can be placed there. A woman told me that White Spruce is the best for smoking the hide. There is White Spruce punkwood and Black Spruce punkwood. One of the women who taught me said, “I only use White Spruce punkwood.”
There are two kinds of decayed wood – Black Spruce punkwood and White Spruce punkwood. When I was teaching myself, I used Black Spruce punkwood. That is what I saw my mother use. When the hide is smoked, it is smoked on both sides. After it has been smoked on one side and when one thinks that is the way it will look, the hide is turned inside-out to be smoked on the other side. If the hide is thin, the smoke goes right through.
The punkwood is broken to pieces in the pot and a rock is placed in the fire to make it glowing hot. The hot stone is then placed in the pot of broken-up punkwood and covered to make the punkwood smolder. I saw some people leave a hole in the hide and keep it plugged because that was where they could peek in and see how the hide was smoking. I am unable to do that. I used to just lift the hide and I take the pot away and look inside. I wasn’t sensible in what I did. I don’t do it one way. Even though I was taught to do something, I don’t do some of the tasks exactly how I was taught. When many people give me advice, there is no one way that they tell me how to do something. I try what I was taught and that was how I taught myself to work on hide.