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Native American Deerskin Dressing:   Page 5
Brains contain emulsified oils, which permeate the water that they are mixed with, rather than seperating from it. This quality allows the tanner to coat the fibers with lubricating oils, without saturating every pour of the skin with oil. Nearly all tribes used brains, although there were a few notable exceptions. Tribes of the southern Colorado River region used saguaro cactus seeds. The Tonto Apache used jajoboa berries, a plant renowned for its emulsified oils. Sometimes, tribes in the southeast used sweetcorn. Peoples from the Gulf of Georgia used fish and sea mammal oils, with a somewhat different methodology. They would completely saturate the skin repeatedly with oils and then they'd degrease it with urine. This would chemically create a different type of leather, known as oil-tan. This is paralleled in modern days, by the tanneries that use cod oil to saturate the skin and then degrease it with sodium carbonate, resulting in what is popularly known as chamois.
        Other substances were put directly into the soak solution with the brains. Some of these, added oils; possibly to improve the feel of the finished skin, or at the least, to help the brains go farther. Other additives may have improved penetration by helping the brains slip past or break down the protective mucus.
        Oils: spinal fluid, liver, bone marrow, tallows and fats, fish oils, acorn soup, pine nuts.
        Soaps: soaproot lather (amole lilly), yucca
        Tannins: decayed wood (mostly fir), wild rhubarb, others
        Ashes, corn meal
        Decomposition: The Sanpoil, Thompson, Wishram and Okanogan purposely decomposed brains for months before using. What this added, besides stench, I do not know, but I imagine something, Would you try this out? and then tell me all about it...

        Buckskin is stretched from damp to dry to make it soft. Tools are used to aid in the stretching, as well as to abrade the surface of the grain and flesh sides. This abrasion of the outer surfaces, allows the skin to stretch fully, and the texture to be soft. Abrading tools were used by all tribes. There were two types, rough surfaced and sharp edged.
        The sharp edged tools, because of their shape, also stretch the fibers, serving two functions. Some of these are the "thumb-nail scrapers" common to archaeological sites. Many people mistakenly assume these tools are dry-scrapers.

softening tools SOFTENING TOOLS- counter clockwise from upper left:

Pumice, great for abrading without overly roughing up surface, extensive distribution. Mussel shells, abrades and stretches. Used as found, convenient thumb slot, and very effective. Common tool on west coast. Simple and retouched flint flakes, and slate shards. Many types of stone used including split river rocks (skipping stone types), extensive distribution. Stone and wood elbow adze, used with frame. Abrades and stretches. Used by buffalo hunting tribes. Hafted knapped stone, abrades and stretches. Plateau, Tlingit, Ojibwa, Natchez. Buffalo humerus core, from bulbous end of bone. It is porous and very abrasive, after aging. Plains. Elk antler, beveled. Abrades and stretches. Plateau, NW California. Cannon bone, beveled. Abrades and stretches. California, Plateau, Apache. Deer antler, beveled. Abrades and stretches. Also, any thing abrasive or with an edge: turtle shells, sandstone, buffalo tongues!

cable type toolsCABLES- left to right: Braided rawhide (buffalo sinew also used). Both mentioned mostly in connection with tanning Buffalo robes. Stretches hide well, a little abrasion, but not very durable (note wear in center). I might try a rawhide thong next time, for same effect, and no time braiding. Buffalo scapula, center of bone removed, working edge beveled sharp. Stretches and abrades, durable. Really shreds! Wild grape vine, lasts longer if used while still living. Some initial abrasion, good stretching. Also, any rough barked woody sapling, vine, or branch. Comanche, Potawatomi, northern California, eastern Great Basin.

        Deerskins were very frequently softened in frames (woodlands, plateau, NW Coast), hanging from horizontal poles (plateau, Apache), over beveled posts implanted in the ground, and with the hands and feet. The beveled post was common wherever the frame was not. There were many combinations of tools and softening techniques.

Do I know you? SOFTENING SET-UPS clockwise from lower left:

Wooden post with stone implant. This stone has sharp, squared, top edges, so the post abrades as well as stretches. Couer D'Alene, southern California. Wooden post, hide stretched as its pulled over beveled top. Doesn't really abrade. Very common tool. Suspended hide; hide suspended by buckskin thongs from pole supported by tripods. Allows for easy hand stretching and use of abrading and stretching tools. Plateau, Apache. Frame stretching; frame and hide lashed with rawhide. Allows you to stretch hide larger, thinner and flatter. Also reduces amount of stretch left in finished hide, which is good or bad depending on intended use. NW Coast, Plateau, northern Plains, Woodlands, Southeast. Knapped chert hafted to stick; long for two handed softening. Stretches and abrades. Common with frames. Beveled wood frame softening tool. Stretches, little abrasion.

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