Leather Tanning Process from Sheepskin to Tanned Pelts and Hides
Life in rural areas of Romania is like nowhere else. The people cling tenaciously to the manners and habits of their ancestors; carying their love for primitive customs so far that they seem to belong more to the twentieth century. Although the world of work has changed, causing many ancestral occupations to be disused, a good share of old trades still exist in some form. Trades like leather tanning process, previously taught in every village, is now being so rare only a few people know it.
Tanning Pelts and Hides Is a Very Difficult and Toxic Trade
Years passed before we met Traian Cucoș, a tanner from the village of Hurjuieni, Suceava county. We look for a house with „tannery” written on the front wall. Following the noise coming from his workplace, we head into the courtyard. He is just coming out of the workshop carrying a pile of pelts on his shoulders.
Traian Cucoș is a tanners son. At an early age he followed in his father’s footsteps and pursued a career in tannery. “It’s a family trade. I have been doing it for as long as I can remember”, he says. He is tanning sheepskin pelts and hides from sheep raised for human consumption. Inside his workshop we run into a wide assortment of different types of tanning machines. “It’s a very difficult and toxic trade”, he continues, explaining that it caused his father’s, Cucoș Victor’s death from intoxication.
Leather Tanning Process – VIDEO
The sheepskin goes through a multi-step procedure that can last up to one month to clean, process, finish it, and transform it into soft leather. „The raw pelts are salted and dried. Salt helps preserve the leather. Any place left unsalted will rot.
Then, they are soaked in a container called hașpel. Next comes fleshing with a fleshing machine, soaking again and drying. After the pelts dry outside, they come out stiffer. They are placed inside an electric powered softening barrel for 3 hours. Then, they are stretched with a multi blade leather stretcher machine.
This process causes the leather to become stretchy and soft. After stretching they are degreased with dry beech wood, sawdust and neophaline. We shake off the sawdust and stretch it again. Then they are polished.” Finishing touches are added to the wool: shearing, brushing and ironing.
The sheepskin pelts are as soft as a glove, though of thicker texture, either dyed or in their original tint. The undyed skins are the most useful as they are used in making Romanian leather vests.
The skins are soft and yet firm, as if too elastic it will stretch more than is convenient when they are being tailored. They are irregular in shape and longer than their width.
Update: We are deeply saddened by the passing on of our great master tanner Cucoș Traian, he died of a long-term disease on Sunday, March 14, 2021, at the age of just 55. May he rest in peace!
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