I am both surprised and amazed by my successful first attempts at rabbit fur tanning. So far I have finished tanning 5 of the 8 furs that I have, and will work on the remaining 3 over the next few days. The furs are turning out simply gorgeous! I am excited because they have turned out better than I ever imagined they would. I sure do have a whole new appreciation for the contribution of rabbits and their many benefits on the homestead. Each rabbit produced about three and a half to four pounds of meat, we put about 27 pounds in the freezer, and now these beautiful furs!
Tanning is one part of the process, and now the fun part will be making some new things. I want to make a hat first, then my husband wants me to make him one, we're both excited to try them out. With one of the black furs I'm going to make a purse, and from there I'll see what is left, perhaps a pair of mittens or a scarf.
After a week of soaking in a 5 gallon bucket of tanning solution, I pulled the furs out and washed and rinsed each one and proceeded to flesh them while sitting by the fire. It took me about a half hour per hide and the thin layer of flesh and tissues would almost come off in one piece, with touch up around the edges. I spent 4 hours one day and did all 8 of them, boy did my fingers hurt after that.
The furs went back into the tanning solution for another week, then I pulled out three to start drying, a good idea is to lay them out to dry the night before you want to work them. The furs need to dry slowly, when they're ready to start stretching and working you will see white patches, you can then begin to pull softly in different directions. You can pull and stretch the furs carefully over the edge of a chair, over your knee or any other firm soft surface, you will begin to see how it stretches. I had some tears occur both during the fleshing and stretching part on a few of the edges, you will notice the soft parts on the sides, the middle is thicker and stronger. The idea is to get the hide to turn all white, as your pull it in different directions it turns white and softens.
The rabbit fur tanning method I used is the sulfuric acid formula (battery acid is diluted sulfuric acid). There are many sites that talk about tanning furs with this method, and I originally saw it in a book called , Raising Small Livestock, by Jerry Belanger. Here's a great rabbit site that I found and they have written out the process to tan furs, Rise and Shine Rabbitry. The furs turn out nice and soft with this method. I was impressed with the size of the furs of the American Chinchilla's, they stretch and get bigger as you work them, it took about one and a half to two hours per fur to work them fully. I worked them throughout the day at different times, I spent time to make sure each one was soft and supple.
An interesting thing that I'm experimenting with is tanning the leg part on the hide (pictured below), I left it on all the furs, thinking I may use it for the drawstring on the hat, I will turn it right side out, so it has the fur showing. I'm not sure if I'll use it in my design, but left it on just in case it works for creating something. I have looked at a hat design on one of my daughters hats, and will cut the pieces out to fit the size of my head, then baste it all together first to make sure the fit is just right before a final sewing. I'm going to try and use my sewing machine for the final sewing, but may have to do some parts by hand.
All in all it takes about two weeks of sitting in tanning solution, and a couple hours of work to tan a fur, you'll have some sore fingers, but in the end a luxurious fur to create truly one of a kind things. It's also one more way to give honor to the remarkable rabbits that we raise, and to use every part they provide us with. They truly are one of the best all around small livestock animals, I now know why people for hundreds of years have liked raising rabbits, they have simply loved both their meat and fur!