All animals provide skins. Their condition will depend on how carefully they were removed, the way the animal was killed (which may have damaged the skin), the age of the animal and time of year (Mating season, molt and change of season can affect the amount and color of fur in some species). Common defects are due to parasites, disease, malnutrition and scars from fight injuries.
SKINS AND FURS
Snakes, lizards, crocodiles and other reptiles all provide excellent skins. So do large birds such as ostriches. Some aquatic mammals, seals and their relations, are fur-bearing, like land mammals, and whales and dolphins have strong hides. Sharks also have a hide, instead of scales like most other fish. Birds can be skinned with the feathers attached and used to make warm clothing or bed covers. Skin is a source of food and in circumstances of acute shortage can be eaten, even after being preserved and used for clothing, but it is very tough and takes a lot of digesting. There are cases of people surviving by eating their boots, though it should be emphasized that in all such cases plentiful water was available.
Skins and hides are composed of water and proteins and decay quickly if they are not specially treated to preserve them. How they are treated will depend upon whether you want to retain the hair or fur, but the initial stages will be the same in both. To make moccasins, shelters, laces, thongs, water bags or canoes, the hair is removed, but for warm clothing, bedding or a good insulating groundsheet it should be left on.
Properly prepared skins will be supple, yet strong, and resist tearing, abrasions, deformation or stretching. They are comfortable to wear, with good thermal insulation, but permeable to air and water vapor.
CLEANING THE SKIN
Make cleaning and drying a skin easier by stretching it on a frame. Do not make the holes for the cords too close to the edge. Remove fat and flesh by scraping the skin, using an edge of bone, flint or other rock, or even wood. Take care not to cut the skin. Remove every trace of flesh. Ants and other insects may help you if you lay the skin on the ground. Keep watch that they do not start to consume the skin itself.
TO CURE FURS
Stretch the skin as tight as possible and leave it in the sun to dry out. All the moisture must be drawn from it so that it will not rot. Rubbing salt or wood ash into the skin will aid the process.
Do not let the skin get wet, or even damp, until the process is complete. Do not leave it where it will be exposed to rain or risk a covering with morning dew.
Keep it absolutely dry. If little or no sun is available, force-dry over a fire, but keep the skin out of the flames and use only the heat and the smoke (which will aid preservation). Keep it away from the steam from any cooking pots.
After cleaning, place the skin in water and weight it down with stones. Leave it until the fur can be pulled out in handfuls – usually 2–3 days.
Make a mixture of animal fat and brains, simmered over a fire till they form an even consistency.
Scrape the skin on both sides, removing hair, and grain. Keep it wet. Work sitting down with the skin over your knees. Keep manipulating it.
Work the fat and brains mixture into the inner side of the still-wet skin, stretching and manipulating as you do so.
Dry the skin in the smoke over a fire, keeping it well away from the flames. The smoke sets up a reaction with the solution you have rubbed in to make the skin supple.
SINEW AS THREAD
The hamstring and the main sinews of the legs – especially of the larger animals – can be dried and used as thread to stitch hides together for shelter and clothing. Recognize them by their strong, white, cord-like appearance.
You can also use them for bowstrings and short ropes. They make excellent bindings for arrowheads. Sticky when wet, they dry hard.
The normal function of the bladder is to hold water, so naturally the bladder of a large animal can be used as a water carrier – so can the stomach. Tie off the openings to seal them.