How to Make a Sheepskin Rug

Winter time is project time around these here parts.

Our winters are long. Cold. Dark. And did I mention…long?

As of right now, despite spring’s arrival on the calendar, we’re still under several feet of snow and seeing below-zero temperatures.

But that’s life in my part of the world. And so deal with it we (I?) must. Some like to go skiing. Others snowshoeing. Some love snowmobiling or ice fishing. And while these are all great activities, I like to do other things.

Like, things that don’t involve staying outside in the cold for too long. {I may be a Minnesota native, born and bred, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the cold}.

So, I heat up my home restoring cast iron skillets. Or baking. {And, subsequently, eating}.

I make a lot of stock in the winter months, too. Nothing like the warmth and smell of simmering stock all day long on the stove.

It is also the only time of year we really get any indoor construction projects done. Like finishing up the paneling in the kids’ upstairs bedrooms…four years later.

But I also use the slow pace and the quiet of this time of year to experiment. Tackle some of the seemingly endless list of projects on my to-try list.

One of those things just so happened to be tanning my own sheep hide at home. With 3 different wethers due to be harvested here on our small farm, it seemed a wasteful shame not to do something with their thick, beautiful winter hides.

And so, jumping in head-first as in all things I do, I made my own sheepskin rug.

At home.

Successfully!

And guess what? You can too! I’ve had quite a few requests for the complete step-by-step process and so, I am here to deliver.

Contains affiliate links.

How to Make a Sheepskin Rug- Yellow Birch Hobby Farm

Skinning and Cooling. First of all, you will need to skin the lamb. I’m not going to go into detail on how to do that as this is not a “how to skin a lamb” post, but try your best to skin carefully so as to not make too many holes in your hide. If you do, no worries. I’ll show you how to deal with that later. But the more careful you are now, the less work for you in the future.

After skinning, place the hide skin-side up to cool for approx. 24 hours. Be sure that wherever you choose to lay your hide that it is not too warm and it is protected from scavengers. The typical time to process lambs is in the fall/winter when it is already cooler outside, but otherwise a basement or unheated garage should do just fine.

How to Make a Sheepskin Rug- Yellow Birch Hobby Farm

Trimming. Following the 24 hour period, cut away any raggedy edges, as well as any larger chunks of excess flesh and fat. Don’t get too crazy about trying to make things super uniform or trying to scrape the hide at this point.

Salting. You are now ready for salting. Using plain old cheap-o table salt, cover the entire surface of the skin with a good layer of salt, to a depth of at least 1/4″, preferably more. Be sure to get under the hidden folds and into the crevices. This will help draw out the moisture (just as in salt curing meats). I placed my hide on a pallet, skin-side up, and stored it under salt for 5 days in my back porch. Be sure that wherever you choose to let it rest, that you are prepared for the hide to drip and expell moisture underneath itself- so put down newspapers or cardboard if you’re worried about that.

How to Make a Sheepskin Rug- Yellow Birch Hobby Farm

Fleshing. Following the 5 days under salt, you will notice that the hide has become stiff and noticeably drier. Scrape off all of the salt and you are ready to proceed to fleshing, which is the process of removing the outer layer of flesh and fat to reach the skin underneath.

You can choose to flesh without wetting the hide as I did (although, it was 15 degrees here and I found that the frozen state of the hide worked really nicely for this step), or you can wet the hide as some say that helps quite a bit in the fleshing process.

Place the hide skin-side up over a deck railing, sawhorse, 50-gallon drum (laid on its side), etc. Using a semi-dull knife, work up an edge of the thin layers of flesh and fat, and use your fingers to pull them back. I compare this to peeling off the thin white layers of skin that like to cling to a peeled orange. Some layers come off in large pieces (which is quite satisfying!), others in small (frustrating) pieces.

How to Make a Sheepskin Rug- Yellow Birch Hobby Farm

It is rewarding when you start to reveal the beautiful skin beneath and progress is made. Plan for a good hour- to- hour and a half for this part.

How to Make a Sheepskin Rug- Yellow Birch Hobby Farm

Tanning. This is probably the part that frightens most people. I know it did me. I did not want to use a commercial tanner. Nor did I want to use battery acid! I was not yet confident enough in my abilities to use brains. And there are just so many natural suggestions out there that I didn’t know which one to pick. All I knew was that I just wanted something that worked. And wouldn’t kill my kids. Or me.

So I went with the suggestion of oxalic acid, which is mild enough that you can touch it with your hands without the fear of your skin melting off. Whew! Relief, right?

For 1 hide, use the following formula:

  • 1 pound oxalic acid
  • 8 pints table salt (approx. 6 of your regular 26 oz. containers)
  • 8 gallons lukewarm (NOT HOT) water

Mix the tanning solution by putting your 8 gallons water into a large rubbermaid tote or 50-gallon plastic drum. Then pour in the acid and salt (be careful not to splash in your eyes!), and stir with a large stick to dissolve. When thoroughly stirred, completely submerge your hide in the tanning solution.

How to Make a Sheepskin Rug- Yellow Birch Hobby Farm

Stir the hide around with your stick and cover. Try to remember to stir it a couple of times a day. Leave the hide in the tanning solution for 3 days.

Neutralize and Clean. You will need a large tub of some sort for this part- whether that be your bathtub, a large wash tub, utility sink, a 55-gallon barrel- whatever you feel will best suit you. I just used my bathtub. I mean, I’ve had ducks swimming in my tub. I clean all of my big wine making glass carboys in this tub. I scrub out nasty chicken feed buckets come spring for our maple sap collecting in this tub. So it just seemed natural. And the most convenient, especially given the weather.

Rinse out your hide under lukewarm water. Then fill your tub about halfway and add a cup of washing soda. Use your hands and “knead” the hide in the water. What you’re trying to do is neutralize the oxalic acid from the tanning solution. Drain the tub, fill again, repeat.

After two neutralizing rounds of washing soda, it’s time to get to cleaning the hide. Prepare your back and arms for this step! I filled up the tub just enough that it covered the hide, added about half a capful of Woolite, and rinsed away. Once the water was pretty gross, I would drain and repeat. Continue this step until your water is clear. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water. {Don’t worry about the bits of straw, etc. stuck in the wool. This will come out later with brushing. You can hand pick some if you’d like- I did- but there will be about 2.2 million pieces of debris in there, just to forewarn you}.

Wring Out and Hang. Squeeze out as much water as you possibly can from the hide. But just so you know, you will not be able to get all of it- not even close. But wring it out several times in all directions.

 

 

Then hang the hide- I used my shower curtain rod which worked great. But you can use a sawhorse, deck railing (assuming the weather is clear), fence rail, etc.

Stitch. After you hang your hide, this is a great time to stitch up any holes. Definitely don’t wait until your hide is dry to do this! The skin is nice and supple and easy to stick a needle through. Use a strong, thick thread (I used this one).

Stretch. As the hide dries (it took about 5 days for the fleece to dry, another several before the skin was completely dry), stretch it in all different directions with your hands. An easy way to do this is to put it fleece-side down, stand on it in the middle, and pull upwards along the edges. Be careful NOT to pull the fleece at all or it will come out. Do this at least a few times a day while it is drying. To be honest, a stretching board would make this process MUCH easier, but it can be done this way without one. I just know that in the future, I will be building a stretching board as I plan to do a lot more tanning.

Soften. For the final softening finishing touches, saddle soap and neatsfoot oil are your friends. First rub the bar of saddle soap on a damp sponge and generously apply to the entire skin-side of the hide. Then use a sponge to apply the neatsfoot oil. Allow at least 24 hours to fully soak in. Wipe away excess. If you are happy with the softness, you are all finished with this step. Otherwise, repeat the soap/oil again.

How to Make a Sheepskin Rug- Yellow Birch Hobby Farm

Brush. Now the fun part! {Of course, it all was fun, wasn’t it?} This is where you get to transform your rug into something super special. Use a carding brush, and brush out the entire fleece. A lot of loose hair will come out. No worries, this is completely normal. Brush until the entire thing is soft, fluffy, and little or no more hair is coming off on your brush. You are now ready to display your beautiful homemade sheepskin rug as you please!

I had originally planned to put mine on the floor in our living room. But then…I was reminded of how my ultra talented family manufactures dirt like no other.

So then I thought it would be perfect for the bathroom, in front of the sink! Gorgeous. Until…I remembered my kids manage to get more toothpaste on the floor than on their brushes. No bueno.

Therefore, mine now rests on the back of one of our couches. Super comfy to snuggle up to! And I won’t drive myself crazy trying to keep the kids- and their dirt and toothpaste- off of it.

But no matter how you choose to use your new sheepskin rug, you will certainly have a healthy appreciation for it having done it yourself. It’s a process that I know I cannot wait to repeat again soon. This process can also be used to tan other hides as well (such as goats). So go get creative! And feel good about rekindling an art that is sadly becoming lost on our generation.

Homestead on, my friends.

For further reading on tanning your own sheepskin rug at home:

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Homesteading-and-Livestock/tanning-sheepskin-zmaz75ndzgoe?pageid=1#PageContent1

This post contains affiliate links. What this means is I link to a product (that I love& use and/or recommend), and if you decide it’s something you want, I will receive a small monetary compensation with no cost to you- just because you used my link to find it! This helps support my blogging activities and I thank you. Homestead on, my friends.

Save

Save

Save

Save

About yellowbirchhobbyfarm

Hi! I'm Erin, a 19th-century homesteader at heart. Here at Yellow Birch Hobby Farm we practice self-sustainable living by way of organic gardening, canning & preserving, raising a variety of livestock, hunting, foraging, and cooking from scratch. And here at our blog, we share it all with you! So glad you've found us.

4 comments on “How to Make a Sheepskin Rug

    • Hi, Nicole! Yes, it would. If you don’t want to completely submerge the hides in the tanning solution, you could just brush it on a couple times a day, fold them in half (skin side in) to keep them moistened during the tanning process. With the sheep hide, you’re wanting to get the fleece nice and clean too- rabbit fur isn’t usually gross. So you could eliminate the washing step. Hope this helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *