After salting and soaking, the hides destined to become hard leather were stacked on top of each other to encourage what’s called "sweating". This is a fermentation process, in which – within a few days – the epidermis, including the hairs, detaches from the dermis, or true skin. In those days, nothing was thrown away, so the hairs were processed into cheap felt.
This was the point at which the de-fleshing beam came into play. The subcutaneous tissue, or subcutis, had to be stripped off the salted, soaked and de-haired skins. Using an iron scraper, the tanner detached the softened subcutis from the true skin. The same process was also used to remove any remaining flesh, fat or hair. As a “glue hide”, the subcutis was subsequently made into animal glue.
After renewed soaking, any remnants of the epidermis and subcutis were wiped off. At this stage of the process, the skins had become "pelts".
These "pelts", that is, stripped animal hides, were pre-tanned in what’s known as the “Farbgang”, a sequence of pits containing spruce bark brews in varying concentrations. That toughened the bulked-up pelts and turned them brown.
Finally, after all the hard work of curing and “Beamhouse operations” or pre-tanning, the actual tanning process could begin, using a tanning agent such as tanbark. The tanning pits in the market square, discussed at stop number two of our guided tour, served precisely that purpose. After their time in the tanning pits, the hides had finally been turned into leather. Next, they were compacted with the leather roller, then polished and dressed. To create exactly what saddlers or shoemakers were looking for when they purchased hard leather.
All depictions: © Gemeinde Fricklingen