Station: [13] Preparing Soft Leather

Hard leather was an indispensable material for work, manual trades and agriculture – used for shoe soles, bridles, belts and straps. Soft leather, on the other hand, was used in fashion. The local Mantz tannery also produced softer types of leather for shoe uppers, leather clothing, gloves and handbags.

The fresh, raw skins of calves, goats or sheep which were destined to become soft leather were similarly salted and soaked in the village stream. But then they went into a solution of lime in the lime pits. Within a week, the epidermis, including the hair, detached itself from the dermis, or true skin, which relaxed and bulked up.

The de-fleshing beam was next, where hair, epidermis and subcutis were stripped. Afterwards, the skins were de-limed by washing out the lime solution in the village stream.

This is where it gets pretty gross. Because next is a chemical process called "bating", which involved the addition of pigeon droppings, dog faeces or chicken manure and caused the skins to break down. The fibrous structure relaxed, so it was better able to absorb the brew in the series of bark pits.

Once the skins emerged from the pits, the tanning process for all finer types of leather was complete. A mixture of fish oil and beef suet was applied to the leather to make it soft and supple.

All depictions: © Gemeinde Fricklingen