Leather dressing

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Animal skins and hides have been used as clothing from prehistoric times. Methods of processing skins to make them more pliable were developed early in history, and have been carried out in Romania for many generations. Sheep, goats, cattle, or pigskins were readily available and the processing of these items was originally carried out in peasants’ own homes, but was later transferred to specialist workshops.

In order to prepare the skin for use as leather it went through a number of processes. The skin was cured by first stretching it and fixing it with nails on a fence or on the ground. It was then covered with a thick layer of salt and sometimes ashes to absorb moisture and left for around two weeks. The skin was then put into a wooden barrel with a tanning solution made of a powder of oak, alder (or occasionally, fir) bark and left to soak for several days, until the hair could be removed easily. A more complex solution made using potassium alum, sodium chloride, egg yolk, and wheat flour was used for finer products. After tanning the skin was stretched on a wooden block and scraped with a long slightly curved metal blade. The soaking could be repeated several times to get a better quality tanning. The skins were then dried and stretched, smoothed, and finished by applying a dressing solution to make them waterproof.

Skins could be dyed by using dyes made from vegetable or mineral substances.

Vegetable dyes
Red chestnut Băcan wood
Bright red Roibă (type of madder)
Grey, green, silver Orcein – species of lichen
Yellow & light brown Saffron
Mineral dyes
grey to black iron sulphate
brown or chestnut potassium and sodium hydrate
light grey and black potassium bichromate

In the past hundred years chemical dyes have been introduced on an ever-larger scale. Strong colours are obtained by using more concentrated solutions, although the finest result was obtained from repeated, successive applications of the dyestuffs which gave the leather a translucent sheen.

Leather used for making costume was of varying qualities and thickness depending on its use. Leather used to make sandals (opinci) was thick; leather used for coats and belts was thin and flexible. The type of leather used varied from region to region. Waistcoats and coats from Mărginimea Sibiului were made of fine white leather whereas those from southern Moldavia and Dobrogea were made of heavier unevenly coloured leather. Certain areas were known for their fine quality leather products, for example belts were made and sold at Câmpulung Muşcel & Câmpulung Moldoveneasca, Rădăuţi, Craiova and Sibiu.

References

© Eliznik2005, First issue 5/4/2003, Last updated Aug-05