The plan is to finally get around to making new winter boots this year. To know which size to make them I made a pair of fur socks first.
The socks are made out of sheep skins tanned lightly with bark and subsequently smoked. The skins are a bit small, which makes them a lot more work to make than if I used a whole reindeer hide, but it also allowed me to experiment with patterns for the boots themselves.
There are mainly three pieces to this pattern. The sole, the toe and front, and the heel and leg. Some minor adjustments will probably be made for the next pair I make, but they seem alright and certainly very warm.
This kind of socks are of Evenki, Even and Yakut design and the boots will be as well.
The last two hunting seasons have been very good for us. This year I haven’t been hunting quite as much as the last few years, but return was still good, especially wild reindeer. We share all the meat within the extended family, with some given also to friends or in payment for licenses. Any moose killed are distributed on the teams that hunt them.
Reindeer hunting is particularly important to us, and most of the food I eat during the winter months is meat from the animals killed in August and September. During that time, there are a lot of flies around still and special care needs to be taken to minimize waste. If in the deep mountains the animal can be soaked under water until you are ready to dry the meat or we use modern game bags of fly netting. The meat that is to be used by the whole family is butchered into separate muscles after hanging for a few days. The head and bones are boiled until the meat falls off and we then drink the broth and the excess fat is stored for the winter. The skins are washed if bloody or full of fly eggs, and are dried for later tanning.
From Mid-October through December storage is easier, since the flies are usually completely gone. When there is a proper frost, some meat is stored outdoors for using as we go. Since most of the family is not very fond of dried meat, only a limited amount is stored this way. As I don’t have a freezer, I then rely on my family to store most of the meat.
Luckily we this year had a dedicated carnivore from the UK, Jonathan Ridgeon, to assist us throughout most of the hunting season. He doesn’t hunt, but puts a lot of effort into the butchering and storing.
The total animals hunted in 2015 were:
Laje Gaaren (brother):
- 2 reindeer
- 1 moose
- 1 red deer
- 1 roe deer
- 1 wolf
- And various small game including beaver, badger, fox, capercaillie, wood cock etc.
John Vinther Nissen (Laje’s father in law):
From my reindeer hunting:
Pictures of Laje, his son and his father in law.
There are several ways of going about smoking smaller skins. If you have only a few and you aren’t interested in smoking the fur too much, this kind of box is a good solution.
First you make a fire. It’s easier and safer to move the box to the fire than to attempt to light a fire inside it. Make a properly hot one. Burnt stubs doesn’t matter, you’re going to suffocate the fire with chips of rotten wood anyway.
When you have a proper smoke going, drape the skin over the box and keep it down with the lid.
Periodically check if the fire gets too hot and put more rotten wood on if it does. The minimum smoking time I consider to be one hour, but more is better.
For those who wonder, smoking makes the skins uninteresting for moths, a huge problem during the summer months. It also makes it possible to more easily soften the skins again if they get wet. I smoke all my furs, even if I don’t expect them to ever get wet. Simply because of the insect repellant qualities.
In the search for ultra simple winter clothing I have researched Japan quite extensively. Like here the winters are characterised by relatively mild weather with lots of snow. The terrain is also quite similar and walking will make you sweat in either of them.
The Matagi is probably an assimilated Ainu population in northern Honshu. A few of their clothing solutions interests me because of their sheer simplicity.
I have not yet extensively tested this cloak as it has a drawback compared to the parka; it does not cover the front, giving limited cold protection.
My belief is that the main advantages of this garment is that it sheds snow off your back and provides camouflage when sneaking up on animals.
The design has been derived from photos and chances are it doesn’t fully represent how a Matagi cloak would look like or work. The cross attachment in the front I have observed on several photos and has the advantage of the cloak attaching more tightly to your back and it doesn’t strangle you as a neck attachment might.
The Matagi used serow skins, but since I’m in rather short supply of those I’ve used a reindeer calf skin.
For more cold protection it would be better to use a skin large enough to overlap in front. I believe this design might be the precursor to the open front parka.
Some skins can be very hard to work efficiently. In particular leg skins of various deer animals. The breaker helps you break open the membrane of the flesh side, before scraping them, making the scraping easier and more complete.
The breaker can also be used on small buckskin and grain on hides for the same purpose. Body skins of deers with fur on have too brittle hairs. There are better ways of dealing with them.
The procedure for initial softening plus breaking up the membrane is as follows: The skin is oiled on the flesh side with any kind of fat available. Thicker hides must also be slightly dampened with moss. After leaving overnight the skins are folded and broken in all directions in the breaker. When complete, the skin is scraped and can be made ready for the final softening by hand. I will not cover the details of this here.
I have been using this tool for over a year now and it has cut the time I spend on leg or headskins drastically.
Some detail photos: