Thursday, May 30, 2013

Removing the Skin from the Urine

I figured I would see what I had after two days so I emptied the bucket onto the grass.

It smelled pretty rank and the liquid seemed more opaque compared to when it went in and there was a film on top. I'm guessing the film is at least partially composed of the fats that had come off the skin. As I understand it, the ammonia in the urine breaks down the fats in the skin making glycerol and free fatty acids. Some of the fatty acids are able to penetrate the skin which tans the skin.

As you can see, there was a lot less flesh on the skin but I'm pretty sure there shouldn't be any which means that I should have removed more before soaking. That probably would have helped with the smell too. The skins still definitely smelled like fish and there were a lot of flies keeping me company while I inspected them.

I used a seashell as a scraper to remove the flesh. This is apparently what the Inuit used and I can see why. It's really effective. Next time, I'll scrape before, not after. Whoops...

Here's a shot after the scraping. Probably what it should have looked like before the soaking.

After washing, they felt really soft but were still kind of fishy smelling.

Next it was time to tack them to a board and let them dry in the afternoon sun.

After drying, which only took a few hours, I realized something. The skins are transparent. Crap... it was already going to be a tough sell to get my wife in a urine-soaked fish skin bikini. Add see-through to that list and I think I'm approaching the impossible.

The skins at this point were pretty hard too as you can see in the next video.

I also hit another snag. An animal walked off with one of the skins. Crap again.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fish Skin Tanning Experiment

I've been reading a little about taxidermy lately, most recently about fish skin tanning. The process of taking, what seems to be a fragile and easily torn skin, and transforming it into a fabric that be used to make clothing seems pretty interesting.

I'm sure in grade school we learned about the Inuit using fish skin for snow boots, gloves and bags but I have long since forgotten. I always think of animals with fur and legs when I think of leather but according to history, fish leather is very durable and an effective material for making clothing.

Anyway, I'm going to try my hand at it and the item I've selected to make is a bikini for my wife.

I'm not sure if I will be able to convince her to wear it (especially since it's going to sit in a pail of my piss - but more on that later) but it seems like the ideal little project for these reasons:
  • it doesn't need a lot of material
  • it should be waterproof
  • bikinis are hot


The method I'm going to try involves soaking the skin in urine because, well... it's a little strange and that makes it appealing. I'm going to loosely follow the method outlined on Kingsmere Crafts under "Tanning fish skins".

First thing I needed: pee. 

Next skin. One night when I was looking through the fridge for dinner, I realized that a Rainbow Trout that was meant for a meal was a few days older than it should be. It was time...

Even though the fish had been scaled at the store, it was actually still really covered in scales. You can see them in the closeup shinning in the light. Using the back of a butter knife I descaled the fish.

You can see the bottom still has scales and they're shinning in the light. The top half has been scaled and doesn't reflect the light the same way.

Cut and skinned. I need some practice at this part. I put a little tear in one of the sides. Note how much flesh is still on the skins. I think it was a mistake to leave that much on before putting them into the pee. Since this was the first time, I didn't really know how much needed to come off.

Now the fun part... putting the skins into the pee. The mixture was half pee, half water.

Next I waited a few days.

It smelled pretty bad after two days as you would imagine. I've read some accounts that the pee is supposed to remove the fishy smell but this wasn't happening - at least yet. This is when I started to realize that I should have cleaned the flesh off better.