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Working With Vintage Pelts/soft Mounting

Discussion in 'Beginners' started by crown_of_bone, Mar 22, 2020.

  1. crown_of_bone

    crown_of_bone New Member

    Hi all!

    I'm a complete newbie; I've been collecting a while and am just starting to branch out into actually working with pelts and taxidermy. I have a bunch of cool vintage pelts, all of which were formerly from garments/stoles. While they're not in perfect condition, I thought it might be fun to use them as practice for making soft mounts. I have general sewing experience, but none working with furs. I don't expect these to come out perfect, especially given their age, wear, and pelt type, but figure it'll be a fun project/learning experience nonetheless.

    My questions are, in no particular order:

    1. The faces are all in the pinched style that was common for old garments. Is there a way to reshape the faces, and adjust the ears and help them to stand up? These faces have charm in their own way (they remind me of the "worm on a string" toys), but I would love to be able to give them a bit more dignity.

    2. The paws are naturally not in great shape; I'm not too hopeful about getting good results with them. A lot of them had the paw folded in half down the middle so that they're narrower. I can release the stitching so that they're "free" (see second photo), though that exposes the opening in the hide. Are there good ways to reshape the paws? The toes are fairly twisted.

    3. What's a good way to replace missing paw pads? Clay?

    4. Since these critters were almost all case-skinned (though I think one or two might have seams across the bellies), I'll likely have to do some cutting so that I can work with them. Having not done this before, I'm terrified of hurting the pelts. What's the best way to cut to avoid causing damage? Any recommended tools?

    5. What type of needle/thread is best to use?

    Any other newbie tips would be much appreciated! Thank you!

    Attached Files:

  2. Certainly not an expert but I can try answering some of your questions.

    First, many pelts used for garments may not be suitable for soft mounting. Here is a good post explaining the differences: https://blackbackedjackal.tumblr.com/post/187065208259/what-does-it-mean-when-a-pelt-is-wall-hanger

    Not meant to discourage you, as I am sure these will be good for practice, it just might be more difficult to work with something not meant for taxidermy.

    If you do have one that will work, with old / vintage tans it's always unknown how they will respond to further handling. To reshape the face and claws, it will have to be hydrated with plain water. Normally you could soak the area to be reshaped for ~30 minutes (less on smaller, thin-skinned animals like mink or rabbit, more for thicker skinned like bear), put them in a plastic bag, and let it sit overnight in the fridge. Should be pliable in the morning. Then you can reshape them, using a form if you have one, or if you don't, balled up aluminum foil in the shape as the skull works too. Then card the ears with some thin cardboard (like cereal boxes and such). Cut out the cardboard and bend it in the shape of the ear. Place it against the pelt and hold it in place with some clothespins as it dries.

    HOWEVER, old tans can sometimes just disintegrate when exposed to water. You have no way of knowing how it was tanned or treated however many years ago. So what you should do is take a sponge or cloth, get it wet, and pat the skin side of the hide with it until it is slightly damp. I would choose a small corner of the hide in an inconspicuous spot. Then manipulate and pull the skin a bit. If it seems to hold up you can try on the face or larger areas, but if it starts to tear, fall apart, or fur begins to come out, stop. That pelt is not suitable for mounting and should only be a wall hanger / garment. The best thing you can do at that point is stop touching it. Still, there will be no guarantees.

    Also know that any place you get wet will probably dry hard and stiff, and the leather will have to be re-broken by stretching it by hand or over a beam throughout the drying process, so best to do this only to the face or areas that won't be moving much.

    For cutting or sewing, make sure to cut the skin side only with a sharp knife, and stop as soon as it cuts through the skin. You want to avoid cutting any fur. If you aren't good with sharpening regular knives a scalpel is probably best. Exacto knife works but I have also used a box cutter so really any sharp knife. Do NOT use scissors. Those will cut the fur also and you will have a very noticeable seam.

    Clay or two part epoxy (I like Apoxie Sculpt) will work to replace paw pads, but the real problem will be the missing skin. It's usually used for repairs (such as if the paw pad was cut through to make skinning easier, as is commonly done with raccoon back feet). It will be hard to work with something you don't have. I've never tried but perhaps you can sew other fabric on to where the paw pad would be, then attach clay over top?

    Really any needle and thread will work. Some taxidermists swear by fancy fishing line (Fireline or Spiderwire brand) but those are pretty expensive and not necessary for just a hobby. Just use a good stitch and you will be fine. http://www.taxidermy.net/forum/index.php/topic,68450.0.html

    For thicker areas there are glover's needles, they will be in the leather section of craft stores. They are like regular needles but triangular in cross section instead of round, which makes it easier to push through leather.

    Good luck!
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2020
    crown_of_bone likes this.

  3. crown_of_bone

    crown_of_bone New Member

    Thank you so much! This is all fantastic information.