Work with Fern + Roe

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Courses

Classes are offered 3-5x a month, seasonally. Check out the events page for upcoming classes.

The Fern + Roe studio is at Tseycum, on the Saanich Peninsula in southern Vancouver Island, near the city of Victoria. Occasional on-the-road instruction is offered in the Lower Mainland on Matsqui Nation territory, in the British Columbia Interior, and even as far as Treaty 4 territory in Manitoba. Get in touch to request a class in your local area.

Available classes

Smoke-tanned Buckskin

Smoke-tanned Buckskin

Smoke-tanning, also known as brain-tanning, is the most ancient method of not only hide tanning but of textile creation worldwide. It is the only hide tanning method found around the globe, in every corner of the world. Since it can’t be reproduced in a factory setting, smoke-tanning always happens on the home and community level.

Buckskin is the (hair-free) velvety-soft textile made from tanning any mammal hide in the smoke-tan method. Historically in the English-speaking world, buckskin was also known as “chamois leather,” named for the animal who was most valued for this type of tanning. The name buckskin comes from the ‘bucking solution,’ a natural alkaline solution that prepares the hide for tanning. It is not named for a male ungulate, also called a buck. The Old English word for a male deer was “hart,” and later “stag.” The modern word for a male deer might just come from the bucking solution used for buckskin, but this etymology is a bit of a mystery.

Buckskin is created through a combination of fat and smoke. The fat (in the form of, yes, brains) absorbs into the hide to lubricate the pores, while the smoke organically reacts with the fat molecules and transforms the hide from skin into textile. A hide must be worked vigorously with tools and by hand to turn it from a stiff piece of rawhide (think: drum heads) into smooth fabric.

Length of class: 3 consecutive days or 4 days over two weekends.
Cost: $365
Fern + Roe - smoke-tanned-deerskin-rug

Smoke-tanned Deerskin Rug

Smoke-tanning, also known as brain-tanning, is the most ancient method of not only hide tanning but of textile creation worldwide. It is the only hide tanning method found around the globe, in every corner of the world. Since it can’t be reproduced in a factory setting, smoke-tanning always happens on the home and community level.

Deerskin rugs are created through a combination of fat and smoke. The fat (in the form of, yes, brains) absorbs into the hide to lubricate the pores, while the smoke organically reacts with the fat molecules and transforms the hide from skin into textile. A hide must be worked vigorously with tools and by hand to turn it from a stiff piece of rawhide (think: drum heads) into smooth fabric.

This class takes the most physical work of any of the tanning classes. Deerskins are strong, and with the addition of the grain layer of skin and the fur, they are even stronger. Class participants are welcome to team up in pairs to work on one deerskin together, with the second participant paying $100 rather than the full tuition cost.

Length of class: 3 consecutive days or 4 days over two weekends.
Cost: $365
Rawhide Making

Rawhide Making

Simply put, rawhide is a dried hide. There is more to this story, though. Skin acts like a textile once it has been dried, so Rawhide can be used in a variety of ways to construct art and media. It can be taken when wet to form a particular shape, or dried flat and then cut out. Rawhide has been made into anything from containers to horse bridles to shoes to windows. Most famously, it is the textile placed on drum heads to give them their deep and expansive resonance. It is also used by jewellery artists and by painters as a natural canvas.

The Rawhide Making class spans two days. On the first day, we scrape hair out of deer skins and rack the hides into frames to let them dry overnight. One the second day, we dry-scrape the newly minted rawhides to give them a smooth shine.

Length of class: 2 days
Cost: $305

Mineral Tanned Sheepskin Rug

Mineral Tanning is the hide tanning method that emerged with shepherding and sheep tending, and it continues to be the most valued method for sheepskin rugs, even during our era of mass “chem-tanning.” It creates a bright, white leather that is super plush, and lets the wool keep its natural colour. This is an easy method for beginner tanners to take up.

In this class, we create soft sheepskin rugs for at-home use. On day one, we scrape and frame the sheepskins. On day two, we poil and soften them until they are dry. One day three, we groom the wool using line combing to turn them into cozy throw rugs for the home.

Length of class: 3 days
Cost: $350
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Personal Mentorship and Apprenticeships

Financial Accessibility

Personal Mentorship

Personal mentorship is 1:1 hide tanning instruction from Mara, whether you travel to the studio or she travels to you. Mentorship can be for individuals or groups up to 4 people. This is a popular option for farmers, hunters, and trappers who have access to their own hides, but hides can be provided as well. In the personal mentorship, you get guided hands-on instruction and detailed information on hide tanning.

There are several mentorship packages to choose from. They are either 3 days or 5 days in length, and they focus on either one or two tanning methods. Prices start at $750 and go up, depending on the materials required, number of days, and number of people seeking mentorship in one group.

To get started, please fill out this survey.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are offered on a rolling basis for those interested in deepening their hide tanning journey and especially for folks who wish to teach this skill to others. This 1:1 mentoring takes place over 6-12 months at the Fern + Roe studio at Tseycum on Vancouver Island. Apprentices arrive with prior hide tanning experience, whether from fern + Roe or elsewhere.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, applications for apprenticeships are closed.
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Hide Tanning Immersion Program

Welcome to the annual Hide Tanning Immersion, now moved online! This is Fern + Roe’s capstone offering, from February to June each year. Enrolment opens in September and closes in December for the following year.

Over five months, we meet through an online platform for hide tanning methodology, storytelling, and community connection. Sessions are once or twice per month, with drop-in troubleshooting meets in between. Instruction is a mix of live video and PDF guides. Videos will be recorded so you can plan your hide time around your own schedule.

The five hide tanning sessions will each focus on one fundamental method of hide tanning, while bridging to the next step in a continual learning process. We start with the basics and move into more complex methods. Plus, two sessions on craft-making with your own tanned hides are embedded into the program.

Tuition is based on a sliding scale and is free for Indigneous people. Materials – including animal hides and tools – are up to each individual to source for themselves, and some or all may be sourced through Fern + Roe. We provide a welcome kit to each participant with ingredients for tanning and guide everyone along in sourcing their own materials and creating an at-home tannery.

Hide Tanning Immersion Program
FEBRURAY

Bark-tanned and oil-tanned fishskins

Instructor: Amber Sandy
MARCH

Rawhide making

Instructor: Mara Cur

Drum making

Instructor: Carman McKay
APRIL

Smoke-tanned deer buckskin

Instructor: Mara Cur
MAY

Mineral-tanned sheepskin rug

Instructor: Shauna Mikomi
JUNE

Bark-tanned deer leather

Instructor: Mara Cur

Slippers-making

Instructor: June Pardue
Length of program: 5 months
Cost: Sliding scale, $195-$285 per month; free for Indigenous people.
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Schools and Organizations

We love working with schools and organizations, and can tailor an experience that best fits your community.

We have experience working with youth ages 5 years old and up. Our offerings include drop-in presentations on hide tanning and nature craft; demonstrations on hide tanning and crafting; craft classes, working with textiles and pigments, and immersive hide tanning classes. We create both online and in-person programming.

Schools and organizations we have worked with: Sta7mes School in Squamish, BC; EatWild, Vancouver, BC; Surrounded by Cedar, Victoria, BC; Xetolacw School, Lil’wat, BC; Pembina FIbreshed, Winnipeg, MB.

Please get in touch with us through this contact form.

Schools Organizations
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Online Instruction

The Covid-19 pandemic spurred Fern + Roe to take hide tanning to the digital world. This has been an expansive experience, with many new friends added to the family. These online offerings are here to stay. Wherever you are in the world, if Fern + Roe resonates with you, we can make hide tanning happen in your backyard.

For downloadable video instruction, go to the online shop.

Online Consultation

An Online Hide Tanning Consultations is a 1:1 conversation on everything you are wondering about hide tanning. Sessions are 75 minutes long via a phone call or Zoom video. Sit back, sip some tea, and let’s talk hide tanning. Whether you’re jumping into a new skill on your own or need help troubleshooting a pesky problem, the floor is yours to ask questions and delve deep into the craft with Mara.

Length: 75-90 minutes
Cost: Sliding scale, $90-$150. Free for Indigenous people.
Fern + Roe - personal-mentorship-apprenticing

Online Mentorship

An Online Hide Tanning Mentorship is 1:1 extended instruction to help guide you through your own hide tanning project at home. You can provide your own hides and materials or source them from Fern + Roe. We start with a consultation and follow with a series of Zoom calls timed for when your project begins. The mentorship is tailored to your needs as a learner and with your busy schedule. You get guided into and cheerleaded through the process of hide tanning, whatever your current skill level.

What you get:

  • Up to six hours of live instruction, as needed
  • Responsive troubleshooting by text message each day
  • A downloadable package of PDFs on the method of your choice
  • Invitation to a private alumni Facebook group for continued community support
Length: 3-5 video calls
Cost: $360. Free for Indigenous people.
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