With livestock breeding being their main economic activity, the Kalmyks always had enough raw material at hand to undertake leatherwork. Traditionally, pelts were processed either in summer or autumn when the livestock was slaughtered. The technology of pelt-processing differed for various livestock depending on their size. The pelt of large animals was processed as follows. At first the pelt was cleaned of impurities, such as fat layers, and dried in the open air. Then it was left in salty liquid with sour whey for several days. After that, the skin was cleaned again, dried, and softened manually or by beating it with a stick. By contrast, the pelt of small animals such as sheep was first salted and then smeared several times with a mix of brine and whey. Once dried, the skin was cleaned and softened by using a knife-shaped wooden instrument. Finally, the skin was smeared with a special home-made powder. In the past, no part of an animal skin was left unused. For example, the belly and leg parts of large livestock, including horses, cows, and camels, were used for the production of belts, stirrups, whips, as well as various bags and large containers such as for keeping or transporting liquid. The head skin was usually used for the production of bortkha, a traditional container to keep milk vodka or water. The skin of small livestock, by contrast, was used mainly to sew clothing such as winter coats, hats, gloves, or used as a bedspread.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 17 of 17
  • ItemOpen Access
    Vitaliy Zaseev, An interview
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-10-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Terbish, Baasanjav
  • ItemOpen Access
    Sangadzhi Kononov, About the magical power of a whip
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2016-09-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair
  • ItemOpen Access
    Andrei Boskhomdzhiev, How to make dombra strings
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-11-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr; Bembeev, Aleksandr
  • ItemOpen Access
    Anastasia Naranova, Pelt-processing and working with leather
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-09-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Sandzhiev, Artur; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Anastasia Naranova, Ornaments
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-09-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Sandzhiev, Artur; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Aleksandr Koshevoi, Whip
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2016-02-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Angira Shaburova, How to process a sheep’s skin
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2016-10-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton
    Angira talks about how to process a sheep’s skin: Smear the skin with chigyan (fermented milk) and dry it outside. Scrub the skin with a knife and reapply the chigyan. In the past processed sheep’s skin was used to make winter coats or trousers.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Nikolai Khatuev, about whips
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2019-05-05) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton
    Nikolai talks about the importance of a whip for Kalmyk men: My son-in-law gave me this whip. He said to me that it is over 100 years old. It has 8 leather straps woven together by using the so-called ‘snake pattern’. Whips have 8, 16, or 30 leather straps. The end of a whip sometimes has a piece of lead attached to it. Whips are very important for Kalmyks. One should not step over a whip, toss a whip, leave it outside at night, or lean against a whip. For a man his whip is like a weapon. He can use it to fight an enemy or protect himself from wolves. This long whip is called ‘shilvir’. It consists of three parts which generate a very powerful blow.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Ivan Tserenov, about the Kalmyk whip
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2019-05-04) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Koldaev, Tseren; Bembeev, Aleksandr
    Ivan says the following: The handle of the Kalmyk whip was made from cherry wood and covered with straps cross-weaved with one another. The whip itself consisted of 6 interwoven leather strips. Its parts were marked with metal rings to make the whip flexible. The tip of the whip had a piece of lead attached. In the house a whip was hung on the right wall of the entrance.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Dordzhi Nandyshev, about how to process pelt
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2019-05-04) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton; Sandzhiev, Artur
    Dordzhi talks about how to process cow’s pelt in order to make whips: In Soviet times everything was mass produced at factories. That is why many traditional crafts became forgotten. In the past, all Kalmyk men could process pelt and work with wood. People made horse harnesses themselves, and were taught about various crafts from childhood. A whip variety called ‘shilvr’ has two parts: a long and a short one. The long part is woven from six leather straps. To prepare the straps, one needs first to treat a cow’s pelt with sour milk. Then the pelt is cut into wide straps and immersed into salty sour milk. When the pelt softens, it is easier to rid it of hair. When the straps are ready, they are hung and stretched by tying a stone to the bottom. In order to make them soft, the straps are smeared with horse’s fat.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Khongor Dzhavinov, Crafts: Leatherwork and Smithery
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-08-21) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr
    Khongor talks about his skills. He can make boots, keys, and do iron work and carpentry: To sew boots, Khongor says, one needs to have skillful hands and be smart. He still has his boots that he made in Siberia. Now they are displayed in a museum. Khongor also keeps his instruments that he got in Siberia in 1945, including a hammer, wire cutters, a knife, and tailoring patterns. Khongor can also make keys, he learnt this skill from an old man. Masters usually disassemble locks, but Khongor made keys without opening locks. The old man praised him for that skill. Khongor made mowing equipment pulled by a camel or an ox. He learnt how to make it from another old man. In the past there was no welding equipment and people heated iron on the coal. In the fifth grade, Khongor worked as a carpenter.
  • ItemOpen Access
    How to Make a Whip
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2016-05-14) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Babaev, Andrei
    In this video a Kalmyk man shows a traditional way of making a whip. It was videotaped at the annual Festival of Tulips held in the Tselinniy rayon of Kalmykia in April 2016.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Exhibition: Leatherwork
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-01-27) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Churyumov, Anton
    This video shows Kalmyk traditional leatherwork displayed at an exhibition at the National Museum in Elista in April 2015.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Polina Fedorova, About Leather and Its Uses
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Terbish, Baasanjav; Babaev, Andrei
    Polina explains how people processed sheep’s skin and what items were made from different kinds of leather. In the past, people first cleaned a sheep’s skin and put it on a specially prepared cow’s pelt in the shade to let it dry. Then they applied salt and folded the skin. The amount of salt had to be exact, since too much salt could burn the skin and too little was not good either. Afterwards the salted skin was hung on the fence and scrubbed clean with a wooden knife. The water, fat and salt that dripped from the skin were collected in a container and disposed of far away. Then the skin was washed, brought into the house, and smeared with a solution made from sour milk. If someone wanted to make a winter coat (devl), instead of the usual 5 days the leather had to be kept in the sour milk solution only for a couple of days. The wool on the skin was detached with the help of a wooden knife. The wool was then used to make felt, socks and other items of clothing. The sheep’s leather (now without hair) looked as smooth as a rug. It was washed again, dried in the shade, and softened by hand. Lamb skin was used to make a special coat called uch that people wore during holidays and celebrations. The devl coat, by contrast, was worn every day. Sheep’s and cow’s pelts were also used to make boots, saddles, trousers, hats, ropes, belts, cups, containers, etc.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Konstantin Naktanov, About Leather and How Kalmyks Slaughter Sheep
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira; Gedeeva, Darina; Churyumov, Anton
    A short interview with Konstantin about processing pelt and killing sheep. Konstantin: When I was a child I used to soften pelt. Processed pelt was beaten with a stick and then softened by rubbing with both hands. Darina: What is the first stage in processing pelt? K: First, pelt was salted and smeared with a mix made from sour milk and fodder. When dried, it was softened by hand, washed, and left to dry again. The pelt was processed like this. One had to repeat this every day for a week. D: When did you use chalk (in this process)? K: You smear chalk on the pelt towards the very end, in order to make it white. D: What did you do with the pelt afterwards? K: It was used to sew a vest for children. My grandmother sewed it herself. She spun wool. She could do everything. D: Did people use pelt to make winter coats? K: Yes, people did it in the past. D: What kind of pelt did people process? K: Sheep’s skin. There was nothing else. We killed sheep at home. According to Kalmyk tradition, it is forbidden to say ‘to kill a sheep’. One has to say ‘to let the sheep’s (soul) out’. So, we ‘let sheep’s soul out’ beginning from the age of 13 or so. We cut its chest open and pulled out the heart so that the sheep died quickly. D: Did people cut sheep in this way for fire rituals? K: We always cut this way, be it for food or rituals. I had not seen other ways of cutting until I came to Tsagan Aman village where I witnessed people cut a sheep’s throat. I was really surprised to see that. People in different places had different ways of cutting sheep. D: Before cutting a sheep, what did you say? K: During a fire ritual, the sheep was to be smeared with milk and butter from head to tail and smoked with incenses. It was the elderly who said the (special) words. We, youngsters, knew nothing of these words.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Alexei Naranov, About Leatherwork and Crafts
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Babaev, Andrei; Kovaeva, Bair; Babaev, Andrei
    Alexei talks about manual pelt processing, the use of leather in clothing, as well as about blacksmiths and saddles. Darina: Do you have craftsmen in your family? Alexei: I made things myself. Also, my mother used to process lamb skin from which she made hats. Darina: How did she process a skin? Alexei: After the sheep was slaughtered, she took its skin and scraped it to soften it. Darina: How was the skin fermented? Alexei: A big pot is filled with fermented milk. The skin becomes soft in this solution. All the dirt comes off. Afterwards the skin is dried. Darina: Was chalk applied to the skin? Alexei: Yes, chalk was applied to it to make it white. Afterwards, the skin was shaken out to get rid of the chalk. Darina: What did people make from a horse’s skin? Alexei: People made everything. Darina: Did people make winter coats? Alexei: Winter coats were made from a sheep’s skin. A horse’s skin was used to make a coat called dokha as well as various covers. Darina: In dokha, was the fur inside out? Alexei: Yes. Darina: A coat from a sheep’s skin - was its fur inside? Alexei: Yes, inside. Darina: Did you have blacksmiths? Alexei: Yes. Darina: What did they do? Who were they? Alexei: They did repair works in our kolkhoz. They looked after tractors and equipment. They were all Russian men. Darina: In the past, who made saddles? Alexei: There were masters who made them. Saddles were made from pieces of wood that were glued together. Darina: Were stirrups the only metal part in saddles? Alexei: Yes. Darina: Were there any specialists who made stirrups? Alexei: We bought iron stirrups in Astrakhan. Kalmyks covered the top of their saddles with a cow’s skin. Pelt was used to make whips and other things. Darina: What kind of skin was a whip made from? Alexei: From a cow’s pelt. Darina: Was it used to make clothing? Alexei: No, a cow’s pelt was used to make boots or shoes only.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Aleksandr Koshevoi, Bortkha
    (2016-03-09) Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton
    Aleksandr says that usually it takes up to a month and a half for him to produce a single bortkha, which is a vessel to keep alcohol or milk products such as liquid yoghurt. In the past when it was used widely, a bortkha also served as an object to indicate the wealth and social status of its owner. Aleksandr shows various sketches of bortkha and ornaments that go with it. He explains that a bortkha is produced as follows. Two pieces of soft pelt are sewed together to make a vessel. In order to give it the required shape, the bortkha is filled with a mix of soil and sand. Decorations are also applied when the pelt is still soft. The bortkha is then dried and smoked on a fire for a day. The neck of the bortkha is made from a white metal such as silver, and rarely from copper or brass. The cork is made from wood. Finally, the bortkha is smeared with a mix of several ingredients, including sheep's fat. As an example, Aleksandr shows one of his bortkhas. He says that he knows how to make a dozen different types. He has produced more than 30 so far.