About this collection

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.

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