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Taxidermy supplies and tips > Making animal fur rugs
Making animal fur rugs
Probably the first use (after clothing) made of skins was as rugs or coverings for the ground or couches, and in this shape they are still to be found in our most elegantly furnished homes. One of the
few survivals of primitive tastes.
The skins of some few animals such as Polar and Grizzly Bears are used for little else. Other smaller skins such as wolf, fox, wild cat, etc. are much in favor as rugs as well as for garment furs.
In skinning an animal for use as a rug it is as well to skin and stretch it open, cut under side of body from chin to the end of tail and from, each foot down to the central line. A large animal like
bear or leopard looks well with the paws preserved and they should be skinned down to the last joint, leaving the claws attached to the skin. Smaller skins may have the paws preserved, though the effect is hardly worth the trouble and the smaller paws are easily crushed on the floor by a chance step.
After skinning, using care to detach it from the head without mutilating the ears, eyes and lips, stretch flat on an inside wall, door, or table tap. Stretch evenly with tacks or small nails close together to avoid drawing out in points and of the approximate shape of the- finished rug. That is, with the front feet well forward and hind feet pointing back, not spread as wide as possible.
If you are intending to dress the skin it may be begun at once after skinning, as per the chapter on tanning, etc., or after fleshing it may be put in the pickle jar against a leisure day. Otherwise stretch and dry for transportation or to send to the tanner.
As regards the mounting of heads for rugs, they may be done in three styles, called half or mask head, full head closed mouth, and full head open mouth. The first, as the name indicates, consists of the
skin of the upper part of the head without that of the lower jaw mounted over an artificial form or "skull." The closed mouth has the
lower jaw mounted in addition, but without any teeth used, and the open mouth mounting requires a set of suitable teeth with the interior of the mouth, tongue and lips fully modeled and finished
either with colored wax or by painting.
These artificial head forms or skulls both with and without teeth and masks, are to be had in all varieties and several sizes each of dealers in taxidermists supplies so cheaply that I would advise the
novice to procure them if possible. In many cases it is necessary for the professional to make use of skulls with artificial teeth as the natural skulls are often thrown away by the collector. In
the case of any large skin intended for a rug the roughly cleaned skull should accompany same. In ordering from dealers it is only necessary to give name of animal and the measure of skin from center of nose to inner corner of eye, and outer corner of eye to ear.
The beginner would do well to try mounting a rug with half head first and the more difficult open mouth later. A very fair mask form can be made by laying the skinned head down on a piece of thin
board and marking around it with pencil, then cutting out to the outline. With a bunch of fine excelsior or coarse tow and a spool of thread a half-head form can be roughly blocked out by winding, using the board as a base.
Then with modelling clay and chopped tow the anatomy is perfected, pressing down here with the fingers, and building up elsewhere. With the skinned head to refer to as the, form is modeled a good job can be done. However, if a number of skins of the same species, are to, be prepared it is best to make a mould in which unlimited paper
forms may be cast.
The next step in rug making after drying the pelt is to, prepare the head for mounting. It is as well to do little or no thinning down of the head skin during the tanning and even if it has been shaved down the vicinity of the eyes, ears, nose and lips will need thinning with a small sharp knife, and stretching out with a skin scraper. Before beginning this process the head skin should be dampened on the pelt side with clear water (use pickle in warm weather). If the ears are not skinned before dressing they should be now, and turned inside out to the tips. A small screw driver with the edge blunted and rounded is a good tool for this work as it will not readily cut the thin skin of the ears.
Trim and scrape away any lumps of muscle, etc., and shave down the skin enough to be molded to the surface of the form when, dampened. Do not, however, cut away the bunch of muscles on each side of the cheeks in which the whisker roots are embedded, or these distinguished ornaments will drop out. By criss-crossing these with cuts they are made as flexible as the rest of the skin. After the shaving process get a suitable needle and stout thread and sew up any cuts or tears that have been made. If proper care has been used there will be little of this to do, always remembering that a cut is not irreparable but always makes extra work. Bullet holes of large caliber destroy considerable skin and in order to close them it is best to cut them to a triangular shape and draw together by sewing up from the corners of the triangle. Cut out from tough cardboard two ear forms a little longer at the base than the ear skin and small enough to slip inside them readily. Before going further give the inside of the head and neck skin a coat of preservative. Let this lay a few minutes to soak in and then after turning the ears
right side out slip the cardboard ear forms into place. They should be coated first with liquid glue; work the skin over them with the fingers and fill around their bases with some cut tow and clay of
about the consistency of soft putty.
Now place the head skin on the form, get the eyes and nose in
place and drive in a few pins down the center of the face ; they will hold it from slipping while working further on it. If the form is a little too short for this particular skin build it out with clay and tow, if too long it can have a trifle cut off.
Fill the sockets of the eyes with clay, build out the cheeks and the sides of nose with clay and tow and draw the skin of the lips down where they be long. The glass eyes are to be cut from their wires
and set, drawing the lids around them with an awl. When they seem properly placed drive pins at both inner and outer corners. The ears are attacked next and when arranged to suit, three or four pins
driven in at their bases to hold them.
On a rug the ears should usually be laid back close to the head as by so doing the chance of their being broken off when finished and dry is lessened. Also a mounted rug head is usually intended to register rage or anger. The upper surface of the face being attended to, turn it upside down on a folded bag or something in the nature of a cushion while we lace it across the form with a stout thread and needle. If a hollow paper form is used it should be filled with crumpled paper, excelsior, coarse tow or similar material. Do not use fur scraps for this as I have seen done or it will be a moth nest.
The whole inside of the skin may now be poisoned after slightly dampening, and then tacked out fur side up in the proper shape to dry. In order to make an animal skin lay flat to the floor it is
necessary in most cases to cut out several V-shaped pieces. Behind the fore legs almost always and often in front of them, also and frequently in front of the hind legs are the places where these gores are removed. Consisting as they do of the thinly haired skin inside the legs their absence is not noticeable when neatly sewed up.
Take care in this final stretching of the rug skin to get it alike on both sides, or, as the artists say, bilaterally symmetrical. When tacked out, go back to the face and perfect it so it may dry just
right. With a fine awl point draw the upper eyelids down a little, straighten the eye brows, lashes and whiskers, and mould the nostrils into shape, bracing them with damp clay; when dry it is easily removed. Now set it aside until fully dry before proceeding
with the trimming and lining. One and a half or two inch wire brads are good to use in stretching skins, but 3d wire lath nails will do; the longer brads are more easily handled.
After removing the nails turn the skin on its back and draw a line from neck to tail with pencil or chalk. By measuring from points on this line we can trim off the legs and flanks of the rug
evenly. If it is a small or medium size skin it will look best with an all felt lining. So by laying it flat on a piece of felt somewhat larger all round and marking around it at a distance of 3 inches we can cut out the lining. The edge of this is to be pinked.
One end of our chopping block, usually of sycamore or oak, is kept for this function, and a few minutes work with pinking iron and hammer will brder the lining with neat scallops. A sufficient length of felt strips about 2 inches wide, should be cut to reach around the outside of the skin, also pinked on one edge. Allow generously for this as it will have to be gathered in rounding the feet and head. In the case of animals having a bushy tail or brush as the fox, wolf, etc., the tail is merely sewed up on the under side after
poisoning and not lined or trimmed.
In lining large rugs a double trimming of felt is often used and a lining of strong canvas is used throughout, as when on the floor it is not visible, protects the skin as well, and costs somewhat less.
The trimming felt is sewed around the edge of the skin, passing the needle through from the back obliquely, resulting in a long stitch on the felt and a short one on the fur side. What few hairs are
drawn down by this can be picked out later with a needle or awl.
Before sewing the lining on an interlining of cotton wadding should be cut out and basted in place with a few long stitches. Now place the skin fur side up, on the lining and adjust it so an equal margin shows on all sides and pin it in several places to prevent its slipping while sewing it fast.
To do this turn it felt uppermost and sew around just at the edge of "the skin, in the trimming. felt, reversing the stitch previously used. This hides the short stitch outside and if drawn up evenly will hardly be noticed if a color of thread has been selected corresponding somewhat to that of the felt. If an extra nice finish is desired the lining may be put on with a decorative briar or cat stitch with some bright colored silkatine.
Brushing away any clay from around the eyes and nose, giving the latter a. touch of the proper color (black for the majority of animals). A coat of thin shellac to simulate the natural moist appearance and connecting the dried eyelids with the glass eyes with hot colored wax will about complete the rug. Waxing around the eyes is done with a small round artist's brush and adds to the finished app-earance of a job.
In mounting a rug head with either full head, closed or open mouth, the beginner had best use a head form from the dealer for a few times at least. A little study of one of these will enable him to model an open mouth head, when a good set of teeth are supplied, and the ready made article not at hand. It requires considerable time and some natural ability to set the teeth and model the gums
and tongue effectively.
A tongue modeled with clay and tow, covered with several layers of papier mache and when dry, coated with flesh colored wax is good enough for any rug, though museum. mounting might require that the tongue be skinned and the skin used to cover the model.
Plaster, putty, papier mache and various plastic cement materials are used for modeling mouths, of which papier mache is probably the best; plaster paris is often used in an emergency but is brittle
and heavy. For modeling use finely ground paper pulp mixed with glue and plaster or whiting. Only practice and experiment will determine just the precise mixture wanted.
A paper half head form may be the basis and to this wire the jaw bones with their sets of teeth. Clever work will reproduce the interior of the mouth, gums and tongue, and when perfectly dry they should be finished either with paint or colored wax. The tongue should have its base and lower side coated with glue and have a brad driven through it into the material between the lower jaw bones. If the head of this brad is well set in, a drop or two of wax will cover it.
In preparing a skin for mounting an open mouth head the lips should be pared down and preserved as far as possible as they
are to be filled out and attached to the form by pinning at their edges. Common toilet pins are used for this, driving them in part way and when the work is dry cutting them off close down to the surface. After this is done the lips may be waxed thus joining them
to the form completely. Never fear to use plenty of pins in head mounting. In some places they may be driven to the head and left covered by the fur, in other places where there is little or no fur, cut them close and drive down flush. Of course greater liberties may be taken with a rug skin than one mounted entire for exhibition.
Still a competent artist can put a great amount of expression in even a rug head. The close student of animal anatomy can produce an appalling snarl of anger on the heads of the larger carnivora or
change the same to a sleepy yawn or grin in a few minutes' manipulation.
The professional is often called in to repair damaged rugs and especially those with open mouths. Here the operator must use his own judgment as no two seem to demand the same treatment. Missing teeth may have to be supplied and carved from bone, celluloid or antlers. The tips of broken deer antlers make very good canine teeth
and blocks of celluliod which are much easier to shape than bone, are sold by supply dealers.
I have dwelt at some length on rug making as it is a branch of taxidermy which seems to be always in more or less demand with the public. Also it forms an easy entrance to the. more complicated
mounting of complete animals and much of the work is identical with the process of preserving heads for wall decoration.