Saturday, November 14, 2020

Tanning Steelhead Trout in Green Tea

I was recently graced with a gift of two nice-sized steelhead trout skins by the fishmonger's wife. For a change they were a matched pair, i.e. they could have been both sides of the same fish, a nice bonus when thinking about binding designs.

Decided to tan these using green tea. I had seen wonderful examples by Janey Chang and Abigail Bainbridge in which much of the natural coloring had been preserved. It would have largely been lost had I used black tea, or made parchment.

Cleaning and other preparations the same as before, lots of changes of cold water with unscented/undyed dish detergent kept in the fridge. Next...

The skins in the first bath of 5 bags of tea. I used about 60 bags
total of Tetley's Green Tea.
It is important to start with a dilute tannin mixture
to ensure the skin tans through to the center.

The second bath had 10 bags of tea.
This went on with changes every day and half in
which the amount of bags increased each time. 
The last was about 25 bags for 2 days.
I snipped into the skin during changes to make sure
the center was getting tannins.

After taking the skins out, dripped-dried them, then started working by stretching and massaging. When starting to feel like they were drying worked them over a stake, in my case a c-clamp that was smooth and had a rounded shape. Benefit of the c-clamp was that it didn't move...

Got tired after a while and had Fritz Otto take over. He had a few things to say, but did a good job...

"Making parchment from fish is nothing...
This softening after tanning is brutal hard work.
Working on oversized books was bad enough."

As he felt them drying he added some olive oil to his hands
to help lubricate the skins and finish them.

Team-work and a good week's work.

In the first step of the process, cleaning the fish, we decided to filter out the shinies (aka scales)... A few stubborn ones went through the tanning process and ended up yellowish. For kicks we threw them on the flatbed scanner (4800 dpi and downscaled for web).

A sampling...

Untanned, note the growth rings, just like tree-rings
 said the dendrochronologist's daughter...

This was one of the stubborn ones that wanted to be tanned...

These skins will be used on Life-history and Habits of the Salmon, Sea-trout, Trout, and other Freshwater Fish (1910). 

Book Arts arts du livre Canada (Vol 10., Nr. 2, 2019)

"Fish Tales, experiments with fish skin for bookbinding
The New Bookbinder: Journal of Designer Bookbinders (2020)