How to Tan and Make a Cow Hide Dress




Introduction: How to Tan and Make a Cow Hide Dress

The purpose of this Instructable is to show you how to tan your own cow hide and make a dress out of the finished product! It is important to follow these steps exactly how they are presented and to carefully read all directions to ensure you will create the perfect cow hide dress!

This project takes about 6 weeks to complete but is well worth your efforts. Having some tanning experience is suggested but not required.

Materials Needed:

  • Cow hide
  • Sharp knife
  • 8-10 pounds Morton Salt (depending on size of hide)
  • Two sheets of plywood
  • Coarse Sand Paper
  • Cattle Shampoo
  • Hose and Water
  • Tanning Solution
  • Tanning Oil
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Leather string
  • Leather punch
  • Scissors
  • Indoor working area around 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Plastic
  • Bucket
  • Screws
  • Screw Gun
  • Dress Pattern

Step 1: Thawing and Rinsing Off the Cow Hide

I received my cow hide from my local locker and it came to me frozen. Be sure that your hide is thawed and easy to work with.

Once hide is thawed:

  • Spread out on flat surface
  • Use hose and rinse off dirt and other debris with water

(Be sure to rinse off both sides of the hide)

Step 2: Cut Off Meat and Fat on the Underside of the Cow Hide

Cutting meat and fat off of hide:

  • Use a sharp knife to cut off meat and fat

(Be sure to trim as closely to the hide as possible but be careful not to cut too deeply, as you will damage the hide)

  • Be sure to set aside plenty of time for this important step and maybe ask a friend to help!

(It is important because the salt will not be able to dry out the hide completely in later steps if there is still meat and fat left on the hide)

Step 3: Wash and Scrub the Cow Hide to Remove Dirt and Loose Hair

Which shampoo to use:

  • Use any shampoo to wash the hair on the hide

(I chose to use shampoo that I use to wash show cattle, you can purchase this at any farm store)

  • After done scrubbing be sure to rinse the shampoo off the cow hide completely.

Step 4: Stretch and Salt the Cow Hide for Two Weeks

Stretching The Hide:

  1. Use plywood as a platform and lay hide flat on it.
  2. When stretching the cow hide, screw down the edges with screw gun, while holding the hide taunt. You may need a friend to help assist you.

Salting The Hide:

  1. Use Morton Salt and cover hide with an even layer about 1-2 inches thick.

(Be sure to salt the hide for up to two weeks to make sure the hide is completely dried out)

Step 5: After Two Weeks Scrape Off All of the Salt

  • Once your cow hide has been salted for two weeks, you can remove the salt.

(Be sure to remove all of the salt, otherwise it could affect the rest of the tanning process)

Step 6: Next Mix Tanning Paste and Cover Underside of Hide

Tanning Paste:

  • I purchased a tanning kit at Scheels and it worked great!
  • It took about 4 tanning kits to cover the entire hide with a thick, even layer.
  • Follow directions on tanning kit provided, as some may be different.

(Use gloves while mixing up the paste to avoid any reaction to your skin)

Covering the hide:

  • Once the hide is covered with paste, place plastic over the hide to keep from drying out.

(As the days go by you may need to add a little water to the paste to keep from drying out and cracking)

Step 7: Scrape Off Tanning Paste After Two Weeks

Scraping off the hide:

  • Remove all of the paste completely.

(Not removing all of the paste will not allow the hide to tan properly)

Step 8: Apply Tanning Oil to the Hide

Applying the tanning oil:

  • Using the oil provided in your tanning kit, rub oil all over the hide.

(Be sure to massage into the hide and coat generously)

  • Leave tanning oil on hide for one week
  • Add more oil if necessary for the first few to keep the hide from drying out
  • After the fourth day let oil dry and soak into the hide

Step 9: Once Oil Is Soaked in Work Hide to Make It More Pliable

Once your oil has soaked in, you are ready to work with your hide. Cow hides are very thick so it will be pretty stiff. Take time to work with your hide and it will become pliable.

  • Fold, bend, and crease the hide to make it workable

Step 10: Trim Down Hide and Trace Dress Pattern

Trimming the hide:

  • Trimming the hide will rid you of useless parts you will not be using.
  • It will also make working the hide easier.

Pattern of dress:

Be creative as you would like! I did a simple over the shoulder dress to make things easy.

  • Trace out dress on hide
  • Cut out dress shape

Step 11: Once You Have to Pieces You Should Sand Paper Each Side.

Once you have your pieces to your dress, you will need to sand paper the underside of your pieces.

  • Use coarse sandpaper and take your time.

(You will want to get the hide pretty thin, but not too thin that it will rip. Doing so will make it more pliable and softer.)

Step 12: Final Touches to Your New Cow Hide Dress!

Getting ready to put the dress together:

  • Punch holes with leather punch down both sides of the cow hide.

(Make sure the holes are spaced evenly so they line up, I made my about a half inch apart.)

  • Lace up the side of the cow hide with your leather straps.

(Use any lacing pattern you prefer, I used a criss-cross pattern.)

  • Lace up other side like you did previously.
  • For the top strap I just laced it together like the sides.

Once you are all laced up you are finished with your cow hide dress! Enjoy!

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    Question 1 year ago on Step 12

    How would you go about removing the fur? Trying to make a vest, but i don't want the hair/fur on it


    Answer 1 year ago

    I don't know if you still need the answer. i usually tan different then she is doing. I would recommend the tanning book by James Churchill. The best way to go around to removing all the hair is to let it sit in 1 lbs of hydrated lime to 5 gallons of water and moving it around each night. This will cause slippage of the hair, usually after 6 days but I often let it sit for up to 10 if the hide is thick. This will allow the hair to come off in your hands when you pull it out. Make sure you delime the hide. Lime is calcium hydroxide, you can buy it at farm locations or leather working stores. Ask for barn lime or type S lime

    Pernickety Jon
    Pernickety Jon

    4 years ago

    Gosh, that's a lot of work. It made me think of how much work people in earlier times would have had to do. Great looking result though.
    I'm curious about what you made with all the off-cuts; it looked like you would have had plenty left over.


    5 years ago

    THanks for this instructable - i think i see where i was cutting corners before :) - can't wait to try again, and this time get it to turn out. I think this would work well with goat or deer, but what about sheepskin? I've also got rabbits to do - would i have to change anything for sheep or rabbits? thank you!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    i think i'm in love with the farmers daughter!... seriously, i cant think of anyone i know that would do this.... BUT this is a great instructable on an otherwise lost art... well done!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    great job !! is there a specific temperature range that need to kept in mind for the salt, tanning paste and oil application ?


    7 years ago

    Great job documenting each step. You make the process seem so pleasant. Hope to see more instructables coming soon.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    You have put together an awesome Instructable! Your steps are well organized and nicely articulated. Great job!

    I'll bet you had the side benefit of some good arm and hand strength after all that hard work.


    7 years ago on Step 12

    Great instructable! I have used acorn to tan deer hides. I want to tan a cowhide next! Great work!


    7 years ago

    While I probably won't be making a dress any time soon, I have been exploring the idea of tanning hides so I'm using more of the animals I harvest.

    I've been intimidated by the process, but your Instructable makes it look much easier than I thought it would be.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share this.

    I may find the courage to try it yet. :)


    7 years ago

    thanks very informative


    7 years ago on Introduction

    ikriegel! Fantastic job w/ the dress! Pay no attention to the haters who want you to conform to the norms of their culture just because they don't agree with what you are doing! I'm encouraging you to put up more instructables like this one! How about some accessories to go w/ that dress?! :)




    7 years ago

    Amazing instructable. Clear and well written. I'm pretty sure most girls would not go near cleaning the flesh : ))


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is an excellent first instructable!

    I love that you covered all the steps from hide to dress in so much detail. Very well done!