Once upon a time, before the dawn of plastic and chemical tanning, bark tanning (or veg tanning) was a thriving industry. This ancient art has been around since at least the bronze age, and showing up in different cultures around the world. Today the number of tanneries in the US are dwindling and only a small percentage of those are practicing the ancient trade of bark or veg tanning, preferring the quick (yet highly toxic ) chrome tanning.
Bark tanning is a process that uses the tannins in tree bark to create leather. Because there are no natural tanneries in Washington, any farm wanting to process their sheepskins must send them out of state. The majority of these sheepskins are chemically tanned due to lack of natural tanneries. Most farms opt to just throw away sheepskins because it is so difficult to get them processed.
This lack of resources led farm owner and Shepherd, Carissa Miller, to learn the ancient art of bark tanning. Withywindle Valley farm is now the home of the only natural tannery in the area! We occasionally offer custom tanning of skins. Contact the farm if you are interested in this service.
Benefits of Barktan
Chrome "tanning" (95% of all commercial tanning in the US) is a highly toxic and very quick way to tan hides and does not actually use tannins. It uses sodium dichromate to preserve the leather from rotting. This chemical can cause damage to the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs as well as pollute water ways. Sheepskins preserved this way can cause reactions to sensitive users.
Bark tanning is an all natural processes in which the sheepskin is submerged in a bark tea. The tannins in the tea bond together, turning the hide into leather. This process can produce all different kinds of leather. At the Withywindle Valley Farm Tannery, we focus on making supple leather on our sheepskins for comfortable wearing and perfect for draping over furniture. Leather produced by bark tanning is durable and washable. It will last a lifetime with proper care and is ideal for sensitive users, such as babies and people with allergies.