Making a coon skin cap is not as difficult a project as it seems at first glance and here we have it broken down step by step, starting with the animal to be skinned and ending with a finished cap. You can even skip down to step #10 and use the pattern instructions if you choose to make a faux coon skin cap with “fur” from the fabric store. Our skin came from a raccoon that had been hit by a car just down from our house. He was really fresh for lack of a better term, so I stopped and picked him up to make use of his pelt. We respect and make use of all the resources out here so this was a good way to turn the raccoons unfortunate encounter into something appreciated instead of letting his life be taken only to lay in waste in the road. The rest of his remains were returned to the woods to feed his natural predators that live in our area. For this project, I decided to go the easy route and use a store-bought tanning product instead of brain tanning. Obviously store bought tanning solutions are super easy in comparison. Here we go:
- Skin the animal just like you would a deer or other animal. Everyone has different methods for skinning, so if you’re an old pro, use the technique that is most familiar to you. For everyone else, the way we do it is to make a cut around the wrists/ankles, slit the skin down the underside of the leg from the ankles to the vent and then around the vent. You then slit from the vent up the underside of the tail until it becomes too thin to slit any further. Finally, make a slit in the skin from the vent to the chest and pull the skin off. Pulling is preferred over cutting because knifing/cutting the skin off leaves too much chance of damaging the hide. If you’ve never done it before, you may want to ask someone with experience to help you or do a quick Google search for “skinning a raccoon”. There are several really good YouTube videos that will walk you through the skinning process and working with the tail can be a little tricky. For reference, the way I’ve described it above is for an “open” instead of a “cased” fur. I prefer open simply because I haven’t practiced at all with cased furs. Cased means you haven’t made the slit from vent to chest and the pelt is pulled off still in one circular piece.
- Flesh The Hide – Clean up the pelt by scraping off excess meat and fat. This is made much easier with a Fleshing tool and a curved knife. Raccoon skins have a lot of fat and will have a very greasy feel, even after being thoroughly cleaned. Use the same method as for a deer hide. I have a little more detail on this in the article Brain Tanning Deer Hides.
3. Salt The Hide – Obviously we wanted to tan this skin with the hair on, so we started the tanning process by salting the hide. Lay the hide out on a flat surface and salt it well with regular table salt. Work plenty of salt in, making sure to get into any folds such as ears, etc. Once salted, fold the hide flesh onto flesh and roll it up. Leave the skin to sit for 24 hours. Once done, scrape off old salt and repeat with clean salt for another 24 hours.
4. Wash Off Salt & Remaining Grease – After the second 24 hour period has passed, scrape off old salt and rinse the hide well in running water.
5. Soak The Hide In Brine – Once rinsed, prepare a salt brine to soak the hide. For a small skin like this, a bath of 1 gallon of hot water and 1/2 pound of regular table salt is enough to cover the hide. Mix the salt into the hot water and let it cool before adding the hide. Immerse the hide for 6 to 8 hours. Remove and rinse in clean water. Hang to let drain.
6. Remove membrane – using a sharp knife or wire brush, thin the skin a bit to remove any remaining membrane. You’ll thank yourself later during the sewing portion for doing a good job in thinning the hide.
7. Wash – This is an important step, especially if your working with an oily hide like a raccoon. Wash the hide in warm water with a liquid dish soap like Dawn to remove salt and grease. Usually a second washing is in order, then hang the hide to drain and semi-dry.
8. Oil/Dress – Warm your tanning product by placing it in a pot of hot (not boiling) water. I used Deer Hunter’s & Trapper’s Hide & Fur Tanning Formula 8 oz. the orange bottle shown in the picture. (*You can also do it with just a mixture of grated soap and Neets foot oil, hence the brown bottle of neets foot oil in the first picture… It’s not necessary to use both, both bottles are shown only to illustrate the options you have) Your skin should be at a semi-dry state; still moist and flexible but no longer wet. Apply tanning solution in an even layer to the flesh side. You can use gloved fingertips or a paint brush. I prefer gloved fingers so that I can work the solution into the hide. Fold hide flesh on flesh again and leave overnight or about 12 hours.
8. Dry And Soften – After 12-16 hours, open the hide up and allow it to air dry for 2 -3 days. Periodically stretch the hide as it dries to ensure that all parts stay soft. Keep doing this until the hide is completely dry.
9. Wire Brush – Once the hide is completely dry and soft, go over the flesh side again with a wire brush or coarse sandpaper to make the hide even more supple. You can also pull the hide back and forth over a cable, as shown in the finals steps of the brain tanning article mentioned above, http://livetheoldway.com/brain-tanning-deer-hides/
10. Measure For Hat Size – Now comes the fun part! I wish I could’ve just given you an easy, printable template to cut from, but every skin is going to be a different size and not all hats will fit every head. The next best thing is to show you how to measure to make yourself a paper pattern to cut by.
Start by taking the two head measurements shown below. One, FRONT TO BACK, from the middle of the forehead where you would like the bottom edge of the hat to sit in the front, across the top of the head and down to where the bottom edge of the hat should fall at the base of the skull. The second measurement, SIDE TO SIDE, is from the top of the ear, over the head to the top of the other ear. From these measurements, SUBTRACT how wide you want your hat band to be. Since this one is for a 6-7 year old, we made the hat band 3″. Now we know the crown for ours will be 8″ front to back and 7″ side to side.
Transfer these two measurements to a piece of paper to make a pattern for the crown of the cap.
If you have a protractor and compass set you can use that to draw the arc from one point to the other. I just free handed. To make free-handing easier, draw a line diagonally from corner to corner so you know where the middle of your arc should be. (7.5 inches in our case since one side is 7″ and the other is 8″) Draw your arc. It wasn’t exact, but it’s close enough. You can always trim it up to be more oval shape once you’re done.
So that it’s the same amount of crooked on both sides (haha) I folded my paper down the middle and cut both sides at once.
Now measure around the head and then measure around the outside edge of the crown pattern. Compare these two numbers to make sure the cap won’t be too tight or too loose. We were at our Farmer’s Market booth when we were doing ours. Some people were mortified by the coon skin, others thought it was cool. 😉
Our band will be approximately 21″ around and 3″ tall. That matches the outer edge of the crown pretty closely so we’re good to go. Cut out a piece of paper for the band and you’re done with your pattern.
11) Position your pattern on your prepared coon skin and use a pen to trace your cutting line. Make sure to get the crown of the hat centered so that the markings down the raccoon’s back are in the middle of your crown piece. You’ll likely have to piece together the band if you do it this way, but we like the way the crown looks when it’s cut this way and it will keep it looking like one piece of animal. No one will ever notice the seams in the band.
**When you’re cutting make sure to either make a shallow cut with an Exacto knife or run the tip of your scissors under the hairs close to the skin to make sure you’re cutting only the skin. This way you won’t have a blunt cut showing in the fur.
Whip stitch all your pieces together. Forget about being super neat, these stitches won’t show once you put a lining in.
To make a lining, cut the liner material using the same pattern that you made to cut the skin. Good lining materials can be anything from flannel from an old shirt to a silky poly blend. After I was done, my son insisted that he wanted the mask on his cap also, so we went back and tacked it to the side. To each his own, I guess, and that’s the cool part of doing it yourself, you can make it however you want to!