More Resources


Skills and Native Arts - Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 5

Leather Work

Leatherworking Handbook: A Practical Illustrated Sourcebook of Techniques and Projects by Valerie Michael

The Art and Craft of Leather: Leatherworking tools and techniques by Maria Teresa Llado i Riba

The Art of Hand Sewing Leather by Al Stohlman

Tanning Leather by Dragoona

How to Tan a Hide
Mother Earth News

Home tanning of leather and fur skins
Univ. of North Texas

How to cut leather

How to Sew a Double Needle Stitch on Leather

How to choose leather-working tools

Carpentry and Woodwork

Woodworking Basics: Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanship by Peter Korn

The Complete Illustrated Guide to Joinery by Gary Rogowski

Building the Timber Frame House: The Revival of a Forgotten Art by Tedd Benson

Woodworking Basics
Mother Earth News

How to build a log cabin

Raising a Hand-Hewn Log Cabin

Woodworking advice for beginners

Steamed wood bending video

Woodworking Vol. 1 & 2 DVD by Do It Yourself, Inc.

Sewing and Needlework

Sewing 101: A Beginner's Guide to Sewing by Editors of creative Publishing

The Complete Book of Sewing by DK Publishing

Quilting 101: A beginners guide to quilting by Editors of Creative Publishing

The Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches by Editors of Reader's Digest

The Knitting Answer Book: Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face; Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask by Margaret Radcliffe

Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Needlework by Donna Kooler Designs

How To Spin Yarn With a Drop Spindle

How to use a Spinning Wheel

Hand Spinning

How to sew and Embroidery 101

Five Stitches Every Backpacker Should Know

How to make woolen winter mittens
By Anita Evangelista

Sewing articles

Find a Sewing Instructor

Country Skills and Native Arts

Continued from Page 3

Carpentry and Woodwork

In addition to providing resin to light fires, glue, syrup for sweetening food and bark for medicinal use, trees make it possible to build boats, fences, carts, stairs, ladders, frames and many different kinds of tools. As for the proverbial log cabin, barns and other structures, builders should think twice about using the material, since the forests of the world may amount to an endangered species. A decade of mega-wildfires in North America, Australia, southern Europe and Russia has added to the already dire situation of clearcutting, and in some areas (like California) the ravage of the bark beetles and other insects has steadily creeped through the forests.

Fortunately, there's an almost infinite supply of silicates beneath our feet, so adobe brick and other forms of earth-based construction will make more sense in the years ahead. See the links to the right for info on sustainable building alternatives.

Woods are generally divided into hardwoods and softwoods, each suitable to different applications. Hardwoods include oak, maple, walnut, ash, mahogany, red alder, cherry, beech, hickory, elm, chestnut yellow birch, balsa, ebony, teak, balsa, apple and the yellow poplar. Softwoods come from conifer trees and include pine, cedar, fir, yew and the European redwood. Trees heavy in oils, like the eucalyptus, are not used in construction (although the eucalyptus has many medicinal uses).

Historically trees were felled with axes and long, two-handled pit saws. The circular saw was invented in the 18th century by a Quaker woman, and requires some form of crank or power generation in order to work. The first sawmill was powered by a waterwheel in Asia Minor in the third century, incorporating a crank and connecting rods, as shown in the photo below.

Ancient sawmill with two saws (A & B)

A variety of carving tools, chisels and files have been developed over time, originally with stone and later with different metals (especially steel), in order to shape wooden objects. From wood you can create food and storage bowls, clubs for weapons, sharp points for traps, poles, tool handles, wheels and gears, and curved instruments like bows. A basic knowledge of joinery is indispensable when it comes to piecing your parts together, especially in the event you don't have access to nails, screws or other metal hardware. By softening wood in water, you can shape the material to make curves and semi-circles.

The construction technology departments at most community colleges offer courses in framing carpentry and cabinet work. Local hobby shops will help you learn how to carve and shape wood with a myriad of hand tools. You'll want to pay close attention during any lessons on how to sharpen your tools, since that will make a world of difference in the time and effort required to complete any project you undertake.

Leather Work

In the backcountry, durable footwear and clothing are procured from the hide of animals, just as they have since the Stone Age. Deerskin is considered one of the best leathers around, due to this animal's adaptation to thorny and thicket-filled habitats. (Snakes, alligators, birds, furry animals and sheep wool provide other options for outfitting.)

Since any animal's hide can quickly decompose after it dies, the first step is to quickly convert it into leather by "tanning" it. To do this, the skin and hair are soaked (preferably in brine or salt water or urine) in order to kill bacteria and prevent putrification. Use hot water only if you want to harden the material, say for the soles of moccasins, or a saddle. For regular uses, keep the water cool and soak it only as long as needed. Otherwise it will shrink and discolor.

When the hair comes off the hide easily in your hands, you can remove it from the water. While it's still wet, lay it across a flat rock or log (with the bark removed) and scrape both sides with a bone, dull blade or other makeshift tool. Don't over-scrape the hide in the quest to remove every single imperfection. Keeping the grain in its natural state will preserve the durability of the leather. This natural grain also breathes better, making it more comfortable to wear.

Next, rub the material with a simmered mixture of equal parts animal fat and brains.  You heat up this combination, then let it cool down before applying it. After rubbing the fat and brain mixture into the hide, leave the newly created leather alone for several days. Then wash it and gently wring out the moisture. Pull, rub and stretch leather while it’s drying to prevent it from shrinking and stiffening - except in the case of footwear, which you want  to be stiff. Then hang it near the smoke (but not the heat) of a birch fire for several days.  Leather becomes brittle and cracks when it absorbs too much heat.

Once the leather has been tanned, it's ready to be tailored into a coat, belt, satchel, saddle, lacing, reins, book cover, pair of shoes or other product. You can also make a waterskin from leather. The craft of leatherworking utilizes awls and serrated-edged blades or scissors. A strong thick thread is needed to sew leather, and you can also cut leather strips to use for binding, as a harness or leash. Patterns and instructions for making simple moccasins and gloves are routinely included in books on wilderness survival.

To improve its water resistance and durability, leather can be rubbed with oil, preferably mink oil if you can get hold of some.

Sewing, Spinning, Weaving and Sutures

In a survival situation, you may be able to get by for awhile with broken zippers, holes in your socks, lost buttons and torn garments. Eventually, you'll have to learn how to mend and create new clothes to wear. While shoes are arguably the most important item in the human wardrobe, protecting your skin from the elements is also a must, not only in cold weather, but to block ultraviolet rays from the Sun. Sources of material for thread and fabric include fleece from sheep, cotton, hemp, silk from silk moths, and linen from flax stalks.

Just like textile factories today, garment workers in pre-industrial times turned this raw material into useable thread and yarn with the following steps:

Washing - Oftentimes using some form of soap, this step can remove up to half the weight of a fleece.
A hand carder has a series of spikes set up across a flat rectangular surface.

Carding - Straightening the fibers, using for instance a 4-inch wide hand drum carder.

Agave fibers scraped from the stalk, bundled and then combed (third photo).

Combing - Simpler than a carder, the "comb" is several long, rigid, pointed teeth that orient all the fibers in one direction. After combing, you may break the fibers into short and long piles. The short fibers can be used to make twine or other cordage.

The short-draw technique.

Drafting (aka drawing) - twisting individual fibers together to form a sturdy thread. The short-draw method is the easiest form of hand spinning to learn. The basic idea is to hold the fibers steady in one hand while the other twists them. The next step up in the evolution of textiles involves the use of a spindle.

When fleece and other animal fibers are combed or carded, the end product is known as a "roving". Modern spinners buy their roving from companies that have dyed the fiber or blended different materials (like wool and silk) into one roving.

A spindle on the left captures a line of twisted yarn (from the top) with its hook, then wraps it around a whorl below the inch-wide horizontal wheel. At right, a demonstration of a spinning wheel that takes loose brown wool (at bottom of photo), pulls it in at the bottom of the wheel (hard to see), then across the top to be captured on a bobbin or spindle. Right photo: Conner Prairie Museum.

Here are a couple more angles of these tools.

Once you've got thread or yarn to work with it, you'll need a needle to sew, darn, crochet or do some other form of stiching. A needle can be fashioned out of stone, bone or a sliver of iron. Your fabric may come from animal hide, wool (shorn from sheep), cotton or silkworm cocoons (among many other sources), and most of us will eventually have to figure out how to spin and weave thead together into sheets. Remember, the textile industry didn't take off until the mid 19th century. Before that, all clothing was produced in the home.

In those days, women spun thread, yarn, string and wool using a spindle or spinning wheel. The basic idea is gathering many strands together from whatever your source fiber and interweaving them to make a thicker and more durable strand. Then the thread is wrapped around a spool and stored for later use.


Basketweaving utilizes many of the same skills as a seamstress, only in this case you're working with long blades of grass, vines, willow, cane, bamboo or rushes. To learn this long lost art, check with the nearest indigenous tribe or indian museum to see if any hands-on training or demonstrations are offered.

You should learn a few different kinds of stitches to accomodate different purposes. Embroidery needles have larger eyes (in the needle) to accommodate thicker thread. Serrated edge scissors or knives are used for cutting through skin or fabric. Thimbles come in handy, too. They protect your thumb and forefinger from getting pricked (and possibly becoming infected). Beeswax is good at keeping thread stiff and less inclined to tangle. You'll also need some approximation of a cloth tape measure to help you size out your materials.

Community adult schools, or local park and recreation centers, are the first place to look for courses in needlework, knitting, crocheting, quilting, weaving and other forms of stitch work. Many fabric and crafts stores also offer classes.


Expertise with a sewing needle also comes handy in the case of repairing an open wound on the body. Primitive man used bark, thorn, gum resins or parchment as suture materials. However, thread, floss or string will also do the trick. Make sure the material is clean before inserting it beneath the skin. A hooked needle the size of a quarter or half dollar works best in stitching the two ends of the skin together. Unlike regular sewing, each suture stitch is a separate unit from the next. This makes removing the thread easier. Remember to allow breathing room for fluids to drain as the wound heals.

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