As I was settling into Montana in the fall of 1974, I made myself a wool winter jacket. A musician friend, Dave, commented “if you can sew so well, could you make me a pullover shirt from my tanned elk hide?” He showed me a picture of one he wanted. My interest was pique as he opened a box and laid out all these tanned deer & elk hides on the living rug. Clothing ideas immediately came to mind. “Sure, I’ll try.” Sew, I did. First I needed to learn how to work with these hides as I would material. Upon inspection these hides were very stretchy. It was not like knit stretch. They also needed to be flat to become a garment. How to begin? Dave took me to Mel Kastella’s Taxidermy Shop in Whitefish. Mel told me all buckskin hides had to be stretched on a sheet of plywood before use. Sew, I did.Then, I went to the Flathead County Library, borrowing a book on handlacing soft chamois skins into clothing. I also went to the bookstore and ordered my own copy. Sew, a stretched deer hide became small bags and a purse to get started. Up to this point I had only made clothing for myself. Sew, I made Dave a western snap print shirt. This served for a size & pattern base for him. Now, I stretched his prize elk hide, drafted a paper pattern, cut it out, punched holes with an ice pick, cut laces from side thin scrap, sat by the fire or at the kitchen table and laced the pieces together. Sew Be, the first shirt.
Dave paid me with hides. I went to Mel’s and bought a few more hides. I started making small bags, purses and then a woman’s & a man’s vest, selling them almost immediately at Hands In Motion in Kalispell in the Glory Days Emporium. Sew, I began.
Thus, I found my clothing design medium: buckskin hides. I have traveled up the buckskin river, if you will indulge me, exploring all its tributaries, camped out on its shores, and hiked deep into its headwaters. Today, I am one a few KEEPERS of buckskin tailoring, craftsmanship & history. I love working with these hides & dressing my clients. SEW BE IT.
YOUR TANNED HIDES OR MINE.