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Canmore local teaches buckskin process

CANMORE – Rachel Huggins has a skill she would like to pass along. A self-taught buckskin tanner, Huggins is holding classes on Dec.
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Rachel Huggins works to trim the edges of a buckskin hide after the final stage of smoking the hide.

CANMORE – Rachel Huggins has a skill she would like to pass along. 

A self-taught buckskin tanner, Huggins is holding classes on Dec. 1 to teach her skills of tanning and processing buckskin hides to anyone willing to put in a little hard work and learn.

Huggins was first interested in the tanning process because for her it is the natural way humans have clothed themselves for centuries. Through a lot of trial and error, she figured out how to change the hides from a coarse and hairy skin, into soft and supple workable leather. For her, the tanning process is a way to honour the animal the hides were taken from, and reduce waste. 

“I get them from hunters, from legally taken deer,” said Huggins. “They know about me from over the years and they’ll just call me up and offer me the hide. You can’t buy or sell any parts of the animal, so it works for me and it works for the hunter because they’re happy they don’t have to put it in the dumpster and waste it.”

According to Huggins, her classes specialize in teaching the tanning process in a way that is not space intensive and is do-able in an urban environment. The class lasts a full day, and Huggins will walk participants through a hands on tanning experience. 

“They are a full one-day class that will take you through every step of the process. I’ll have hides in different stages, so nobody needs to bring their own materials, and there will be indoor and outdoor stages and there will be theoretical components,” she said.

“I find it really important to do hands-on in the course, because that’s where the actual learning happens. You can read a book on anything really, but you still have to do it. Especially if it’s a skill, and I would definitely consider buckskin a skill set.”

Huggins also makes an effort to support her former students as they take their skills further. She encourages class participants to call her after the course is over and ask any questions they may have about the process. 

“I’ve had students phone later when they’re in the middle of the process because it is a skill set, and they may not remember a few small things from the course,” she said.

The biggest reward Huggins’ students get according to her is a skill set that creates a product they can pass down through the generations. 

“People have found it very enjoyable,” she said. “It’s very rewarding and empowering to have that skill set … It’s one of those things you can pass down to generations. I’ve had people complete a vest, purses and moccasins, and it’s something that is a rewarding process because you do have to put forth your effort. There is a little bit of blood, sweat, and tears, but then you’re rewarded. It’s the piece of clothing you’ll wear that people will comment on the most.”

To register for Huggins class, email her at rachesbucksins@hotmail.com, or call her at 403-615-7983. Huggins requires a $50 deposit and the classes cost $235 for the full day. Materials are provided. Visit www.rachelsbucksins.blogspot.com to see some of the buckskin products Huggins has created in the past.