Sewing Rabbit Fur

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Kathy Kellogg
More rabbit fur items, all made from home-tanned rabbit pelts.

Working with thin leather such as rabbit skin isn’t all that different from working with thick cloth. Therefore, any person who sews should have no great difficulty making the transition from fabric to fur.

The following list should serve to give you an idea of the variety of items an ingenious homesteader can craft with rabbit fur: bedspreads, coverlets, robes, cushion covers, pillows, handbags, toys, hats, caps, hoods, mittens, baby bootees, vests, coats, capes — in short, the scope of your furs-stitching projects is limited only by your imagination!

The first step when sewing rabbit is to make (or buy) a full-sized pattern for each piece to be cut. If you’re not sure about the fit of the finished product, sew a muslin dummy and make any necessary adjustments to the sections before cutting into the pelts.

After you’re satisfied with the size and shape of the pattern pieces, organize them on the skin side of the pelt. (For some articles you’ll need to sew several pelts together to get a large enough section of “fabric.” To do so, cut the pelts to be used into one or more squares or rectangles and stitch the blocks together. You can either make a large sheet of fur to accommodate all the pattern pieces, or combine just enough squares to fit one part of the pattern at a time.) You may need to rearrange the pieces several times to avoid objectionable bare spots and to make efficient use of the best sections of the pelt. Keep in mind that the thickest fur is found around the neck and in a band down the back.

Always lay your pattern with the grain (the direction in which the hair grows) so that the fur of the finished article will run in the same direction as it did when it was on the animal. (In the case of rabbits, the grain runs from neck to rump.)

Using tape, long pins, or small dots of rubber cement, attach the pattern to the hide. Trace the outline of each section with a ballpoint or felt-tip pen, or simply cut around each pattern piece. A razor blade or a utility knife might prove useful, since it won’t snip as many hairs as will scissors. However, you can use sharp shears if you take care to avoid cutting more than just the skin.

Most soft leathers, including rabbit, can be sewn by hand using a glover’s, leather, or furrier’s needle; waxed nylon, linen, or heavy carpet-weight thread; and a running stitch, whipstitch, or cross-stitch. (Most good leatherworking books and sewing guides will include instructions for making these stitches if you’re unfamiliar with them.) To hold the pieces together for sewing, use thin quilting pins, paper clips, or spring clips.

If you prefer, rabbit pelts can be stitched on a good sewing machine fitted with a No. 16 to 19 needle (some manufacturers market needles designed for leather) and all-purpose thread. The machine should be set to produce seven to nine stitches per inch.

Do follow the directions for assembly that come with the commercial pattern, whether you decide on hand or machine sewing. (Of course, you’ll probably already know how best to assemble a project of your own design.) To flatten seams and hem edges, place a warm, damp cloth over the seam/hem line on the skin side, and pound the leather with a wooden mallet or hammer.

To finish your creation, brush the fur side well with a small hairbrush, paying particular attention to the seams (you may need to use a sharp object, such as a long needle, to pull out hairs that are caught in the stitching.

And what about the scraps? Well, find a use for them. You might try piecing odd bits of similar weight together to achieve a crazy-quilt effect. Or turn the leftovers into small pouches, flaps for purses and jackets, and other novelties. (For instance, I make little catnip-filled toys for my cats.)

Sewing with rabbit fur is an enjoyable, and often profitable, handicraft. In fact, I’ve actually discovered that the sale and barter of my fur items more than pays the cost of raising the rabbits … so the meat I get is free!