Wear Our Heritage


last updated April 4, 2017 by Sheila Schmutz, Saskatoon. sheila.schmutz@usask.ca


Sewing with Natural Fur

Canadian Fur

The photo above shows a variety of wild Canadian fur pelts, purchased in Winnipeg in December 2015. This helps to illustrate the difference in sizes, although each of these animals could be a bit bigger or a bit smaller. From the left: arctic fox (cased), red fox, young silver fox (still more black than silver), coyote, badger, raccoon, otter, and martin (dyed or touched as furriers often call it).


Beaver

The beaver (Castor canadensis) is Canada's national animal. It has been harvested and used in the fur trade since the beginning.

Beavers have very thick skin because of their underwater lifestyle. Their fur is extremely dense, although not very long. A beaver pelt is traditionally prepared as an oval, as shown in the photo on the right.

Beaver is a wonderful fur for many purposes. However, it can be difficult to sew by hand, or even machine because the skin is so thick.


Raccoon

The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is common in some parts of Canada. It has been used for fur hats and trim for a long time.

Raccoons have relatively thin skin and are therefore easy to sew, even by hand. They have very distinctive markings so matching when piecing is important. The pelt in the photo on the left has been "brightened" in the tanning process. The pelts are relatively small, so gage your project accordingly.


Coyote

The coyote (Canis latrans) is very common in western Canada and relatively common in eastern Canada. It has become the major fur used for ruffs on parkas.

Coyotes have very dense hair, that is also very long. The pelts are large. Coyotes vary somewhat in shade, so not all pelts will look quite like the one on the left.


Wolf

The wolf (Canis lupus) has many coat color variants. The wolf pelt above is very striking because of the contrast between its pale and black hairs. This pelt is still "cased" so looks long and narrow.

The wolf is much larger than a coyote. The fur is also coarser. It is often used for ruffs on hoods of northern parkas.


Red Fox

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is common across Canada. It's vibrant red color has made it an attractive fur.

Foxes have very dense long hair. The pelts are not very large. Most "red" Red Foxes are very similar in color so combining pelts is usually not difficult. One can easily make a fur collar or hat from one red fox.

However, there are some color variants of the Red Fox that look very different.


Arctic Fox

The arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) only occurs in northern Canada. In winter it is snow white. At other times of year there is a hint of black on the tips of hairs. It is a beautiful fur any time, but is usually harvested when the fur is completely white.

Arctic foxes have very dense long hair. The pelt is smaller than that of a red fox. The pelt in the photo has not been cut open yet.


Fisher

The fisher (Pekania pennanti) is native to North America. It typically lives in the boreal forest. It is not a common fur but is very beautiful. The pelt is relatively small but would be large enough to make a fur collar. The pelt in the photo has not been split open yet (known as "cased" in the fur industry. There is often some white on the underside.


Martin (Sable)

Martin is apparently considered one of the most expensive furs. The American pine martin (Martes americana) on the left has been dyed with a reddish tinge. It is a relatively small animal so one can not make much from a single skin. It is beautifully soft and luxuriant. Sadly it has become rare in several areas so sourcing martin fur, also known as Sable, can be difficult.


Skunk

There are several species of skunks. They are typically black with white stripes but the number and size of the white stripes can vary. The musk glands of skunks produce an very unpleasant odor, so it is important to find a pelt that has been prepared properly and does not "stink". The pelt is quite small and at least two would be needed to make a fur hat. They provide one of the only natural furs that is black.

The placement of the pelt section with the white stripe has to be considered. Alternatively the white stripe could be cut out of the fur. One pelt was used for the trim on this trapper hat made with Pendleton wool.


Badger

There are several subspecies of badger (Taxidea taxus) that live on several continents. It lives in underground burrows which can make getting a good pelt difficult. The fur is very long and muticolored. The leather side has an almost scaly feel so the article should typically be lined, and perhaps padded. I find it one of the most beautiful furs, but it is a bit more difficult to work with than some others.


Otter

Because the otter is an animal that lives almost entirely in water, its coat is very dense and thick. Some sources say Sea Otter fur is the densest fur in the world with about 1 million hairs per square inch. The fur is of medium length.

There are Sea Otters and River Otters in North America and Giant Otters in South America, as well as other species in Europe. Please note that because Giant Otter of South America is on a CITIES list it can be difficult to sell or send anything made with otter across international borders. Since 1911 Sea Otthers in North America can only be killed by First Nations people. Therefore most otters available at fur auctions or outlets in Canada are River Otters. The otter shown here is a River Otter, discernable by it's body size which is about 32 inches. Sea Otters are larger than River Otters.

Finding garments made of otter fur would be rare, but it could be used as very nice trim on gloves, mitts, etc. The fur also glistens, which although lovely, means that when one touches it and moves the hairs too much it looks like a blemish.


Ermine

Ermine is the name of the fur from various species of weasels when their coats are white in the winter.

The photo at the left shows a Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata) at the top that is partially changed from its summer color to its winter white. The photo on the bottom is the pelt of a Short-Tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea) that is in its full winter color, so would be classified as ermine.

Ermine pelts are very small, no matter which species the fur is from and this may explain why it's also been considerable valuable and trimmed many royal garments over the centuries.


Links for Fur and Supplies to Make Natural Fur Garments Yourself

Note that tanned fur, or items made using tanned fur, can be legally sold and purchased by anyone. However, raw fur pelts can only be purchased by persons with a fur dealers permit within their own province. Contact your local or provincial Environment Office for further details.


Linked How-To Sew with Fur Pages


Books and Articles About Sewing with Natural Fur


Basic Techniques

Websites About Sewing with Natural Fur

Videos on Sewing with Natural Fur

This list is not comprehensive. There are many other videos about sewing with faux fur, which is quite different. These videos are about using natural fur, often combined with natural hides. Saga Furs has some wonderful, very instructive videos about profession fur processing, design, and construction.

Advanced Techniques - Inspirational Websites and Videos



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