During workshops I spend a lot of time with students talking about rawhide, not the finished product but the material itself in the raw. The learning curve for rawhide never seems to straighten out, no pun intended ! That is the exciting thing about working with it. The sense of accomplishment you get when you finish a piece and it agrees with what it was made into is what drives me to go on. We have all had pieces that were done mechanically right but just did not turn out right. It seems as though just about the time you think you have it all figured out, something changes. For no reason at all a certain breed of cow may produce a different color of hide. For no reason at all hair may come off more easily or harder than past hides, and I could go on and on. The point being no matter how consistent you are in preparing the hide there is always the chance it will not do what your expecting. Don’t get me wrong, being consistent is important in everything having to do with braiding including hide preparation, but there in lies the love/hate thing.
While cutting strings and braiding, the curve does not get any easier. Some hides just cut better than others, why ? I don’t know ! The animal was the same, the hide was prepped the same, it just cuts different. Some hides take a day to temper before they cut nice, some hides take three days, Why ? I don’t know ! Some hides except dye better than others, Why ? I don’t know ! Sure there are some reasons that can be explained that may be obvious after 37 years of braiding the stuff, but just as many times there is no logical explanation.
This all can be very discouraging to someone trying to learn to braid or to someone who has braided awhile and just doesn’t seem to be making the progress they had hoped. My answer to this is to embrace the uniqueness of the material and use that as inspiration, knowing that not everyone has the patience to continue on with this undoubtably strong but fickle material.
In the end, all I can say is let the hide tell you what it should be, don’t try to make it into something it is not meant to be. It will only disappoint when finished. This is easier said than done but nothing replaces time and a whole lot of mistakes. When it’s all said and done there is nothing like the feel of a finished piece where everything worked out right. Then you can start loving it again !