Restoring an old fur coat for a new outing.

A girlfriend is getting married in a couple of weeks. She is marrying a farmer and the wedding will be in some of the most beautiful countryside in New Zealand. Thinking ahead about what I should wear I decided to check out the weather forecast, the high for the day is predicted to be 6 degrees celsius (thats about 43 fahrenheit for my American friends) the low is meant to be about -2c (28F). Perfect weather to wear my fur coat!

Years ago I was given a fur coat by a girlfriend, the coat had belonged to her grandmother but as my girlfirend didn’t wear it she had passed it on to me. The coat was made in Russia in the 1920’s and it certainly looks of that era with a wide collar and cuffs (made from bear fur) and large disc Bakelite buttons. The story goes that the coat was only even given to mistresses and never wives (I’m sure there is a book in the history of this coat)

When I was given the coat, the lining had already been removed revealing beautiful stitching of each panel of fur and interesting stamp branding on the pelts. The coat has hung in my wardrobe for nearly 10 years with only a couple of outings in that time. One of the reasons why I rarely wear it is that the leather has become brittle and tears easily. I have mended at tear in one sleeve, but didn’t want to damage it further. After a little on line research into care and restoration of these former “must have” coats I decided to take matters into my own hands.
As a child my Mother had a fox fur stole that she would wear to formal functions. The little fox face that hung down the back of the stole with its glass eyes used to scare and excite me at the same time, with my sisters daring each other to touch its glass eyes and its little leathery snout. The front of the stole was fastened by hooking together the foxes front legs (with its little claws still attached).
PETA’s stand on furs is nonsensical, as a bi-product of the meat industry is makes sense to make the best use of all of the animal, including the poor deceased’s pelt. Plus there is a reason that leather (and fur) attracts a premium, its very durable, its warm and it looks great.
So now that I had decided to wear the fur coat I needed to give it some TLC to prevent any further damage. The leather inside had become quite hard feeling in some parts almost like card rather than leather. Laying the coat on a flat surface I turned the sleeves inside out exposing the leather underside and mixed together olive oil and white vinegar at a 2:1 ratio. Using a cotton sponge I dabbed the mixture onto the leather being careful to stay away from the edges of the coat to avoid getting any oil on the fur. Once I had covered the inside leather with this conditioning oil I left the coat overnight to absorb the oil.IMG_1705
In the morning the leather felt less dry but not as supple as leather normally feels so I decided to repeat the procedure, this time without the vinegar as the coat still smelt strongly from the first application of vinegar. I then hung the coat inside out and will leave it that way for a week in a warm place for the oil to soak into the pelt. This (I hope) will restore the leather to its (almost) former glory and prevent any further tears. I have decided not to insert a new lining as I think the stitch work and markings on the inside of the coat are too beautiful to cover up. I am just going to nip down to the local craft shop and pick up a leather needle for a couple of small repairs. Leather needles are finer and have a triangular profile leaving a smaller incision hole, its also important if you are repairing leather that you use a cotton or linen thread, polyester threads are too hard and will eventually cut through the leather.