Hide glue is a protein based adhesive used in fine woodworking and antique restoration and for thousands of years was the most common woodworking glue until the invention of polyvinyl acetate and resin glues in the 20th century. It is made from animal skins, bones and connective tissue and is a tenacious adhesive yet also water soluble and non toxic and not hazardous. Artists use rabbit skin glue to size canvases and it is also used in bookbinding and to prepare certain art mediums.
For textile artists, hide glue is used in indigo and other dye vats to help protect protein fibers such as wool and silk from excessive heat or alkalinity. The hide glue helps maintain the sheen, softness and hand of the protein fiber, yet does not impede the dye or indigo dip process. Prepare the hide glue solution before you begin to balance your vat as it takes about 45 minutes for the granules to dissolve. It may also be made in advance and refrigerated. To use, thin it with a little boiling water or slowly reheat it in a water bath until it melts. If it is added to a cold dye bath, it may thicken into little blobs, so add it to warm vats and baths (about 100 degrees F).
Amount to use
Use 1 -2 teaspoons of hide glue per pound of fiber being dyed. For particularly delicate fibers, you may need to increase the amount to 3 teaspoons.
1. Measure the hide glue into a 1 quart container. Add about 12 ounces of cold water and allow the granules to swell and soften.
2. Add boiling water to dissolve the softened granules.
3. Strain the mixture into the warm dye pot or indigo vat and proceed with dyeing or dipping.
4. Replenish the indigo vat with additional dissolved hide glue as needed.
Prepared hide glue solution may be refrigerated for short term storage. For longer term storage, prepared hide glue may be frozen – defrost before using.