What is Leather ? Tips on buying the best

Who doesnot love leather ; Who doesnot know the distinction that leather gives you?

The elegance of leather products when used to make clothing, accessories or home decor is unparalleled. Nothing to say about the durability of Leather; With age, leather gets better looking – wish I could say that about myself.

Not many know what leather really is ? and How to recognize good leather from the fake

what is leather

What is leather? What is it made of ?

Basically leather is the skin of animals after it is treated to many processes that refines it and beautifies it.The skin is  tanned with high grade oils and preservatives, before it is stitched to make the things you love

Other than cows, the skin of lambs, goats, horses, pigs, sheep,  deer, kangaroos, snakes, alligators and even elephants are used to make leather products.Cow , Lamb, calf, and goat skin are the most used in the leather industry.

Dog skin is also rumored to be used which is a dirty secret you and I know, but noone else does ( other than the readers of this article in the guardian)

If you are new to sewing with leather it is better to start with cow skin ( calfskin) or lambskin.

What are the different types of leather.

There are many different types of leather which really confuses me when I go to buy. I am the kind who ask why, what, when of things I buy – this way I have come to know a little bit about different leather products

You have to first know that the three things which decides the quality of leather you buy are

  1. Tanning process
  2. Type of hide
  3. Location of the cut
  4. Thickness of the leather.

Full grain leather

This is the best quality leather and the most expensive. This comes from the outermost portion of the hide of the animal.You can be sure that this leather is going to last a long time and will get better looking as it ages. So get this leather if you afford it. 

Top Grain Leather

After full grain leather , top grain leather is the best type of leather. This is the portion you find after the full grain leather in the hide. The leather is made by sanding and finishing the hide. It is not as good as the full grain one, but it is good enough. 

Genuine leather 

One would have thought that genuine leather is the genuine one ; I thought that – but seems like it is not so.

Genuine leather is below in quality to the full grain leather and the top grain leather ; Infact its colour is usually got by  spray painting  the surface of the leather but to an uneducated eye it looks quite high grade and the original leather.  

This third grade leather is often passed off as the real high grade leather. But the buyer would soon learn  after it ages and looks worn and not so good unlike the leather which is high grade. 

Bonded leather

As the name suggests this is bonded together leather. Scrap pieces  of unusable leather is made into a paste which is glued together to make a leather like product – basically when you think about it it is leather – but not really . This is not what you want if you are in the market for good leather.

For  a layman it is difficult to know the difference between good leather and bonded leather. You will be able to tell the difference only once you have used it – obviously the leather product will far outlive the bonded leather product . Another fact is that bonded leather starts to look worn and ugly after some use unlike the real stuff.

So if you find that the leather product you bought believing it to the best is starting to look quite ugly, you can be certain that it is really bonded leather

Regenerated Leather 

This is a leather which has a plastic like coating on top of it; this is done to make it more strong and hard wearing.

For home decor projects this leather is in high demand, because of the sheen on the surface. But when it comes to making clothing like jackets or even bags and other accessories, you may not think it suitable or desirable

Classification of leather by the process of tanning 

As per the process of tanning the leather is classified as

  • Vegetable tanned leather
  • Brain tanned leather
  • Chrome tanned leather and
  • Synthetic tanned leather. 

Vegetable Brain Tanned Leather undergoes treatment with extracts of vegetables , fruits and other plant extracts. It is very soft and flexible. It is not water resistant and gets damaged if exposed to water. This leather is considered to be of top quality.So if you get a chance, buy this one. 

Chrome tanned leather undergoes tanning using chemicals. This is what you would choose for a home decor project like covering your sofa or car seats. Brain tanned leather is called so because it uses extracts from the brains of dead animals for tanning. The process makes the leather very soft and washable. Synthetic Tanned Leather undergoes a process that uses aromatic polymers.


Precautions to take when buying leather

Ensure that the leather is without imperfections; The natural hide is bound to have scratches etc.But you donot want it on your leather piece. 

Ensure the leather feels supple when you touch it and not brittle or hard.

Ensure the leather smells good. Good natural smell is a quality of high grade leather.A plasticky smell is a sign of low quality leather

Sometimes when you are buying leather products manufacturers trick you by making parts of the product in low quality leather – so be sure to check it inside out ( like the back of a sofa)

Even the connoisseur gets duped into buying low grade leather; so being extra vigilant when buying leather is a necessity. This care is necessary to get good leather which will last a long time and is worth the money you spent on it, but that doesnot guarantee anything as you have seen

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