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 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 decide the quality of leather you buy are
- Tanning process
- Type of hide
- Location of the cut
- 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. Get this leather if you can afford it; it comes with a heavy price tag.
This leather is given surface treatments ( as mentioned below) for use to prevent stains and make it possible to be used. It is also referred as Top-grain leather.
Corrected Grain Leather
Here leather surface is readied by sanding to remove imperfections and finishing the hide. It is not as good as the full grain one, but it is good enough.
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 ; 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.
This is leather that is split from the skin of the hide. As such this is a very fragile leather, very weak and has many cracks and cannot be used to make any usable and durable items. But the many leather treatments it undergoes makes it durable and attractive ( like the finished split, a coated split or a suede split). The advantage of this leather is that it is cheaper than full grain leather ( Some countries have laws that forbid this leather to be marked genuine leather-so look out)
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.
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 a traditional treatment with extracts of vegetables , fruits and other plant extracts. It is very soft and flexible as well as strong. 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. It is also called Oak tanned leather when oak bark is used for tanning.
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.
Classification of leather based on the treatments on its surface
This is a leather which retains the natural grains of the original – it is dyed with soluble dyes which are clear and transparent. You can see leather in its natural state – no opaque top coat of paints . This is the softest of all leathers and the most comfortable
Some times Aniline leather will come with extra top treatment of oil and/or wax effects
An aniline leather which is just tanned ( no treatment whatsoever) is called the Crust leather
Aniline leather with a brushed or buffed surface is called Nubuck / buffed or stonewashed leather. The texture of this leather is almost like velvet. This leather is very soft and very fragile. It can get damaged with water spillage
Semi Aniline leather
This is a leather with a light coat of paint over it. This extra coat prevents stains without compromising the natural grains. This leather is also soft, though not as soft as Aniline leather.
Corrected /Pigmented leather
This is usually chrome tanned leather buffed and then given a heavy topcoat which masks the whole grain of leather . It is not soft but because of the heavy layer of paint it is the most durable. The whole top surface is sanded to remove any imperfection and then artificial grain marks are added, then it is painted.
Sometimes two coats of dyes are applied on the surface of leather and then rubbed off to create an attractive rub off leather.This leather is used to make shoes.
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
Bicast leather has a laminated surface.This lamination is usually done on a very thin piece of leather (split leather). For constant and heavy use this leather is good, as maintaining this one is easy beacuse of the protective surface( Polyurethane). But it doesnot have the look of genuine leather
Check out a related post on properly caring for leather – 10 FAQ answered
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)
You have to know the frequency of use and the type of usage the leather will be subjected to . For eg. Buying top grade leather with an Aniline leather treatment for a frequently used bar stool is asking for trouble. For this kind of frequent usage choose a pigmented leather with a polished surface. If something spills a swift wipe will clean it up.
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
Further reading : http://www.leathersmithe.com/leather-terms.html