Technically, leather is not a fabric because it comes from animal skins and hides. It is durable, wrinkle-free, and can be made into a lot of different things. Depending on the animal, treatment, and grade, leather changes in quality and look.
From jackets, heels, and bags to belts, caps, and wallets, leather has become a staple in the fashion world. But what makes this material so popular? As we all know, or familiar with, leather comes from the skins and hides of animals. For over 7,000 years, this material has been used and crafter in so many different ways. Even now, leather has never lost its touch and is still on-demand in the market.
Different types of leathers are a result of various types of treatment procedures. Take a guess, what is the most popular type of animal skin that is used for leather? If your answer is cowhide then your correct! About 65% of leather products come from cowhide. While it is the most popular, most animals can transform into the leather. This includes crocodiles, stingrays, pigs, and more. Leathers are sturdy and wrinkle-free. Depending on the treatment, grade, and animal, the look of the leather may vary.
List of Contents
How is leather made?
How is a hard crocodile skin transformed into leather? This material is made by treating and tanning a raw animal hide. During the tanning stage, the leather is made sturdy and sustainable. The tanning agents used in this process help balance the proteins. This makes the skin easier to manipulate in different ways. There is a tendency for raw leather to become dry and stiff. But if it experiences the tanning process it will remain supple and strong for a long time.
There are a lot of types of animals and tanning processes that can be used to make leather. Normally, it undergoes are three stages: preparing, tanning, and crusting.
Preparation. In this procedure, you prep the animal skin for the tanning process. Animal hairs are removed and some are soaked and bleached.
Tanning. For this, the leather is treated with tanning agents using either vegetable oil or chrome salt. This is essential in creating a supple leather material.
Crusting. During this process, the leather is softened and dried and is prepared for its final use. Some are either dyed or sanded.
What is the difference between Vegetable Tanned and Chrome Tanned leather?
Leather is tanned and treated in several ways. The most common are vegetable-tanned leather and chrome-tanned leather.
This method was first used by the Egyptians and the Hebrews in 400 B.C. Vegetable tanning is one of the oldest tanning methods developed for tanning leather. For this process, it uses vegetable matter, like a bark of a tree, to produce a light brown taupe color. But, the final color of the material still depends on the type of animal and the supplies used. If you want to have supple leather, then this procedure will bring it out.
For this process it uses chromium salt for tanning, hence the name. Currently, this is one of the most popular methods of tanning leather. It only takes a day to complete. Also, it has fewer chances of discoloration, unlike vegetable tanning.
Where can leather be used?
- Clothing – we usually see leather in jackets, pants, skirts, blouses, dresses, and more.
- Furniture – If you need to upholster your couch, leather is one of the most popular go-to materials. Leather creates a luxurious vibe that’s why expensive cars have a leather interior.
- Shoes – Because leather is not only sturdy and gorgeous, it makes a fabulous pair of shoes. You’ll see a variety of leather shoes including flats, heels, loafers, sneakers, and more.
- Bookbinding – Have you ever owned a leather notebook? Leather is not only for apparel and furniture; it can also be used for bookbinding and book covers. Among the different tanning processes, vegetable-tanned, are the most used for this. It’s easier to emboss information since it’s supple and soft.
What are the 5 types of leather?
The five types of leather include genuine, split-grain, top-grain, full-grain, and bonded leather. Also, there are various kinds of leather finish including brush-colored, aniline, semi-aniline, degrained, die-cut, embroidered, embossed, metallic, nappa, and more.
When you start with your leather project, you need to make sure that you’re using the right leather. Sometimes, using the wrong leather for a certain project may not yield the result that you’re aiming for. That is why we made a list of the different types of leathers that you need to know.
Five Types of Leather
Have you heard of the 5 types of leather? Do you know what it is? The 5 types of leather refer to the layers and volume of the original hide that are still existing in the end product. These are full grain, top grain, genuine, split-grain, and bonded leather. We’ll go into details later.
Based on the location of the hide of the finished leather, the features and quality of the material vary. Not only that, there are a lot of different factors that affect the quality of the leather. , this includes, the breed of the animal, the food they eat, the temperature they live in, and the exercise they had. Since the hide of the animal is a natural material it’s expected that the environment it lives in will affect its quality.
Other factors that affect the quality of the leather are the meatpacking, tanning, and finishing process.
The Leather Hide
For you to appreciate the result more, you need to start by knowing the process. What is the beginning of leather? Its starts from the leather hide which is the skin that was removed from the animal. Because it’s a natural material, it has unique features and qualities. This aids its purpose for the animal it was part of.
The leather hide severs a protective barrier for the animal. It helps keep their internal organs intact. Together with the hair and fur, they sever as guards for the external elements like the sun, cold, water, grazes, and more.
The hide is made up of several layers and this includes:
It is the outer skin of the leather hide and is made up of tight and dense fiber. This section of the leather hide is the one exposed to the elements. It is the sturdiest and smoothest after removing the hair.
The Grain and Corium Junction
In this section, you’ll get the blend of the tight outer layer and the loose fibers or the corium. In this layer, you’ll get a good mix of the coveted grain layer and the loose fibers of the corium.
In this section, the main component that you’ll get is collagen fibers. Compared to the grain section, this part is looser and more open. Still, this layer can be used to create leather. Usually, corium is the thickest layer in the hide. That is why you’ll see some of it mixed with the top grind and genuine leather.
This layer is mostly made up of muscles and fatty tissues. Among all the layers, the flesh has the least value for end leather users. Normally, leather is split into layers. Through this, useful materials are produced for different grades and qualities. That of which is needed for leather production.
What are the different types of leather grades and qualities?
Now let’s discuss the grades of the leather. Does anyone have an idea? In reality, the grades that we’ll be discussing in a few and the grades meatpackers use are quite different. The ones that we mentioned earlier are grades based on the layers of the hide. Since each layer has different specs and quality, their overall performance is graded.
The grades that meatpackers use, on the contrary, are grades based on evaluating the hide before selling to the tanneries. Well for now let’s talk about the former.
This cut contains most of the outer layer of the hide which is in its raw a natural form. No sanding nor buffing is done to eliminate any kind of imperfection. The only thing that is removed from a full-grain leather is the hair of the animal. Because of the dense-packed fibers, this grade of leather is sturdy. Also, it can withstand harsh conditions.
Since there was no sanding involved, you should accept that there will be minor imperfections with the material. It can be that the cow got a scrape from somewhere or they had a small cut. You’ve probably hit a jackpot if you can produce a full-grain leather without any flaws. They’re one of a kind and are sought after.
Furthermore, the fibers on the surface give this type of leather more strength than the others. Full-grain leather is best for furniture, saddlery, and shoes. Because the outer layer remains, over time it develops a patina that looks gorgeous. Not only that, but the outer layer also provides a bit of water resistance. Amongst the others, full-grain leather is considered the highest quality leather available.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain leather is also the same cut as the full-grain leather but with the top layer sanded off. This is done to remove all the blemishes and anomalies in the finished product. This is why top grain leather is softer and more flexible with different types of dye and finishes applied.
Yes, the sanding makes the leather more attractive. But it also softens the material and removes some of its water-repellent properties. From here we see the compromise between the strength of the leather and its looks and softness.
Because top grain leather is soft and flexible, it’s usually made into handbags, shoes, and wallets.
Genuine Leather (Corrected Leather)
This type of leather may originate from any layer of the hide. It goes through a treatment process so the leather will have a uniform or corrected appearance. This can be sanded or buffed to remove blemishes, dyed or spray-painted, or stamped to create its final appearance.
Since it undergoes a lot of alterations, it trades off the preferred qualities of leather. Because of this, this type of leather is not of top quality and is mostly used for making belts and the like.
This is the layer cut from within the lower portion of the top grain section of the hide. It sits right above the flesh and is normally the lower layer of the hide. Moreover, it rests below the full grain and the best top grain cuts. This cut still provides you with useful leather material.
Although split grains have a natural surface, its not as tight-packed and dense as full grain and top grain. This is why it’s used for leather finishes that are colored, embossed, have an altered surface. This leather can provide the qualities of leather that you want. But it still maintains a pleasing and functional surface that is great for leather products.
Bonded Leather (Reconstituted Leather)
Do you know the process of making bricks from plastics? It is done by shredding the plastics and binding them to create bricks. This same process is done with bonded leather. As the name entails, scrap leather is shredded and bonded using latex or polyurethane it makes a fiber sheet. The amount of leather that you incorporate in the mix may vary from 10% to 90%. Depending on the amount of leather, the look and functionality of the leather product may differ.
This type of leather is usually painted to add color to it. Moreover, it can be pressed or embossed to create a look of a certain grain or style of leather.
What is the rarest leather?
One of the rarest leathers of all time is elephant leather. It is very exclusive and produced in small quantities. This is because elephants are decreasing and killing them for leather is strictly regulated.
If you’re looking for one of the rarest leathers on earth, you’ll probably stumble upon elephant leather. This kind of leather perhaps is one of the most exclusive and uncommon leather that you’ll find. Since elephants are decreasing significantly, products produced using elephants are on rest. Well, we don’t want to permanently say goodbye to elephants. This is why elephant leather is produced in small quantities only.
Elephant leather has an exceedingly irregular texture but it comes in grain and nubuck finish. The thickness of this measures about 1.5 to 2.5 mm and you can get it in 4 square meters. Elephant leather is mostly found in natural and earth-toned colors. If you want to get them, you can source them from Italian tanneries while their leathers come from the Republic of South Africa and Namibia.