Leather is a natural product that reacts
differently to soil and light. Some types of leather have greater resistance because of the techniques used in finishing the hides. The natural surface of leather
is like a landscape, with varying textures and shadowy furrows. These distinctive features are unique to genuine leather, a product
that has been raised rather than engineered. No two hides will be exactly alike, as with all things in nature.
Leather is the
strongest upholstery material traditionally used for furniture and has been proven to outlast fabric at least four to one.
While all leather is inherently durable and strong, there are significant
differences between leathers. Top grain leather is the strong supple top layer of
the hide. These hides have been processed to retain the leathers'
natural ability to constantly adjust to its environment. It absorbs moisture and
regulates its surface temperature so that it is warm and comfortable in the
winter and cool in the summer. Leather, a product of nature, has its own
life history recorded as grain, wrinkles, scratches and scars acquired
from life on the range.
Leather's Natural Markings Even the best leather has natural markings, which are analogous to
fingerprints. They distinguish genuine leather from man-made
materials. Some marks which can appear on the surface of leather are
healed scratches, barbed wire marks, wrinkles and insect bites. Any of
these markings may be present on your furniture and is your assurance that you
have a true top grain leather. Leather is a natural product; grain pattern
and color may vary from hide to hide and within the hide.
and Tone Variation
Leather is unique as an upholstery covering. Surface features testify to the
authenticity of natural leather. Variation across a hide, density of
grain, creases and folds are distinctive characteristics, much like the grain of
a fine piece of wood. Leather is not like a bolt of cloth. On a sofa, five
hides may be utilized which will blend and complement, but will never be
identical. Like any natural product, grain pattern and color may
vary from hide to hide and within each individual hide. In the dying
process, no pigments are used, so each hide absorbs "color" based on
its individual cell structure. Each area of the hide will absorb dye in
varying amounts, and thus be darker or lighter than other areas; much like wood
varies in color when stained. This explains why an arm of a leather sofa
may have a different shade than the cushions or the back of the sofa. They
were simply cut from different parts of the same hide.
Scars Healed scratches are
reflective of the steer's lifelong encounters. These healed scratch marks are evidence of this cow's
unsheltered life. These form as a result of barbed wire
scratches, disease and infestation or by horns of other cattle. The new healed skin is as strong as the remainder of the hide. It is
normal to use scars and areas of rough grain on the outside backs
and arms. Markings on your leather furniture are natural, and in
no way affect the strength or wear ability of the leather. These unique characteristics are your assurance of genuine leather.
Wrinkles Neck and shoulder creases
appear as elongated furrows. Wrinkles naturally occur in a hide as a result of the neck
stretching and contracting. Skin located on the neck of a
steer is full and loose. This enables the steer to have the
flexibility it needs to move its head while grazing. Wrinkles, naturally
in Grain Variations in grain
pattern occurs during the life of a steer. The grain is relatively tight across the backbone while it may be
very loose in the belly and flank areas. The looser areas
consequently have more stretch. Graining, like human fingerprints, is
unique to each individual hide.
Marks Stretch marks appear in
cowhides for the same reasons they do in humans. The process of calving requires the stretching of
the skin to accommodate the new calf.Nothing could be more natural. Stretch marks are used in leather furniture.
Veins Growth marks and veins are an
indication of the age of the animal and in that respect are similar to the graining on a
piece of timber. They range from often quite pronounced marks in
the neck area to subtle bands across the hide perpendicular to
the backbone. Again, these are quite natural and are used in furniture.
glossary provides many of the terms encountered in the leather industry.
We have highlighted some of the more important terms for our leather furniture
To the left is
a typical whole hide. As can be seen, the shape of the hide restricts the shapes of leather pieces that can
be cut out of it. A side is created by dividing the whole hide vertically down the middle.
Leather that is colored all the way through with a transparent dye. The effect is applied by immersing the leather in a dye bath.
Because the finish is transparent and shows the natural markings of the leather,
only the best quality hides can be used.
Leather that is dyed with one color over another (usually darker over lighter) so as to create rich highlights and an artificial
aged appearance. It is also called distressed leather.
Leather from which the top
surface has been removed by abrasion. Often known as suede or nubuck.
Leather that has been buffed to remove blemishes, then covered with a new, artificial
grain created using pigments
and other finishes.
Removing the crock, or excess coloring, that rubs off of a newly-dyed hide
Crust: Leather which has been tanned (treated to become nonperishable) but not
colored or otherwise finished.
Distressed: Another term for antiqued leather.
The process of coloring leather by tumbling it in a rotating drum immersed in dye. This is
a very effective method allowing
maximum dye penetration.
Leather: Leather that has been
"stamped" with a design or artificial texture under very high pressure. It is used, for example, to
create imitation alligator hide.
Any enhancing effect applied to leather after it has been tanned. Examples are dyeing, embossing, buffing, antiquing, waxing,
waterproofing, and so on.
Full Grain Leather:
Leather which has not been altered beyond hair removal. Full grain leather is the most genuine type of leather, as it
retains all of the original texture and markings of the original hide.
Glazed Leather: Aniline-dyed leather which has
been polished to a high luster by passing through glass or steel rollers under great pressure.
Lambskin or other very soft
leather typically used for gloves.
A word used to describe the natural characteristics of an unprocessed hide, such as its
pores, wrinkles, markings, and texture.
A word used to describe the feel (i.e. softness or fullness) of leather, typically upholstery leather.
Describes the soft, "fuzzy" effect achieved in leather by buffing or
Natural Grain: Leather that displays its
Nuback Leather: Also called Chaps, Distressed
Unfinished, Naked, Bomber or Suede leathers. A
leather whose surface has been buffed and brushed to create a soft, velvety effect. Differs from suede in that while suede is
created from the flesh (inner) side of a hide, nubuck is created using the grain
(outer) side, giving it added strength and durability.You chose this
leather because of its natural beauty, soft hand and luxurious feel. Through years of experience, we have developed unique ways to maintain and protect
these naturally tanned leathers. The lack of a coated finish requires special attention.
Tanned: Leather that is tanned using oils to create a very soft, pliable finish.
Patina: The aura or luster that develops in a quality piece of leather with age.
Perforated: Leather in which a pattern of small holes is stamped using a die.
Leather that has been coated with a flat surface color on top of or instead of the usual dye
finish. Leather is usually
pigmented to add durability and hide natural blemishes.
Plating: The process of pressing leather under a heated plate. Often used in
upholstery leather to mask imperfections.
Describes the behavior of
leather that has been treated with oils, waxes, and dyes in such a way that when the leather is pulled or
stretched (i.e. on upholstery), the finish becomes lighter in the stretched
areas. It is considered a mark of high quality.
A second finish added over an underlying tannage.
Savauge: A coloring
effect created by blending two similar dyes to create a mottled or marbled
Aniline leather to which a matching pigment layer is added to even out the color and add protection.
Leather made from one half, or "side", of a full hide. Typically
refers to leather whose top grain (outermost layer) has been left
Leather made from the lower (inner or flesh side) layers of a hide that have been split away from the upper, or grain, layers.
Split leather is more fragile than side leather or full-grain leather, and is
typically used in the form of suede.
Suede: Split leather that has been buffed and brushed to create a fuzzy surface
Leather whose top (outermost) layers have been left intact, in contrast to split leather.
An effect created by applying layers of similar or contrasting dyes to a piece of leather in order to create
a mottled or aged appearance. Antiqued and Savage leathers are examples of
Leather created from a whole hide and intended for use in furniture, automobiles, airplanes,
and other upholstery applications.
A method of hide tanning which utilizes materials from organic materials such as bark
instead of the traditional chemicals. Vegetable tanned leather has greater body and
firmness than traditionally-tanned leather.
A term which describes the heaviness or thickness of leather. This is typically given in ounces per square foot or
Whole Hide: Refers to leather created using a
full hide, as opposed to a side, and typically intended for use as
people who lived during the Ice Age some 500,000 years
ago, were likely the first to use the skins of animals to
protect their bodies from the elements. Just as leather today is a
byproduct, our ancient ancestor’s hunted animals primarily for food, but
once they had eaten the meat, they would clean the skin by scraping off
the flesh and then sling it over their shoulders as a crude form
of a coat. They also made footwear to protect their bare feet from rocks
and thorns by taking smaller pieces of animal skin made to fit loosely over the foot and tied at the ankle with thin strips of skin
or even vines.
The main problem that primitive man encountered was that
after a relatively short time the skins decayed and rotted away. With
his limited knowledge and experience, primitive man had no idea
how to preserve these hides. As centuries passed it was noticed that several things could slow down the decay of leather. If the
skins were stretched out and allowed to dry in the sun, it made
them stiff and hard but they lasted much longer. Various oily substances
were then rubbed into the skins to soften them. As time passed, it
was eventually discovered that the bark of certain trees
contained ”tannin” or tannic acid which could be used to convert
raw skins into what we recognize today as leather. It is quite hard to
substantiate chronologically at exactly what time this tanning method
materialized, but the famous “Iceman” dating from at least 5,000 BC
discovered in the Italian Alps several years ago, was clothed in very
Somewhat later, techniques used by the American Indian are
very similar to those used in this early period. These Indians
took the ashes from their campfires, put water on them and soaked the
skins in this solution. In a few weeks the hair and bits of flesh
came off, leaving only the raw hide. This tanning method, which used a solution of hemlock and oak bark, took about three months to
complete after which the leather was worked by hand to make
the hide soft and pliable.
Making Of LEATHER Goods
The tanning of leather was used by mankind in numerous geographical areas throughout the early periods of human
civilization. As certain leather characteristics began to
emerge, men realized leather could be used for many purposes besides
footwear and clothing. The uses and importance of leather increased
greatly. For example, it was discovered that water would keep fresh
and cool in a leather bag. It was also found suitable for such other
items as tents, beds, rugs, carpet, armor and harnesses. Ancient
Egypt, one of the most developed civilizations in this early period,
valued leather was as an important item of trade. The Egyptians made leather sandals, belts, bags, shields, harness, cushions and
chair seats from tanned skins. Many of these items are in fact
still made from leather today.
Similarly, the Greeks and Romans used leather to make many different styles of sandals, boots and shoes. When the Roman
legions marched in conquest across Europe, they were well
attired in leather armor and leather capes. In fact, right up until
the early 18th century, the shield carried by the ordinary
soldier was more likely to be made of leather than metal.
The ancient Greeks refer to eight basic guilds of artisans,
which included both shoemakers and tanners. Although tanning was originally a cottage trade, the Greeks had full-time
professional tanners who were at first employed in leather processing establishments and became independent some time later. The
barks of conifers and alder were used as tannin sources and so were
the peel of the pomegranate, sumac leaves, walnut, cups of acorns
as well as an Egyptian heritage - mimosa bark. The Greeks were
also familiar with alum tanning and it appears they knew something
about tanning with fish oil. The types of leathers used were as
diversified as the end users. Homer refers to the use of cowhide, goat
and weasel leather by the Greeks.
The edict issued by the Roman emperor Diocletian which fixed ceiling prices for all kinds of goods and services included
skins and leather prepared from goats, sheep, lambs, hyenas, deer, wild sheep, wolves, martens, beaver, bears, jackals, seals,
leopards and lions. Under the edict, cowhide was even classified according
to groups and qualities. A complete tannery in the famous ash-preserved ruins of Pompeii was unearthed in 1873.
As we move into the middle Ages, leather continued to
increase in popularity. By far the cleverest craftsmen with leather in
medieval times were the Arabs. The Moors developed remarkable skill primarily in the preparation of beautiful goatskin still
known as morocco leather after the country of its origin. In fact the
description ’genuine morocco’ is still very highly regarded today,
particularly in the manufacture of small leather goods.
In Medieval England, most industries were carried out by
master craftsmen aided by apprentices under the supervision of the appropriate Craft Guilds. The leather trade was represented
by a large number of guilds including Cordwainers, Couriers,
Fletchers, Girdlers, Glovers, Homers (Bottle makers), Leather Sellers,
Loriners, Saddlers, Skinners, Pursers, Tanners and Harness-makers as
well as others. All kinds of containers were made from leather,
such as sword cases and dagger sheaths, box coverings and water
bottles, many of them beautifully decorated by punching and incising. Leather was also a favorite medium for decorative art.
Leather was used to cover books. In those days, when the horse was the principal means of transport, saddler and harness making were
important uses of leather.
Until the later part of the 19th century, there
were relatively few changes in the methods used to produce leather. In fact, the
process had changed very little in over 200 years. However,
the industrial revolution did not bypass tanning - one of the
oldest and most basic forms of manufacturing. Science was quickly
introduced to the art and craft of leather making. A wider range of
dyestuffs, synthetic tanning agents and oils were introduced. Together
with precision machinery, these changes and continued innovations
to the present day have combined to make tanning into a viable, modern manufacturing industry.
The leather industry
has gone through many changes. Steps have been taken to form different looks and
feel to please a wide variety of customer wants and needs.
Determining the type of leather,
how that leather was finished and the proper method to clean, maintain and
protect these various leathers requires knowledge and experience. Often the
seller or the seller’s representative does not know the proper method of
leather care needed for a particular leather type purchased.
tanned, and or finished in may different ways. Below is some detailed
information and the three main categories that leather furniture is referred to
Pigmented, Semi Aniline, Aniline Plus & Everyday Leathers: These leathers
have combined the best aspects of a natural product (leather) and have utilized tannery technology to create a product that is more uniform
in appearance and color (due to the applications of pigments to the surface). It then has a
finish applied to the surface that makes the leather more resistant to the effects of heavy use. The
pigments and finish applied to the leather do affect the softness and hand
somewhat. As more pigment or finish is applied, the softness of the
leather lessens. What determines the amount of pigment and finish needed
is: 1. The color of the leather, 2. The selection of the leather, 3. The desired
level of resistance the finish needs. Protected leathers are by far the most popular and common
types of leather sold on furnishings. You
can prevent peeling and finish decay by having these leathers cleaned,
conditioned and re protected annually.
Leathers, also known as Natural, Unprotected, Pure or Naked Leathers:
are colored with transparent dye stuff. This means that you are able to
see the actual surface grain and markings. It is as if you are looking
through a colored lens. These leathers have very little or no protective treatments
applied to them. The most common thing to do is to spray a wax finish on
the surface that gives short term water repellence. The actual way that
the leather is made varies from tannery to tannery.
also known as Chaps, Distressed, Buckskin, bomber or Suede leathers:
are actually aniline leathers on which the surface has been brushed, and have created a texture similar to velvet on
leather. Many people confuse these with Suede leather. Suede is the flesh
side of a piece of leather, and nubuck is an "effect" that is done to the grain
side, making it incredibly soft. The brushing also makes the leather even more absorbent than
aniline leathers. This makes these two leathers sometimes difficult to
distinguish from each other. The most difficult to identify are the ones which are in the
distressed leathers category or which have waxed finishes applied to them.