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Leather Texture 2 by Tasastock

A close-up depicting the texture of leather

Leather is the treated and processed skin of an animal, most often that of a cow, used for primarily clothing but occasionally other applications, such as shelter. It has been prized for much of human history and prehistory for its durability and strength.

History of UseEdit

Types of LeatherEdit

CowhideEdit

In general, leather is sold in four forms:

  • Full-grain leather refers to the leather which has not had the upper "top grain" and "split" layers separated. The upper section of a hide that previously contained the epidermis and hair, but were removed from the hide/skin. Full-grain refers to hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (as opposed to top-grain or corrected leather) to remove imperfections (or natural marks) on the surface of the hide. The grain remains allowing the fiber strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a patina over time. High quality leather furniture and footwear are often made from full-grain leather. Full-grain leathers are typically available in two finish types: aniline and semi-aniline.
  • Top-grain leather is the second-highest quality. It's had the "split" layer separated away, making it thinner and more pliable than full grain. Its surface has been sanded and a finish coat added to the surface which results in a colder, plastic feel with less breathability, and will not develop a natural patina. It is typically less expensive and has greater resistance to stains than full-grain leather, so long as the finish remains unbroken.
  • Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off and an artificial grain impressed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.

Split leather is leather created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the rawhide has been separated from the hide. During the splitting operation, the top grain and drop split are separated. The drop split can be further split (thickness allowing) into a middle split and a flesh split. In very thick hides, the middle split can be separated into multiple layers until the thickness prevents further splitting. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain (bycast leather). Splits are also used to create suede. The strongest suedes are usually made from grain splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the flesh split that has been shaved to the correct thickness. Suede is "fuzzy" on both sides. Manufacturers use a variety of techniques to make suede from full-grain. A reversed suede is a grained leather that has been designed into the leather article with the grain facing away from the visible surface. It is not considered to be a true form of suede.

  • Patent leather is leather that has been given a high-gloss finish. The original process was developed in Newark, New Jersey by inventor Seth Boyden in 1818. Modern patent leather usually has a plastic coating.
  • Vachetta leather is used in the trimmings of luggage and handbags. The leather is left untreated and is therefore susceptible to water and stains. Sunlight will cause the natural leather to darken in shade, called a patina.
  • Slink is leather made from the skin of unborn calves. It is particularly soft and is valued for use in making gloves.
  • Nubuck is top-grain cattle hide leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side, or outside, to give a slight nap of short protein fibers, producing a velvet-like surface.
  • Belting leather is a full-grain leather that was originally used in driving pulley belts and other machinery. It is found on the surface of briefcases, portfolios, and wallets, and can be identified by its thick, firm feel and smooth finish. Belting leather is generally a heavy-weight of full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather.
  • Napa leather is chrome-tanned and is soft and supple. It is commonly found in wallets, toiletry kits, and other personal leather goods.

The following are not "true" leathers, but contain leather material. Depending on jurisdiction, they may still be labeled as "Genuine Leather":

  • Bonded leather, or "reconstituted Leather", is composed of 90% to 100% leather fibers (often scrap from leather tanneries or leather workshops) bonded together with latex binders to create a look and feel similar to that of leather at a fraction of the cost. This bonded leather is not as durable as other leathers and is recommended for use only if the product will be used infrequently. Bonded leather upholstery is a vinyl upholstery that contains about 17% leather fiber in its backing material. The vinyl is stamped to give it a leather-like texture. Bonded leather upholstery is durable and its manufacturing process is more environmentally-friendly than leather production.
  • Bycast leather is a split leather with a layer of polyurethane applied to the surface and then embossed. Bycast was originally made for the shoe industry and recently was adopted by the furniture industry. The original formula created by Bayer was strong but expensive. Most of the bycast used today is very strong and durable product. The result is a slightly stiffer product that is cheaper than top grain leather but has a much more consistent texture and is easier to clean and maintain.

Other HidesEdit

Deerskin is a tough leather and has been used by many societies, including indigenous American. Most modern deerskin is no longer procured from the wild, with deer farms breeding the animals specifically for the purpose of their skins. Large quantities are still tanned from wild deer hides in historic tanning towns in upstate New York. Deerskin is used in jackets and overcoats, equipment for martial arts such as kendo and bogu, and personal accessories like handbags and wallets.

  • Buckskin is the term for any soft, pliable, porous animal hide, but originally referred to deerskin. Smoking during the preservation process gives it a characteristic dark honey color, as well as deterring insects from eating it and preventing stiffness in the material. Buckskin is different than leather in that the tanning process (called "bucking", in this case) involves an alkali soak (instead of acidic compounds like tannin) and dressing the hide with some kind of lubricant or fatty material such as animal brains. Cowhide can also be bucked.
  • Doeskin is softer and more delicate than buckskin deerhide. It is prepared in much the same manner, although the smoking process may be adjusted if a lighter color is desired.

Pigskin is used in apparel and on seats of saddles. Lamb and deerskin are used for soft leather in more expensive apparel. Deer and elkskin are widely used in work gloves and indoor shoes. Buffalo, goats, alligators, dogs, ostriches, kangaroos, oxen, and yaks may also be used for leather, and at various points in history snake and crocodile leather have been fashionable as well.

Kangaroo leather is used to make items which need to be strong but flexible—it is the material most commonly used in bullwhips. Kangaroo leather is favored by some motorcyclists for use in motorcycle leathers specifically because of its light weight and abrasion resistance. Kangaroo leather is also used for falconry jesses and soccer footwear.

Although originally raised for their feathers in the 19th century, ostriches are now more popular for both meat and leather. There are different processes to produce different finishes for many applications, i.e., upholstery, footwear, automotive products, accessories, and clothing. Ostrich leather is currently used by many major fashion houses such as Hermès, Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. Ostrich leather has a characteristic "goose bump" look because of the large follicles from which the feathers grew.

Shagreen is also known as stingray skin/leather. Applications used in furniture production date as far back as the art deco period. The word "shagreen" originates from France. In Thailand shagreen is used in wallets and belts. Sting ray leather is tough and durable. The leather is often dyed black and covered with tiny round bumps in the natural pattern of the back ridge of an animal. These bumps are then usually dyed white to highlight the decoration. Sting ray leather is also used as grips on Chinese swords and Japanese katana.

Use in CorsetryEdit

Leather has been one of the sturdiest materials available throughout human history, and its durability makes it very suitable as the primary component of modern corsets, especially those designed for harder wear than simple fashion. However, it requires special equipment to work with, is unforgiving of mistakes, and can be temperamental, especially for novice corsetmakers.

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