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Launching your Leather Education

June 14, 2013
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Many of us interact with leather on a daily basis, but have little idea as to the variety of terms and processes associated with the classification of its types, the nature of its manufacture, etc.  Many products are branded with vague words like “bonded” (not actually leather, but a plastic-based leather composite) or “patent” leather (leather with heavy, rigid, high-gloss finish), and types like “suede” and “nubuck” are relatively well known, but perhaps confusing.  We at DCT live and breathe all things leather, so we consider it a pleasure to inaugurate our readership into the language and culture of leather.

Most of the terms you may come across in the leather business reference either where the leather comes from on the animal, or how it was processed to turn it into the end product.  Leather “grain” refers to the visible texture of the leather, and is what gives leather its character.  Each hide comes with its own unique grain that tells a story about the animal it protected – and bears the marks of scarring from other animals horns, barbed wire, or other sources of stress.  An unaltered hide is referred to as a “full-grain” hide, as opposed to the more common “corrected grain” hides that are processed to hide the imperfections in the natural grain, and give a more uniform look to the leather.

When leather is processed, it us usually split into several usable layers; the “top grain” and the “drop split”; the top-grain usually used for higher-end applications, and the drop split re-grained to get the classic leather look.  Splitting is also how we get suede and nubuck, which are both sanded or buffed to get their velvety texture.

Another term thrown around in the high-end leather world is “aniline”.  An aniline dyed leather has been dyed all the way through for color, with no pigmentation or protection applied.  Pure aniline leather isn’t produced anymore, due to health and safety risks associated with its dying process, not to mention its inferior lifespan and tendency to fade – the dyeing process has become increasingly regulated for those very reasons.  What has replaced it now, though still only in high end applications, is “semi” or “protected” aniline, in which the hide has been safely dyed for color, and then given a small amount of pigment treatment to improve consistency and durability without compromising the look of the natural imperfections of the leather.

If we’ve piqued your interest in the wide world of leather, don’t worry – there is a lot more to learn, and our glossary of terms is a good place to start.  Let the leather learning continue!

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