What is natural leather and how many types are there? - A brief history of the processing tradition
Natural leather is one of the most materials by people since ancient times. Its story beginsin Prehistory, being widely used since then, due to its durability. In addition, it was very easy to find, coming from animals.
It is said that the oldest pair of natural leather shoes dates back to 3500 BC, made from cattle hide. From then until today, cowhide is most used in the manufacture of bags, shoes or other accessories.
If, however, in the past, everyone made their own leather clothes, today, there are companies specialized in this craft. Now, it falls into the category of luxury materials. Therefore, artificial or ecological leather appeared on the market as a replacement, a cheaper option, but of lower quality. However, the natural leather remains in top of preferences.
Natural leather types
Although the craft of processing natural leather originated from cattle hide, over time, people turned to other types. Today, there are a multitude of options on the market to choose from.
However, the most common are:
Box leather - leather obtained from calves. It is the most common and used for making men's shoes. Its qualities include smoothness, but also increased flexibility or strength;
Bison leather - hide that comes from older cattle, so the leather is stiffer and thicker. It requires a different conditioning process to become glossy;
Velvet leather - also known as "suede", it can be obtained from calves, sheep or horses. It has a fine, velvety look;
Goat leather - It is used to create gloves, being very thin and elastic (even if it is lengthened, it will return to its original shape);
Sheep leather - It is used to make leather goods;
Cordovan leather - one of the most expensive types of natural leather, due to the difficult and long process of manufacturing, which requires increased attention to detail. It is used to make shoes;
Exotic leather - among the most expensive and rare types of natural leather, they come from a variety of animals, such as reptiles, marine mammals or birds. Requires a special processing.
Natural leather processing
The process of conditioning natural leather varies depending on the material used. In general, however, whatever type you use, it has to go through a few standard steps, such as tanning and dyeing. Some require finishes, others don't, it all depends on the material used, but also on how skilled the person processing it is.
Natural leather tanning
Tanning is the process of conditioning hides using various substances. Thus, the leather increases its lifespan and becomes more waterproof, flexible, elastic and resistant.
This is the most important step in the conditioning process, because now, the pelt hide is transformed into a "tanned skin". This is done using chemical or natural agents. Therefore, it can be of many types: tanning with smoke, animal or fish fats, various mineral salts (especially aluminum and chromium salts) and other materials synthesized by man. The most common are, however, those with chromium salts and vegetable salts.
Chromium salt tanning
Chromium III is one of the most used tanning agents. About 85% of the hides produced in factories are obtained through this type of chemical tanning.
This type of tanning is the traditional way in which hides are processed, being used for at least 4000 years. The method is based on immersing the raw material in tanks with different tanning substances, such as bark, wood, fruit or tree leaves, chosen according to the nature of the leather to be processed.
Types of processed hides
After the hides are processed, they acquire new attributes. Depending on their purpose, the origin of the raw material, the method of processing or, sometimes, the place or country where it first appeared, they are divided into a new category. Currently, there are no less than 85 such leather varieties. Here are the most popular:
Nappa leather (invented by Emanuel Manasse, it's very resistant to moisture and dirt)
After the skin has been taken from the animal and preserved by salting, drying, refrigeration or other methods preferred by the manufacturer, it is decalcified, to be prepared for tanning without being degraded in any way.
After the tanning process, the hide is squeezed well and it goes into splinting. This process precedes the dyeing process and is the stage where the hide is cut with the help of a special machine, to obtain the desired thickness. Then, to remove any remaining particles of salts or minerals that could affect the dyeing, the skin goes through the process of neutralization.
Only now is the hide ready to be dyed. This process is extremely important because it will give the final look. It is an enrichment process, where the hides are bathed in different colors, obtained using chemical or natural pigments. And in their case, the choice must be made taking into account the type of hide they are working with. Various ointments are also used to lubricate the tanned hide fibers and reduce internal friction, which give the texture softness and versatility.
After that, the hide is dried using different types of dryers: vacuum (to reduce the duration), glass or frames (for leather tanned with minerals) or tunnel, provided with a conveyor belt (for vegetable tanned leather ).
Leather finish for accessories
The finishing process is an extensive one, which adds up to several operations. The focus is on the upper side of the hide, which is given:
Protection against contaminants, such as oil, water or dirt;
Final color - either change or enrich or even out the shade obtained when dyeing;
Changing the shine, handle and physical performance of the hide;
Hiding surface faults;
Ornaments and other fashionable stylistic features.
How to maintain leather accessories?
Natural leather, like any other object, must be maintained in order to be able to keep its attributes for a long time during use and to have a long life. Therefore, there are some essential facts that need to be taken into account when it comes to its maintenance.
The most important fact when it comes to maintaining leather accessories is their cleaning. The operation differs depending on the type you are dealing with. Therefore, you need to make sure that you are well informed in advance about the steps you need to follow.
If you are dealing with a shiny leather, you should use for its cleaning a solution consisting of warmish water and liquid hand soap. Pour some of it on a cloth and then carefully rub the area you want to clean.
If, instead, you are dealing with a matte leather, then you should use a cleansing disk with a solution of turpentine or ammonia, in a small quantity. With this, gently wipe the area.
No matter what type of leather you have, if you have been wondering how to clean it, there is a special solution or an option that can be tried at home and considered to be classic: mixing an equal amount of white vinegar and water. With this, clean directly the area you want. If the results are not visible, pour a little mixture over the stain and leave it overnight.
Considering leather is very sensitive to cleansing, you must always make sure you use quality products for it. The cloth you use must always be soft and clean, and the movements must always be circular. Do not apply force at all, as you risk damaging the leather.
Tips for maintaining natural leather
To make sure that you always treat your clothing or leather accessories with the utmost care, here are some practical tips for even better maintenance:
If you are not using the leather bag, store it in the closet with a few newspapers in it to keep it in shape;
Never wash your a leather jackets in the washing machine. It is recommended to use professional dry cleaners;
If you have wet a leather item, do not leave it to dry near a strong heat source, as it will remain stained;
To restore the shine of leather accessories, you can wipe them with a cloth soaked in raw milk or beaten egg white.
Currently, leather is the most popular material when it comes to bags, shoes, leather goods or other accessories. Other materials can tear or break extremely easily, but leather is strong and durable. Adding its elegance, beauty and versatility, it can be easily said that natural leather is the best material in the world!