Types of leather conjures up different images for different people. Cowboys and rodeos, fancy shoes and bags, leather coats and the classic leather jacket. Leather today is classified by the type of leather, the process used to cure the leather and the purpose the leather will be used for. Leather can be utilitarian or fashionable. Wearing leather is a personal choice, but real leather is long-lasting and continues to be worn as clothing and used for accessories.
Types of Leather
Leather can be classified by the types of leather, the source and its processing. You will see many of these terms when you are purchasing leather clothing and accessories.
Types of Leather Labels
Full-Grain, Top Grain
This is the most expensive quality of leather. It refers to the best top portion of the hide after hair has been removed. Full-grain has almost no flaws, while top grain may have some imperfections that have been treated.
Genuine types of leather are not necessarily the top grade. It can be treated to look like top-grain and it can be hard to tell the difference sometimes. You will often see this symbol for genuine leather.
Split Leather, Bonded Leather
Split leather and bonded leather are poorer quality products that are weaker and don't last as well. Bonded leather is made from scraps of leather and treated and bonded together. Split leather is an inner layer made from thicker leather that has been cut in layers.
Suede is a split leather with a fluffy surface which is from the underside of the skin. It is used for clothing, shoes and numerous other purposes such as furniture. As it is split leather, it is usually cheaper but it is not as durable and can mark easily.
Sources of Leather
The variety of types of leather may also depend on the animal used to provide the leather or hide. There are many different hides from a range of animals and reptiles. It is a personal choice of whether to buy leather from different animal sources.
Animals from which leather can be obtained include
- Cow Leather
- Sheep Leather - Usually a thinner and very soft leather used for gloves and clothing.
- Goat Leather
- Crocodile Leather
- Snake Leather
Types of Leather - Tanning Processes
After the rawhide is selected it may be processed and further classified according to the tanning process. Tanning is the process of dying and treating skins in order to obtain leather. This increases durability and can add color, shine and texture.
Rawhide has no processing or tanning process done to the skin or hide. It is not generally used for clothing or accessories. You have probably seen rawhide in the supermarket in the dog treats section.
Extracts of vegetables and fruits are used to tan the leather and make it soft and pliable. Also used is the bark and resin from oak trees and spruce and tara pods. This results in a long process to tan the leather but produces beautiful soft browns and caramels. It is a traditional method of tanning and coloring leather.
Chrome tanning is a chemical process resulting in types of leather that are mainly used for upholstery.
These types of leather may sound rather unpleasant, but it is a traditional tanning process handed down over the years. The hide is soaked in an emulsion of the animal’s brain. Nature has provided an ingredient called lecithin which is a natural tanning agent. There is enough oil and lecithin in each animal’s brain to tan one hide, according to traditional hunting procedures.
Aromatic polymers are used to tan leathers synthetically. A polymer is a chemical compound like cellulose found in plants and used in different manufacturing processes.
Treatments for Leather after Tanning
After tanning, the leather goes through a number of different treatments and dying processes to bring the final product to the suppliers.
Finally, leather is dyed by a spray or brush technique and sorted for different purposes. The leather can also be embossed and perforated to add texture and individuality.
It is a long process to get to the point where the types of leather can be used and this contributes to the cost of leather.
Choosing Leather According to Thickness
Leather is sold as an ounce thickness. A one-ounce thickness is the same as 1/64 or 0.016 of a decimal inch. Here are some conversions below. If you are sewing leather on your sewing machine, you will be looking for thickness below 3 ounces. The heavier weights are more suitable to belts, saddles and solid cases.
Types of Leather Thicknesses
Can You Sew Leather on a Home Sewing Machine?
Yes, you can. Sewing leather on a domestic sewing machine is possible and with a few tips, you can certainly try to sew leather at home.
Further Reading: Sewing Leather
- Choose thin leather that can go through your machine. Avoid patent types of leather or and other sticky surfaces.
- Look for a leather needle. This type of needle has a spearheaded tip to penetrate the leather without splitting the surface.
- Look for the right foot. A presser foot may work, but alternatively look for a Teflon foot, a roller foot or a walking foot.
- Use a polyester or nylon thread, not cotton. A cotton thread can rot or disintegrate due to the chemicals used in producing the leather.
- Increase the length of your stitch to 3.0 to 4.0. Short stitches result in too many perforations making the seam prone to ripping.
- Hold the leather in place with quilting clips or double-sided tape. Do not put the tape underneath the stitching as you don’t want to stitch the tape into the article. Pins can leave marks and are hard to get through tough leather.
- Do not backstitch. Avoid perforating the leather by knotting the beginning and end of the row of stitching.
- Do not be in a rush to sew leather. It is expensive to buy and does not like to be unpicked if you make a mistake.
What About Artificial Types of Leather?
Faux leather is a name for artificial types of leather. It is made to look like leather, but it is made of a plastic or synthetic material. Faux leather may be dyed in different colors and have different textures.
Faux leather may be like real leather in many ways but it will never smell or last like real leather.
Faux leather is water-resistant and does not stain easily. It is also easier to sew than the real thing and cheaper to buy.
There are many terms used to identify faux artificial leather. Here are just some -
- Faux leather
- Vegan leather
- PU leather
Sewing Projects for Leather or Faux Leather
All the sewing projects below can be sewn on your regular sewing machine using thin types of leather or faux leather.
Types of Leather - In Conclusion
Leather will always give a fashion item the extra edge over other materials. Shoes, bags and belts all look more sophisticated with genuine leather. Leather jackets set movie icons apart in some of the best-loved shows. Imagine if Olivia Newton-John had worn a tweed jacket in the final scene of Grease. It would not have been a lightening moment! The black leather jacket just gave the final touch of magic to the ending of the movie.
LEARN HOW TO SEW WITH MORE FABRICS
Now you know all about the types of leather, check out these other fabrics listed alphabetically.
- CHIFFON – Sewing Chiffon
- BATIK – What is Batik
- CANVAS – Sewing Canvas
- COTTON – Sewing Cotton
- DENIM – Sewing Denim
- FELT – Sewing Felt
- FUR – Sewing Fur
- KNITS – How to Sew Stretch Fabric
- INTERFACING – Types of Interfacing
- LACE – How to Sew Lace
- LEATHER – Sewing Leather
- RAYON – Sewing Rayon
- SHEER – Sewing Sheer Fabrics
- SILK – How to Sew Silk
- THICK – Sewing Thick Fabrics
- VELVET Sewing Velvet
- WOOL – Sewing Wool