Learn all about the different types of leather! The word 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 animal, the process used to cure the leather, and the purpose the leather will be used for.
Types of Leather Tutorial
Leather can be classified by the types of animal it comes from, the dyes used, and its processing method. You will see many of these terms when you are purchasing leather clothing and accessories.
Leather can be both utilitarian and 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 by Grade - Leather Qualities
There are 6 main grades of leather. These are categorized by their quality and how they are produced. Leather can be made from the whole thickness of skin, or it can be shaved or split to produce lesser quality but cheaper products. It may also need to be split to form leathers of different thicknesses suitable for different products.
The 6 grades of leather are:
- Full Grain (Top Grain)
- Genuine Leather
- Split Leather
- Bonded Leather
1. Full Grain Leather
This is the most expensive and highest quality leather. It refers to the top portion of the hide after the hair has been removed. Although it may have some imperfections, it is considered the best leather as it is largely untouched and is prized for its durability.
The entire skin thickness is used for full-grain leather and it is not split in any way. Full grain leather is known for the beautiful patina it developed over time. It is moisture resistant since its surface is not touched.
2. Top Grain Leather
Top grain leather comes from the top layer of the skin but has some flaws that may have been treated. The top layers of skin have been sanded or shaved off to hide any flaws and create a more uniform surface. This sanding or shaving weakens the leather slightly but it is still a good product for bags, belts, and accessories.
It is more affordable than full-grain leather but is still considered high-quality leather. Top grain is the second-best leather after full grain.
Nubuck leather is a popular top-grain type of leather commonly used for footwear. It has a sanded grain on top with a slight nap.
3. Genuine Leather
Genuine types of leather are not necessarily the top grade. This label is usually used for lower-quality leathers. It can be treated to look like top-grain and it can be hard to tell the difference sometimes. You will often see the below symbol for genuine leather.
Technically full grain and top grain are also genuine leather but it is not generally marketed as such. In addition, leather labeled genuine is not necessarily from one hide. It can be reconstituted from scraps or several layers of leather glued together.
The genuine leather label is often used for leather products, bags, and belts of lower quality.
4. Split Grain Leather
Split leather is made from thicker leather that has been cut in layers. It usually has an embossed or printed surface or is left without a surface such as the case of suede. It is not considered good quality and is not as strong as full or top grain leather.
5. Bonded Leather
Bonded leather is made from fibers of leather that have been treated and bonded together with non-leather fibers such as rubber or polyurethane. Other names for bonded leather include reconstituted leather or blended leather.
Bonded leather is made from shredded leather scraps which are then reconstituted. It is considered very poor quality and products made with it generally do not last. Rather than fashion items, it is more commonly used for furniture, book covers, and desk accessories.
Suede is a type of 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 and soft gloves. As it is split leather, it is usually cheaper but it is not as durable and can mark easily due to its matt, porous surface.
Types of Animals Used for Leather
The types of leather 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 whether to buy leather from different animal sources.
Animals from which leather can be obtained include:
- Cow Leather (Calf Leather)
- Sheep Leather (Lamb Leather)
- Goat Leather
- Crocodile Leather (Alligator 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 pigment, shine, and texture.
Aniline leather is dyed with soluble dyes to give a natural surface. It will often show marks and scratches easily but the natural colors and texture make it sought after particularly for clothing and soft unstructured bags.
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 are the bark and resin from oak trees, 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 leather 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.
Types of Leather Thickness Chart
Types of Leather for Different Purposes
When buying leather, it can also be classified for its purpose. Different thicknesses and finishes are suitable for different items.
For example, if you are making soft leather gloves, then you will need a soft lamb or goat leather. You would not want to use upholstery leather as it would be too thick.
Here are some of the different leathers classified by their purpose.
- Saddle Leather - This is a thick leather in natural brown colors used for harnesses and saddles
- Upholstery Leather - A thick leather used for furniture, it is usually cow leather since these tend to be larger skins.
- Strap Leather - This is a thick leather suitable for belts and straps.
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.
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.
Further Reading: Sewing Leather
- Choose thin leather that can go through your machine. Avoid patent types of leather 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.
- 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 lightning moment! The black leather jacket just gave the final touch of magic to the ending of the movie.
Learn About More Types of 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
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