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- This article is based on an article titled "Leather" at Wipipedia
Leather is a material created through the tanning of raw hides, pelts and skins of animals, primarily cows.
Leather is a very important clothing material with many other uses. Together with wood, leather formed the basis of much ancient technology. Leather with the fur still attached is simply called fur.
Forms of leather
There are a number of processes where by the skin of a dead animal can be formed into a supple, strong material commonly called leather.
- Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannins, (astringent, bitter-tasting plant polyphenols hence the name "tanning") and other ingredients found in vegetable matter, tree bark, and other such sources. It is supple and brown in color, with the exact shade depending on the mix of chemicals and the color of the flesh. Vegetable-tanned leather is not stable in water; it tends to discolor, and if left to soak and then dry it will shrink and become less supple and harder. In hot water, it will shrink drastically and plasticize, becoming rigid and eventually brittle.
- Alum-tanned leather is tanned using aluminium salts mixed with a variety of binders and protein sources, such as flour, egg yolk, etc. Purists argue that alum-tanned leather is technically "tawed" and not tanned, as the resulting material will rot in water. Very light shades of leather are possible using this process, but the resulting material is not as supple as vegetable-tanned leather.
- Rawhide is made by scraping the skin thin, soaking it in lime, and then stretching it while it dries. Like alum-tanning, rawhide is not technically "leather", but is usually lumped in with the other forms. Rawhide is stiffer and more brittle than other forms of leather, and is primarily found in uses such as drum heads where it does not need to flex significantly; it is also cut up into cords for use in lacing or stitching, or for making dog toys.
- Boiled leather is a hide product (vegetable-tanned leather) that has been hardened by being immersed in hot water, or in boiled wax or similar substances. Historically, it was used as armor due to its hardness and light weight, but it has also been used for book binding.
- Chrome-tanned leather, invented in 1858, is tanned using chromium sulfate and other salts of chromium. It is more supple and pliable than vegetable-tanned leather, and does not discolor or lose shape as drastically in water as vegetable-tanned. More esoteric colors are possible using chrome tanning.
- Brain-tanned leathers are exceptionally absorbent of water. They are made by a labor-intensive process which uses emulsified oils (often those of animal brains) and which has not been industralized. They are known for their exceptional softness and their ability to be washed.
Leather—usually vegetable-tanned leather—can be oiled to improve its water resistance. This supplements the natural oils remaining in the leather itself, which can be washed out through repeated exposure to water. Frequent oiling of leather, with mink oil, neatsfoot oil or a similar material, keeps it supple and improves its lifespan dramatically.
For further information on the production of leather see tanning.
Leather types and sizes
In general, leather is sold in three forms:
- Full-Grain leather, made from the finest raw material, are clean natural hides which have not been sanded to remove imperfections. Only the hair has been removed. The grain remains in its natural state which will allow the best fiber strength, resulting in greater durability. The natural grain also has natural breathability, resulting in greater comfort. The natural Full-Grain surface will wear better than other leather. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a natural "Patina" and grow more beautiful over time. The finest leather furniture and footwear are made from Full-Grain leather.
- Corrected-Grain leather, also known as Top-Grain leather, is fuzzy on one side and smooth on the other. The smooth side is the side where the hair and natural grain used to be. The hides, which are made from inferior quality raw materials, have all of the natural grain sanded off and an artificial grain applied. Top grain leather generally must be heavily painted to cover up the sanding and stamping process.
- Suede is an interior split of the hide. It is "fuzzy" on both sides. Suede is less durable than top-grain. Suede is cheaper because many pieces of suede can be split from a single thickness of hide, whereas only one piece of top-grain can be made. However, manufacturers use a variety of techniques to make suede appear to be full-grain. For example, in one process, glue is mixed with one side of the suede, which is then pressed through rollers; these flatten and even out one side of the material, giving it the smooth appearance of full-grain. Latigo is one of the trade names for this product.
Other less-common leathers include:
- Buckskin or brained leather is a tanning process that uses animal brains or other fatty materials to alter the leather. The resulting supple, suede-like hide is usually smoked heavily to prevent it from rotting.
- 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.
- Shagreen is a rough and grainy type of untanned leather, formerly made from a horse's back, or that of a wild ass, and typically dyed green. Shagreen is now commonly made of the skins of sharks and rays.
- Vachetta leather is used in the trimmings of luggage and handbags, popularized by Louis Vuitton. 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.
- Slunk is leather made from the skin of unborn calves. It is particularly soft, and is valued for use in making gloves.
- Deer Skin - This is probably the toughest leather in the world, given that most wild deer are constantly getting in and out of thorny thickets in the forests. Deerskin has always been prized across societies - notably the North American Indians who used to treat it with lime and other compounds to make the raw deer hide more supple, often "staking" it out in different weather conditions etc. Modern deer skin is no longer procured from the Wild as it were, with "deer farms" breeding the animals specifically for the purpose of their skins. Such farmed deer skins are usually procured from New Zealand and Australia in today's times. Deer Skin is prized for use in Jackets and Overcoats as well as high quality personal accessories like handbags and wallets. It commands a high price owing to its relative rarity as well as its proven durability.
There are two other descriptions of leather commonly used in specialty products, such as briefcases, wallets, and luggage.
- Belting leather is a full grain leather that was originally used in driving pulley belts and other machinery. It is often found on the surface of briefcases, portfolios, and wallets, and can be identified by its thick, firm feel and smooth finish. Belting leather is the only kind of leather used in luxury products that can retain its shape without the need for a separate frame; it is generally a heavy weight of full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather.
- Napa leather, or Nappa leather, is extremely soft and supple and is commonly found in higher quality wallets, toiletry kits, and other personal leather goods.
The following are not 'true' leathers, but contain leather material.
- Bonded Leather , or "Reconstituted Leather", is not really a true leather but a man-made material 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 genuine leather at a fraction of the cost. Bonded leather is not as durable as other leathers, and is recommended for use only if the product will be used infrequently. One example of bonded leather use is in Bible covers.
- Bicast leather is a man-made product that consists of a thick layer of polyurethane applied to a substrate of low-grade or reconstituted leather. Most of the strength of bicast leather comes from the polyurethane coating, which allows this material to be used where strength or durability are required.
Leather is sold in a variety of thicknesses. In some parts of the world top-grain thicknesses are described using weight units of ounces. Although the statement is in ounces only, it is an abbreviation of ounces per square foot. The thickness value can be obtained by the conversion:
- 1 oz/ft² = 1/64 inch (0.4 mm)
Hence, leather described as 7 to 8 oz is 7/64 to 8/64 inches (2.8 to 3.2 mm) thick. The weight is usually given as a range because the inherent variability of the material makes ensuring a precise thickness very difficult. Other leather manufacturers state the thickness directly in millimeters.
Leather from other animals
Today, most leather is made of cow hides, but many exceptions exist. Lamb and deer skin are used for soft leather in more expensive apparels. Kangaroo leather is used to make items which need to be strong but flexible, such as motorcycle gloves. Kangaroo leather is favored by motorcyclists specifically because of its lighter weight and higher abrasion resistance as compared to cowhide. Leather made from more exotic skins has at different times in history been considered very beautiful. For this reason certain snakes and crocodiles have been hunted to near extinction.
In the 1970s, farming of ostriches for their feathers became popular. As a side product, ostrich leather became available. There are different processes to produce different finishes for many applications i.e. upholstery, footwear, automotive, accessories and clothing. Ostrich leather is considered to be of the finest and most durable in the world and is currently used by all the big fashion houses like Hermès, Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. Ostrich leather has a characteristic "goose bump" look because of the large follicles from which the feathers grew.
In Thailand, sting ray leather is used in wallets and belts in the same way as regular cow leather. Sting ray leather is as tough and durable as hard plastic. 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. Leather is also used for the clothing of many Thailand.
Buffalo leather is also used in America. It is used for gloves, jackets and some baseball gloves. It is rugged but supple and has a waxy feel.
Overall, leather comes from a variety of other sources, including the skins of cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alligators, ostriches, kangaroos, dogs and cats.
Leather production processes
There are many steps like
Role of enzymes in leather production
Enzymes like proteases, lipases and amylases have important role in soaking, dehairing, degreasing and bating processes of leather manufacturing. Proteases are the most commonly used enzymes in leather production. The criteria for selection of best protease is that it should be non- collagenolytic and non- keratinolytic in nature. It has property to hydrolyze casein,elastin,albumin and globuline like proteins.
Lipases are used in degreasing process to hydrolyze fat materials of skin/ hide.
Amylases are also used in bating of animal skins/ hide.
Protease based enzymes, when used in soaking hydrolyze all the non structured proteins which are not essential for leather making.
Elastin, which is a non structured protein is the binding material between the upper grain layer and the lower collagenetic substrate which is the actual leather. Complete removal of the elastin will result in double layer of grain and if not removed properly, the elastin when subjected to liming will get immuned and hardened resulting in a loose grain.
Preservation and conditioning of leather
The natural fibers of leather will break down with the passage of time. Acidic leathers are particularly vulnerable to red rot, which causes powdering of the surface and a change in consistency. Damage from red rot is aggravated by high temperatures and relative humidities, and is irreversible.
Exposure to long periods of low relative humidities (below 40%) can cause leather to become desiccated, irreversibly changing the fibrous structure of the leather.
Various treatments are available such as conditioners, but these are not recommended by conservators since they impregnate the structure of the leather artifact with active chemicals, are sticky, and attract stains.
Working with leather
Leather can be decorated by a variety of methods, including pyrography and beading.
Painted or gilded embossed leather decoration for walls, a 12th century north African style, was introduced to Spain (hence it is sometimes referred to as 'Spanish leather'). Around the turn of the 15th-16th century the technique reached Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant in the Low Countries. Though there were craftsmen in several cities (such as Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent), the major handicraft center for this cordwain was Mechelen, where it was mentioned as early as 1504. Since the second half of the 18th century, this luxurious artisan product is no longer made. Article by Susan Koslow, contributor to the Atlas of World Art
Leather in modern culture
Leather, due to its excellent abrasion and wind resistance, found a use in rugged occupations. The enduring image of a cowboy in leather chaps gave way to the leather-jacketed and leather-helmeted aviator. When motorcycles were invented, some riders took to wearing heavy leather jackets to protect from road rash and wind blast; some also wear chaps or full leather pants to protect the lower body. Many sports still use leather to help in playing the game or protecting players: due to its flexible nature it can be formed and flexed for the occasion.
As leather can also be a metonymical term for things made from it, the term leathering is as logical as tanning in the sense of a physical punishment (such as a severe spanking) applied with a leather whip.
A number of rock groups, particularly Heavy Metal groups such as Scorpions (band) and Judas Priest, are well-known for wearing leather clothing. Leather clothing, particularly jackets, almost come as standard in the heavy metal subculture. Extreme metal bands, especially black metal bands, have extensive leather clothing, i.e. leather trousers, accessories etc.
In today's times, many cars and trucks come optional or standard with 'leather' seating. This can range from cheap vinyl material, found on some low cost vehicles, to Napa leather, found on luxury car brands like Mercedes-Benz.
Concern for animals and alternatives
Some vegan and animal rights activists have boycotted use of all leather items, believing the practice of wearing skins unnecessary and vulgar in today's society. Animal rights groups such as PETA have issued fact sheets calling for boycotts and encouraging use of alternative materials such as synthetic leathers.
Many pseudo-leather materials have been developed, allowing those who wish to wear leather-like garments to do so without actually wearing leather. One example of this is vegan microfiber, which claims to be stronger than leather when manufactured with strength in mind. Vinyl materials, Pleather, Durabuck, NuSuede, Hydrolite, and other alternatives exist, providing some features similar to leather.
- Also see the page [ Leather ]
- The adarga was a hard leather shield used originally by the Moors of Spain, its name deriving from the Arabic "el daraqa". An important center of manufacture of the adarga was the city of Fez in Morocco, Africa. The adarga was typically made from the hide of the antelope and was extremely resistant to the blows of sword, lance and arrow, but other kinds of leather were used as well.
- A buckler (French bouclier 'shield', from old French bocle, boucle 'boss') is a small shield gripped in the fist -- it was generally used as a companion weapon in hand-to-hand combat during the Middle Ages, as its size made it poor protection against missile weapons (e.g., arrows) but useful in deflecting the blow of an opponent's sword or mace.
- Tanning is the process of converting putrescible skin into non-putrescible leather, usually with tannin, an acidic chemical compound that prevents decomposition and often imparts color.
- Leather subculture
- The leather culture typically includes both a style of dress and an affiliation with BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sado/Masochism, also called "SM") practice. Both the style of dress and the kinds of BDSM activities characteristic of a community may differ between gay, lesbian, and straight communities, and between Old Guard and newer generations of players. While most people who engage in the leather culture style of dress are also affiliated with BDSM practice, not all BDSM practitioners wear leather culture apparel.
- Leather crafting
- Leather crafting is the practice of making leather into works of art, using shaping techniques, coloring techniques or both.
- Pleather ("plastic leather") is a slang term for synthetic leather made out of plastic. For some, pleather is a mildy derogatory term, implying that its use is a substitute for genuine animal hide leather to cut costs.
- Horse tack
- Tack is a term used to describe any of the various equipment and accessories worn by horses in the course of their use as domesticated animals. Saddles, stirrups, bridles, halters, reins, bits, harnesses, martingales, and breastplates are all forms of horse tack.
- Henry Burk
- Henry Burk - inventor of the alum and sumac tanning process]]
- The term fur refers to the body hair of non-human mammals also known as the pelage (like the term plumage in birds). Fur comes from the coats of animals; the animal's coat may consist of short ground hair, long guard hair, and, in some cases, medium awn hair
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