HOW TO CHOOSE + WHERE TO BUY LEATHER FOR YOUR PROJECT
Welcome to part 2 of the leatherworking series. I hope you enjoyed learning about leatherworking tools and supplies in the last blog post. If you haven’t already, watch the video here.
Today I’m gonna share with you what I consider when choosing leather for a project and also where I go to shop for it. First, let’s talk about what leather is and how it’s made.
WHAT IS LEATHER?
When asked this question, most people will say that leather is animal skin. Well..sort of. Once an animal is sacrificed for food, the skin or hide becomes a waste product. As an alternative, the hide is made into a useful material. Once the hair, epidermis, and the flesh from underneath the hide are removed, it then goes through a process called tanning. After the hide goes through the full tanning process, it becomes what we call leather. The two main methods of tanning used today are chrome tanning and vegetable tanning.
Chrome tanning. Hides are tumbled in large drums containing solutions of chromium salts and special chemicals. Because chrome tanned leathers are lightweight with a slight stretch, they’re mostly used to make shoes, clothing, and upholstery.
Vegetable tanning. Hides are hung or laid flat in large vats containing solution made of ground tree bark, twigs, leaves, and water. This process can take anywhere from 3 months to a whole year. A rising amount of vegetable tanned hides are now also tumbled in drums due to quicker results. Vegetable tanned leather are often used to make belts, handbags, and other fashion accessories.
TYPE OF LEATHER THAT IS USED THE MOST
The kind of leather that is mostly used is cow hide. Cow hide is very thick leather that is sliced in two - the top cut and the bottom cut. The top cut is called "top grain", and the bottom cut is called "split leather". The top grain is the strongest and most valued part of the cow hide. Split leather is what suede is made from.
Cow hide is just a general term. The hide is still processed and tanned as usual. Tanneries determine whether the hide will be processed in its natural state (scars and all) or corrected, meaning buffed to remove any natural markings.
Full grain leather. When the surface of top grain leather has not been altered, it's called full grain leather.
Top grain corrected leather. Corrected leather is when the surface is sanded and usually embossed into a natural or pebbled texture.
HOW TO CHOOSE LEATHER FOR YOUR NEXT PROJECT
Let’s say I’m making a handbag. These are the questions I ask myself. How am I going to be using this handbag? Is this handbag for everyday use? Will I be carrying heavy items in this handbag? Should it have a firm structure or a soft structure?
Consider the end use of your project. Touch and feel the leather to see if it feels like the structure you’re looking for. Check the surface for marks and holes. I suggest bringing your pattern with you to the leather shop. It’s best to be 100% sure you’re satisfied with the placement of the pattern pieces.
HOW LEATHER IS PRICED + MEASURED
Leather is priced by the square foot and the thickness is usually measured in ounces. Here is a general guideline that I follow when choosing the weight/thickness of leather for a project:
- Apparel- 1 to 2 oz
- Lightweight handbags- 3 to 4 oz
- Medium weight handbags- 5 to 6 oz
- Belts- 8 to 9 oz
- Soles- 10-14 oz
WHERE TO BUY LEATHER
1. Leatherwise. My absolute favorite place to shop for leather is Leatherwise. They carry a wide variety of leathers, tools, books, and small leather goods. The owner Ross is such a nice fellow. He's always ready to answer my never ending list of questions and was kind enough to let me snap some photos of his beautiful shop. My photos don't do this place any justice. You have to see it for yourself.
(Leatherwise photos below)
2. Harts Fabric. Harts Fabric is also in Santa Cruz. They carry a small amount of lambskin for apparel sewing, but they have a wide variety of faux leathers in an assortment of colors to choose from. Harts Fabric is such a fun place to visit for fabric shopping and sewing inspiration. I'm like a kid in a candy store when I'm there. Check out their online shop and type leather in the search box.
3. Tandy Leather. Tandy Leather is one of the largest leather supply stores out there. I've only had the experience of purchasing tools from Tandy, never their leather. However, Tandy has been around for many years and has been recommended on countless blogs as a go-to resource. Browse their leather selection here.
I really hope you're enjoying the leatherworking series so far. Next week, I'll show you how to saddle-stitch. Get excited! We're getting to the good stuff.
I made a printable leather weight/thickness conversion chart for you to reference whenever you're in the process of choosing leather for your next project. As usual, you can find it in the library. Click on the image below to get your free download.