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Leather 101- Leather Dyeing and The Tanning Process

 

how do i tell good leather

We are not ones to shy away from sentimentality, and we cherish each step of the process. One crucial part of our crafting has a rich, deep history. The leather dyeing and tanning is an intricate process. Our leather cases, bags, wallets, and desk accessories use a modern dyeing process that has its roots in the past. The world of leather dyeing can get confusing, and fast. We decided to delve in and break it down.

All Pad & Quill products are made only from the best quality full-grain leathers. We have located the very best leathers in the entire world, produced in the very best tanneries on the planet, and crafted with unparalleled quality by generations trained leather artisans who, as far as we are concerned, are the very best people in the world.

The History of Leather Dyeing

how did they used to dye leather Artisans processing leather in the late 1700's

Leatherworking is rooted in ancient times. People have used a range of methods, from plant-based dyes to even formaldehyde over the centuries. Eventually, the more efficient and healthier methods were passed down to the next set of leather pioneers. Using our tried and true method, we show our love and appreciation not only for our workers, products, and the environment but also for future generations.

How Tanning and Dyeing Leather Works

modern leather techniques

We start off by selecting the highest quality hides and cut out any and all flaws. Only about 20% of the hides pass our quality test. Then, the hides rest and spend the next couple of days drying out, being trimmed, and reinspected. With the hides now dried out, they are ready to receive the moisture from the tanning process.

The tanning process takes the hides and turns it into leather. In our tannery, after quality testing, our hides are then separated into two groups. One group is destined to become vegetable tanned, and the other chrome tanned. The tanning process may be an early stage for your leather, but a good or bad one can determine the qualities your bag has for the years to come.

The initial step in the tanning process, whether using vegetable or mineral dyes, tannins must be introduced into the leather. You may be familiar with "tannins" as spoken about by wine aficionados. Have you ever wondered why the more tannins a wine has the drier it becomes? That's because tannins draw out moisture. Just like tannins in red wine come from the skin of the grape, the leather tannins come from the bark of a tree. That's because, in nature, tannin molecules bond easily with proteins and draw liquids out.

How to Vegetable Tan Leather

what makes veg-tanned leather good

Vegetable tanning is how our predecessors made leather for the past thousand years. It takes several weeks and only about 10% of modern leather is made this way. The process itself is reliant on vegetable tannins. The root word for "tannin" comes from an old German word for "fir". Honoring tradition and prioritizing quality, we source our tannins from the barks of trees. We've got our own unique mix of barks to create our signature veg-tanned color.

First, we create a "bath" for the hides, and the hides soak in the tanning solution. Then, the tannins displace water and begin to develop a color. To ensure the tannin molecules are settled, this process is repeated several times, over the course of weeks. Interestingly, the tannins keep the hides just as flexible as the water molecules did, so the leather is still supple, even after weeks of treatment.

The Mineral Tanning Leather Process

chrome tanning leather Our craftsman evaluates leather after the tanning process

In the late 19th century, mineral dyeing was invented and became huge in the leather world. It's a much faster way to process leather and allows for a wider variety of colors. The principle of tanning remains the same today, using minerals to draw out the water within the hide and replacing it with tannins. Typically, the mineral mix involves chrome, which is much smaller molecularly than a vegetable tannin and displaces water quicker. Due to the molecular structure of mineral dyes, it also means they saturate the hide and make it softer and more supple to the touch.

As years passed, the process became more streamlined and eco-friendly while preserving the technique. The result of our mineral dye is something called "aniline". Aniline is the most desirable finish in leather since it has been exclusively dyed with soluble liquids instead of "semi-aniline" which has a thin coat of paint or lacquer that seals in a less than dye job. Lastly, the hides are examined for quality and prepared for assembly.

leather process

Different hides take to different types of dyes in unique ways. In much the same way a tree's rings will tell you its story, our full-grain leather incorporates the life of the individual cow. Historical markers manifest themselves in wrinkles, scars or marks. We don't alter the hides or artificially manipulate the surface, so any inherited marks will shine through. As time passes, your leather will gain a supple patina that shows off your story and character.

How to Spot a Good Leather Tan - Shades of Leather

leather dye colors Different shades as a result of traditional dyeing (left to right: Chestnut, Whiskey, Galloper Black, and Chocolate)

The final product of the tanning produces a natural tone of brown, supple and soft to the touch. Other colors can be made, but they are usually a result of using harsher dyes or can even compromise the integrity of the leather itself. The dye can come off onto other fabrics because it is extremely difficult to get a sealed dye with certain colors. Be wary of blue-hued dyes, it's usually an unintended by-product of a botched dye job. Well-tanned, high-quality leather uses earthy tones and won't wear out, it'll wear in over time.

We are so proud and sincerely believe in our leather goods, so much so, that we back them up for the next 25 years. Want to know more? Explore what true quality looks like by checking out our leather bagsleather walletsleather iPad cases, and more from us here at Pad & Quill!

FAQ's About Leather Dyeing

How do I treat my full-grain leather?

-Just some leather balm will help get you started. Also, to extend your leather's life, we recommend a deep clean with our leather cleansing kit about twice a year.

How do I patina and break in my leather?

-Properly dyed leather, like ours, will patina over time. To speed up the process, apply some balm and use your item often. It's like a new baseball glove, the more you use it, the better it'll get.

What exactly is full-grain leather?

-It's the highest quality of leather and the only kind we use here on our bags, wallets, and accessories. As a part of our Leather 101 series, we talk a bit more about that here.

Will leather color fade over time? What do I do if my leather is fading or rubbing off?

-Our leather is here to stay, and the color won't rub off over time. In fact, it'll deepen by a shade or two and show off its journey with you. If your leather is fading, it might be a sign to move on to a higher quality leather.

Is veg-tanned leather vegan?

-It is not. There are "vegan leathers" out there that are made of polyurethane that can have a significant impact on the environment while having a much shorter lifespan. Once they're ready to retire, they aren't biodegradable and break back down into the plastic particles from which they came. Whether it is vegan or traditional leather, we want you to feel comfortable, well-versed, and proud of your buying decisions.

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