Leather Types & Styles

One of the reasons that leather is so popular is that in addition to its great natural richness, it also takes well to a large variety of finishes. There is literally something for every person’s taste

Aniline

This first category of leather finishes is reserved for the finest hides. Aniline dyes are tumbled in a vat with th hides, which permeate the leather. This produces a transparent, natural color and the full grain is visible.

However, Aniline hides do not have any protection from fading or staining. Less common are wax and oil finishes of aniline hides. Leather finished this way is referred to as “pull-up leather” where the color changes as the leather is worn or used and stretched.

Semi-Aniline

Semi-aniline leather finishes are used on the next grade of hides. A sealant topcoat is added, which provides protection without losing the softness of the leather or hiding the grain. Semi-aniline finishes may also involve applying a pigment dye or metallic finish over the surface. Sometimes this type of leather finish is referred to as a hybrid.

Finishes

Most other leather finishes are applied by using pigment, heat, and mechanical means, or sometimes, the combination of all three.

Distressed

This leather finish is a combination of physically “distressing” the leather. For example, the process might include using a hairbrush and then applying wipes of pigment to produce an uneven color. The goal is to make an item look old or worn.

Another way to distress leather is to spot it with water and then as it dries, it will shrink slightly giving it a pinched look. If you prefer, you can simply wear it and let nature take its course.

Embossed

Techniques used for embossing as well as painting and tooling were developed by Spanish craftsmen in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Embossing leather consists of a process in which a design is added to leather by pressure as a way of altering or correcting the surface, resulting in uniform imitation grain. Sometimes the embossed grain pattern is referred to as “printed” leather. While embossing can add a decorative touch to leather, at times, this process can be used to disguise marks or scars.

The embossing process will vary somewhat depending on the material or type of leather being used, as well as the design or pattern. Typically, the leather would be pressed between a pair of dies that are designed to adapt to the hardness and depth of the leather. Then, a die is used to stamp the design into the leather while wet. Now, keep in mind that embossing leather is different from chasing, carving, repousse, or tooling.

Other ways of embossing do not require equipment, just a few simple tools. For example, to carve your initials, start with the leather item and make sure it has is a vegetable tanned tooling leather since chrome tanned hides are used in many craft projects but will not work in this scenario.

To practice, get a scrap piece of leather, get it moist, and then use anything you having lying around such as a butter knife, to press a design into the leather. As the leather begins to dry, you will be able to see how the embossed design looks.

One of the most popular methods for embossing leather is to use an embossing wheel. These wheels are made from metal and have a handle for ease of use. The metal wheel has a permanent design such as scrolling, lettering, flowers, geometric shapes, and so on.

Again, with the leather being damp, you take these wheels and roll them on the underside of the hide onto the part of the leather you want embossed. As the leather dries, the design is then raised on the right side of the hide.

Embossing wheels can be purchased on the Internet from leather shops, at hobby stores, and some stationary stores. The wheels themselves range in size from one to four inches, averaging about two and one-half inches. These wheels are quite affordable so you can mix and match if you like.

Glazed Leather

Glazed leather is polished using heated rollers, which also results in stiff leather with a lustrous finish.

Metallic / Pearlized

Metallic and pearlized finishes considered “delicate”. This process involves spraying on a coating and then often using foil to create a shiny or mother-of-pearl type finish to the leather. Many women go nuts over this look, as it is very chic.

Patent Leather

Patent leather is made by alternating coats of daub and varnish, and drying them at a warm temperature. These steps combine to give patent leather a hard, shiny finish. Patent leather, which was introduced around 1800, is a leather finish rather than a type of leather.

The patent leather finish results in a glossy shine and gives the leather a hard surface texture compared to unfinished leather. To accomplish this, three steps are followed:

1. Apply daub or varnish in successive coats

2. Apply heat

3. Apply elbow grease, as the luster comes from polishing each coat

The technique made popular in Europe in the 17th century was already used in Asia to produce lacquered items such as furniture, trays, and tools, which is why the process of producing patent leather is sometimes called, “japanning”.

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