Leather & Textiles

Leather is a durable and flexible material created by tanning animal rawhide and skin, often cattle hide. It can be produced at manufacturing scales ranging from cottage industry to heavy industry.

People use leather to make various goods—including clothing (e.g., shoes, hats, jackets, skirts, trousers, and belts), bookbinding, leather wallpaper, and as a furniture covering. It is produced in a wide variety of types and styles, decorated by a wide range of techniques.

Several tanning processes transform hides and skins into leather:

Chrome-tanned leather, invented in 1858, is tanned using chromium sulfate and other chromium salts. It is more supple and pliable than vegetable-tanned leather and does not discolor or lose shape as drastically in water as vegetable-tanned. It is also known as wet-blue for its color derived from the chromium. More exotic colors are possible when using chrome tanning. The chrome tanning method usually only takes a day to finish, and the ease and agility of this method make it a popular choice. However there are environmental concerns with this tanning method. It is reported that chrome-tanned leather adds up to 80% of the global leather supply.[citation needed]

Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannins and other ingredients found in different vegetable matter, such as tree bark prepared in bark mills, wood, leaves, fruits, and roots. It is supple and brown in color, with the exact shade depending on the mix of chemicals and the color of the skin. It is the only form of leather suitable for use in leather carving or stamping. Vegetable-tanned leather is not stable in water; it tends to discolor, so if left to soak and then dried it shrinks and becomes harder.

This is a feature of oak bark tanned leather that is exploited in traditional shoemaking. In hot water, it shrinks drastically and partly congeals—becoming rigid, and eventually brittle. Boiled leather is an example of this, where the leather has been hardened by being immersed in hot water, or in boiled wax or similar substances. Historically, it was occasionally used as armour after hardening, and it has also been used for book binding.

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