In celebration of our new collection of Italian leather lamb hides, we're taking a moment to celebrate one of the worlds oldest and most useful textiles, and taking you through a few of our favourite future projects!
A (short) history of leather.
While leather undoubtedly played a crucial part in the development of civilisation, the exact origin of leather can't be pin pointed. The earliest recovered artefacts date back to 1300BC, although primitive recordings as early as 5000BC depict hides being used for clothing and shelter.
Ancient Greeks were known to have used leather to craft sandals and other garments during the Homeric era in around 1200 BC. The prevalence of leather manufacturing then started to spread to Egypt, where it was treasured by Pharaohs and Queens, and later to Rome where it was commonly used by foot soldiers to craft protective footwear and armoury. Roughly half of all leather produced today is used to make shoes, and about 25% for clothing. Upholstery demands only around 15% of the total product.
Skin to Leather.
The process of turning animal skin or hide into leather is called 'tanning', and involves a treatment that stabilises the protein structure and prevents bacteria and putrefaction and allows for colouration. There have been various tanning methods developed over the centuries as early civilisations across the world created their own practices for preserving, softening and using animal hides.
The most sustainable tanning practice, known as vegetable tanning and credited to Ancient Greece, binds tannins from bark and leaves to the collagen protein of the hide and takes roughly 40-60 days to complete. This formula is less water-soluble and more resistant to bacteria, and is still a prevalent practice today.
The most common tanning practice is known as chrome tanning, and uses a solution of chemicals, acids and salts to preserve the hide. It is the preferred process as it can be done in a day, much quicker than vegetable tanning, and allows for a wider variety of colourings - however it uses more water and damaging chemicals for the environment.
Tips to get started.
Sewing leather on your domestic machine may seem daunting, but there are a few simple tricks to get your machine leather ready.
- Changing your presser foot to either a teflon foot or a roller foot will help your leather easily glide through your machine. A standard foot will stick to your leather.
- Swapping out your standard needle to something a bit more hard-wearing. We recommend our size 16 needles, which are thicker and sharper, specifically designed to pierce through leather. These needles accommodate most domestic machines.
- Using the correct thread is vital. We recommend either our Heavy Duty top-stitching thread, nylon or a standard polyester thread. Never use cotton thread when sewing leather.
- As standard pins will permanently mark your fabric, we recommend using our Magic Clips to hold your pattern pieces together.
- Adjusting your stitch length to 3.5cm-4cm. Shorter stitches can perforate your leather, causing it to tear.
- Instead of back-stitching, securing your threads with a knot at the beginning and end of each stitch is preferred. This ensures that all your stitches line up perfectly.
What we're making.
Need some inspiration for your next luxe leather project? We've rounded up a few of our favourite patterns below, including where to buy, to take the stress out of your sewing;
7) A-Line Skirt