Here’s what you should know about when specifying leather:
Raw material (geographic region, selection)
Tannages (chromium, vege, chrome-free)
Finishing (coloring, tipping, etc.)
You should care about these topics because you want to:
Choose leather products that are suitable to their application and the client’s expectations
Know your options when dealing with budgets
Educate your client
Raw Material is Key
Care and climate affects the quality of leather hides. Cows raised in cooler climates, that graze on open ranges, and that have good veterinary care, have fewer defects (e.g. scratches, bites). Cows raised in hotter climates or that roam among barb wired fences have more defects.
Additionally, species of cow differ in size and shape. US cows, for example, tend to be smaller than European cows. Many South American cows are Zebus (they have large humps).
Remember that “defect free” doesn’t necessarily mean most desired and appreciated. Natural characteristics are often valued by leather connoisseurs. As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Why Does it Matter How Leather is Tanned?
Until a hide is tanned it’s a rawhide. To create a supple product, leather is either chromium or vegetable tanned. Chromium tannages, introduced in the 19th century are the preferred method for tanning leather. A chrome tannage yields a soft hand. Vegetable tanning is used when firmer leather is required.
Full Grain, Top Grain… Who Cares?
Full grain and top grain leather refers to the overall quality of the leather. Full grain leather tends to be relatively defect free (i.e., doesn’t need correction), and is undisputedly the leather of choice for clients looking for a product that ages beautifully over time.
Top grain leather refers to leather hides that need additional processing (i.e., “buffing”) to reduce or eliminate imperfections. Top grain leathers receive a heavier top coat of pigment to smooth out the finish and to give the leather protection against minor scratches and spills. Top grain leathers are ideally suited for heavily trafficked areas.
Why is Leather Dyed?
Fine upholstery leather should be dyed close to the final finish color. Dying the crust (i.e., tanned hide) to match the finished color helps to mask superficial scratches that can occur during normal wear. Budget leathers may well be produced on mismatched crust colors.
Why Is Leather Embossed?
Most people think embossing is simply for decorative purposes. Plating (embossing with a natural looking grain) is also common. If desired, plating can give a full- or top-grain leather a uniform look, or make a flat looking leather come alive.
The Finishing Process
Finishing (or top coating) is the final step to giving a leather product its unique characteristics. The purpose of finishing is to modify the leather’s color and to provide a protective surface.
Aniline dyed leather refers to a finished product that has been fully colored without the use of pigments.
Aniline dyed leather is a connoisseur’s delight. The natural grain is easy to recognize, and all the hallmarks of the leather are evident (e.g., fat folds, neck wrinkles, even minor scarring). Semi-aniline dyed leather refers to a lightly pigmented protective finish that gives the leather a more uniform appearance, and stain and water resistance.
When cleaning your leather for the first time, always test a hidden area first, and let air dry.
Pigmented leathers like Rhapsody, Tempo, and Improv have a protective finish by the nature of the finishing process.
For spots and spills: Blot gently with a clean absorbent cloth. Use clear warm water and gently wipe the spill. Dry with a clean towel and allow to air dry. If water is used, use on entire area (i.e., entire seat cushion, arm rest, etc.) where the spill occurred.
For stubborn spots and stains: Use a mild solution of mild soap and warm water. Apply the solution with a clean, mildly wet sponge and wash.
For butter, oil, or grease: Wipe excess substance with a clean, dry cloth and let stand. The spot should dissipate into the leather in a short period of time. Do not apply water.
Do not use: Any oils, abrasives, cleaners, soaps, furniture polish, varnish or ammonia water.
Please note: The leather with initially repel most liquids, but if left to stand over an extended period of time, they will be absorbed. Even if the spill is absorbed, it will dissipate in time and eventually diffuse any stains.
Natural, aniline leathers like Cadenza and Reverie have little surface protection. If your aniline leather becomes soiled, immediately blot excess liquid with a soft, clean cloth. If additional cleaning is required blot the entire area (i.e. the entire seat cushion, arm rest, etc.) with a clean, damp cloth and clear luke warm water, starting from the outside of the spill to the center. Do not use soaps, oils, abrasives, cleaners, furniture polish, varnish or ammonia water.
Please note: Due to the natural characteristics of this leather, scratches and marks may appear over time. This appearance is the “character” of the natural leather.
Embossing is a creative way to develop unique upholstery leather for your client. But there’s a couple of things you should know.
Firstly, as a matter of standard practice, most (not all) embossings are made on half-hides measuring about 25+ square feet. The reason is that a lot of the leather industry’s machinery goes back to the day when embossing was primarily for apparel (e.g. belts, hand-bags).
The implication is simply that if your upholsterer requires very large cut sizes – perhaps for big wall panels, large banquettes, or oversized sectionals — you may want to see if options are available to emboss on whole hides. If they are, be prepared to pay more. There’s more hand-eye coordination required, which means more time producing the end-product.
Secondly, find out which way the embossing pattern runs. As just mentioned, a bunch of embossing plates were originally developed for apparel, so the pattern repeats may not run in the direction you need. This is analogous to fabric whereby you think about railroading, etc.
All of Groove’s embossing patterns listed on the web site were developed for upholstery leather.