How is Leather Made?: The Manufacturing Process of Calf Leather Bags
by ABARA SG on Oct 27, 2023
After learning about different types of leather bags, cutting and stitching techniques, hardware and accessory types, and lining materials and techniques in the previous article, many of you may be curious about how leather bags are actually made – from design to final product.
In this article, I will guide you through the cleaning, tanning, dyeing, and finishing processes in the leather-making journey. I guarantee that after reading this article, you'll gain a newfound appreciation for the leather bags in your wardrobe.
What is the Leather Making Process?
The leather-making process involves treating animal skins to transform them into durable, usable, and versatile leather products. This process includes several steps, such as cleaning, tanning, dyeing, and finishing.
Preparing the Hides
The first step in the leather-making process is preparing the hides, which includes the following stages:
- Soaking: Hides are soaked in water to remove impurities, soften them, and prepare them for the next stage.
- Liming: Lime or other alkaline substances are used to remove hair, flesh, and fat from the hides. This process takes 3 to 4 days and involves stirring the hides in large vats of lime and water.
- De-liming: After liming, the hides are washed to remove excess lime and other chemicals.
- Bating: Enzymes are used to further soften and prepare the hides for tanning.
- Pickling: A solution of salt and acid is applied to preserve the hides and prepare them for tanning.
Once the hides are prepared, they undergo the tanning process, during which they are treated with chemicals to make them durable and resistant to decay. Various tanning methods are used, depending on the desired leather properties.
Tanning is a crucial step in leather bag manufacturing because untreated raw hide will rot and putrefy. Tanning has been practiced since ancient civilisations like those in Sumer and India. The process of tanning calf leather transforms raw hides into a durable, versatile, and non-decaying material we know as leather. Chemicals stabilise the protein in the raw hide, preventing putrefaction and creating leather resistant to decomposition, water, heat, and other environmental factors.
Untanned and tanned dry hides have different outcomes. Untanned hides will rot when wet, while tanned leather will not. The appearance of the hide changes during the tanning process, with variations based on duration and tanning agents used. Several tanning methods are used in leather manufacturing, including:
- Vegetable tanning: This traditional method uses tannins from tree bark or other plant sources. It results in stiff, richly coloured leather that develops a patina over time. Vegetable-tanned leather offers great durability but is susceptible to scratches, heat damage, and is not water-resistant.
- Chrome tanning: The most common method today, it uses chromium salts for faster tanning. It produces softer, supple leather in a wide range of colours. Chrome-tanned leather is water, stain, and heat resistant.
- Synthetic tanning: A newer method gaining popularity for its speed and efficiency.
The tanning process involves stages like pre-tanning, tanning, neutralising, and finishing. It's a critical stage in leather manufacturing that requires specialised knowledge and equipment to ensure high-quality leather products. After tanning, the skin is left to dry naturally, achieving uniform thickness. It then passes through a heat roller to remove excess moisture, maintaining a moisture level of 8-10% to prevent cracking.
Dyeing is the process of adding colour to leather to achieve the desired hue. It can occur at various stages of the leather-making process, before or after tanning. The dyeing process includes preparation, colouring, penetration, fixation, and finishing. Specialised knowledge and equipment are necessary for high-quality leather products with even colour and coverage.
The final stage, finishing, enhances leather's appearance, texture, and durability. Techniques like buffing, embossing, coating, dyeing, polishing, and edge finishing are employed based on the leather type and intended product use.
In conclusion, making a leather bag involves multiple stages, each demanding dedication and craftsmanship. The range of leather prices often reflects the value they offer. We hope you now have a better understanding of how leather bags are made.
In our next week's blog, we'll delve into the environmental impact of calf leather bag manufacturing and ways to ensure sustainability in the process. Stay tuned for more insights and knowledge in the ever-evolving fashion bag industry.
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