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Great Leather Blog

News and information related to Great Leather leathergoods and it's customers, as well comments and photos related to leather care, repairs, and restorations.

The Difference in Leather Jackets

Dena Hamilton - Tuesday, October 08, 2013

HOW TO CHOOSE A LEATHER COAT

The leather itself is, of course, the biggest factor.  Most of what is on the market today in smooth leather is lamb or cowhide and these are almost always your best choices. Pigskin is not common in smooth leather, as it is usually tanned for suede which we don't recommend. (Click here for or more on suede.) Deer, elk, and moose are commonly made into garments, but not usually found in the stores, and are difficult to keep clean. Only occasionally will you find new garments made of goat.  Most of these will likely will have a sprayed dye finish*. 

Lambskin is beautiful, soft as butter, and feels like a second skin on you!  There is nothing like a lamb jacket!  However, lambskin can be delicate.  Know that the least expensive of lamb coats may tear easily and the finish wear off quickly. Even so, if you find a lamb jacket you want for the style, fit, or feel - then buy it!  Take it home and spray it with Aquila , or other water repellent for leather, and purchase some Tenderly to apply when it's time, and keep it moist. This will help keep it clean and looking nice. When the color begins to fade, since lamb is almost always vat dyed, it can be redyed by Leather CARE Specialists and made to look new again. 

Cowhide is much tougher and the finish lasts longer. If you don't want to be concerned about jumping in the car or truck, being careful with the seat belt, or shoving your gloves in your pockets, you should buy a cowhide.  New tanning processes are delivering some “lambtan” cowhides that are very close to the feel of lamb.  If you prefer the luxury of lamb but need the practicality of cowhide you should consider these.  Labels will still only say “100% Leather.”  Ask your clerk to be sure of what you are buying. Keep a cowhide coat conditioned properly and you should have it to enjoy for a great many years. 

Next, look for vat dyed leather as opposed to sprayed finish leather.

*Sprayed Dye Finish
Sprayed finish hides have not been dyed in vats during the tanning process, which allows for color penetration all the way through the skins. An example of sprayed cowhide jackets are your brightly colored sports leather jackets. Your less expensive casual coats may also have a sprayed finish. You can know a sprayed finish by checking the garment at the stitching needle holes, or at corner edges (collar tips, for example, where the leather has been pulled  to turn). If the “paint” has been added after the tanning process there will be places where the finish cracks and you will see light colored flesh showing through.

Sprayed finishes are usually less desirable as they indicate extremely mass produced imports of questionable value, whereas a vat dyed jacket will allow new dye to penetrate and the jacket can be made to look new again in the right hands. 

(An exception to the rule - some USA made WWII jacket replicas on the market  that are made of expertly tanned and sprayed leather.)

Check the leather panels. Does the leather  have some body to it, a good moist look, and do the panels show consistency in cutting from the best sections of the hide?  Take a fold and see if it feels smooth when you move it back and forth between your fingers. Check for quality skin (see the photos below) Very thin places should give themselves away. Also, skivers can leave hairline cuts that go almost though. You can usually spot these from the outside.

Check the panels at the pockets, elbows, and stress points for strength. If they seem thin or stretchy, look for a different jacket.  The upper outside arms are one of the most common areas that we receive at Leather CARE Specialists for repairs.  This area is susceptible to tears, so make sure these panels feel strong without weak spots (see photos).

The underside of a quality skin.
The underside of a poor quality skin. 
The flesh is very thin in spots and will give way to any small stress.  This is an animal that was treated poorly, handled roughly, and, if only for this reason, you shouldn't buy it.

Check the other materials and construction details.  If the thread is dull, it is probably all cotton. You should be looking for bonded nylon to hold your coat together. Cotton wears wherever it rubs and you will end up with seams where the top thread is completely gone. Also, look to see if the stitching is back-stitched at the seam ends, and tight (indicating correct tension on top and bottom threads).

Are the buttons sewn securely with no loose ends? Are the snaps secure?

Is the zipper sewn in properly?  A zipper that is set in too close to the stitch line (the zipper head drags or the head sticks) will result in faded worn edges. Also, if the zipper is not sewn in nice and flat, it will be problematic. It may split open, jam, or wear out quickly at the pin.

A quality lining will have a very tight weave and quilted linings should use “lock” stitches.

Lastly, the price. Most likely you'll pay extra for a good coat, but it will be well worth it, and now, you are equipped to pick one! 


 

Care and Cleaning of SUEDE - and MORE

Dena Hamilton - Saturday, January 14, 2012
Here’s an article I wrote for you about suede, nubuck, and brush-finish leather jackets. They all require the same type of cleaning and care, so to make things simple, I’ll refer to this particular variety of leathers, all as suedes.

Suedes differ from your smooth leathers (for one thing) in how they absorb moisture, oil, and anything else - which is easily, and deeply!  Consequently they have to be cleaned by a "dry cleaners". No matter how good a dry cleaner is, even a “leather cleaner”, there is always risk involved because of the process. Make sure give it to someone with references! 

Keeping a suede jacket nice requires maintenance (besides the same care and storage procedures for all your smooth leather coats.)

  • First of all, I generally don't recommend suede because it soils so easily. You have to be very careful with it if you want it to look clean for very long - especially the collar, cuffs, and pocket edges. Also, drips and spots will not wipe off.  If you are shopping for suede, go for the dark brown one. 
  • If you have a suede jacket and it’s pretty new or clean, spray it with a good water repellent or better yet, a waterproofer. (Check the spray on an inside area for colorfastness and that the darkness of the spray evaporates.) A good application of water repellent will, to a degree, seal the pores of the skin and protect the surface fibers, keeping moisture in, and oil and dirt out. Several light coats are better than a heavy one.
  •  A suede collar will really absorb the oil and moisture from your neck and break down the leather. No matter how clean a person you are, if you wear your coat a great deal, over time the collar is going to get dark and greasy feeling,and thin. People even wear holes in a collar long before the rest of the jacket wore out. Wearing a scarf will make a huge difference!
  • Pigsuede can sometimes be spot or small-area self-cleaned to a certain degree. Suede from a cow, lamb, or deer- almost never. (a separate article.)
  • Your other option to keep a suede leather jacket looking nice, is to have it cleaned before it gets real dirty. If it’s not heavily soiled when you take it in, the cleaners may not be so drastic with it, because it won’t take so much to get it clean. Just realize that having it cleaned more often will decrease it’s longevity also. But it will look nicer while you have it for a shorter period of time- unless one of the many risks that can happen at the leather dry cleaners happens to you.
  • If you take it to a dry cleaners (who will probably send it away) tell them you do not want anyone to put it through a wet process!  They may say it is too heavily soiled to clean it otherwise, and that they will add oils back into it. Your choice then, it to have it cleaned to the degree that a dry process will clean (a little less clean), or have it come back much less soft and supple, probably stiff feeling.
  • If you take it to the leather dry cleaners, ask them to put their safety pins through the leather in an inconspicuous place, rather than the lining. Otherwise, after it tumbles you could end up with tiny holes in the lining, and these can begin to fray. (A harsh cleaning process itself can be hard on the lining, causing it to wear out quicker.)
  • If you don’t want to wear a scarf, and/or you don’t want the expense of cleaning it every time the collar starts to get a ring around it, you can regularly apply water repellent and when it does begin to look or feel unappealing to you, have Leather CARE Specialists replace the collar or put another piece of leather over the area in an aesthetically appealing way.
FYI-
Other than nubuck, all suedes are “splits”. Splits are the lower layers of a hide that has been split into multiple layers. The top layer is called “topgrain.”

Topgrain hides are tougher, stronger, and almost always have a smooth surface. Naturally these hides have protective properties that splits do not.

A split, or a hide coming from below the top layer, will have a suede or suede-like surface. Unless it is one that has been pressed, rolled, etc. These I call brush-finish leathers because it seems like an apt description to me. They don't look or feel like suede, but they still have a fiber-ish feel to them. I always think they feel a little dry, and there's no easy or practical way to moisturize them. 

Nubuck looks and feels like the ultimate in suede, but it is really a topgrain. It is produced from the top layer of rawhide that has been buffed to produce a suede surface that feels like velvet. It has a finer nap than suede. It is, of course, very beautiful. And, because it is a topgrain, it’s heavier and stronger. So a nubuck jacket has more body than a suede and feels more wonderful on - suede soft and topgrain substantial. It definitely requires suede care, sometimes even more than splits, because of the finer nap. But if you decide you are willing to go to all the trouble that comes with owning suede, and you can afford it, then invest in nubuck - and enjoy it on special days.

Understanding all of this, you should be able to know what type of cleaning and care will be required for a particular leather jacket or coat. 

Send your smooth topgrain leather jackets to Leather CARE Specialists for cleaning, redyeing, and restoration. That's our specialty!  For your suedes, we are experts in fixing the tears, replacing zippers, pockets, shortening the sleeves, and relining - and do contract for someone to dry clean your suede for you, for your convenience.

Which reminds me of one more thing. 
The cleaners may tell you they can do some of the repairs I mentioned above. Just bear in mind, that a dry cleaners' alterations people spend most of their time working with fabric.

Hope this helps!
Dena