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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.

A Special A-2 in for Service

Dena Hamilton - Monday, October 26, 2015
This jacket was sent in along with a set of knits to replace the old worn knit. Restoring vintage jackets is something we do often since we have the skill and can also supply the correct materials. 
When I saw this particular patch I thought, "It looks like it says 509!" So I looked closer and when I saw the bomb cloud I knew it was a jacket from someone in the 509th squadron, and that was my dad's unit. They flew the Enola Gay which dropped the first Atomic Bomb. I had never seen one of their jackets because my dad didn't have one. He was on the ground crew (responsible for every nut and bolt on that plane) and it was hot on Tinian Island. 
I'm very curious which of the airmen this belonged to. I'll have to ask my customer how he came to have it.


Replacing a Zipper in a Leather Jacket

Dena Hamilton - Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Over the years, I've had a question come up more than once. Usually customers have had a bad experience getting zippers replaced and they want to know if I can "hit the same stitch holes" when I replace a zipper. 

I find that what customers usually mean when they say the "same stitch holes" is the "same stitching line" - which is doable. This may not be perfect every inch of the way, but at Leather CARE Specialists we're pretty good at compensating for leather layer movement. But to say, and mean, "hit the same stitch holes", that's probably not doable for the entire length of the zipper. Oddly enough, this is especially true for the best made jackets. That's because the better the jacket was made, the harder it is to get apart.

Whenever you have to pull something apart the leather stretches and pattern pieces separate. So when we tape the pieces to the new zipper, we'll ease the leather back in here and there for a consistent look. We set the stitch length to what it was originally and start out hitting the original holes. Then whenever the stitching gets off because everything has shifted, we'll make an adjustment and move forward again. All with care and caution. 

Also, and maybe it goes without saying, but since we are sewing the facing blind, it almost always reflects a new row of stitches. When taping the back of the zipper to the facing underneath, we do try to place it so that the needle will hit it's original stitch line as well. (Unless the zipper was not put in well to begin with. If it wasn't, we will correct it's placement, intentionally throwing the facing's new stitch line off of it's original one). This is tricky and takes some time.

Ultimately, the leather we can see and have the most control over, should look pretty great. The hidden piece, maybe not as good. Obviously since we have to make a choice about which piece of leather will look the best- front panel or facing -it has to be the piece that shows. (Sometimes you'll want the facing to look the best for some inches, on coats where the collar folds over. In which case we'll stitch with the facing on top to the point where the stitch is hidden at the fold, and then stop and turn the jacket over and continue stitching with the front panel on the top). 

As for functionality, the zipper needs to be set far enough away from the leather that the pull will slide easily and not rub the leather, while not being set so far out that the tape is overly exposed, or not caught. The placement of the zipper between the leather layers where the zipper's box and pin are is critical, and is calculated to a 1/16 of an inch. If it's too close to - or -too far from these mechanisms (even if the tape is caught securely), it will be problematic for both the simplicity of use and the life of the zipper. 

Thanks for reading!
Dena Hamilton


Mouton Fur

Dena Hamilton - Monday, June 02, 2014

The Difference in Leather Jackets

Dena Hamilton - Tuesday, October 08, 2013


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! 


Leather Repair

Dena Hamilton - Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thought I'ld share this where it might be more obvious. This little video is buried on my Helpful Info page.

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.
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!


Restore Leather Jacket

Dena Hamilton - Friday, June 24, 2011
This a jacket we restored - before and after!

Cleaning and reconditioning leather jackets or coats is probably the largest part of what we do at Leather CARE Specialists™. We do not spray on dye and finisher, which is the dye-ing they do at the dry cleaners. (Necessary for suede and brushed finish leathers). These photos show our restoration work, accomplished by applying penetrating layers of several products, and allowing time in between to dry.

Skins are as different as people, and the more experience you have, the better your assessment of each individual skins' properties, the desired outcome, and an accurate application of care products.

I have been working with leather, primarily garment leather, for many, many years and I have seen and restored all kinds of leather. Besides the feeling I get when I see a beautiful and seemingly miraculous transformation of a skin, the customer's pleasure over a returned finished item is a real joy for me.

I understand old military items are irreplaceable and deserve the utmost respect in handling. I would like very much to see your items and speak to you on the phone about what I believe they need, what your possible options might be, and what you would like for me to do specifically. It is better to have the leather items in hand of course, but we can definitely talk over photos."

Thank you!
Dena Hamilton



Restore Leather Back Pack

Dena Hamilton - Thursday, June 23, 2011

Leather back-pack restored. Made new pocket gusset, straps, handles, cleaned the leather, seams resewn, redyed the leather, refinished, matched one new buckle.
Call Leather CARE Specialists for your leather cleaning and restoration projects!

How To Care for a Leather Jacket

Dena Hamilton - Sunday, May 08, 2011
How to Care for a Leather Jacket
  • First look it over carefully and try to detect if there are any weak spots in the panels and try to protect them by not stressing them. You can read more about this on our Helpful Info page "Now look the coat over..."
  • Protect the back panels of the jacket where you sit, by just taking a little care with them when you get in and out of the car.
  • Notice where a seat belt may rub. If you have a lamb jacket  you may want to keep a scarf in the car to throw over your shoulder before you put your seat belt on.
  • Be observant when you put your gloves in your pockets. Don’t wad them up and jam them in the pockets or your jacket my tear at the corners of the pockets.
  • When zipping your jacket, make sure the pin is seated well in the box before you pull on the zipper pull. If it is not, it’s not going to zip and each pull will put unnecessary wear on the tape at the pin. There is a picture of a zipper worn at the pin on our Shipping page click here
  • Keep it moist.  Use a good leather conditioner on a regular basis. We think the Urad products are the best made!  After you condition your coat you can seal the moisture in and help to keep the elements and dirt and oil out with a good water repellent spray. Our pick for conditioning.
  • If your jacket gets wet, wipe off the surface moisture with a clean dry towel and hang it up in a well ventilated area, but not where there is a hot air vent blowing on it. Let it dry naturally.
  • Never store in a plastic bag. You can take an old sheet and put a hole in it and hang it over it in the closet if you are storing it for a long time. But don’t pack it in tightly between other coats. Hang loosely.
  • If it tears, get help right away. Never put tape on a tear, as it will pull up the fibers when you take it off and make the tear worse. And never use those tear kits, you can see the disastrous effect at the bottom of our Tears page- photo of leather repair kit results

New Navigation and New Feature

Dena Hamilton - Saturday, May 07, 2011
Great Leather (GL) and Leather CARE Specialists (LCS) website now has new navigation!  We are hoping this simplifies your browsing experience. Having both our product line and service business on one site offers huge time savings for our customers. Presenting it this way however, took a little thinking to eliminate confustion. We hope this helps!

Also, we have added an Ask Dena feature where you can ask your leather questions and have them answered quickly and specifically to your interest. A blog post will then be created so that you can see your answer, and the answers to questions that other customers have asked as well. We hope you enjoy this new feature!