February 20, 2021
The Creation of Leather
HIDES AND PROCESSING: The two critical factors: The quality of the finished product is always dependent on the quality of the materials and processes that go before them. In the case of leather, the raw material is the hide taken from beef cattle. To insure that each hide can achieve its quality potential, it must be processed quickly, using special techniques to enhance its natural characteristics.
HIDES: The raw material: The single most important factor determining the quality of leather is the raw material-the hide. It is the same principle that you will find in cooking (the recipe is only as good as the ingredients) and computers (garbage in, garbage out). If the hide is deteriorated or of low quality, there is little that the tanner can do to improve it.
The term hide usually refers to the skin coverings of larger animals, cows, steers, horses, buffaloes, etc. Those of smaller animals such as goats, pigs, sheep, calves, etc. are called skins. Both of these items can be used interchangeably when referring to the animal’s skin. Most hides used in the manufacturing of upholstery are cow and steer hides because of their size. Sofas and sectionals require large pieces of leather to minimize the number of seams.
PROCESSING: Just as meat is perishable, so too are large hides. If they are not cleaned and treated quickly the hides will begin to decompose and lose their leather making properties. Processing basically includes two parts, curing and tanning.
Curing is the initial protective treatment administered to the pelts. It only preserves the hides prior to changing them to leather. The methods more commonly used today employ salt (sodium chloride) as the principal curing agent. Tanning is a complex process that changes the raw hide into the stable, long lasting material we know as leather.
Less than 5% of all hides harvested each year are suitable for upholstery. This is due to the size of unblemished pieces required to make a leather sofa. The other 95% of hides are used for clothing, shoes, book bindings, luggage and other goods.
SALTED HIDES Tanneries buy leather hides by the pound from slaughterhouses. They receive the hides while the hair is still on them in a state we call salted hides. Untreated hides rot if kept damp and dry ones harden. Salted hides are packed in containers and shipped to tanneries all over the world.
SELECTION AND LIMING A tannery does not know what kind of hides they have purchased until the hair has been removed and the hides are physically sorted by hand. This process of removing the hair is called liming. Liming is accomplished by placing the hides in large narrow drums shaped like wheels. The drums rotate for many hours until all of the hair is removed.
After hair removal, the hides are then sorted by quality before tanning. This process is called selection. The highest quality hides are those with the fewest markings. The least amount of work must be done to these hides to prepare them for finishing. However, do not equate “less work” with lower price. High quality means low quantity hence commanding a higher price.
TANNING: Tanning preserves the hide and makes its natural characteristics permanent. Chromium tanning is a relatively new process developed at the turn of the century. This is the reason why current day leather is softer and properly tanned leather does not crack, fade or peel. Prior to that time hides were vegetable tanned. This is an age-old process of simply soaking the hides in vegetable oils and letting them air dry in the sun. Tooling can only be done on veg tanned leather. Embossed chrome tanned leathers mimic tooled leather but are created by heat press processing (like a large iron) and have typical applications such as handbags and furniture.
Chromium tanning is accomplished by placing the hides back into the large rotating drums for 24 hours. The drums contain alkaline chrome salts. The hides emerge with a slight bluish tone. This state is called the wet blue state.
NATURAL MARKINGS The majority of cows have natural markings on their hides such as stretch marks, barbwire marks, brands, tick bites and horn cuts. These markings are the natural story of the life of the animal. In a sense, they are a romantic story telling its history: Stretch marks from giving birth, horn cuts from a fight with a predator or fellow bull, barbed wire marks from fencing, etc. Brands are a different kind of marking, but just as important. Understandably cows are branded to identify ownership. However, in disease-ridden areas of the world, such as Africa, cows receive a brand each time they are inoculated. It is not unusual for an African cow to have 30-50 brands on it, thus making it impossible to use for upholstery.
WEIGHT: After sorting, the hides are selected for their intended use and go to a splitting machine. This large, long machine cuts the leather into the desired thickness. Thin for clothing, thick for upholstery and thicker yet for special effects on luggage. The thickness is gauged in millimeters and/or by its weight. 1.2 - 1.6 mm will equal 3 to 4 ounces in weight, which is normal for handbags and upholstery. The weight of a piece of leather is a factor in determining the ultimate cost per square foot. This is because the tannery sells the products of the split leather for other uses such as shoe interiors or dog bones. This assists them in utilizing more of the leather hide and a greater yield.
SPLIT LEATHER The top portion of the hide is called the top grain. The second cut or underside is called the split or crust and the third cut is also called a split. The second cut and sometimes the third cut, if thick enough, is processed as suede and other times is processed with chemicals and corrected grain plating (utilizing that heat processing referred to earlier) to make it look like the top grain. This is done to offer the consumer a lower price on some leather furniture.
The average thickness of a cowhide is 5mm. Upholstery leather requires a minimum thickness of 0.9-1.1mm. The hides are split in a splitting machine, which uses a fast running wire cutter. This operation divides one hide into two: The grained hide and the split. The strength of the fibers will vary within the hide. The fibers are very strong on the grain side and weaken as we go deeper in the hide. The split has much less resistance and flexibility than the grained hide.
Thick bull hides can be split twice. Then we have a grain-split and a flesh-split. The flesh-split is very poor quality, and not capable of being used in upholstered furniture. Most splits are used for sports shoes, apparel or lower quality leather upholstery known as bycast, bonded or re-cycled as they will not be near as durable, resistant or as flexible as top grain leathers.
Because leather is fibrous, its thickness doesn’t have much to do with its strength. Leather is one of the strongest natural covering materials known to man. Leather breathes because of its fibrous structure. This makes it unique to all other man made products. Leather will adjust itself to a person’s body temperature within minutes of seating. That is why one does not perspire when seated on leather as you do on vinyl.
FINISHING: The final stage of tanning is the finishing process. Due to recent improvements in the technology of finishing leather many new types and textures of leather are available.
Finishing choices are similar to: A--aniline dyed translucent finish (Dying your clothes) or B--pigment finish (painting your car), in other words, a translucent finish versus an opaque finish.
At the beginning of the finishing process all hides are placed back into the wheel drums to soften, remove excess water and apply a dye coat.
The size of these drums becomes important when trying to understand the difficulty of special ordering one leather sofa. The average drum holds 40 hides or approximately 2000 square feet of leather. One leather sofa can require anywhere from 110 to 200 square feet of leather, depending on its size and styling. All of the hides placed into the drum must become the same base color, so the minimum order a tannery will accept is 2000 square feet per color. As leather is quite expensive, the investment required to inventory colors, which do not sell quickly, is cost prohibitive. As in any coloring process, dye lots will vary over a period of time. Inventory from one month will be difficult to match with inventory 6 months later.
CORRECTION, BUFFING & PLATING: During the finishing process hides that are heavily scarred receive correction. The correction is done by first buffing or lightly sanding the hide and then embossing a grain onto it. This is accomplished through heat and pressure, in which grain is stamped onto the leather. A hot plate is used which the grain pattern has been etched into it. This hot plate then permanently stamps the grain pattern onto the leather. Lesser quality hides receive more buffing and plating. With more plating the hide becomes firmer and less soft to the touch. Grains can also be decorative. Anything from an alligator pattern to the natural hair cell grain of the original animal can be stamped onto the leather. The worst hides get a heavier embossing pattern and pigmented finish, which also covers some of the scars. These hides are referred to as corrected top grain leather. The finest hides get no plate; they are only translucent Aniline dyed. These are called full grain full Aniline dyed hides. This leather is also very soft to the touch. This leather is what most people think they are buying when they purchase inexpensive leather furniture but in fact is only an “ironed” and “painted” piece of low grade cow hide.
Hides, which are just slightly scarred, are called top grain semi-Aniline leather because a hot plate is used to cover some scars. This leather has a combination of the two finishes. It is also extremely soft and in most cases it takes an expert to tell them apart.
The lower quality hides get a heavier plate and greater concentration combination of pigment. These are called standard leather, still a top grain but not as soft to the touch. One can distinguish full Aniline and semi-Aniline leather by looking at the back or side of the hide. In full grain full Aniline leather, the back will be the same color as the front, dyed through and through. In semi-Aniline leather the back will be almost the same color as the front; the side will sometimes have a different color core. In standard leather the back will be the color of the base coat necessary to achieve that color.
MILLING After the initial finishing process, better quality hides are milled or tumbled in drums for several hours to give the hides added softness.
Considering all the hours of labor and processing of leather, not to mention the labor of creating a handbag, hardware and various other materials, it is inconceivable to think you could purchase a high quality, handmade leather handbag for less than $300 that will last for years and develop that lovely rich patina of full grain aniline dyed leather unless you buy directly from the maker. Please do your research before buying junk. If you stop buying it they will stop making it.
May 22, 2019 1 Comment
During a show, a lady sent her daughter, about 7 years old, to my booth. The girl said, “I love your bags, but I can’t support you as you run a sweat shop and don’t pay your employees”.
I responded, “my sewing room is a sweat shop, with myself being my only employee. I can control how hot it gets. If I can’t afford air, it’s because I don’t sell my bags, if I don’t pay myself it’s because I haven’t sold enough bags . So you are right. I do run a sweat shop. I’m hoping to sell enough today to stop having a sweat shop, to turn on the air and pay myself. Please tell your mom thank you for supporting the small business person”.
The girl went back to her mom. She told her what I said. The mother looked embarrassed, looked my way, grabbed the girl and tried to walk away.
I called the girl over and gave her the bag her mom wouldn’t buy her because of her ideology. I thanked the girl for being truthful. I reminded her to find out the truth before you accuse anyone of things.
With a smile the girl said, “thank you. I’m sorry my mom sent me over to say bad things to you.”
The mom then offered to pay for the bag I had given the girl. I wouldn’t let her. I told the mom, this week I don’t need air in my sweat shop but thank you.
Some days, people speak without thinking. I find it sad to send your child to do so. I was happy to show the little girl that not everything is as someone says.
I am thankful I can afford air in my sewing room without worrying if I sell a bag. As I know some are not so fortunate.
I am happy people mistake my bags as designer bags because of the quality of my sewing, and not just handmade items.
Be thankful today and happy sewing.
January 22, 2019
Ladies ask me all the time about my own personal bag and are very surprised when I tell them I made it. We're all so used to making a purchase from the racks in the stores that we seldom think about how it's made or who made it. So, here is a short film of me stitching up just a simple cross body handbag.
September 20, 2018
Why get so fussy about a bag? It’s just something we use to carry things with us. Who cares as long as it does what it’s supposed to, right?
Wait, what exactly is it supposed to do then? It depends on each one of us, but typically the most important thing is that it carries legal documents, such as driver’s license, check books, credit cards. Yes, those are legal documents that need to be kept securely.
Then there are all the personal items that we need throughout the day. Some of us carry day planners, iPads, zipper pouches with cosmetics and of course our phones and keys, all of which should be easily accessed and organized within your bag.
So, since the function of a handbag is important, shouldn’t the outside be also? Yes, but why? Because, like it or not, people subconsciously notice and assume things about us from our appearance. Have you ever made a quick run to the store in sweat pants, t-shirt, no make-up and hair a mess only to run into someone you’d rather not see you that way? Sort of embarrassing, isn’t it? How about the cashier at the checkout lane? Ever notice the way they attend to you when you’re dressed nicely? See, the point is that a handbag is part of your attire and says things about you. Why wouldn’t you want it to express your personality just like the clothes you wear? You are unique and your handbag should be also.
It should also be important where and how it’s made. Do you ever check the tags of the things you purchase? Most bags, including name brand designers, aren’t made in the USA unfortunately and don’t contribute to our economy. If the mass produced bag you bought on sale malfunctions, will the manufacturer repair or replace it? Do they care about your satisfaction or more about their bottom line?
On the other hand, buying from an independent artist is money well spent. You know you’re getting a quality product because the maker knows a flawed product reflects directly on them and their skills and labor. More often than not, you’ll know exactly what a handbag is made of and who made it. That should make you feel rather special, don’t you think?
Buying a handbag online is getting easier and much less risky these days. However, the unfortunate part is that you can’t feel the luxurious texture and softness of real leather nor the rich aroma that is so easily recognized. Here again is the advantage of considering handmade. Simply contact the maker. Independent artists are delighted to send out a sample of their wares and they’re always happy to answer any questions you have.
So, is it just a bag or is it an accessory that requires significant consideration? If you agree that it’s not just a handbag then you should definitely consider a BeautifulBagsEtc bag because I’m THAT fussy about a bag.
September 09, 2017
Perhaps the question asked so often and answered continually is, “Why are your handbags so expensive?”
As any artist can tell you, my creations are an expression of my passion and a desire to share my skill and values. There’s a piece of my heart in each one of my handbags. Long before a handbag is created I spend a considerable amount of time just thinking about what it will ultimately look like and how it will function. I invest a great deal of time in the planning process – the overall design, the construction, the materials and the time required to create it.
Once I’ve sketched out the design, I then need to consider the materials and hardware for this particular bag. I may have most of the supplies I will need but if not, I must consider the cost to purchase them so that I can offer the bag at a fair price. My materials and supply costs can be on the high side; however, corner-cutting is not an option. I believe my customers should get what they pay for without being gouged or paying for middleman markup.
Only then do I proceed with the actual process of setting up machines, (which, by the way, have been a significant investment) and also pattern lay-out, embroidering, cutting, sewing, then trimming and finishing. Hours upon hours, all done with my own hands, heart and mind, not made in mass quantities in a sweat-shop factory in a third world country. Sometimes, I will make similar handbags but most of the time, I know from the start that this one will be the only one I do….a true one-of-a-kind with a name of its own.
Regardless, my purses, totes and handbags are always ultra-unique. No two pieces are ever completely identical, because each one is laboriously assembled by my hands, and I embrace the variances, one to the next. I test my bags at every step – is it sturdy? Will it perform as expected? Will it hold up with continued use? If the answer is anything less than an emphatic “yes” at any point, I must make changes or abandon the project all together.
Once each handbag is completed, I take great pride in how each piece is labeled, displayed and packaged. Whether it will be seen through photographs on my website, or in person at my shop, I want you to know immediately that a great deal of care and time went into it, that each piece has been loved for the time it was simply an idea.
My bags are priced the way they are because they are worth every penny of that price. The price includes not only the physical materials in the piece, but the time, effort and care that went into its creation. If you really look at them, you will realize that each and every bag is as individual and unique as you are, and you will quickly agree that they aren’t expensive at all.
July 09, 2017
These Mary Poppins style bags are the scaled down version of the traditional carpet bag, originally designed with an internal spring frame used as doctor bags. The design of this style bag has made a come back in popularity due to the functional features they provide. Get one of your own and you'll soon agree!
See more one of a kind, made in USA handbags at BeautifulBagsEtc
May 10, 2017 3 Comments
Have you seen those embroidered Gucci bags? You know, the ones priced at over $5,000? Yeah, those bags. Here's the thing though. Gucci GLUES appliques onto their bags.
Look closely at the black edges around the embroidery. That is the telltale sign that the embroidery is first stitched on felt or some other material and then glued onto the leather.
or perhaps something a bit more trendy and dramatic like the Tao Dragon Cross Body bag.
Just a few examples of genuine leather bags by BeautifulBagsEtc featuring embroidery actually stitched on leather, all at affordable prices.
April 26, 2017
So, what's so special about BeautifulBagsEtc handbags? Lots of bags are beautiful. Isn't that just a bit presumptuous to name them that in the first place? And how do you justify charging so much money for them?
Those are just a few of the questions I get asked about the handbags I make and I’m happy to answer them because there are quite a few things, as a matter of fact, that make them special.
The most significant point to make is that they are not mass produced. They are all made one at a time, by one person who happens to be very experienced, highly skilled and a talented artist. At least, that’s what people tell me. I truly enjoy expressing my creativity designing and making these bags but what is even more satisfying is sharing them with others. It is an absolute joy when a new BeautifulBagsEtc handbag owner emails me to let me know they’ve received their new bag and how delighted they are with it. Most will tell me they’ve never owned or even seen such a bag like the ones I make and typically add that it truly is a “beautiful bag”!
What is it, specifically though, that makes them different? It’s design that combines function, form and aesthetics, not just on the outside but also the inside.
BeautifulBagsEtc handbag linings are made of sturdy canvas or upholstery weight fabrics that are further supported by bonded interfacing, making for a very structured, functional and long serving interior. Comparatively, other bags have linings that are basically an after-thought and made of dark, thin and flimsy fabric that shifts around and makes it hard to see and find the items that are in them.
Another significant design feature of BeautifulBagsEtc handbags are pockets which are always generously sized and double layered with leather top edge trim for maximum function and durability. Pockets of mass produced bags, most made in China might I add, are small with limited usability and tear out rather quickly.
I’m betting you have thrown away a handbag because the straps and edges have cracked and peeled, right? That’s because simply painting the edges is a cheap and easy way to give them a finished look. You will never see this technique used on BeautifulBagsEtc handbags. Handles, straps and edges are created the same way they were before fine craftsmanship was replaced by mass production. BBE handles are folded and stitched so that they are comfortable in your hand and straps that won’t dig into your shoulder. Wear your bag the way you want to; it will always function to the highest standard: yours.
Genuine leathers, luxurious tapestries and quality hardware are never substituted. Unlike fashion trends that come and go, every one of a kind handbag is artistically created for you to express your own personal style. Shop for a bag that fits you and be your beautiful self with a BeautifulBagsEtc handbag!
April 07, 2017 1 Comment
Totes, the absolute necessity of handbags and there are hundreds of them to choose from in stores and online.
How often do you think about where they’re made though? If you check the tag inside, you’ll find that most are made in China or some other foreign country. That makes you wonder about the authenticity and quality. Is it really leather, the kind that will last a long time and age to a rich patina?
Maybe the tag says “man-made materials” and is actually “pleather” or “vegan leather”, both of which are very misleading, just pretty words for plastic. If you’re thinking of a tote lasting a long time it’s probably best to avoid those. It may feel good to think these products do not involve cruelty to any animals. However, pleather and vegan leather do more harm to our planet simply by the tremendous pollution of producing them. Plastics are oil based products which are non- renewable resources.
A product can only, by law, be tagged as leather if it is, in fact, genuine leather. However, there is a new leather product on the market now that is known as bi-cast leather. Bi-cast leather is not 100% leather. Strictly speaking, it is not even leather, but a leather by-product.
Bi-cast leather is made from split leather which is then laminated and strengthened with a polyethylene top layer. Saffiano leather is one example of this type used in the handbag industry by many top designers today.
BeautifulBagsEtc handbags are made of only genuine leather, never plastic or anything but the “real McCoy”. That is my promise to you. Every one-of-a-kind bag you see on my website is lovingly and artistically made with my own hands right here is the USA, guaranteed!
March 22, 2017
You know Spring is here when pansies are blooming. They bring a smile to your face and a lightness to your heart because they tell of warmer days on the way. You find them everywhere from garden centers to neighbors front yard flower beds. You can also find pansies stitched on several of BeautifulBagsEtc handbags.
The most recent addition is the Pansies on Slate Blue Slouchy Hobo featured in the photo. You can also find pansies embroidery in the satchels collection, the cross body collection and our wristlets and clutches collection.
BeautifulBagsEtc handbags adds style and flair to the most basic of wardrobes. Shop now to find your favorite for Spring!!