Leather making process
Leather can be made from the hide of many different animals including deer and kangaroo, but cowhide is the most common. Hides may be chosen for their individual characteristics, if the grain of the hide will be present in the finished product, but many leathers are processed in such a way that any flaws in the hide are removed.
The hide has to undergo a number of preparatory steps before it can be tanned. These steps may include preservation, soaking, liming, unhairing, fleshing, splitting, reliming, deliming, bating, degreasing, frizing, bleaching, pickling, and depickling. These processes strip the hide of any unwanted materials and blemishes and prepare it for the tanning chemicals.
Next, the actual tanning process can begin. There are many different tanning processes including vegetable tanned(one of the oldest kinds, which renders a dark brown product), chrome tanned (also known as wet blue, the most common today), aldehyde tanned (sometimes called wet-white, this type is being phased out for safety reasons), and brain tanned (another old form of tanning using animal brains).
Vegetable tanning is popular with hobbyists, as it is the only form of leather suitable for use in leather carving or stamping. Vegetable-tanned leather is not stable in water; it tends to discolor, and if left to soak and then dry it will shrink and become less supple, and harder. In hot water, it will shrink drastically and partly gelatinize, becoming rigid and eventually brittle. Boiled leather is an example of this, where the leather has been hardened by being immersed in hot water. Historically, it was used as armor after hardening, and it has also been used for book binding.
Chrome tanning is the most common today because it has many benefits over other types of tanning. It is more supple and pliable than vegetable-tanned leather and does not discolor or lose shape as drastically in water as vegetable-tanned. Chrome tanning can render many different colors of leather through the use of dyes in the tanning process.
After the leather has been properly tanned, there still remains a series of steps called crusting. This process involves thinning, retanning, and lubricating the finished leather, and may also include a coloring operation. The final goal of the crusting process is to dry and soften the completed project.
Some leathers also receive a surface coating, depending on the desired final product. This is often referred to as finishing. This process can include oiling, brushing, padding, impregnation, buffing, spraying, roller coating, curtain coating, polishing, embossing, ironing, combing (for hair-on leathers), glazing, and tumbling.
Making a belt
The finished leather is now ready to be made into a completed project. Let’s say that we want to make a belt from our tanned hide. The hide will be laid out and carefully measured. A precisely measured strip will be cut from the hide and removed.
There are a number of things that can be done to decorate plain leather. Shapes and patterns can be carved or stamped into vegetable tanned leather, creating intricate designs or even lettering. Leather can also be cut, rather like lace, to create patterns. Different layers of leather can be stacked so they show through the holes in the upper layers. Embroidery or beading is popular, decorating the leather with threads and beads.
When the artisan has achieved the desired designs or decorations on the leather, it is securely sewn to stabilize the edges, and hardware is attached. There are different types of hardware that can be used depending on the specific style of belt desired.