Leather Basics: Full Grain Vegetable Tanned Leather


  Brief History of Leather

Next to fire, leather might have been the most essential invention to prehistoric humans. Fundamentally, it was one of the first resources developed by man for a greater purpose. Leather created a protective layer against natural elements, aided in making hunting and farming implements, and even must have created bags to carry their 'stuff 'around. Sometime along the way, humans obviously realized that the raw animal hide could be treated with the tannins from tree barks to alter the structure of protein fibers to create a tightly interwoven structure and preventing purification. Thus the method that was developed for converting raw skin into durable leather, evolved into an elaborate tanning process. Not much has changed since. In fact, vegetable tanning still utilizes the basic tree tannins that was discovered thousands of years ago.

    Leather tanning arguably is one of the oldest human activities, and probably one of the oldest of all processes developed by humans. Primitive men hunted animals for food; they removed the hides and skins from the animal carcasses, and used them for crude tents, clothing and footwear. They realized that a method of preservation was needed to prevent purification of raw skin. The earliest method was to stretch the hides and skins on the ground to dry, rubbing them with animal fats while they dried. This had a limited preserving and softening action. They discovered also that the smoke of wood fires could preserve hides and skins, as did treating them with an infusion of tannins contained in barks, leaves, twigs and fruits of certain trees and plants. It seems possible that man first discovered how to make leather when he found that animal skins left lying on a wet forest floor became tanned naturally by chemicals released by decaying leaves and vegetation.

    These methods, which gradually became more refined and efficient, preserved the skins in the ancient world. The uses of these techniques were widespread and witnessed by numerous written documents and paintings as well as archaeological finds. The earliest record of the use of leather dates from the Paleolithic period; cave paintings discovered near Lerida in Spain depict the use of leather clothing. Excavation of Paleolithic sites has yielded bone tools used for scraping hides and skins to remove hair. The first rudimental tanning process is mentioned in Assyrian texts and in Homers Iliad. In Mesopotamia, between the fifth and the third millennium B.C., for example, the Sumerians used skins for long dresses and diadems for ladies. The Assyrians used leather for footwear, and also for liquid containers and as inflated float that acted as  rafts. The ancient Indian civilization first processed the type of leather known as the "Morocco" today. The Egyptians also achieved considerable skill in processing leather, which they used for clothing (even for gloves), tools and weapons, or simply as ornaments. The historian, Strabo, tells of an interesting use developed by Phoenicians who made water pipes from it. During Roman times, leather was widely used in all the provinces of the empire, and more efficient tanning techniques were introduced. This is further evidence to the fact that leather tanning has gone hand in hand with the history of mankind. DaVarg continues the tradition of maintaining the "craftsmanship" that is required in converting raw skin into genuine leather, and crafting articles those stand the test of time. 

DaVarg Leather

    DaVarg™ designs and handcrafts articles that embody character. Such design and crafting is only possible by using one of the most versatile and durable materials- genuine full grain Leather. Leather that is durable, graceful and that develops a character with age. Leather that is classic and time tested, that was available before the advent of artificial and man-made leather. Leather that will last a lifetime and crafted into articles that merge design and functionality. 

    We craft articles solely with full grain leather that is processed by US tanneries to meet Castello DaVarg specifications .  The designs, processes and crafting of DaVarg articles are chosen to match the unique characteristics of this full grain leather. Those who understand genuine leather realize that there is no adequate substitute for it, man made or otherwise. To understand why leather is still prized by those who seek elegance and character, it is necessary to understand the different types of leather. 

    At DaVarg, only one type of leather is qualified to be known as DaVarg Leather ™- cowhide with its grain and the corium layer retained intact, and with no artificial bonding or synthetic coatings applied over it. We use only genuine leather without any coatings on the top grain. We then process this to bring out the specific properties such as shades, pull up effect, feel, and softness. This ensures the articles we craft will have the unique look, feel and smell of genuine leather. This also ensures that our articles will retain these natural characters, while maturing gracefully over years   of usage. We want to ensure that the surface you will see, touch and feel on Davarg Leather is genuine full grain, tinted with a character enhancing shade. The patterns and character will develop  over time with use,  in a way that only genuine leather can do.

    DaVarg Leather is not painted, laminated or pressed leather- there is nothing to peel or detach on our leather. With proper conditioning DaVarg leather only becomes more integrated and coalesced showing signs of usage with elegance. While we realize such leather is not for everyone, we are brining back this classic material for the select few those who can truly appreciate the beauty of genuine leather.

    Our customers also soon realize that Black is not one of the DaVarg shades. We firmly believe that shading leather fully opaque or black will hide the natural character of full grain. To our designers black leather is substandard, characterless leather. Unlike most fashion leather-crafters,  we do not paint or coat leather with  synthetic layer and then emboss an artificial pattern over it.  Nor do we  print repetitive logos (often the founders initials)  all over. While those techniques are widely used by even some prestigious designer brands houses, such painted  and printed leather is verboten for use in DaVarg articles. While there might be a mass market following for such substandard leather; we cater to the discerning few, who can understand and appreciate the character, quality and durability of genuine leather, with its natural look and feel.

    There are several other salient features of genuine leather that makes it further suitable for premium DaVarg articles:

                        ▪ Durability
                        ▪ Tear and wear resistance
                        ▪ Elastic yet a unique ability to maintain the form
                        ▪ Resistant to heat and acts as an insulator to protect your belongings
                        ▪ Ages gracefully with character
                        ▪ Rugged enough for daily use
                        ▪ Little to no maintenance required

    In addition to the above, strength to weight ratio of genuine leather is much higher than that of most synthetic materials. Most leathers we use will have a tensile strength of between 2,000 and 6 ,000 pounds per square inch depending on the thickness. This exceeds the strength of several of the manmade fibers such as linen, cotton or even synthetics such as nylon or rayon. It has also been found that Leather articles made of vegetable tanned leather  can last for centuries. 

    Structure of Genuine Full Grain Leather :   The unique features of genuine leather are created naturally, and owe them to a unique dual fibro us structure. This structure consists of two integrated layers; grain and corium. The top grain is a tightly woven structure of fine protein fibers with random orientation . Since this is grown naturally over several years on the animal skin, it is almost impossible to dup licate this structure in manmade materials. Below the grain is the corium, which is a less densely woven protein fiber interlace. The lower density makes the corium pliable, making the leather very supple. The relatively open structure of corium also makes the leather 'breathe', and retain s proper amounts of oils and moisture. The ratio of grain to corium thickness is also important when considering strength and flexibility.

The  variations of this ratio occur where the hide of the animal has evolved to be suited to the habitat in which the animal lives. An example is the kangaroo skin, which has superior strength and a very dense structure. Its fiber weave is cross-weaved that creates a very high tensile strength, with a higher proportion of corium fiber to enhance its durability. In cowhide, a higher proportion of top grain gives a soft luxurious feel while the underlying corium gives flexible support and strength. The grain to corium ratio varies based on the specific part on an animal where the skin came from. At Castello DaVarg, we select the right leather type to match the design parameters. For example, our handles and straps are made of higher corium to grain ratio for excellent tensile strength, while our case leather has a low corium to grain ratio to provide high flexibility and superior aging characterizes. 


    Top Grain and Split Leather : To appreciate genuine DaVarg leather, it is necessary to understand other types of 'leather' in marketplace. After tanning, the thick hide is split into two main layers. The first is an outer layer that includes the epidermis which is the top grain layer, while the second one is the lower layer which is the softer, low-density corium layer.  These are known as full grain leather and split leather. DaVarg leather is always the full grain leather. T he bottom split layer can be further split into thinner layers for creating leather that can mimic, but never match, the qualities of top grain leather. Here is where the consumer should be careful- several   products have the split layers with an artificial grain created on it through a coating or a lamination process, and a 'copied' grain pattern embossed on to it. Synthetic coating and coloring has improved enough over time that the   leather look and feel   can be even recreated on fabrics. For example, the 'leatherettes' used in automotive upholstery is usually created with synthetic coating over fabric base layer. Since genuine leather is seldom uniform or without natural marks, if you see smooth unblemished leather with uniform pattern and color, chances are that it is corrected leather with the top grain buffed off and a synthetic layer applied to mimic the top grain.

As we see, most leather as we know today is not actually genuine top grain leather. The leather that is processed out of splits or other manmade materials are known by several names: split leather, corrected leather, embossed leather, coated leather, Suede, Napa leather, painted leather, or reconstituted leather. Such leather is often mass-produced at a fraction of the cost of genuine top grain leather. Suede and Napa Leather is often left uncoated to give the soft look and feel. Keep in mind that from each hide, only one top grain leather layer can be obtained, but several splits of corium can be retrieved, and then synthetically coated to make the manmade leather. Since there are no industry standards to stipulate what exactly constitutes genuine leather, a great many articles are created with these artificial materials, and can still claim to be made of genuine leather.

    How to spot Painted or Artificial Leather:  With a multitude of artificial leather products and articles out there, it is still easy to spot non-genuine leather. Some of the obvious aspects of artificial leather are:

         Monotonous patterns: Monotonous, repetitive patterns are a result of embossing with a synthetic layer over a fabric of a leather split. Genuine Full Grain Leather does not come with patterns. The wrinkles, folds or patterns are developed as the articles see some usage.
         Black leather: Black pigments on synthetic layers hide the imperfections and gives a leather-like appearance on substandard splits with embossing. Since black is not a color and rather the lack of color, it is very difficult to dye the top grain of genuine leather deep black.
         Smooth and uniform: Artificial leather is often mass-produced with a regular and uniform texture. This is evident in most upholstery leather where the color is even and grain patterns are well defined and consistent. On the other hand, genuine -leather is never smooth and uniform. The grain pattern on epidermis will show scratches, scars, insect bites, natural stretch marks etc., all of which are present in genuine leather.
         Fake embossing and prints: Fake embossing and prints such as crocodile or ostrich skin patterns are common in cheaper imitation leather. Then there is the artificial leather with a painted finish, often accompanied with bright colors or printed logos that show the brand name or logo.
         Thin cross section: Since top grain is not structurally strong by itself, it needs an underlayment of naturally woven corium underneath it to provide necessary strength. Thin top grain without corium will disintegrate quickly. So if the leather is thin it is most probably bonded leather with a manmade substrate, such as fabric as the base layer.
         Lack of pull up: “Pull up” on genuine leather is seen as a color variation when the leather is bent or folded. As the grain and corium expands, it imparts a lighter shade on the folds. You will notice the pull up effect on the corners and folded areas in a DaVarg article. If the leather does not show any pull up effect, there is a high chance that it is not genuine leather.
         Non- porous structure: Painted leathers does not absorb conditioners such as EEVEs' Leather Balmsince the grain or corium layers are coated with synthetic material. If the leather surface does not effectively absorb EEVEs' leather balm, it is highly likely that it is painted or a synthetically coated leather.
    In most cases a genuine leather article will stand out and one does not need a whole lot of guidance to distinguish it. The look, the patina, the feel and the smell of the genuine leather will be very difficult to miss. As they say, 'you will know it is authentic when you see it'. Ultimately, that is what we strive for every day at Castello DaVarg, to create articles that has character.
With Castello DaVarg, character comes standard.