Are you getting yourself a handbag or are you getting a suitcase or backpack for a loved one? Or, are you trying to figure out the best raw leather to buy to make a bag? I made in-depth research to give you all the information you will need for selecting the right leather for bags.
So, what is the best leather for bags? Full-grain vegetable-tanned cowhide leather is the best generic leather for high-quality bags. Yes! Ideally, full-grain leather of most skins is perfect but to be precise, the full-grain cowhide leather is the best for leather bags.
“Cowhide leathers are a great fit for all kinds of bags because they are durable, patina nicely, and gives off a luxurious appeal”
Vegetable-tanned full-grain cowhide leather makes excellent leather bags but there are other kinds of leather grains you would encounter in your quest. Let’s go over some details on the qualities and characteristics that make using full grain veg-tanned cowhide leather for bags ideal and also a look at the other different kinds of leather grains in case one or the other becomes an option.
There are different tanning methods in leatherwork, here we will focus on vegetable tanning.
So, what is vegetable tanning? Vegetable tanning is treating raw skin or hide into leather by using pure plant extracts like tree backs, woods, leaves, fruits, and roots. This results in what is popularly known as vegetable-tanned leather.
It is called vegetable tanning just because of the natural plant’s extracts used not because vegetables are mostly used. The vegetable tanning process takes about two months to three months to complete.
You can read my article on what is Vegetable Tanned Leather? here to learn more about vegetable-tanned leather.
You may have read full-grain countless times and might be wondering, What is full-grain? Full-grain is the most smooth, luxurious, and durable part of the animal hide below its fur. Full-grain leather is leather from the grain side, with no buffing, sanding, or snuffing to remove imperfections or natural marks.
The grain layer of this part of the hide is very tight, and the leather produced is called full-grain leather. Full-grain leather develops a nice patina, which is a thin layer that protects the leather from damage and also gives the leather an aesthetic look. It is used in making high-quality footwear and furniture.
Talk of quality talk Full-grain leather! 🙂 It is the highest quality because the grain in this part of the hide is very tight. There are other leathers with patterns embossed in full-grain leather and once the naturalness of the grain remains unchanged, it is still considered full-grain leather.
Full-grain leather has two finished products kind:
What is Aniline leather? Aniline leather is leather uniquely dyed with soluble dyes that do not produce uniform topcoat paint retaining the hide’s natural surface.
With aniline leather, scars, pores, and other blemishes are visible even after dyeing. The exclusive soluble dying is not done to cover up imperfections so, only high-quality leather is suitable for aniline finishing. It is one of the most sort after finish in the production of leather.
Aniline leather is sometimes referred to as full-aniline or pure aniline leather or just pure aniline by marketers to differentiate its unique dye treatment with variants.
Semi-aniline leather is finished similar to aniline leather only that it is slightly pigmented (color layer). The pigment is not made to cover the natural leather grain and the hair pores. Semi-aniline leather aims to completely preserve natural grains, thus semi-aniline is not be buffed.
A tiny bit of embossing is sometimes allowed on semi-aniline leather. Semi-aniline leather feels natural and soft due to the small amount of coating.
Compared to aniline leather, which has no protections and highly porous and more sensitive, semi-anilines is with much better protection.
Ideally, leather is very porous and sensitive and that is the problem semi-aniline seeks to solve. The tanner knows the best waterproofing will not provide long-term solutions to it so he controls the sensitivity by applying a color coat, to minimize stain sensitivity and tear.
Jackets, bags, furniture are most suitably made from semi-aniline leather. Typically, regular care and maintenance works magic and help keep your semi-aniline leather moving.
Semi-aniline leather is great so marketers try to sneak around calling heavily pigmented leather as semi-aniline. Most customers fall prey to such schemes because they are meant to believe semi-aniline leather is pigmented.
What is Cowhide leather? Cowhide is real leather, unbleached skin and hair from the bovine group. Cowhides are by-products of the cattle meat industry and without them being processed into leather, the world would be so much polluted with animal skins.
About 65% of all leather comes from the bovine (cattle) group and the best raw material hides come from developed countries because they take better care of animals.
Cowhide is tanned maintaining its original coloring, and whole shape. The most common tanning technique for cowhide is chrome tanning because it is cheap and fast to do. However, the best tanning for cowhide leather is the vegetable tanning which involves the use of natural tannins from tree backs, roots, and fruits.
Cowhide leather is suitable for making all kinds of leather items including bags, upholstery, furniture, and car interiors. Cowhide leathers generally have a good price range and will give you all the great qualities you would want in high-quality leather.
For pricy cowhide leather popularly known as Premium Cowhide Leather, are the soft cowhide leathers that have the best look, uniformity, with no corrected grains. Others like genuine leather and bonded leather are the lowest quality that has cowhide splits or scraps thus have lower prices.
How is Cowhide Made?
The hide of the animal goes through various processes that render it durable with all the qualities we all adore in cowhide leather. Cowhide is made by Skinning, Salting, Tanning, Drying, Dyeing (optional). Let’s take a quick look at brief details on processes for making a cowhide leather:
At the meat industry, the skin of a bovine animal is removed by skinning with a special skinning knife.
It is then cured with salt to stall the decomposition before tanning begins. After curing it is then organized according to size and color.
The hide is then tanned in the tannery. The tanning ensures the cowhide is soft, odorless, and will not decay or molt. The tanning process is where leather gets its ability to last life long.
It is then air-dried in an open space. The drying is not thorough just about enough drying with the natural oils on the cowhide still intact.
The cowhide at this point can be dyed. Cowhide can be dyed to look like the skins of a tiger, leopard or zebra. This is usually absolutely optional and reserved for the lower quality cowhides with imperfect grains and scratches which may have occurred during the lifetime of the animal.
“Most Cowhides leathers for their authentic looks are presented in their natural state or colors”
Pros of Cowhide Leather
There are numerous advantages to using cowhide leather for bags, shoes, and other leather items. The pros listed below are to help boost your confidence in buying leather bags made from full-grain cowhide or buy full grain cowhide for your leatherwork projects.
The Pros of Cowhide Leather:
- Durable and Versatile Material
- Softer and Supple grain
- Can be dyed or left without dyeing
- Naturally Beautiful Pattern
- Tear and Crack Resistant
- More Resistant to Abrasion
Now let’s delve deep into the pros of using cowhide leather for bags and other items.
1. Cowhide Leather is Durable and Versatile Material
Cowhide leather is versatile and one of the most durable leather you can find. It is absolutely a great choice when it comes to bags and other items you may want. With it being so durable, it allows the tailoring of different styles, textures, and other decorative purposes like stamping and tooling.
High-end leather bag brands like Luise Vuitton, Dior to mention but a few make use of full-grain cowhide leather to ensure their brand’s credibility on quality.
You can always count on full-grain cowhide leather its durability and versatility if you are a leatherworker.
2. Cowhide Leather has Softer, Supple Grain
It is amazing to imagine how something can be durable and have the softness cowhide leather has. Having the characteristic of durability may imply rigidity or woody to someone but cowhide leather although very durable has an ideal softness for its use.
When purchased initially, it may appear stiff but with constant use, it becomes softer and adjusted to the user. For example, if you but a leather bag, you will not get the softness or suppleness you will expect on cowhide leather. But after a few weeks or months of use, the leather will become softer.
3. Cowhide leather is Thicker
Cowhide leather is thicker and tough and is good for bags. This allows for its durability in bags. With its thickness, daily abrasions are not a problem for objects made of full-grain cowhide leather.
Some manufacturers on some occasions may skive or split the leather to further make it lighter for specific purposes.
Cowhide is thick enough to allow you to add designs on its surface by tooling, carving or stamping. Tooling is a great decorative technique, which is why you will mostly see cowhide leather used for other leather items like belts, boots, saddles, and wallets with tooling done on them.
But all in all, your leather bag made of full grain cowhide leather will have the right thickness that will make it durable, beautiful, and easy to use.
4. Cowhide Leather is Breathable
Yes! Indeed, cowhide leather has a unique ability to breathe. Breathability in cowhide leather means the ability to allow air to pass through its pores. The nature of the fibers of cowhide leather makes it able to breathe after the tanning process.
How does this help your leather item? This makes the leather product good for extreme weather conditions as the pores within the fibers make it possible.
It is important not to keep products made of cowhide leather in airtight places because, it will literally suffocate the leather and also cause mold to grow on the leather item.
Also, when you apply leather creams or conditioners, you should ensure the conditioner of the right kind preferably made of natural ingredients or high quality. This is to ensure the pores of the cowhide leather is not blocked.
5. Cowhide Can be dyed or left without dyeing
After the tanning process, the leather is sorted based on the quality that results. Leathers will also be sorted according to size and beauty.
The leathers with poor grain outcomes are sorted and selected aside to be dyed to enhance their beauty and correct parts of it by covering the poor grains with color.
Most often than not, cowhide leathers are left without dying just because cowhides naturally have beautiful natural color finishes.
This means the cowhide leather products you will buy like bags will usually have a natural color finish unique your leather item alone.
6. Cowhide is Naturally Beautiful Pattern
One of the things that many people love about cowhide leather items is the beautiful style of the material. Cowhide is available in several different colors. Some are solid hues, such as brown, gray, black, or white.
Another fascinating thing is the unique patterns on the grain side of the leather.
When you purchase a cowhide leather bag or any other leather items, you stand a chance of having a peculiar pattern synonymous with your bag and a few others only. Awesome right?
7. Tear and Crack Resistant
Leather is tear resistant and does not crack with time but rather becomes richer and darker with time. Cowhide leather does not give in to wear, tear and cracks. Cowhide is durable both on the surface and on the inside.
There are occasions where you might find some peels and or cracks on the leather, but rest assured it is not the leather itself that cracked but the finish or coating applied to it.
With a 6-9 ounce cowhide leather on the outside of your leather bags, you are assured of great quality and durability of your bag.
8. More Resistant to Abrasion
Everything said and done leads to the fact that cowhide leather is very resistant to abrasion. Its durability, thickness, tear and crack resistance makes leather more resistant to abrasion.
Using the full-grain side makes cowhide leather resistant to abrasion. The full-grain side of the leather is originally the outer part of the animal that protects the animal. The full-grain side is tough, much stronger, and acted as a good shield for the animal.
This is why you will sometimes find that the grain side of leather may have some defects on the grains or holes.
However, you may not have such defects on hides from developed countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand due to how well the animals are treated unlike the ones from Asia and Africa.
Cons of Cowhide Leather
There are a few disadvantages to using cowhide leather. Regardless, it doesn’t take away its numerous advantages. Let’s review some of the disadvantages and this is not in any way to discourage you but to equip you with information on both sides of the conversation.
- Limited Range of colors
- Limited Range of Patterns
Other Common Uses of Full-Grain Cowhide leather
You can buy a lot of goods made from Full-Grain cowhide leather but you are most likes find mostly suitably used for:
- Cowhide boots
Tips for buying The Best leather bags
Just like all other fashion accessories, there are a lot of choices when buying leather bags like a satchel, a briefcase, a weekend bag, duffel bags. They come in different styles, brands, and, price points. How do you choose and how do you figure out which leather bag is best, valuable and worth your hard-earned money?
Here I will guide you to help you to make a good evaluation when buying leather bags:
- The Leather – (Full-grained vegetable-tanned leather)
- Hardware – Zippers, D-Rings, Rivets, Eyelets, Buckles, Clasps
1. The Leather
The material leather used for the bag greatly influences the overall quality of the bag. The best and finest leather is sourced from France, Italy, England, America and a few others mostly because the animals from which the leather is got are generally well cared for and also they have the best tanneries in the world.
At this point, you know my preferred choice of full-grained vegetable-tanned cowhide leather. Always ensure this kind of leather for your leather bags and it will be durable and age beautifully over time. This leather will be way better than the cheap low-quality leather like genuine leather or bonded leather.
Leathers like genuine leather can be misleading due to its name and marketers will always capitalize on that. You will find low quality leather sometimes known as fake leather to crack, tear and become worse and worse with time and you wouldn’t want that for your bags. You can read an in-depth article on fake leather here.
Any brand that uses real leather will always proudly add it to the product description so always look for full-grain leather or full-grain vegetable-tanned cowhide leather. Also, be a bit more engaging with the brand on where and how they get their leather and where the bags are produced.
Top-grain leather is also an affordable and great alternative to full-grain leather in case full-grain appears too pricy for your budget.
2. Hardware of The Leather Bag
Secondly, you need to check the hardware which is the metal components on the bag like the zippers, buckles, eyelets, d-rings, clasps, and rivets. It is one of the surest ways to evaluate a leather bag before purchasing.
Bag manufacturers who do due diligence on the hardware of the bag definitely did great work on the overall quality of the bag vise Versa.
It is less likely to find high-quality metal hardware on the leather bag with low-quality leather material or finishing.
3. Stitches on The Leather Bag
Machine-stitching on the bag is an important factor to consider. The inner and outer stitches on the bag should be small, even, without any loose strands of thread.
Check for reinforced stitches on the vulnerable areas on the bag like handles, base, and flaps. Mostly, some bag manufacturers will reinforce vulnerable areas with rivets to support the stitches.
In the case of hand made bags, you can check for the thonging done on the leather bag. Some common thonging techniques you will notice are whipping, cordovan stitch, german-basketweave, and many others.
4. Gusset type on The Bag
Gussets refer to the sides of the bag which can be soft or flexible gusset also known as attache/soft-sided or fixed gussets which is hard-sided. This is important to consider because gussets determines the relative size of the bag you buy.
You will need to make a suitable choice based on several reasons like the profession you are in. For example, if you are an accountant, lawyer or doctor, you might probably want to consider a bag with a fixed gusset like a briefcase that can hold and protect all your valuable documents. Also, if you like to travel a lot, a bag with a flexible gusset will suit you best.
One important thing you must know is the type of gussets, either fixed or flexible influence the kind of handle the bag will come with. So check for durability in the handles of the bag.
5. The compartments of the Leather Bag
Finally, you need to look out for the compartments on the leather bag. Check for interior and exterior compartments that is suitable for your needs in a bag. The compartments should just about enough for the items you would be keeping in it.
The most important thing to consider when buying a leather bag for yourself or for a loved one is to buy a leather bag that you will really love and that will certainly make you happy any time you or your loved one uses it. Do not settle for a bag just because it is trendy, or has a popular brand name, or on sale, Buy because you need it.
What is Top Grain Leather?
Top-grain leather is considered to have the second-highest leather quality. It is obtained from the top grain leather. The grain surface is sanded remove imperfections of the leather and also Pigmented or stained to give the leather an attractive look.
It is thinner compared to full-grain leather with a less breathable and has a plastic feel. There is also a huge demand for this type of leather because it is durable and patina nicely after a while of usage.
You will find a lot of high-end leather products, such as handbags and jackets made of top grain leather.
What is the Difference Between Full Grain and Top Grain leather?
Full-grain leather is leather that has its natural grains intact with buffing or sanding or snuffed to remove imperfections on the surface of the hide while the top grain is leather that has been especially sanded away to remove the natural grain from the top surface of the leather.
Sanding the top grain of the leather unlike full-grain makes top grain leather smoother and more flexible.