Leather is a type of material that is made from the skin of animals and is used for a huge range of things. Everything from the best cheap purses to jackets and coats and lots of other things uses different types of leather.Back in prehistoric times, people knew about removing the hides and skins from the animals they had killed and using them as tents to protect against the weather as well as for clothes and footwear. There are cave paintings in Spain from the Palaeolithic period (over 10,000 years ago) that show leather clothing and bone tools have been found that were used for the removal of hair from the skins.
How is it made?
Most leather is made from the skins of cows, as there is the thickest skin to make the strongest material. After the cow has been killed, it is skinned and then taken to a tanner, a person who makes the leather.
There are lots of different ways to make leather. The most basic method was where all the flesh was scraped off the skin with a bone or a special stone scraper, though later a metal knife was used for the job. The skin was then processes with salt or urine or more recently, special chemicals.
Tanners shops weren’t a popular place because when they used urine in the process, they collected it or people brought it to them in jars. They then had to leave it to stand for a week or so and it became ammonia, at which point it was used on the skin to finish the leather. Therefore, tanner shops used to be on the very outskirts of towns so people didn’t have to smell them all the time. Though few tanneries are left, their legacy can be seen all around, most often in street named such as Tanner Street and Leather Lane.
At a later date, the use of earth salts was discovered to make soft white leather, which could then be dyed with other substances.
In 1444, the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers was founded in London, England. For many centuries, they were the people who came up with new ideas about leather and still have close connections with some universities in England today.
What is leather used for
In ancient and medieval times when leather was first reliably made, it was used for a whole range of different things. As well belts and shoes and jackets that we have today made from leather, they used it for protective aprons and hats as well as for trousers.
They also used it to make bags and boxes to transport things around where today we used plastic. There were also special bags to carry water and wine where we used plastic or glass bottles.
Leather hair decorations were common and it was also used as a covering for windows and doors, where we used blinds or curtains. There was even a type of leather paper!
Leather clothing was the fashion before spinning wool was invented and making flax into cloth. It was used alongside furs but this stopped when wool spinning became frequent.