The natural “saddlery” leather is tanned in barrel with vegetable products (first of all the tannin) as per ancient Tuscan tradition, and subsequently greased. It has an important thickness between 3.0 and 4.0 mm. which makes it very resistant to wear and becomes more beautiful and soft the more it is used. Due to its thickness it is difficult to work.
Cowhide (typical of the Tuscan tradition) was created to work items that need greater softness. This is the name of debassed and softened leather, made by bringing it to a thickness of about 1.6 – 2.0 mm and working it a second time, making it “turn” in barrels for several hours. Thus it softens and the surface takes on a typical “orange peel” effect.
One of the first projects we carried out was the creation of a line of bags with heavy and unique Jacquard fabrics (for furniture and in limited quantities) combined with Vacchetta to create a line of specially designed items.
We went to “find” these fine fabrics from antique dealers, among the “stock funds” of important Italian textile companies and in theaters, including a batch of fabrics from the sets of films from the 50s and 60s, sold during the renovation of the Cinecittà studios in Rome.
Each skin must be cared for so that it can become more beautiful over time and maintain a clean and soft appearance. Each leather needs to be treated in a different way, which varies according to the type of processing with which it is produced. If a skin gets dirty with ink, the only thing to do is to leave the “mustache”, you can only turn it into a much uglier stain.
Before a treatment it is important to check that it is real leather; there are materials that can be declared as “leather” but which are actually “splits” (ie split leather) with a synthetic “film” applied that reproduces real leather, but makes it waterproof and not suitable for the treatments we describe.
Saddlery and cowhide
Heavy leather and “Vacchetta”, (lightened and softened leather) are naturally tanned bovine leather (lime and vegetable tannins) and treated with natural fats. Aging leather and cowhide acquire a “patina” that makes them more and more beautiful and they are the only leathers that have always existed in human history. Dyed directly in the water during the tanning so that the dye penetrates the whole thickness of the leather, and they are finished only with a light refinement treatment. Being greased leather, the colors will always be a little dull, typical of leather.
Treatment: This skin bears water well if clean, drops or splashes dry but leave on the surface if there are residues (sugar of drinks or dirt present in the rain). If a leather skin gets wet, better take a soft, damp cloth and wipe it over the entire skin as soon as possible. In any case, the leather (and cowhide) must be treated at least once a year by passing a slightly damp cloth with cleaning cream (English saddlery soap or neutral detergent milk) on the surface; if it remains too dry, a second coat of cream should be given to re-grease it. The leather must always remain slightly greased: water, dirt and time tend to dry it. Maintained “fat” it will remain soft and beautiful for many years.
Sheepskin has particular characteristics: it is very soft and has an irregular surface, even in thickness. It has a very sporty appearance to which natural tanning (vegetable tanning) also contributes. Leather difficult to work and therefore little used (it tends to be elastic and to “move” during sewing, and must be cut by hand) was very popular in the 70s. All productions that do not have master craftsmen within them, the only ones capable of working it, tend to keep it away.
Treatment: These skins are very absorbent and almost without surface treatments: this is their advantage. Being very porous, any cream tends to stain them, the fat tends to darken them; to clean them, the best method is to carefully wipe the surface (being careful not to scratch them) with a soft, squeezed wet cloth (the water must be clean). They need time to dry as they tend to absorb a lot of water, which makes the skin darker until it is dry (don’t worry if it stays dark for many hours).
Suede is the underlying part of the cowhide, and it can be both the ugliest leather worked on the contrary and the split of the highest leather. It has the advantage of having a lower price than other leathers, therefore it makes possible greater stocks and the possibility of “playing” with many colors that the tanneries offer. It is a soft skin, for unstructured articles. It has the limit of the difficulty in keeping it clean and the tendency to “polish” in the points of greatest use. Unlike the other quality leathers that tend to be more beautiful “lived”, this remains as it is, but if well maintained it has a long life.
Treatment: It is a skin that is not easy to clean. It is important to keep it constantly clean by brushing it at regular intervals with a hard brush so that the “hair” of the skin remains raised. (at the points of greatest use it tends to squeeze creating a “shiny” effect that contrasts with the “velvety” rest of the skin). Another “secret” is to choose darker colors, especially in bags that have an intense use. In any case there are sprays (from upholstery for dry cleaning) that can be used, and once dried, brushed off (must be used following the instructions described on the package).
The calf is a cowhide treated with chemical processing which makes it soft and discolored. Raw hides are tanned with very degreasing products that make them ice (bluish) in color. After drying, they are removed (with a “splitting” machine that cuts away the underlying part – which will become the suede) so as to bring the thickness to 0.8 – 1.2 millimeters. At this point they are ready to be colored, printed or for laminate applications. The calves are easily treated being light and dry skins, where the surface is easily treatable (generally spray-colored). These last treatments are called “Finishing”.
Treatment: For cleaning and maintenance it is important to know the finish the leather has. The good quality classic calf generally cleans well with a neutral cream which in addition to cleaning it also leaves it slightly greased making it more pleasant to the touch. We use these calves for the Happy line which can be cleaned in this way.
For other calfskin articles it is advisable to ask the person selling the item for the characteristics of the finish: there may be finishes that need special precautions.