All You Need to Know About Sheep Leather

What is sheep leather?

Sheepskin or shearling is the sheep hide with the fur left on.  Sheep leather has the fur removed before tanning.

How to identify sheep leather

Sheep leather is the lightest of all commercial leathers and it is soft and velvety to the touch.  The pores are distinct and evenly spaced.

Sheep leather smell

When tanned and cared for correctly sheep leather should have little or no smell.  Poor quality cheap leather which has not been tanned properly will often smell of the chemicals or the oils used in its production.

Sheep leather thickness

Sheep leather is the thinnest of all the mass-produced commercial leathers, only exotic leathers, such as fish leather, are thinner.

Is sheep leather soft?

The velvety softness of sheep leather is its most distinguishing feature.

Is sheep leather warm?

Sheep leather is thinner than cow leather and therefore it is not as warm, however it is wind proof and if worn on top of layers of clothing it is a warm winter garment.

Is sheep leather durable?

Sheep leather is not as hard wearing as cow leather but if maintained properly it will give a lifetime of use and will certainly outlast most fabrics.

Is sheep leather waterproof?

Leather is a natural, permeable material and therefore it is never 100% waterproof, however, properly conditioned sheep leather is shower resistant.

Is sheep leather good quality?

Sheep leather is light and supple and consequently it is used for high end fashion accessories and clothing such as leather jackets.

What is sheep aniline leather?

Aniline leather is leather which has been dyed all the way through, rather than the dye applied as a topcoat.  Applying just a top-coat dye removes natural markings and creates a uniform surface; the aniline process preserves the natural markings.  Only the best quality leather is appropriate for the aniline treatment.

What is sheep nappa leather?

Nappa leather is full grain leather which has been tanned using a specialist chemical process. The resulting leather retains the beauty of the original hide but is extremely soft and flexible and does not crease.  Sheep nappa leather is used for high end luxury goods.

What is hair sheep leather?

Hair sheep leather or Cabretta leather is a high-quality leather used for making dress gloves.  The leather is produced from the hides of sheep which grow hair rather than wool.  The leather is prized for its softness and durability.

Sheep leather vs goat leather

Sheep leather and goat leather are very similar.  Both are lightweight leathers which are durable, soft and have a fine grain. Sheep leather is the more highly regarded of the two.

Sheep leather vs cow leather

Cow leather is the most widely used of all leathers, it is thicker and more durable than sheep leather, but it lacks its softness and suppleness.  Cow leather is used for more heavy-duty items such as shoes, large bags and jackets.  Sheep leather is lightweight and is used for small, high end fashion items and garments.

Faux leather vs sheep leather

Faux leather is a term used to describe an increasingly wide range of leather substitutes.  Whilst, in the past, these have predominantly been produced using petro-chemical by products there are now organic, laboratory grown, leathers in production. Current faux leather alternatives to sheep leather are not nearly as strong or as durable.

Camel leather vs sheep leather

The fibres of camel hide are extremely dense which make it a very strong, very durable leather.  Like cowhide it is suitable for heavy duty articles.  It lacks the lightness and softness of sheep leather.

Sheep leather vs lambskin

Lambskin is the leather produced from a sheep before it has grown to maturity.  It has the same characteristics as sheep leather but to a greater extent, that is it is light, soft and requires careful treatment.  It is used in the production of high-end luxury articles.

Sheep leather with wool

Sheepskin is often tanned with the fleece intact and is used in this way for the manufacture of sheepskin jackets and slippers. The fleece is an excellent insulator, it is hypoallergenic, and it acts to draw perspiration away from the body.

How is sheep leather made?

Like all animal hides, sheep hides are transformed into leather by the process of tanning.  This can be done in two principal ways: chemical tanning, which is fast and the most widely used commercial process and vegetable tanning, which is much more environmentally friendly, but which takes much longer and is consequently more expensive.

How to dye sheep leather

Leather is frequently dyed before it is used in manufacture.  The aniline process dyes the leather in its entirety, preserving the natural beauty of the surface.  Other commercial methods of dyeing involve the application of a topcoat of dye which gives a uniform appearance to the leather.  If you wish to dye sheep leather at home, you will need to remove any glazing with a chemical solution before dyeing the leather.  Sheep leather is easily marked during the dyeing process so if you are attempting to home dye, you need to take great care and ensure you follow relevant health and safety measures.

How to clean sheep leather

Extreme staining will require the services of a specialist cleaner, but general grubbiness can be removed using corn starch.  Lay the leather flat and brush in the direction of the grain with a suede brush.  Apply corn starch liberally, leave for ten minutes and then brush out. When cleaning leather, it's advised to test any previously untried product on a small inconspicuous area first. 

Sheep leather conditioner

There are a wide variety of commercial leather conditioners available but because sheep leather is a soft, absorbent leather you should choose your conditioner with care because not all conditioners will be suitable. You should always test an untried conditioner on an inconspicuous area of the article before proceeding with the full treatment.

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