In ancient times, survival depended on sheer agricultural and hunting skills, and the primitive man quickly discovered how to exploit nature’s offerings.
In order to survive the harsh winters, our ancestors processed the fur and skin of the animals they hunted into clothing. Realizing that their prey had much more to offer than plain meat, the primitive man began taming and growing animals around his household and specialized in manufacturing durable, reliable clothes from animal skins and furs.
Leather was lighter, stronger than fur, and it proved to be very suitable for clothing. Processing leather, however, took a lot of time and skill. First, the hide of the animal had to be properly cured, skinned, cleaned and dried. After curing, leather was treated with salts for preservation and sent to a tannery for further processing.
As leather obtained from wild animals, cattle or pigs proved to be very strong and compact, it started to be used for creating body armor, boots, saddles, hunting accessories and even weapons, such as slings or bows. Water-resistant leather was used for creating roofs, tent coverings or recipients and containers such as bottles or buckets. The mighty Vikings even covered their boats in leather.
In antiquity, leather was also a suitable replacement for papyrus or paper, as it proved to be a good writing surface.
Finer leather obtained from ostrich, lizard, alligator or shark skin was processed into more luxurious clothing and commercialized.
Nowadays, the process of tanning is completely automated and industrialized. However, despite the advanced technology available, tanneries mainly use the same techniques that were used in the past. Although considerably enhanced, the modern methods of processing leather into clothing, shoes or other accessories rely on the wisdom, knowledge and craftsmanship of the ancestors.
Depending on the type of skin, modern tanneries use three different techniques of tanning. Vegetable tanning is the oldest method and it uses some of the ancient ingredients for leather processing. This method requires a lot of time, but the leather produced is very strong and durable. Also, it is water-resistant, and suitable for fabricating shoes, boots or coats.
A more specialized tanning method consists in dipping the leather in animal fat and fish oil after it has been cured and dried. The oil is absorbed into the hide and the result is a soft, pliable material that preserves its qualities in any conditions.
The third method, and also the quickest, consists in treating the skin with mineral salts. High quality leather can be obtained through this kind of tanning in only a few hours or days.
Leather was once an important factor in the struggle for survival. In modern society, however, it has become a commodity and it not only serves for practical purposes, but also for aesthetical ones. Luxurious leather clothing or accessories such as gloves, shoes, luggage, coats, are very fashionable and highly requested.
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