Characteristics of Quality Leather


Real leather is a natural product. It breathes, is warm and has individual characteristics which make each hide unique. Leather will always bear the marks of its natural origin and these characteristics can show as healed scars, neck growth marks and areas of differing fiber density and hair pore structure.

These hallmarks in no way detract from the wearing qualities of the leather. They are signs
that discerning owners cherish when buying leather. With the passing of time and use, it develops a
patina which enhances its beauty. Many people enjoy a full grain leather sofa as it shows the natural beauty of the leather.


No two hides are alike and due to the varying grain structure mentioned below the dyes and
finishes penetrate to differing degrees in different parts of the hide to give an attractive variation.
While every attempt is made to achieve uniformity this is not always possible.

It must be remembered that no two hides are alike and it is impossible, due to various textures
and the requirements for at least eight hides to make a suite, to guarantee a perfect match.
Patterns, therefore, should be regarded as no more than a guide to the color.

Due to the unpredictable nature of each hide the natural variation that exists within that hide,
leather cutting is a skilled job. Waste must be kept to a minimum while selected use of certain
areas of each hide for different purposes must be considered.

In general it is normal practice to put clusters of scars or areas of rough grain on the outside
of the backs and the outside of the arms. Belly areas, due to their greater stretchiness should be avoided on seating areas. Tighter grained areas around the butt and backbone are favored for those areas receiving the greatest amount of wear. Ideally, leather cutting, to achieve an economical price as just described is not always possible and the tanner must try to minimize the variations whenever possible in his processing. At the same time the manufacturer through the retailer or dealer must try to emphasize the significance of these hallmarks and their positive contribution to the appearance
and performance of leather.

Leather now, due to modern tanning processes, has a much softer glove-like feel and maintains
its suppleness during the life of the furniture. Likewise cushions and arms are much softer and
luxurious, quite different from the older, firmer materials. The combination of these two factors
means that during the first few weeks of use, wrinkles and creases will form naturally in the
leather. These are quite normal and should cause no concern. They are designed into the
furniture and give it a soft inviting look which is an inherent quality of the piece of leather

These form usually as a result of barbed wire damage, disease, infestation or by the horns of
other cattle. In their healed form the new skin is as strong as the remainder of the hide.

Leather Marks - Scars
Leather Marks – Scars

Stretch marks appear in cowhide for the same reasons they do in humans. The process of calving
requires the stretching of the skin to accommodate the new calf. Nothing could be more natural.

These are an indication of the age of the animal and in that respect are similar to the graining on
a piece of timber. They range from often quite pronounced marks in the neck area to subtle
bands across the hide perpendicular to the backbone which are often seen on natural full grain
leathers. Heavy growth marks are often placed on the outside of the backs of seating furniture.

The fiber texture varies greatly from being loose in the belly and flank areas to being relatively
tight across the backbone. The looser areas consequently have more stretch. This variation in
hair pore structure is particularly noticeable in un-textured leathers. Other variations in grain
pattern occur during the life of the animal. Dung marks for example, which are a feature of
cattle kept indoors during the winter months, give rise to areas of rough or burnished grain which
can produce a matt effect even with bright finishes.

So that the steer will have the flexibility needed to move its head while grazing, the skin located
on its neck is full and loose. As the neck stretches and contracts, wrinkles naturally occur in the
hide. (Not unlike many of us.)

Leather Marks - Fat Wrinkles
Leather Marks – Fat Wrinkles

These natural furrows appear along the backbone of all hides. Again, due to the animal’s
physiology, they are your proof of a natural full grain hide.

Graining, like human fingerprints, is unique to each individual hide, and is the hallmark of
quality full-grain leather hides.

Although seldom found on finished furniture, the branding marks are a part of virtually every

Leather Marks - Brands
Leather Marks – Brands
* extra *Be sure to learn how to buy the best leather sofa that is made in America. In addition to the above glossary of leather terminology, click here for additional leather information
or here for Characteristics of Quality Leather.