How Much Do You Know About Leatherworking?

By: Zoe Samuel
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Leather is one of those curious things that, despite being literally made from animals, very rarely attracts the same sort of controversy as its more luxurious relative, fur. Part of this is because leather comes in an enormous variety of qualities, styles, and products that mean almost everyone has at least one leather product in their house. From shoes to jackets to furnishings to bridles to folders to bags to sporting equipment to artwork, there's leather just about everywhere. Sure, you can get the faux kind, but it just doesn't look or feel quite the same. Leather is thus pretty democratic: everyone who wants it can get at least some of it.

But just because you have leather things in your life doesn't mean you know how they were made. While millions of people knit, millions more embroider, and still more paint, not many people know how to work with leather.

This quiz is not for them. This quiz is for the tanners, the steampunk artists, the sculptors and designers -- anyone who can look at a piece of rawhide and mentally transform it into something beautiful, utilitarian, and unique. So break out that leatherworking expertise, because it's time to show it off!

What is tanning?

Tanning is the first step in making leather. Rawhide will decompose too quickly, whereas leather can last for decades.

Which country produces the most leather?

China produces by far the most leather. However, since animal welfare standards there are rarely enforced, the ethical consumer may tend to buy from countries with stricter rules.

Here's a gross question. Can you make leather out of human skin?

It's disgusting, but it's possible. You can make leather out of people. Just, don't.

What is vellum?

Vellum is very smooth since it is made of the skin of a calf. You can even get paper that has the look and feel of vellum.

Is there any color that you can't dye leather?

You can dye leather any color, though there are some colors that taste might encourage us to avoid.

What is lacing?

Lacing is a common way to sew leather. Since the stitching is going to be visible in some cases, lacing makes a virtue out of a necessity.

What is a thong?

Nowadays the word nearly always refers to underwear or perhaps a shoe, but originally it was just the name for a strip of leather.

What is it called when you sew a seam that has both sides exposed?

Saddle stitching requires two threads alternating. Its advantage is that if one later breaks, the piece remains durable and doesn't start to come apart.

What is skiving?

If you don't want bulky seams where two pieces meet, skiving is a good way to avoid them.

What is the term for pressing a pattern or design into the leather?

There are a number of different types of tooling, but all of them are about putting designs in the leather.

What is it called when there is a grain put into leather where lines are crossed?

A box grain creates a pattern in the leather that can be very attractive.

What is the term for when wet leather is molded into a shape that it will then hold when dry?

Cuir-bouilli literally means boiled leather. You can make leather so hard this way that it will serve as armor.

What does a currier do?

This is a specialist who, after the leather is tanned, does the dressing, finishing and coloring to make the product flexible, waterproof, and pretty.

What is dubbin?

Dubbin helps prepare and waterproof leather. If your leather is looking ratty, rub in some dubbin!

What is the process by which leather is softened by rubbing?

This has now become a very naughty word but originally it comes from simply rubbing leather.

What is leather called when it is hardened?

Remember cuir-bouilli? This is what the leather is like after going through that.

What is pebbling?

Pebbling is the result of using a roller, sort of like you might do to the surface of a pastry.

What is steampunk, as it relates to leather

Steampunk is a genre of science fiction but it's also a fashion now. It is characterized by steam engines, brass, valves, cogs, and loads and loads of leather.

What is a sleeker?

This tool does exactly what it says in the name. Leather can be rough and sometimes you want it... sleeker.

What is zug?

Zug is not the only waterproof leather, but it is one type of it. It's great for boots.

What is a spetch?

If you have a hole in your jeans, you need a patch. If you have a hole in your leather jacket, a spetch is the way to go.

What do you use to put lots of little holes into leather so you can sew it, as opposed to putting them in one by one?

You can also use a punch but that's much slower. A stitch wheel actually looks amusingly like a baking tool.

What is the name of cord that is made from rawhide?

Shaganappi is a Cree word that describes rawhide lacing. The Cree made bison shaganappi so good that it could hold an entire cart together.

What is riempie?

This is a South African word originally from Dutch, and refers to strips of leather used to make the back of a chair.

What is the tool used to run lines across leather?

A scoring iron is similar to tools used on other materials, and can "score" the leather to put lines on the surface without cutting through.

What quality does leather have after it is mulled?

That beautiful soft leather binding on your book may not have started its leathery life that way. Mulling the leather makes it nice and soft.

What is moellon?

Moellon is used during the tanning process to cure the leather in the first place.

What is a cordwainer?

Cordwainery means making shoes out of leather. If you don't have modern machines, then it requires remarkable physical strength.

What is the difference between painted and dyed leather?

Painted and dyed leather look very different, even in the same color. Paint may retain its own texture on the surface of the leather or even come off, whereas the dye is now in the leather and extremely hard to remove.

What is a very modern way to cut leather?

Laser cutting has transformed most industries that require precision like this and leather is no exception. Carbon dioxide-powered lasers can get amazingly detailed results.

What is it called when you use a hot needle to carve designs on leather?

Pyrography, from the Greek word for fire (as in "pyre") is also used for wood, and involves a hot metal needle. It can create intricate, precise designs.

Which of these is NOT a tool for cutting or shaping leather?

Veiners, bevelers, and seeders are all used to cut and shape leather - sometimes just making it the right shape, and sometimes "skiving" it to adjust thickness or the actual cross-sectional profile of the leather.

What do rivets and burrs do?

Stitching is not the only way to put two pieces of leather together. Rivets and burrs can do a beautiful and very precise job, though it's certainly the louder option when you are working!

Assuming the animals themselves are farmed sustainably, what is the most environmentally-friendly type of leather?

"Veg tan" is less toxic than chrome tan, which uses chromium (which is highly carcinogenic), or aldehyde, which uses formaldehyde. Veg tan is certainly the safest one to wear against your skin.

What does the "temper" of a piece of leather tell you about it?

The temper of the leather tells you about its hardness or softness, the way the "tog" of a duvet tells you whether it's dense or light.

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