How to spot high-quality leather goods

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If you want to know how to spot quality leather goods, there is no better person to ask than someone who makes leather bags and wallets by hand for a living. That’s why we asked Chester Mox’s Bellanie Salcedo to explain what separates good stuff from junk. The next time you are looking for leather, keep these things in mind and you are sure to come away with a quality product.

1. Look at the leather

Fine leather should be heavy.

Chester mox

This one might seem obvious, but it is actually very important to take a close look at any leather item you are considering purchasing. Beware of leather that appears to have been painted in a finish or if the material smells slightly similar to vinyl. If possible, pull and fold the leather. It should not show any signs of breaking or tearing. High-quality leather must also be heavy, due to the high density of the fibers. Lightweight leather is often of poor quality. More often than not, it will also be a bit spongy.

2. See the seam

Brown, Roof, Pattern, Amber, Orange, Tan, Peach, Beige,
A handmade saddle stitch.

Chester mox

After the materials, there is the quality of the stitching. Hand stitching, especially saddle stitching, is the most durable and aesthetic type of stitching. In this technique, a craftsman uses two blunt needles attached to each of the two ends of the same thread. When sewing, he will pass both needles through the same hole to create a knot. When the needles are pulled out, the knot is sealed.

Machine sewing is another story. In this technique, a needle with one thread hooks to another thread at the bottom of the machine. As the needle moves forward it creates a bunch of loops until you are done. This is why, when a thread breaks, everything collapses.

In saddle stitch, even when a stitch comes undone (which is rare), the thread does not come undone. In fact, if you wanted to remove the thread, you had to sit down and grab an awl (or something with a sharp point) in order to remove the stitches, one by one. This is a very difficult process and you will have to intentionally try to separate the stitches.

Text, White, Line, Font, Rectangle, Parallel, Drawing,

Image courtesy of “The Art of Handsewing Leather” by Al Stohlman

3. Be aware of burnishing

Leather, Brown, Textile, Khaki, Amber, Tan, Beige, Material property, Peach, Liver,
High quality burnishing.

Chester mox

It is important for leather goods to have burnished and polished edges. This essentially creates a shield to protect the leather from the elements. If the edges are not properly burnished or polished, moisture can seep in and cause rot.

The high-quality edges visually “merge” several layers of leather into one. Getting it right is difficult and only experienced craftsmen are able to produce such results. The use of edge stain is optional and does not affect the result of professionally finished edges. Sealing is important for the durability of leather goods, but paint is mostly used for aesthetics.

4. Consider the cut

Brown, Orange, Tan, Beige, Circle,
Cut around imperfections.

Chester mox

Depending on the type of product being made, the leather should be cut in a way that follows what is known as the “grain direction” (the direction in which the grain of the leather follows). For example, a bifold wallet should be cut so that there is as little resistance as possible at stress points. Failure to do so will result in a wallet with a lot of unnecessary stress at the folds, affecting how the wallet will shape and conform over time, as well as how it looks.

An experienced craftsman will also know how to cut a skin to avoid any imperfection or scarring in the leather. Leather is, after all, the skin of an animal, and it will naturally have places where the skin has been scarred or stained by flea bites, cuts, or fatty deposits. A leather craftsman should be able to cut the hide in order to avoid these parts (so that the leather goods at the end of it are completely spotless) or at least be able to hide these imperfections behind the lining.

5. Think of the thread

Product, Textile, Magenta, Orange, Lavender, Household supplies, Thread, Purple, Peach, Material property,
Each stitch should be flat, organized, and neat.

Chester mox

It is important to use good threads when sewing something together. Flax yarns are popular because they are made from a natural product (the fibers of a flax plant). They are strong, even compared to nylon threads, and have a lot of flexibility. Linen is dry and natural by nature, however, artisans should add wax before and during the sewing process. This ensures that it runs smoothly from the first stitch to the last, so it doesn’t create any knots or strands.

Waxing a linen thread also helps prevent it from flaring, making it a bit more elegant. Each stitch should be flat, organized, and neat.

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