How to choose leather
There are different types of tanning methods for leather, most common being chrome and vegetable tanning. Tanning itself refers to the process of turning an animal skin into leather and whereas chrome tanning involves the use of chemicals, vegetable tanned leather uses natural tannins (using e.g. bark, branches, leaves). This process does not have a negative environmental impact as such whilst chrome tanning is not only bad for the environment but also for the people who come into contact with the chemicals. Good quality veg tan leather should last a life time and will develop a beautiful patina over time. Most companies use mass-produced chrome tanned leather because it’s quicker to make and therefore cheaper. Chrome tanned leather generally comes in more vibrant colours than veg tan but the edges cannot be finished by burnishing so they are usually painted with acrylic paints which tend to start to crack and peel quite quickly. A burnished edge on veg tan leather can last for decades. We use vegetable tanned leather in our courses.
There are different parts to a cow hide. The butt is the thickest and strongest part of a hide and the shoulder is also very strong and durable. The belly on the other hand is soft and stretchy and the weakest part. For this reason it tends to be the cheapest type of leather too. It could be used for making samples, prototyping etc. for instance but is not ideal for finished leather handbags that will be in constant use. You can buy a whole hide, a side, a shoulder or other different parts that are sold separately. You can often also find leather off-cuts being sold that can be useful for smaller projects like wallets and key rings. You can also check with local furniture makers/suppliers for off-cuts though do note that upholstery leather is often chrome tanned.