The Leather Tanning Process from Hide to Handbags

Pergamena is committed to ethical and environmentally sound business practices. The hides we use for parchment and leather come from animals that have died naturally or been raised for food. And all of our hides come from local farms and hunters. Our leathers are vegetable-tanned, a traditional and environmentally sound process, and we try to use natural and biodegradable dyes or pigments whenever possible.

The Farm

Picture a quiet, sunny morning on the farm. A herd of goats spreads out across the field, grazing and exploring. This herd lives on a dairy farm. Each one was born during the same kidding season, 6 to 8 months earlier, to allow the dairy goats to continue to produce milk. With at least two, and sometimes up to three or four, kids born to each mother, kidding season effectively triples the size of a dairy goat herd. The farm workers spend the rest of the spring and summer months caring for and feeding these kids until they’re nearly full-grown.  And while some are singled out as exemplary for their particular breed, the majority are a mixture of various breeds that aren’t well suited to producing milk.

Now that it’s finally autumn, and the herd has been kept healthy and happy throughout the warmer months, it’s time for the farmers to decide where to send the goats. At the stockyard, the hides are most commonly removed, salted (to dry them out), and then boxed up and placed in cold storage until several hundred can be accumulated to ship at once.

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Enter the Tannery

Though animals are slaughtered throughout the year, the fall tends to be the best time to acquire large amounts of goat hides. And, as a specialized vegetable tannery with the ability to tan smaller skins, Pergamena likes to take advantage of the season by acquiring as many hides as possible and turning them into leather.

Since the goat skins are raw, the tannery has some work to do upon receiving the skins before they can start tanning. First, the hides are cleaned up by removing the hair and excess material from the inside of the skin. Next, natural enzymes are used to break down and flush out as much oil, fat, and tissue from the hide as possible to clear the way for the actual tanning process. Then, using chestnut-bark extracts, the hides are tanned and rendered imputrescible – meaning unable to decay. Finally, after allowing the tannage to fix properly over the course of a day, oils are reintroduced to the skins to allow the leather to soften and become more flexible and pliable.

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Once tanned, the goat skins are still fairly rough, being uneven in thickness and retaining only the light biscuit color of the chestnut tannage itself. From here, Pergamena softens the skins up, evens out the weight (meaning thickness), and then can carry on dying the leather.

At this point, the true, natural character of the goat hide shines through. As a tannery that prides itself in appreciating the individual character and quality of every hide, Pergamena prefers to leave the skins as naked and unadulterated as possible. Individual scratches from when the goat brushed against a thorn bush, grain texture inherent to the specific combination of breeds, even healed scars from accidents or surgeries – all of these unique characteristics become evident in the finished piece of leather, marking the skin as the one-of-a-kind continuation of the animal it came from.

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On to the Craftsperson

As unique as each goat hide is, the chestnut tannage we use at Pergamena opens up the leather to be used by a variety of craftspeople in a numerous different industries. Accessories, bookbinding, upholstery, apparel, shoes – all of these outlets and more can use vegetable tanned leather to varying degrees.

Every designer that comes through the tannery has the opportunity to root through the leather in search of the exact piece they need. Once that individual or bunch of skins is found, the crafter can return to their studio and immediately begin using the hide; cutting, punching, waxing, sewing, skiving, embossing, even gluing.

However a designer, manufacturer, or craftsperson wants to use the leather, the vegetable tannage is designed to yield a soft, workable, and strong material that will age and wear to each individual user over the course of decades.

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