Leather Vegetable Tanning: The Basics

Leather Vegetable Tanning: The Basics

December 10, 2017

Think of all the steps a leather bag takes before it reaches you. Definitely you imagine the leather first undergoing a process that makes the hides clean, smooth and ready to be made into leather goods: that's the tanning process. In Morocco, the leather tanning has been used and improved since the 12th century in Fes and Marrakech.

The process itself, if done in a traditional manner, is quit labor intensive and time consuming but it can shortly summarized as follows:

Step 1: The process starts by applying salt vigorously to the hides that are left under the sun for a bit less than a week to absorb the applied salt. Throughout this period, a tanner frequently applies salt to the hides whenever the already applied salt is totally absorbed.

Step 2: The hides are then placed within digs or pits to undergo the first step of cleaning from the the unabsorbed salt. The hides are now ready to be hand cleaned by an experienced tanner who uses a knife to manually remove hair and remaining impurities from the leather

Step 3: Hides are placed in other pits of mixed water and quick lime for a period ranging from one to three days before undergoing another cleaning phase in which tanners clean hides both by hands and by applying pressure by feet within the tanning digs in which quicklime and water are continuously changed

Step 4: Tannins can then be applied to the hides. Tannins used in vegetable tanning are all natural ingredients: extracts from mimosa trees and coak ork trees barks, vegetable oil, wheat bran to cite few examples. 

The whole process, which takes weeks to complete properly and the focus of skilled craftsmen, ensures that the leather used in leather bag making will age beautifully, developing its own patina and character the more it is used.