(vegetable tanned on the left, and chrome tanned on the right)
You may have heard the term vegetable tanned leather thrown around this site, and other places where fine leather goods are sold. If you already know what it is *HIGH FIVE*, but if you don't then you should probably keep reading. Vegetable tanned leather is one of the two major types of leather, the other being chrome tanned leather. Here are the top four ways in which they differ.
1. The Way They're Made
Vegetable tanned leather is made using the traditional method of plant extracts, usually bark of some sort, to turn the hide into leather. It's the slower, and more environmentally friendly way of doing things. Chrome tanned leather is the faster way of doing things. In this process chemical salts are used to convert the hide into leather.
Vegetable tanned leather can be dyed a variety of muted colours. My favourite thing about this type of leather is that develops a beautiful patina as it ages. Chrome tanned leather can be dyed every colour of the rainbow, and that colour will not change over time. That's why your english teacher's hot pink leather mini skirt, and matching vest look exactly the same as they did in 1982.
I like to think of vegetable tanned leather as being more like wood. While you don't need a saw to cut it, this type of leather is firm and structural. Chrome tanned leather is a lot more like fabric. It's soft and flexible, and can be sewn with a regular sewing machine.
Thanks to it's rigidity, vegetable tanned leather is great for shoes, belts, keychains, saddle, even cosplay armour. Basically if you're working on a project that requires the leather to have some structure, you should use vegetable tanned. It's very durable, and really fun to hand sew. Just remember to prepunch your stitch holes! Chrome tanned leather is often called garment leather. It's the leather of choice for jackets, skirts, upholstery, and even ass-less chaps. If you want to try putting leather through your sewing machine, then chrome tanned is the way to go.
(This is an example of how vegetable tanned leather ages over time. The piece on the right is brand new, and the piece on the right is about six months old.)