Sheepskin leather, also known as lambskin or shearling, is a kind of leather derived from the hide of sheep. Here, we will look at sheepskin leather’s natural characteristics, as well as its benefits and disadvantages, and most importantly of all for leather enthusiasts, sheepskin’s ideal usages.
How Sheepskin Leather is Made
Unlike common leather, sheepskin is tanned with the fleece (or wool) intact. Tanning is the general process of treating animal skins and hides to create leather. This process involves treatment to alter the protein structure of the skin, rendering it more durable and invulnerable to decomposition, and making it ready for possible coloring (or dyeing).
Sheepskin is characterized by its fleece on one side and leather on the flipside. The side which is wool-lined is typically worn as the interior of apparel like coats, jackets, gloves and boots as it provides soft comfort and insulation. The wool interior in bags, purses or wallets adds more style and décor.
The fleece of sheepskin is known to have excellent insulating properties and it is also resistant to flame and static electricity. Wool has been medically proven to be hypoallergenic. Sheepskin also draws perspiration away from the body and into its fibers. So keeping the fleece on has its functional properties apart from just aesthetics.
The quality of sheepskin leather is determined by a number of factors, mostly whether or not the pelt – the back of the hide – will be visible. Better quality hide is where the pelt is visible, and there is little or no seed contamination. That’s exactly what it sounds like – seeds from briars and other plants get
stuck in the wool and embed themselves in the sheep’s skin, scarring it. Seed contamination is graded on a scale.
- No Visible Seed – seed contamination is not visible.
- Light Seed – slight seed contamination is visible, minimal and typically in the belly regions
- Medium Seed – Light seed contamination is visible over a significant part of the wool surface, concentrated on the belly and leg regions
- Heavy Seed – Heavy seed contamination is visible over a majority of the wool, especially around the belly and leg regions
- Burry – Wool is considered contaminated with hard seed. This level of seed can cause damage on the skin if not removed before fleshing begins
There are widely various sheep breeds and some will have very distinctive wool types. Toscana sheep that reside in the mountain ranges of Spain are known to have the softest wool and is classified as best in quality. They are also bred in other European countries (Italy and France), but the Spanish breed maintains the softest wool among all. Medium weight and densely-packed long-haired wool are considered the best quality.
Merino is lightweight and soft, with shorter wool finish. Merino wool is most popular in the production of knitwear.
Sheepskin leather, in its natural state, is typically very thin, at least relative to cow’s leather. Sheepskin leather is elastic – an attribute that renders it rubbery, supple, and softer in texture. This is also why sheepskin leather is a popular material choice for designer bags, boots, and light coats or jackets.
Another property of this type of animal skin is that it contains a natural temperature regulator and some form of moisture control. Sheepskin, to an above-average degree, is resistant to dirt, bugs, and mold. These characteristics keep your, say sheepskin leather bag, looking cooler and new for a long time.
Products Sheepskin Leather Commonly Used For
Because sheepskin leather is lightweight, many people find sheepskin leather to be significantly more comfortable for garments like jackets, coats, hats and gloves. Sheepskin’s elasticity likewise makes it an excellent material for wallets, purses, pants and skirts. Sheepskin is also considered as elegant upholstery and can be great for wallets, bags, belts, car seat covers and couches. It even makes a great lining for shoes!
Advantages of Sheepskin Leather
Lamb, kid, and sheep leather are generally softer and are very smooth to the touch. It offers the luxury of lightweight and supple comfort when you wear it, which makes this type of leather very ideal if that is your preference. Also, because of the breathable properties of sheepskin’s hollow fibers, sheepskin upholstery (and of course, apparel like jackets, coats, or gloves) will be great for summer and winter – it stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Another advantage of sheepskin is that it is flame-retardant. Lastly, another notable characteristic of sheepskin is that it naturally contains lanolin, a basic substance that is also present in human skin. This helps heal sensitive or inflamed skin. Furthermore, this lanolin in natural sheepskin gives it a self-cleaning or anti-bacterial quality, even when it is just hung out to dry in fresh air.
Disadvantages of Sheepskin Leather
Although sheepskin apparel is comfortable to wear, picking your sheepskin garment in the perfect size is essential. It has the tendency to stretch out over time, resulting in a sagging appearance. Being very thin and lightweight, sheepskin is not going to be as resistant to damage like tearing and staining. So time and effort need to be given in taking extra care of garments or upholstery made out of sheepskin leather.
Sheepskin leather couches, shoes, bags, or any sheepskin-made object that are exposed to heavy usage and/or harsh weather conditions may not be as durable as its cowhide counterparts. Most important to remember is that, while sheepskin leather naturally repels moisture or rainwater on a superficial (surface) level, it is not 100% waterproof.
How to Care for Your Sheepskin Leather Product
Caring for your sheepskin leather articles begins right after purchasing it and right before actually using it. You will need to treat your sheepskin with a leather protectant solution. However, you need to make sure you are using a solution specifically for delicate leather. It is best, though, to have this done by a professional. But if you decide to do it yourself, use a protectant in spray-form and avoid color streaking that can be caused by rubbing.
Cleaning your sheepskin requires a lot of care as we want to avoid darkening the leather. A dry, clean, soft cloth is all you need in gently wiping away a stain. Be careful not to scrub and do not use water as this will only stain your sheepskin. If you are dealing with multiple, tough stains or excessive dirt or grime, it is best to let a professional handle it.
To protect your sheepskin from cracking or drying out, a leather conditioner specifically for sheepskin is essential. Since conditioners may darken the leather, pre-test a small amount of the conditioner in a hidden spot. Use a white cloth and watch out for color on the cleaning cloth and any change in color of your sheepskin one hour after application.
Finally, how you store your sheepskin is part of taking good care of it. Do not cover sheepskin in plastic as this will cause it to dry out. Store your sheepskin in a cool, dry place and keep it away from direct sunlight. Use a padded hanger for your sheepskin jacket to keep its form and shape and free of distortions.
Sheepskin is rather unique among leathers. It’s softness and the addition of the wool gives it a much different look and feel than another type of leather. Leather from a cow, for instance, is much more rugged, even in its softer forms.
Where cowhide leather can present a strong, tough appearance and a feel of protection, sheepskin is more reminiscent of relaxing on a cloud. Because the hide itself is thinner, it’s not as durable as other types, but still rather strong. And the wool fleece presents an unparalleled level of comfort.
Many people are not very discriminating in their preferences for, or even in their knowledge of, leather. To this day, there are merely two kinds of leather for most consumers: leather and not leather. But to the true leather aficionado, there is a specific type of leather best for a particular item. Sheepskin leather is, truly, an elegant and classic material whether for apparel or upholstery.
It may not rank as high up as other leather types in the durability department, but it outranks a lot in the comfort and luxury arenas. Personal tastes vary as widely as the actual varieties of leather available. One thing is for certain: when it comes to leather and where you want it in your daily life, it pays to be sure and it pays to be discerning.
Other Similar Leathers
Lambskin, to be more precise, is a type of leather derived only from the hide of young sheep. Unlike regular sheepskin leather or other animal hides used for leather, lambskin is more delicate and the tanning process is effected more gently and carefully. Here are other leather types that are similar to sheepskin leather:
- Arctic Merino (Double-Face) Shearling
- Bella Toscana Shearling
- Chilean Shearling
- Corral Merino (Double-Face) Shearling
- Curly Suede Sheepskin
- Entrefino Shearling
- Florentine Merino Shearling
- Frontier Shearling (Double-Face) Shearling
- Ironed Sheepskin
- Merinillo Shearling
- Merino Shearling
- Merino Grizzly (Double-Face) Shearling
- Montana Merino (Double-Face) Shearling
- Northern Merino (Double-Face) Shearling
- Stone Buffed Merino Shearling