In the beginning


It’s always exciting to cut into a new hide – exciting, but a little daunting even after all these years, because the first cut influences how efficiently and correctly I’ll be able to use the whole hide. It’s a point of honour, as well as of economics, to make the most of a hide. I owe it to the animal not to waste it.

Cutting a hide properly requires reading the grain of the leather correctly. A finished item responds to the stresses placed on it according to how true the grain is. A jacket cut at 30 or 40 degrees off-true will sag; a bag will warp. Some mass market manufacturers get around that by gluing a fabric to the hide before using it, but a designer seeking to bring out the natural qualities of the leather isn’t going to take shortcuts.

In a swath of fabric the grain is either parallel or perpendicular to the straight finished edges, the selvedges. The grain of a hide requires a close reading because, of course, a hide is the shape of an animal, not a tidy rectangle.

I prefer daylight for examining the grain as I turn the hide this way and that on my big work table. I soften my focus and immerse myself in discerning the flow as the hide was shaped by the growth of the animal’s skeleton and musculature. The sweep of hide curving over the animal’s belly will be especially soft and supple, and it’s likely that parts will have been stretched during the tanning process.

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