Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pink Pigs and Purple cows

Pink pigs and purple cows sounds like one of those trippy songs of the 60's. But, it also reminds me of when I was a kid and drawing in the lines was not all that important. I could choose any color from my crayon box to color my world. Trees could be orange and there were pink pigs and purple cows ( the pink cows made strawberry milk and brown cows gave us chocolate milk). So what does pink pigs and purple cows have to do with cleaning? Well, we all agree in the real world - there are no pink pigs and purple cows - so all leather is dyed.Leather is animal skin - so since no pink, green, blue, purple, brown, grey or any other of those 164 colors in the crayon box exist in our animal friends - all leather is dyed.

What types of animals are used to make leather?
The most common is pig skin. One of the ways to tell if a leather is pig skin is by the pores visible on the skin. When looking at the skin you will notice tiny holes on the surface. Pig skin can be used to make leather or suede. (difference between leather and suede - which side of the skin that was used) It is the most common and the usually the least expensive leather.

Sheep - you are probably thinking - What wool is leather? Nope. Wool is a fiber. Wool is the sheared hair from the sheep, cleaned and spun into yarn. But there are sheepskin jackets with the hair attached to the skin. But the skin can also be used to make leather items.

Goat - yep. The skin is pretty tough and thick. It is not very commonly used to make clothing but is excellent for light weight tough clothing like motorcycle wear.

Cow - you've seen cow hide rugs ( come one this is Texas) But cow hide is used for clothing too. Cow hide is very thick - so it is split to to reduce the thickness. But, as the thickness is reduced so is the strength. That is why the rug can take decades of feet walking all over it and your jacket cannot. The most supple and most expensive of the cow skins is calf skin.

Fish - yep even fish are made into leather. No you don't walk around wearing those fish scales - but the skin does keep the imprint of the scales.But, knowing those crazy designers maybe the skin and scales will be the next big thing. Carp is the most common fish used to make leather or suede trims. One small problem with fish - they stink. So never wear your fish in inclement weather - you will smell - well fishy!

So since we all agree - no pink pigs and purple cows - how does leather get all those colors and what color is leather ? OK leather is skin - so it is the color of dried skin - YUCK! But there ya go - it is an unappealing color in it's natural state. So all leather is dyed. Yes, you read that correctly all leather is dyed. But unlike fibers, the dye in leather may not be set. ( remember the earlier blog about salt setting dyes - salt + leather = disaster) So when leather is cleaned it must be re-dyed after cleaning. The leather cleaners has to match the leather garment you have to swatches to re-dye after cleaning.

How do you know if what you have is leather, suede or man -made? Check the label . Real leather will say "Clean by leather method only". But you can also check the backside of the garment. Leather is skin and so the backside of the leather will look like skin. You can check this by peeping under the lining. Man made leathers have a material back and no imperfections. While not required, most garments will have a content label. The content label will say something like 50% cotton 20% acetate etc. A man made leather will say vinyl, nylon or polyester. A real leather will say leather. It will not identify the animal. But it will say leather.

So how is leather cleaned? Very carefully! First before cleaning it is dye matched. Since the dye may not be set - the leather cleaner must match the dye before cleaning to restore it to the original color after cleaning. Is this always possible - honestly no - but every leather cleaner tries their best to return the garment to the original color. There are some stains and spills that can cause permanent damage to leather. Perspiration can discolor or harden the leather. Some ink cannot be completely removed. Oil stains can discolor the leather. Ground in dirt may not be completely removed with out damaging the skin. Blood stains may not be completely removed. Beer and alcohol can cause permanent color damage. Never use a pin on leather ( the hole will not go away unlike cloth) and don't ever put those "Hello my name is" tags on your leather jacket. Better to be incognito than damage your leather.

Leather is skin and skin needs moisturizer. DO NOT PUT YOUR FACE CREAM ON THE LEATHER. The leather cleaner has a specific solvent designed to maintain the garments original appearance. This solvent puts moisturizer back into the skin while cleaning. YOU CANNOT DO THIS YOURSELF. I don't want to hear that some of you heard me say skin needs moisturizer and then slather the stuff yourself all over your jacket.NO NO NO ! But, your leathers and furs are skin - so you must have them cleaned and moisturized - I recommend annually. If you don't have them cleaned - stains will set and the leather or skin may crack . Both will make your leather unusable. But once a leather or fur skin cracks - it's a goner.

Leather is tanned and stretched during the manufacturing process. Therefore, after cleaning leather needs to be re-stretched. But excessive shrinkage can occur after cleaning because excessive tension was used during the manufacturing. Always buy leathers and suede slightly larger to compensate for shrinkage.

Now , lets talk about a typical day in the life of a cow. (I know how this sounds but just go with it ) Mabel( that's our cow) is out in the pasture munching on grass ( well green ground cover that we will refer to as grass - not the stuff in your lawn) . Mabel is wondering along munching away,looking at the ground and then oops she trips over a rock. OUCH! The rock gave her a knock on the knee ( or whatever you call it on a cow). But the ever intrepid Mabel ,shakes it of and keeps moving on. Then Mabel( not the brightest cow in the herd) runs into the barbed wire fence. OUCH! That will cause a scar. But hey Mabel will not be deterred - so off she goes munching along. But poor Mabel now has a couple of bruises and pretty big gash that once it heals will scar. Oh well - Mabel doesn't really care since she already has her bull. Yep, Mabel is a mom to be and whoa - here comes the calf "Hazel". So now Mabel is bruised,scarred and damn she is going to have those stretch marks we ( human ladies) try so hard to get rid of. But hey Mabel is a cow and she already has her bull - so stretch marks - no biggie. So the point of the day in the life of Mabel. If Mabel is your jacket - those bruises,scars, and stretch marks may be disguised during manufacturing but after cleaning may become more visable. Skin , unlike fabric, is not uniform. No leather is perfect. So there can be belly wrinkles, stretch marks, scars bruises, darker or lighter areas ,vein marks and texture variances. After cleaning all of this may be more visible - let's face if you are wearing it - your jacket was probably not the brightest cow in the herd either.

Let's talk salt ( not the Angelina Jolie movie) but Na Cl. ( My high school chem teacher is now beaming with pride - yes, she really did learn something)Salt is not used in the cleaning or manufacturing of leather because it can cause staining of the skin or permanent damage. Salt can be found in food, drinks, urine, deodorants, ice melt and you ( perspiration). Salt will continually absorb moisture from the atmosphere , thus keeping the stained area of the leather damp. The salt stained area can discolor the leather.Salt can also shrink, stiffen and even crack the leather.

No salt = no set dyes. Beware the multi colored leather. Beware the dark leather on the light fabric. If the dye is not set - the dye will bleed. Can the dye be set - of course but chances are is not . So I'm saying if you want a multi-colored leather or a dark and light leather or suede combination - DO NOT SPEND MUCH ON IT. This is a garment you will wear and eventually just throw away. If properly made , they can be cleaned and no problems. But lets be honest they aren't properly made any more - so avoid these or be prepared to wear and toss.

Varsity jackets are not usually leather. The sleeves are normally vinyl. These have their own set of issues. But that's for another day.

So what have we learned. To quote the little mice from the movie "Babe" - "Pigs are stupid." OK maybe we didn't learn that - but pigs are not pink. Cows are not brown. Just because they spent their life in pasture doesn't mean your coat can too. Mabel didn't care what she looked like - but you care what she looks like once she's your jacket. Leather is tough and delicate. It requires specific care. The cleaning process is intricate and longer that regular dry cleaning or washing. Leather care is more expensive than regular dry cleaning. So when you look at a leather jacket ,coat, skirt or rug - remember the cost of cleaning . Never buy anything you cannot afford to maintain. Unless - you get it cheap enough to wear and throw away. But don't you just wish there really were pink pigs and purple cows?