As a crafter, I like to try out various budget-friendly leather types to find hidden gems. I recently wanted to try leather with a texture and purchased some cross-grain leather.
Crossgrain leather is an embossed hide with a diagonal grain imprinted on it. Undesirable hides are sanded and embossed to create a usable hide. Embossing hides the imperfections while also adding a protective coating. Crossgrain leather is relatively inexpensive, starting at $5 per square foot.
While crossgrain leather may provide low-cost material, understanding its properties is important to ensure it is the type of leather you want to work with.
What Is Crossgrain Leather?
Crossgrain leather is a corrected grain type of leather with a distinct diagonal pattern imprinted on it. Heavy defective hides, unsuited for standard tanning methods, are sanded or cut to provide a smooth surface for embossing. This finishing method creates a uniform leather surface with a protective coating. Making durable, wear-resistant leather.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Crossgrain Leather
- Crossgrain Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Crossgrain Leather
- Pros of Crossgrain Leather
- Cons of Crossgrain Leather
- How Crossgrain Leather is Made
- Production Stats for Crossgrain Leather
- Cost of Crossgrain Leather
- When You Might Leathercraft with Crossgrain Leather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Crossgrain Leather
- Examples of Goods Made from Crossgrain Leather
- My Personal Research on Crossgrain Leather
- Crossgrain Leather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Crossgrain Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Crossgrain leather is often considered a low-quality leather, similar to that of bonded leather. However, crossgrain leather is a corrected grain leather with an embossed surface. Depending on the tannery that produces the hide, crossgrain leather can often be more durable than other leathers.
History of Crossgrain Leather
Crossgrain leather is a fairly new type of leather that spawned from the boom in the leather industry due to chromium tanning in the late 1900s. Corrected grain leather was being produced, and embossing leather became popular. Crossgrain then began to emulate the popular pebbled and Saffiano look that other tanneries were producing.
Crossgrain Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Natural with a synthetic pattern imprinted on top|
|Surface Texture||Small diagonal lines create a bumpy texture|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||Crossgrain leather can be as thick as 12 oz|
|Largest Workable Size||Full sides can be made into crossgrain leather, being 25 square feet|
|Ease of Maintenance (1-10)||8|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||Decades|
|Available Colors||Can be produced in any color|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||$5–$10 per square foot|
|Ease of Crafting (1-10)||5|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Common|
|Annual Production Volume||216 million square foot produced annually|
|Biggest Exporting Country||South Africa, India, Indonesia|
|Biggest Importing Country||India, U.S., Spain|
In-depth Characteristics of Crossgrain Leather
Natural or Synthetic
Crossgrain leather is made from natural leather with a synthetic pattern imprinted on top. This makes crossgrain leather a top grain leather, as the hide has been corrected to conceal imperfections.
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The diamond-shaped imprint left on the leather has a bumpy feel, similar to pebbled leather. However, unlike pebbled leather, crossgrain leather is relatively rigid. These hides lack the luxurious characteristics that leather is known for.
Crossgrain leather is available in various weights. 3–5oz leathers are seen in small goods like wallets and clutches. Sizes 6–8oz can be seen in purses or footwear. Lastly, larger sizes, 8–12oz, are used for belts. However, this leather best serves lightweight leather goods.
Largest Workable Size
You can purchase crossgrain leather as a side. Larger sides may be around 25 square feet, but most will be found at 20 square feet or less. This is still a large piece of leather that can easily be used for multiple projects.
The embossed print on top of the leather hide creates a very rigid leather. Crossgrain leather’s coating causes it to feel like plastic. This means, similar to plastic, the leather will be very stiff and begin cracking if bent too much.
Crossgrain leather is not soft. It is a very stiff leather with very little flexibility and a plastic-like finishing top coat. Even when a conditioner is applied, the leather will not get much softer.
The embossed print on top of the leather can make this a difficult leather to sew. The stitching chisels may not form a perfectly straight line. The hard surface can also make pulling the needles through the leather difficult.
One of the top benefits of the plastic-like finish on the leather is its durability. The leather is stiff and coated to protect it from unwanted wear. The coat also helps make any items made with leather more water-resistant.
Ease of Maintenance
Another benefit of the plastic-like finish on this leather is how easy it is to maintain. A clean, damp cloth can be used to wipe away any debris. If a deeper clean is needed, saddle soap can be used with no fear of the surface of the leather being damaged.
Lifespan with Daily Use
The lifespan of crossgrain leather should be many years if not decades. The leather is tough and wear-resistant. The main issues are potential cracking as it bends or the item not being treated properly.
Crossgrain leather is typically chrome-tanned leather. As such, it can be dyed in any color or pattern. Though the most common colors are neutral tones, such as black, white, gray, and beige.
While not waterproof, the plastic-like finish used on crossgrain leather does act as a water-resistant surface. This leather can be exposed to short bursts of water without any damage. However, prolonged exposure will still be problematic, so it is important to dry the leather quickly.
The price of crossgrain leather may vary but is typically $5–$10 per square foot. This very budget-friendly leather can be a great practice tool when trying a new design.
Ease of Crafting
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Due to the embossed texture on the leather’s surface, crossgrain leather can be somewhat difficult to work with. The bumps on the surface will make cutting straight lines challenging and affect the ability to make holes in the leather. Crossgrain leather is also very rigid, making it difficult to push needles through.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Crossgrain leather is very prevalent and often repurposes imperfect hides. This leather can often be found in lower-end leather products, as it is cheaper than many other types of leather.
Pros of Crossgrain Leather
Crossgrain leather offers a fairly popular pattern that emulates Saffiano or a pebbled look while being budget-friendly. Equally, it provides durability and ease of maintenance. Requiring only a damp rag to clean most of the leather. Crossgrain leather also comes in various colors, not restricting creativity.
Depending on the tannery that produces the hide, crossgrain leather can often be more durable than other leathers.
Cons of Crossgrain Leather
Although durable, crossgrain leather can feel very different from most leathers. Ahmed Ibrahim Nasr, from the Department of Wool Production and Technology, Animal and Poultry Production Division, Desert Research Center, El Matareya, Cairo, Egypt, tested the effects of corrected grain leathers, like crossgrain. A large change in the leather was the thinned pores.
This creates an artificial look and feel to the leather. Additionally, it can be difficult to craft with, as the surface texture creates a challenge when making straight lines. The rigidity of the leather can also be an issue when crafting, as the needles may get stuck in the leather. Its rigidity can also create issues during use, as excessive bending can cause the leather to crack more easily.
How Crossgrain Leather is Made
Crossgrain leather starts with an imperfect hide. These hides usually contain large brand marks, scratched surfaces, and other sizable damage, making them undesirable for normal tanning. The surface of the hide is instead sanded or cut down to remove the top layer of the grain.
Creating a fresh and even surface to imprint. The leather is then dyed and embossed with a pattern going across the grain. Typically finished with an acrylic coating to make the leather more durable.
In this informative video below, Fenice guides us through the process of making leather and shows how leather is prepped before embossing patterns.
Production Statistics of Crossgrain Leather
- Volume per Year: Nearly 216 million square feet of crossgrain leather is produced annually. A small percentage of the 1.8 billion total leather is produced each year.
- Key country or countries where it is produced: South Africa, India, and Indonesia
- Biggest exporting country: The largest exporting country is South Africa, accounting for over 30%
- Biggest importing country: India is the largest importing country of crossgrain leather.
Cost of Crossgrain Leather
- Square Foot: $5–$10
- ½ Hide: $50–$100
- Full Hide: $100–$200
When You Might Leathercraft With Crossgrain Leather
- Crossgrain leather is good for products that will see a lot of heavy wear.
- It can be used as a practice material before moving on to more expensive leather.
- A great leather for projects requiring durability and stiffness, such as bags.
Tips for Leathercrafting With Crossgrain Leather
- Mark the leather carefully to avoid wavy lines.
- Use a silver pen instead of a scratch awl to see the marking on the surface of the leather better.
- Use needles with smaller eyelets to more easily sew crossgrain leather.
Some Examples of Items Made From Crossgrain Leather
- Key chains
My Personal Research on Crossgrain Leather
To better understand how to work with crossgrain leather, I purchased a small piece and tested a bag pattern that I was working on. Experiencing it firsthand, I tested how to trace, cut, edge bevel, hole punch, and sew crossgrain leather.
The first part of my project required me to mark the leather to cut out the pieces necessary. I attempted to use a scratch awl around an acrylic template and felt my hand bouncing out of place around corners. After tracing, I looked at my leather and found it difficult to see the lines I had just marked. They blended in with the bumps in the leather. I bypassed this issue by using a silver fabric pen that could be easily seen.
The next step was cutting the leather. The leather’s stiffness made it simple to cut, but the bumps made it challenging to keep short blades straight. I switched to my leather shears and found it much easier to keep a straight line. I then tried to bevel the edges of the leather but found the uneven surface caused bunching and tear marks. As a result, I completely avoided that process.
When it came time to punch holes, the first ones were the most difficult. Again I had a hard time seeing the stitching line I was to follow, but after getting them lined up, the others quickly followed.
Stitching the leather was fairly simple, though I must note the few times I got caught in the hide, I damaged the surface by pulling too hard. This was entirely my fault and could have easily been avoided if I had opened the holes more before each stitch.
Overall, my feelings towards crossgrain leather are mixed. It was not the easiest leather to work with, but with some changes to the processes I usually use, I did not struggle. As for the end product, I am not a fan of the leather’s texture. It feels closer to a leather alternative than to what I know as leather. While it does provide a beautiful-looking result, I can not see myself using it for more than practice.
Crossgrain Leather Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Crossgrain Leather
The coating used to finish crossgrain leather makes it easier to clean. Leather soap is the ideal choice for this, as a clean cloth can be used to scrub away any debris. Alternatively, warm water with a small amount of hand soap can be used. It is important to dry the leather after cleaning it to prevent cracking.
How to Condition Crossgrain Leather
Like many other types of leather, crossgrain leathers require specific leather conditioning products. Since crossgrain leather has a finish applied, the conditioner may need to be thoroughly rubbed into the surface before it is absorbed.
How to Store Crossgrain Leather
Crossgrain leather needs to be stored in a temperature-controlled environment, out of direct sunlight, and away from moisture. This leather is prone to cracking between the pattern, so proper storage is necessary.
Helpful Insights on Crossgrain Leather
Is Crossgrain leather real leather?
Yes, crossgrain leather is real leather. The top of the hide is embossed with a pattern to hide the leather’s imperfections, but it is genuine leather.
Is Coach Crossgrain leather soft?
No, although Coach’s crossgrain leather is softer than others, the natural characteristics of crossgrain leather are not overcome. It is still a rigid leather, with a surface that can feel artificial to some.
- Crossgrain leather is a good leather for crafters looking to test projects.
- Working with crossgrain leather may take more patience and different methods.
- Crossgrain leather is a durable leather that requires much less maintenance when compared to other leathers.
For some crafters, budget is the most important part of choosing a leather. Crossgrain leather is a good balance between low cost, offering an interesting pattern, and providing decent quality leather.
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