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Lambskin Leather – Learn When to Use This Soft Leather

When learning to work with leather, I had difficulty choosing what to use. I often picked overly thick, firm, vegetable tanned leather because it was always the best option. However, when I began making bags, I needed a softer, flexible leather that could be used as a lining. I quickly fell in love with lambskin, which was everything I needed. 

Lambskin leather is the hide of young sheep. It is soft, flexible, smooth, and thinner than most leathers. Lambskin is ideal for lining, garments, bags, and wallets. However, it is not durable, and items must be treated with care. The hides are small and can cost $3 – $13 per square foot.

Let’s check out lambskin leather by highlighting its qualities while exploring tips on when and why to use this luxe leather. 

What Is Lambskin Leather?

Lambskin leather is hide made from young sheep who are typically under two years old. The difference in age results in a thinner and smaller hide compared to adult sheep.

However, lambskin offers a finer, more pronounced grain than sheep. Oftentimes containing much fewer blemishes, making it a luxe leather. These qualities make lambskin more suitable for delicate fashion products, as the leather is more prone to damage

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of Lambskin Leather
  • Lambskin Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
  • In-depth Characteristics of Lambskin Leather
  • Pros of Lambskin Leather
  • Cons of Lambskin Leather
  • How Lambskin Leather is Made
  • Production Stats for Lambskin Leather
  • Cost of Lambskin Leather
  • When You Might Leathercraft with Lambskin Leather
  • Tips for Leathercrafting With Lambskin Leather
  • Examples of Goods Made from Lambskin Leather
  • My Personal Research on Lambskin Leather
  • Lambskin Leather Care & Maintenance
  • Helpful Insights on Lambskin Leather
  • Key Takeaways
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Soft Tan Lambskin Leather

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

Similar to calfskin, lambskin is the target of ethical criticism. For those unaware of the leather industry, it is easy to assume lambs are killed at a young age solely for their hide. However, like most of the leather produced, lambskin is a byproduct of the meat industry. Lambs are not raised for their leather; their skins would otherwise go to waste if not processed into leather. 

History of Lambskin Leather

Sheep are some of the earliest domesticated animals. Their hides can be seen in artifacts dating back to 500 BC, as shoes in colder environments. This is commonly seen throughout history; as recently as World War 2, lambskin boots were being worn in combat.

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Since then, lambskin has made a breakthrough in the fashion industry. Continuing to be used to make shoes, bags, wallets, and other luxurious leather goods.

Lambskin Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table

CharacteristicRating
Natural or SyntheticNatural
Surface TextureExtremely soft and smooth
Available Thickness (oz/mm)Commonly found at 1oz (.4mm) to 3 oz (1.2mm)At most 4oz (1.6mm)
Largest Workable SizeLambskins are smaller in size, 7 square feet at most
Flexibility (1-10)10
Softness (1-10)9
Sewability (1-10)6
Durability (1-10)4
Ease of Maintenance (1-10)5
How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)About 15–20 years
Available ColorsCan be dyed in any color or pattern
Waterproofness (1-10)5
sCost per Square Foot ($)$3–$13
Ease of Crafting (1-10)6
Rarity (Common or Exotic)Common
Annual Production VolumeLess than 2 billion
Biggest Exporting CountryItaly 
Biggest Importing CountryItaly 
Lambskin Leather Characteristics

In-depth Characteristics of Lambskin Leather

Natural or Synthetic

Lambskin is a natural leather made from young sheep. It is processed by two main tanning methods: chromium and vegetable tanning. Vegetable tanned lambskin is the most natural way to treat the leather to highlight its characteristics. Chromium tanned, on the other hand, will allow the leather to become softer and can be dyed in various colors or patterns. 

Surface Texture

One of the most appealing characteristics of lambskin is its surface texture. The leather is extremely smooth and soft and is frequently used in garments or bag lining to showcase the material. Lambskin may also include small, tight grain patterns that add a slightly bumpy texture to the leather.

Available Thickness

The leather is thin since the leather comes from sheep at a young age. At most, you can find lambskin at 4oz (1.6mm). However, it is most commonly found in the 1oz (.4mm)–3oz (1.2mm) range. This makes it ideal for more delicate projects or as a lining, as the thickness does not present an issue.

Largest Workable Size 

Similar to thickness, the size of the leather is also impacted by the leather being harvested at a young age. Most lambskins will be found in the 3–5 square foot range, but extra large skins can be 7 square feet. Although its size does limit the project variety of lambskin, it is large enough to create a small handbag.

Flexibility

Since lambskin is so thin and supple, the leather is extremely flexible. A lambskin on the edge of a table will drape over immediately. As a result, creating more structured projects will require additional material. When used as a lining leather, this flexibility will not hinder areas of the project that may need to bend.

Softness

Lambskin’s softness is almost unmatched. It has a buttery smooth feeling that flows through your fingers. It is clear why fashion brands use this leather as a catalyst of luxury. Lambskin leather can also be turned into suede, which is even softer. 

Sewability

When crafting with lambskin leather, the softness and flexibility may become an issue. The material will want to stretch while being cut or punched. Sewing the leather by hand may also be difficult because it may pucker at the seams when the thread is tightened. When sewing, you would need to use less thread tension to keep the leather from bending.

Durability

Durability is an issue regarding lambskin leather. While it is still leather and more durable than most fabrics, it is also thin. This lack of thickness means abrasion can quickly wear a hole into the leather. On top of this, the leather is not water resistant and will be damaged with prolonged exposure to water. Lambskin is best described as a delicate leather.

An article published in the New Zealand Journal of Experimental Agriculture by A. Passman and D. C. Dalton compared the leather variations between different breeds of lamb. They found minor differences in shape and size, but there was a difference in tensile strength between the breeds. As such, lambskin durability can vary slightly depending on the breed of animal.

Ease of Maintenance

Like most other leathers, lambskin will be treated with leather cleaning and conditioning products. The only difference is lambskin will require less of each as the leather is thinner. This also means small amounts are required not over to saturate the leather when using any type of soap.

Lifespan with Daily Use

Lambskin leather has a slightly below-average lifespan compared to other leathers. It can last 15–20 years on average when treated properly and maintained. However, unlike other leathers, lambskin must be carefully cared for. The thin, delicate leather can be torn easily due to abrasion.

Available Colors

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Vegetable tanned lambskin will mainly consist of earth tones, blacks, browns, and whites. While the chrome tanned versions of lambskin can be any color. Chrome tanned lambskin can also have patterns or be embossed with different textures to emulate other leather types. 

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A Woman Wearing a Lambskin Leather Jacket

Waterproofness

Lambskin leather is not waterproof and is only slightly water resistant, depending on the tanning method used. Vegetable tanned lambskins will quickly soak in water, causing the color of the leather to darken.

Chrome tanned lambskin, however, will provide a small amount of protection but will need to be kept away from any water sources when possible. Regardless of the tanning method, it is important to dry any exposed leather.

Cost

There is a large variety in the cost of lambskin leather. The more budget-friendly hides will begin at $3 per square foot. These hides will likely be chrome tanned leather, with a thinner and smaller hide to work with. Premium lambskin costs up to $13 per square foot, as they can be vegetable tanned, thicker, and larger.  

Ease of Crafting

The characteristics of lambskin leather provide benefits and downsides when crafting. The thinner leather makes it easier to cut, but the softer hide makes the material more prone to stretching.

This is the same issue when sewing the leather, as creating the holes will be smooth, but sewing with too much tension could cause the leather to bunch. Overall, once learning how to work with a softer, thinner hide, the leather becomes much easier to work with than most.

Rarity (Common or Exotic)

Lambskin leather is commonly found in many leather stores. Sheep and lambskin combined are nearly 15% of the total leather produced annually. This is second only to cowhide leather, making lambskin a popular leather used worldwide.

Pros of Lambskin Leather

Lambskin is a leather that fills a niche for those who craft with leather. It is thin, and flexible, making it ideal for lining without the need for skiving. The thinner leather also makes it easy to cut with a sharp blade. On a wider scale, lambskin is soft, luxurious and the perfect fabric for garments and small bags, and when used for clothing, the material is also breathable. 

Cons of Lambskin Leather

The lack of body with lambskin can be a hindrance, as abrasion can easily wear a hole in the leather. This lack of durability also means the lifespan of the leather is shorter than most. Crafting with lambskin leather also presents unique challenges, as it is almost always necessary to reinforce the material to give a project its shape.

Sewing the leather by hand may also be a challenge. Too much tension on the thread can cause the leather to bunch together or pucker at the seams. Since lambskin only comes in smaller hides, the possibilities of what can be made with it quickly become limited.

How Lambskin Leather is Made

Depending on the age of the lamb, the leather must first have its wool removed and be cleaned before beginning the tanning process. The hides are then added into a large drum with tanning compounds inside, where they will be submerged and rotated.

This process preserves the leather while also softening the hide due to the fibers being broken down. Afterward, the leather will be dried before being dyed. Once the color, pattern, or embossing is added to the leather, a topcoat will be applied to protect the finish from wear. 

Production Statistics of Lambskin Leather

  1. Volume per year: Slightly under 2 billion square feet
  2. Key country or countries where it is produced: Italy, Spain, India, and Nigeria 
  3. Biggest exporting country:  Italy and Spain
  4. Biggest importing country: Italy and Vietnam

Cost of Lambskin Leather

  1. Square Foot: $3–$13 per square foot
  2. ½ Hide: $9–$32
  3. Full Hide: $18–$64

When You Might Leathercraft With Lambskin Leather

  1. When needing a thin leather
  2. As a soft liner for a project
  3. When leather is needed for a garment
  4. When creating a luxury leather product 

Lambskin is ideal for lining, garments, bags, and wallets. However it is not durable, and items will need to be treated with care.

Tips for Leathercrafting With Lambskin Leather

  1. Use a sharp knife to prevent stretching when cutting 
  2. Avoid over-tightening stitches to prevent bunching
  3. Ensure lambskin is reinforced when using it as an exterior leather 

Some Examples of Items Made From Lambskin Leather

  1. Wallets
  2. Gloves
  3. Jackets
  4. Skirts
  5. Bags

My Personal Research on Lambskin Leather

I have worked with lambskin in conjunction with other leathers, but never on its own. For research, I wanted to try using the leather without any supporting pieces to see how it performs, regardless of how thin it is. I purchased suede lambskin for testing techniques like cutting, punching, and sewing. 

Cutting

When first receiving the leather, a defining factor was its thinness. The skin was just above 1oz and felt slightly stretchy. This became apparent when I began cutting the leather. When using my box cutter in a pulling motion, the leather would stretch from the pressure I was using.

I changed to a rotary knife, and pushing the blade through the leather was perfect. I also used leather shears to cut round pieces, which became my favorite method for cutting this leather. 

Punching

When punching the lambskin with various hole punches, I found the leather would bunch when punching with tools that were too dull, resulting in an undesirable cut. Luckily this was the exception that only occurred with my largest budget hole punch, which has never been sharpened. Stitching punches had a unique issue due to the thin leather.

My stitching punches are tapered, allowing for a larger stitching hole. However, since the leather is so thin, only the tips of my punch went through. This is largely not an issue, as the hole is large enough to use for sewing. However, I feel it is important to note as it may change the hole-shape someone is used to seeing with their tools.

Sewing

Sewing the lambskin is where I encounter the most problems. When sewing a couple of lines for testing, the thin layer quickly wanted to bunch up, and I always felt my thread was too loose when I tried to avoid this.

I could get a stitch line in, and my tension was likely good enough, but it did feel much different than other leathers I have sewn. Thankfully, for my projects, this leather will always be reinforced by various leather/materials, making the leather thicker and more like other leathers I have used. 

Conclusion

Lambskin leather is a material that works best when combined with other leathers or materials. The lambskin, especially thinner pieces, can make basic tasks awkward. It is not difficult to work with but requires some changes in technique. I firmly believe that lambskin is best saved for a luxury lining or a project that will be reinforced by other materials. 

Lambskin Leather Care and Maintenance

How to Clean Lambskin Leather

Cleaning lambskin is similar to cleaning other leathers. It is best to start by dusting the leather off with a horsehair brush and applying small amounts of leather soap. Once applied, the soap can be rubbed into the leather in a circular motion, wiping off the excess after.

Since lambskin leather is much thinner than other leathers, pay close attention to how much liquid is added to the leather. As it can become quickly saturated, causing unintentional color changes. 

In this helpful video, provided by eHowAtHomeChannel, Aubrey Cramer demonstrates how to clean lambskin leather. He also offers various solutions for possible wear. 

How to Condition Lambskin Leather

Lambskin leather can be conditioned after it has been cleaned. Apply the leather conditioner to a clean cloth before rubbing it into the bag. It is important to work in small amounts to prevent saturation. When testing a leather conditioner, apply some to a hidden area to determine its effects on the hide. 

How to Store Lambskin Leather

Lambskin leather is delicate and must be stored in optimal conditions to prolong its life. Ideally, it should be stored in a dust bag, away from direct sunlight and water, and kept in a cool environment. Lambskin leather is prone to wear due to abrasion, so isolating the leather would be best.

Helpful Insights on Lambskin Leather

Is lambskin leather more expensive?

Lambskin leather has a wide range of prices and can be budget-friendly depending on the tanning method, finishing method, and tannery. When compared to other leathers, lambskin is similar in price to calfskin. 

Is lamb leather good leather?

Lambskin leather can be the best choice when used in proper projects. It is a flexible, soft leather that feels luxurious. However, it is not a “universal” leather. Lambskin is not ideal for larger projects or ones that will see a lot of hard wear. 

Which is better, sheepskin or lambskin?

Both sheepskin and lambskin have their benefits. Lambskin is considered a more luxurious leather due to its texture and softness. However, it does lack the durability that other leathers offer. On the other hand, sheepskin may not be as soft but provides similar qualities in a more robust leather. 

Does lambskin leather peel?

Lambskin leather should not peel. There is no correction to the grain or added surface that would peel in the production of lambskin leather. If lambskin is chromium tanned, it will scratch and can have holes created, but the surface should not peel.

Does lambskin leather scratch easily?

Yes, lambskin is a delicate leather that will quickly be damaged due to abrasion. It is not hard-wearing leather and must be treated with care to keep it looking its best. The delicate nature of lambskin also makes it more susceptible to holes over time.

Key Takeaways

  1. Lambskin is a soft, supple, and thin leather that comes in many colors.
  2. Lambskin leather is best used for smaller, more delicate goods.
  3. Lambskin is not as durable as other leathers, and abrasion can quickly damage the leather.

In Closing

Lambskin leather will always have a place on my workbench as a lining leather and for thicker pieces, like handbags. It is an incredibly soft leather that perfectly portrays luxury leather. It may have downsides due to its thickness, but this leather will last decades when taken care of. 

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