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Ostrich Leather – An Exotic Option with a Unique Pattern

When looking for different leathers for projects, I came across ostrich. I was immediately attracted to its distinct bumps. Its unique pattern mesmerized me, as the dots seemed perfectly spaced. Ostrich leather quickly became one of my favorite exotic skins. 

Ostrich leather is the hide of an ostrich that has been prepared for commercial use. It offers a unique repeating pattern of texture-rich bumps. The leather is durable while also supple, making it a luxurious choice for various products. Ostrich leather prices are $200–$600.

Knowing its characteristics is essential before using ostrich leather. I will discuss ostrich leather to learn where and why it can benefit a leather project. 

History of Ostrich Leather

Initially, ostrich leather was a byproduct of feather and meat farming in South Africa in the 1850s. After World War l, feathers fell out of fashion, and the ostrich industry began to decline. It was not until the 1970s that cowboy boots brought back the demand for ostrich leather. Since then, ostrich leather production has been dominated by South Africa and North America. 

Ostrich Leg Leather Hides - Ostrich Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Ostrich Leg Leather Hides

Characteristics of Ostrich Leather

Surface Texture

Ostrich leather has a bumpy texture due to the remaining quill follicles. These remaining quill bumps give the leather its iconic look and can be flattened for a more even surface. While that is the most sought-after part of the ostrich, other parts of the hide are smooth without any bumps.

Flexibility

Ostrich leather is extremely pliable. Its flexibility makes it an attractive choice for bags or other goods requiring bending. Ostrich leather does not crease or crack as easily as other leathers.

Softness

Despite having a bumpy texture, ostrich leather is soft to the touch. Its flexible nature makes the leather feel somewhat squishy. Areas towards the neck or legs of the ostrich may not have the same softness as the main body.

Sewability

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Due to the stretchy and uneven nature of the skin, ostrich leather can be more challenging to sew. Ostrich leather is extremely supple, which causes the material to bunch easily while sewing. Closely managing the tension will be necessary to get the ideal outcome.

These remaining quill bumps are what give the leather its iconic look but can be flattened for a more even surface.

Durability

Ostrich leather has natural oils that prevent it from becoming too dry, even with prolonged exposure to sunlight. The leather does not easily crack or wear, despite its soft feel.

Ease of Maintenance

Although ostrich leather is exotic, caring for it is no different than cowhides. It will need to be conditioned and cleaned using leather products. Ostrich leather may remain hydrated longer due to the natural oils in its skin. 

Colors

There is no limit to the colors available for ostrich leather. It is a chromium based leather which allows for endless shades or colors available. It is not uncommon to find ostrich leather in bold, and flashy colors that most other leathers can not be found in. 

Waterproofness

Ostrich leather is not waterproof. While small amounts of water may bead off when exposed, larger areas or areas left untreated can quickly darken the color of the leather.

Cost

The main appeal of ostrich leather is the body with the bumps, also known as the crown. These pieces can range $200–$600 depending on their size and grade. A lower ostrich leather grade may contain more undesirable qualities, such as holes or uneven dye. Ostrich legs are sold separately from the crown.

This leather is much smaller, typically under 1 square foot, lacks the iconic bumpy texture, and has its distinct scale pattern running across the leather. These leg pieces are much more affordable, starting at $10–$50 per leg leather piece.

Three Large Ostriches - Ostrich Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Three Large Ostriches

Pros and Cons of Ostrich Leather

Pros of Ostrich Leather

The most apparent benefit of using ostrich leather is its unique bumps left from quill follicles. However, the benefits of ostrich go far beyond its visual appeal. The leather is soft and pliable while more durable and easy to maintain than other leathers.

This makes it ideal for heavy-use goods such as bags, wallets, watch straps, and boots. The natural oils in the leather keep it hydrated longer with little to no fear of dryness or cracking with prolonged exposure to the elements. 

Cons of Ostrich Leather

While ostrich leather offers many benefits, it can be costly and difficult to use. The hides have an uneven surface due to the quill follicles. It can be difficult to cut straight lines as the leather tends to be stretchy. Sewing may also present a challenge as its flexible nature will make it prone to bunching, requiring constant vigilance of thread tension, especially when hand sewing. 

Production Statistics of Ostrich Leather

  1. Volume per Year – Over 600,000 ostrich skins are produced annually. Compared to other exotic leathers, ostrich remains popular and well produced. 
  1. Key country or countries where it is produced – South Africa is by far the largest producer of ostrich leather. They account for nearly half of all ostrich leather produced, with over 250,000 hides annually. Australia, China, and Israel are also large ostrich leather producers. Vanessa Barends-Jones, from the Western Cape Government, Agriculture, found in South Africa, smaller regions with ostrich farms and tanneries were significant for said region’s economy.
  1. Biggest exporting countries – The largest exporter of ostrich leather is South Africa, with most of their finished hides from local farms. Australia and China are also popular sources of this leather. 
  1. Biggest importing countries – India, China, and South Korea are the largest importing countries for ostrich leather. These countries have tanning facilities in place to dye and finish the imported leather. 

How Ostrich Leather is Made

Making ostrich leather starts after an animal is harvested for its meats and feathers. A. Engelbrecht, L. C. Hoffman, S.W.P. Cloete, and S. J. van Schalkwyk, from the Department of Animal Sciences, at Stellenbosch University, in Stellenbosch, South Africa, researched the different effects that ostrich lifestyle and age had on the final leather product.

They found the most important impact on ostrich leather production is the animal’s age and how the tannery processes it. After the ostrich skin has been harvested, leather tanneries produce high-quality leather. This begins at the raw leather stage, in which it is cleaned and prepared for the early tanning process.

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Ostrich leather is made through a chromium-based tanning process, as vegetable tanning can be too aggressive for the hides. After the initial chrome tanning, the ostrich leather is left in a crust state, allowing the implementation of colors and finishes. Depending on the desired finish, the ostrich leather is placed into a drum with the color and will have a top protective coat or other finishes added to create the final leather.

Cost of Ostrich Leather

  1. Square Foot – Ostrich is not typically sold per square foot but is priced between $18–$40 per square foot, depending on the grade of leather purchased. 
  1. Half Hide – The cost of ½ a hide of ostrich will range from $100–$400. The grade and area cut make a large difference in price as the crown of the leather is the most valuable. 
  1. Full Hide – A full ostrich hide can cost $200–$600, depending on the size and grade of the leather purchased. 
  1. Ostrich Leg – Often, ostrich legs will be sold separately from the hides. These pieces are much smaller, 1 square foot and under, and cost $10–$50.

Ostrich Leather Pricing Breakdown

Leather QualityPer Square Foot½ HideFull Hide
Grade A (Nearly Flawless)$30–$40+$200–$300+$400–$600+
Grade B (Parts of the crown contain blemishes)$25–$30$175–200$250–$400
Grade C (Majority of the Crown contains blemishes)$22–$25$100–$175$200–$250
Grade D (An A4 paper size area of the crown will blemish free)$20–$22$90–$100$175–$200
Grade E (An A5 paper size area will be blemish free$18–$20$75–$90$150–175
Ostrich Leather Prices

Popular Uses for Ostrich Leather 

  1. Wallets
  2. Bags
  3. Boots
  4. Shoes
  5. Cigar Cases
  6. Watch Straps

Tips for Working With Ostrich Leather

  1. Lightly tap down the bumps for a smoother surface
  2. Manage thread tension carefully when sewing 
  3. Reinforce the leather to improve rigidity 
  4. Use a sharp blade to reduce stretching 

Examples of Items Made From Ostrich Leather

Ostrich leather can be seen in various products from wallets, watch straps, shoes, bags, and boots. Cowboy boots, which are often made to be flashy, sparked the ostrich leather craze by utilizing it as an accent piece. Items such as handbags, however, take advantage of the leather’s natural flexibility. Allowing the creation of larger items with bends and curves without the fear of wrinkles or cracks.

This helpful video gives a better look at ostrich leather, its main area, and a few tips on working with the leather.

My Research While Using Ostrich Leather 

As a leather crafter, the two most important things when choosing leather for a project are looks and use. Ostrich leather immediately passes my first test, as it is a beautiful leather. However, after having a more hands-on look at the leather, I found areas where it might not be as well suited. I covered cutting, edge finishing, and sewing ostrich leather for this research. 

Experience While Using Ostrich Leather

When I first received the ostrich leather, I took time to press down bumps in the area I would be using, which helped create a more leveled surface for working. Next, I began cutting the leather. This is where I immediately felt a difference.

The ostrich leather wanted to stretch as the knife pulled along it, requiring me to hold it firmly and use my sharpest blade to avoid multiple passes. After cutting the pieces, they needed to be punched and sewn. Thankfully, flattening the surface earlier came in handy as I was able to keep a consistent punch line throughout.

Sewing, however, provided some challenges. The needles had no problems going through the holes but could pull on the leather causing the surrounding area to rise if I was not careful. Tightening the stitch was also difficult as I needed to go slow to ensure I was not causing ripples in the leather. Ultimately, changes needed to be made, but sewing was no issue afterward. 

Lastly, I needed to finish the edges of my project. I attempted to edge bevel the leather but found two issues. The first was that some of the bumps on the edge were making the surface slightly uneven, and second, the leather wanted to stretch as I pushed the beveler through it.

I decided to forgo edge beveling after multiple attempts as my results were undesirable. I then moved on to edge paint to give the edges a finished look. While this went okay, the slight raises from the bumps on the edges made the overall look uneven. 

Conclusion 

Ostrich leather may be more difficult to use than other leather, requiring a sharp knife and proper techniques. The stretchy characteristics of the leather can greatly affect cutting, sewing, edge beveling, and, I can assume, skiving. At the same time, the bumps may make the surface uneven, affecting hole punching and edge finishing. 

Ostrich Leather Care and Maintenance

How to Clean Ostrich Leather

Ostrich leather can be dusted with a horsehair brush or a soft, damp cloth for general maintenance of the leather. For a more thorough cleaning, a leather soap can be used, but it may darken the leather significantly.

Ostrich leather is not waterproof. While small amounts of water may bead off when exposed, larger areas or areas left untreated can quickly darken the color of the leather.

How to Condition Ostrich Leather

The natural oils in ostrich leather keep it hydrated and resistant to dryness. However, the leather may still need to be treated occasionally with a leather conditioner. A soft cloth should be used to apply in small amounts to avoid oversaturation. 

How to Store Ostrich Leather

While ostrich leather may be more durable than other leathers. It will still need to be stored away from direct sunlight and heat. A soft but breathable bag may be ideal for keeping it safe from scratches and unwanted marks.

Related Insights

Is ostrich leather good?

Yes, ostrich leather is considered a luxury leather and used by many high-end designers for its unique properties. Not only is ostrich leather soft with a unique pattern, it is also durable and flexible, making it a good leather overall.

Is ostrich real leather?

Yes, ostrich leather comes from farms that harvest the skin for leather. This can be seen when looking at the leather as it will contain marks left from their quills being removed. However, the ostrich leather pattern can also be found embossed on cowhide or other leathers to simulate real ostrich leather.  

Is ostrich leather durable?

Yes, ostrich leather contains natural oils that keep it from cracking due to dryness or bends. Although wear-resistant, ostrich leather will still need to be maintained with leather conditioners after months of use or as needed.

Is Ostrich leather rare?

No, ostrich leather production is healthy, as it is one of the most popular exotic leather choices. There are more than 600,000 ostrich leather hides made a year, and as the demand grows so will production. Currently ostrich leather hides can be found in a variety of leather stores, both online, and in person.

How can you tell Ostrich leather?

There are a few ways to tell if ostrich leather is real or not. The easiest is the texture. Real ostrich leather will allow the bumps to be bent and pushed in different directions, while fake ostrich will feel limited.

Visually these bumps will have small holes on top where the quill was removed that are too small to be recreated on other leathers. Lastly, embossed leather patterns are not natural and will repeat perfectly, unlike real ostrich leather, which may have a variety of spaces between its bumps.

Final Thoughts 

Like most exotic leathers, ostrich leather requires more patience and techniques. However, any crafter willing to work with this leather will find themselves with a beautiful, durable, and truly unique project.

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