I have been searching for a budget-friendly way to line my projects. While I enjoy lambskin and suede, some of my more rugged projects demand equally rugged leather. Pigskin has become my leather of choice in these conditions, as it offers everything I am looking for in a liner and more.
Pig leather is made from the skin of a pig. It is thinner, soft, and more flexible than most cow leathers yet also strong due to the dense fibers. Pig leather is porous, with distinct dimples that help the material breathe. Pig leather costs $1–$5 per square foot, a solid budget leather choice.
With a wide variety of leather choices available, let us look at pig leather and how it stands out from the crowd by exploring when and how to use this leather.
What Is Pig Leather?
Pig leather is the harvested skin of a pig that has been processed and tanned to create leather. While thinner than cow leather, pig leather offers a more durable, wear-resistant material due to its dense fibers. Additionally pig leather is porous, soft, and flexible. With this unique combination of characteristics, pig leather is ideal for heavy-use interiors or light garments, such as gloves or sneakers.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Pig Leather
- Pig Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Pig Leather
- Pros of Pig Leather
- Cons of Pig Leather
- How Pig Leather is Made
- Production Stats for Pig Leather
- Cost of Pig Leather
- When You Might Leathercraft with Pig Leather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Pig Leather
- Examples of Goods Made from Pig Leather
- My Personal Research on Pig Leather
- Pig Leather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Pig Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Due to the dimpled surface of pig leather, often it is mistaken for fake leather. However, pig leather, like any other animal leather, is real. The dimples come from the animal’s pores, and despite being larger than most, they are natural.
For those inexperienced with pigskin leather, separating it from artificial leather can be difficult. The key difference is the softness and breathability. Pig leather will not be as rigid as synthetic leather and, despite being dense, will feel light and airy.
History of Pig Leather
Despite boars being hunted throughout history and pigs becoming domesticated around 8500 BC, pig leather only began production in 1852. It was discovered to be an alternative to goat leather, offering similar qualities but at a much lower price.
Its uses began to be explored in the garment industry, making shoes, wallets, and gloves. Today pig leather uses remain largely the same, but production has increased. Pig leather is now the 4th most produced leather in the world and can commonly be found being used as casual fashion leather.
Pig Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Natural|
|Surface Texture||Smooth with dimples packed in threes|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||1oz (.4mm) to 2oz (.8mm)|
|Largest Workable Size||25 square feet|
|Ease of Maintenance (1–10)||7|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||20–25 years|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||$1–$5|
|Ease of Crafting (1–10)||6|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Common|
|Annual Production Volume||Around 900 million square feet|
|Biggest Exporting Country||China|
|Biggest Importing Country||Vietnam|
In-depth Characteristics of Pig Leather
Natural or Synthetic
While pig leather is a natural material that can be found without any added coatings, many tanneries that make the leather correct the grain of the leather. This addition makes the topcoat of the leather artificial, but the leather itself will still be natural underneath.
A distinct part of pig leather is the surface texture. While smooth, like goat or calf leather, the surface of pig leather also has dimples covering the entire hide. These dimples are pores from the animal and are usually packed in threes. Tanneries may often cover the dimples to create a smoother texture overall.
Pig leather is a thin hide commonly found in sizes 2oz (.8mm) and below. While this can limit the available uses for pig leather alone, it allows the leather to be much more flexible, adding to the overall softness of the material. Despite being thin, pigskin is durable and wear-resistant.
Largest Workable Size
One of the largest differences between calf, goat, and pig leather is the available sizes for pig leather. Pig leather can be found up to 25 square feet, almost twice the size of similar leathers. The additional size makes it a solid choice for garments or lining large bags.
A key characteristic of pig leather is its flexibility. Largely due to its thickness and tanning methods, pig skin is extremely flexible. Some of the earliest uses for this leather was bookbinding, where thickness and flexibility are needed. Today we see pigskin in garments that allow for complete freedom of movement.
Pig leather is soft but can fall short compared to goat leather. Pig leather has a slightly looser grain that can be felt; however, it is still softer than most leathers. It has a buttery texture, broken up by dimples along the surface. The back area of the leather will have the softest and tightest feeling grain.
Sewing pig leather is a very middling experience. The thin leather will make it easy to punch holes and pull needles through. However, the stretchy nature of the skin can cause the leather to pucker and fold when trying to tighten the thread. Once tension is dialed in, pig leather will not provide any additional problems.
Although thin, pigskin is one of the most durable leathers available. It is stretchy, giving the leather excellent tensile strength. In addition, it is abrasion and wear-resistant. Perhaps the most interesting characteristic of pig leather is its ability to be soaked in water without stiffening like other leathers.
Ease of Maintenance
Pig leather is a hard-wearing material that can see a lot of use without requiring much maintenance. The leather is scratch resistant, keeping it looking nice throughout use. Although not water resistant, pig leather will not stiffen when wet, preventing structural damage. Like other leathers, pig leather will need to be conditioned periodically to prevent it from drying out.
Lifespan with Daily Use
While pig leather may last a lifetime when properly maintained, the thin nature of the leather may cause it to wear within 20–25 years. Pig leather will benefit most from being used as an interior or with multiple layers. The leather is highly durable, with the thickness being its point of failure.
Pig leather can be tanned in various colors and textures added to the surface. Pig suede is commonly found on many sneakers, while smoother textures are used in garment pieces. The wide variety of colors, patterns, and textures make for a versatile leather that is not limited by design.
Due to the pores on pig leather’s surface, it is one of the least waterproof leathers available. Water will quickly soak into the leather through these pores and will not bead off unless an additional finishing surface is added.
However, unlike other leathers, water damage is limited in pig skin. The surface may change color, and the leather may dry, requiring conditioning, like all leathers. The difference is the leather will not harden, ensuring the leather’s structure remains the same. This key characteristic is the difference between a destroyed leather item and a damaged one.
An appealing aspect of purchasing pig leather is the price. Pig leather is one of the most affordable types of leather available, often being only $1 per square foot. As the quality increases, the pig leather may rise in cost to around $5 per square foot. Remaining more affordable than leathers used for similar projects.
Ease of Crafting
The biggest benefit of working with pig leather is the fact the leather is so thin. This helps with cutting and punching, allowing tools like shears or craft knives to cut curved shapes. Where pig leather becomes more difficult to work with is sewing. The leather is extremely supple, wanting to bend or pucker as the thread becomes tense.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Pig leather is common, being the fourth most produced type of leather in the world. Pig leather makes up nearly 8% of all leather produced annually, around 900 million square feet. This leather can be found easily at various leather stores and throughout the clothing and shoe industry.
Pros of Pig Leather
The pros of choosing pig leather are its affordability, mixed with its hard-wearing characteristics. Pig leather has similar uses to calf or goat leather, offering half the price at up to $5 per square foot. In addition, pig skin has great tensile strength and abrasion resistance, allowing it to be used with less maintenance. Pig leather also offers great flexibility and softness, making it perfect for garments or linings.
While thinner than cow leather, pig leather offers a more durable, wear-resistant material due to its dense fibers.
Cons of Pig Leather
Pig leather is a thin leather that can limit its uses when working with it alone. While supple, this requires additional structural material to be used when crafting with pig leather. The leather’s surface has a distinct dimple pattern that may not be for everyone, as it may look artificial. These pores on the surface also allow water to soak into the leather quickly rather than repel it.
As a result, pig leather is one of the least waterproof leathers and will quickly experience discoloration when exposed to liquids. A unique problem with pigskin is the lack of representation which confuses many.
Mohd Hafrizal Azmi, Fakhrul Zaman Rokhani, Raja Syamsul Azmir Raja Abdullah, and M. Iqbal Saripan, from the Department of Computer and Communication Systems Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, at the Universiti Putra Malaysia, in Selangor, Malaysia, has noted this issue as companies often refer to any leather as “genuine leather.” Since pigskin is sacred in various cultures, they note the inability to tell leathers apart online.
While pig leather does have a distinct texture, light often makes it difficult to see. As a result, they have developed a method to further the contrast in the dimples, allowing the leather to be recognized more easily.
How Pig Leather is Made
Pig leather starts with the skin being harvested by the meat industry. It is then salted and shipped to the tanneries, who clean and scrape the skins before processing them. The leather is added to a large drum with various tanning chemicals to preserve the skin.
It will be stretched and dried while repeatedly being added to various drums that may also introduce color to the leather. Alternatively, a finished piece of pig leather will have an additional coating sprayed onto the surface.
Production Statistics of Pig Leather
- Volume per year: Around 900 Million
- Key country or countries where it is produced: China and Mexico
- Biggest exporting country: China
- Biggest importing country: Vietnam
Cost of Pig Leather
- Square Foot: $1–$5 per square foot
- ½ Hide: $10–$50
- Full Hide: $20–$100
When You Might Leathercraft With Pig Leather
- When needing a durable lining material
- When crafting a project that requires flexible leather
- When making garments that need to be breathable
In this helpful video provided by Weaver Leather Supply, Chuck Dorsett shares how to line a leather project, explaining the benefits of pig leather and showing how to apply it properly.
Tips for Leathercrafting With Pig Leather
- Use a sharp blade or shears to reduce the amount of stretching when cutting the material.
- When sewing the leather, do not over-tighten the thread.
- Adhere the pig leather to additional material to give it more body.
Some Examples of Items Made From Pig Leather
My Personal Research on Pig Leather
After reading information on how pig leather reacted to water, I wanted to give it a shot. Before this, I had a pair of sneakers with pig suede leather accents. From my experience, I recall the shoes getting discolored and the nap becoming ruined.
The shoes did get stiffer, but I am unsure if it was the leather or the sneaker themselves. For this test, I will soak a piece of pig leather in water and leave it to dry overnight, noting the changes that have occurred.
Soaking the Pig Leather
To soak the pig leather, I filled a small container with water and submerged it. While I have done this many times, I typically fought the leather to stay down for a few seconds as the air escaped. Pig leather was different. It immediately began to bubble, but water saturated the skin fast enough to hold it in place as I pushed it down.
As expected, as soon as the leather began to soak in water, the color of the leather darkened. This persisted throughout the leather’s entire drying time. Once dried, most of the color had reverted to its original shade, but there were wet spots across the surface.
Although the leather had been soaked in the water, there was no noticeable dryness. Overall the leather remained smooth, with no grain showing signs of being dry. However, I would still recommend adding conditioner to pig leather if it’s exposed to water, as problems may be underneath the surface.
What I was most interested in was how the leather changed structurally when wet. To my surprise, it felt unchanged. It did not feel rougher, nor did any visible fibers look hardened. Although as I stretched the leather, it took additional time to return; this could be from some moisture being left in the leather.
While pig leather soaks up water much faster than others, the changes caused by the water are a lot less severe. The leather itself will become damaged, and the change in the appearance of the leather is enough to warrant protecting it. However, since the leather does not lose any structure, nor become stiff, if its appearance does not matter, it is the perfect choice for hard wear use.
Pig Leather Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Pig Leather
Cleaning pig leather should be done using a horsehair brush to wipe away all the dust and debris. Water should be avoided as pig leather will quickly become saturated. If necessary, a damp rag with leather soap can be used to wipe away stains left on the leather.
How to Condition Pig Leather
Leather conditioner should be used when cleaning pig leather. A clean cloth will have a small amount of conditioner applied to it before being rubbed throughout the leather’s surface. Pig leather may require less conditioner than others, as the porous surface allows the conditioner to penetrate more easily.
How to Store Pig Leather
Like all other leathers, pig leather should be stored away from direct sunlight and water and in a cool environment to prevent the leather from drying out. When possible, leather should also be placed in a dust bag to protect the surface.
Helpful Insights on Pig Leather
Does Adidas use pig leather?
While many Adidas products avoid using pig leather, a few exceptions contain sueded pig leather. Their Samba OG shoes have this leather upper, similar to other shoe brands such as Vans.
How can you tell pig leather?
The easiest, and best way, to identify pig leather is to look for the dimples on the leather surface. These dimples will be in clusters of threes and have a slight depression in the leather. When possible, looking at the flesh side of the leather may also reveal these pores.
Does Louis Vuitton use pig skin?
Yes, Louis Vuitton often uses pig skin for their bags and gloves. While most of their products will use their famous coated canvas, some highlights in their bags or lining may be made out of pig leather.
- Pig leather is thin, durable, soft, and flexible.
- The pores on the surface of the pig leather make it easy for water to saturate it.
- Pig leather makes a great budget alternative to goat skin as it offers similar qualities at a lower price.
While pig leather may not seem like the most luxurious choice, it is actually very comparable to goat leather. Offering most of the same characteristics while providing a more durable material. Pig leather will always have a place in my workshop as a durable budget liner.
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