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Suede Leather – Unique Texture for Clothes and Crafting

One leather type I try to incorporate into my projects is suede. It is relatively low cost but has a luxurious feel that stands out compared to other leathers. I recently took a greater interest in the material, looking at the different types of suede and how they compare.

Suede leather is an animal hide sanded to create a fuzzy surface. Suede offers no surface protection and is vulnerable to water damage and staining. Suede utilizes the split of leather, allowing manufacturers to provide it at a lower price. The leather costs $2–$8 per square foot.

Suede is a highly versatile leather but requires planning for its use. Let’s look at the characteristics of suede leather and how to make the most of this soft material.

What Is Suede Leather?

Suede, or sueded leather, is any animal hide that has been sanded to create a fibrous surface, known as the nap. This fibrous surface provides a soft, fuzzy feel. Suede leather is made from the split side of other hides, making the most of what would often be considered remnants. 

To ensure the surface of the leather remains soft, suede leather forgoes any protective finish. This causes the material to stain easily, be prone to water damage, and trap dust and debris in the fibers during use.

What We’ll Explore

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

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

A common reason people avoid purchasing suede items is the fear that they do not last as long as other leather types. Often, someone who buys a suede item will see it get dirty and treat it improperly, causing the nap to lose its luster and the material to seem ruined.

Suede takes special care to get the most out of it but will provide similar longevity to the best leathers in the right conditions. Those willing to work around the leather’s faults often find the material can easily last decades while still staying soft, offering incredible value and providing a unique, luxurious feel to a product. 

History of Suede Leather

Suede was invented in the mid-18th century to utilize hides that would otherwise be wasted. The early way to do this was to simply flip the leather so the flesh side would become the outer layer. This further began to develop with the creation of women’s gloves, with artisans beginning to sand the flesh side to create a much softer feel. This would quickly encourage the industry to begin making more suede garments.

Since then, the popularity of suede has yet to dwindle. In the 20th century, suede became one of the largest fashion trends due to the material’s softness and luxurious look. Fashion brands such as Hermes made suede a staple for their products. With better ways to produce suede, it has become a very common type of leather that can be seen in various products.

Suede Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table

CharacteristicRating
Natural or SyntheticNatural
Surface TextureFibrous
Available Thickness (oz/mm)1–6 ounces (.4mm–2.4mm)
Largest Workable Size22 square feet
Flexibility (1–10)9
Softness (1–10)8
Sewability (1–10)6
Durability (1–10)6
Ease of Maintenance (1–10)4
How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)Decades
Available ColorsAny
Waterproofness (1–10)1
Cost per Square Foot ($)$2–$8 per square foot
Ease of Crafting (1–10)6
Rarity (Common or Exotic)Common
Annual Production VolumeOver 100 million square feet
Biggest Exporting CountryVietnam
Biggest Importing CountryIndonesia 
Suede Characteristics

In-Depth Characteristics of Suede Leather

Natural or Synthetic

Although suede may have an unusual look compared to other leathers, it is natural. The surface is created by sanding the area to create the nap. Suede can be made from most animal hides, including: 

  1. Cows
  2. Calves
  3. Pigs
  4. Goats
  5. More 

Surface Texture

One of the most attractive features of suede leather is its surface texture. Suede has a fibrous nap that is fuzzy and velvety. This makes it distinct from many other types of leather and helps push the leather as a luxury material. 

Available Thickness

Since suede is typically made from the split side of leather, its thickness is greatly limited. The sanded surface also contributes to this limitation. Suede can be found in thicknesses of 1–6 ounces (.4mm–2.4mm). The animal used to create the suede will also affect the thickness, with cows offering the thickness suede over others. 

Largest Workable Size 

The largest workable size for suede leather will be around 22 square feet. This is entirely determined by the animal used when making the leather. Small animals such as pigs, sheep, and calves often produce hides smaller than 15 square feet. Cow leather is often where to find the larger hides. 

Flexibility

With most suede leathers being fairly thin and the material offering no protective coating, suede is extremely flexible. The material will quickly flop when held from a corner, maintaining no real shape. This makes suede a great choice for items where movement is necessary. Alternatively, suede can be a good choice for lining projects without adding much rigidity.

Softness

Suede is one of the softest leathers available. The velvety surface with little rigidity makes the leather feel extremely soft in use. Pressing on a suede hide will also showcase a slightly sponge feeling. This quality helps keep suede popular, especially when used in fashion, offering items that feel as good as they look. 

Sewability

Sewing with suede leather presents some unique challenges. The material is often stretchy but cuts extremely easily, so making holes is not a problem — issues when sewing suede begin with the fibrous surface.

The hairs often get caught in waxed thread, making a project look messy. When pulling the threads to tension, the suede will want to stretch and pucker, potentially causing a wavy edge. Careful management is needed to sew suede cleanly. 

Durability

The durability of suede leather is mixed. On the one hand, the leather does not rip or wear over time easily. On the other hand, suede is extremely vulnerable to water damage and staining. Even small exposures to liquids can ruin the material. To get the most out of suede, items should always avoid liquids. The material can perform its best in these conditions, lasting much longer.

Ease of Maintenance

One of the biggest downsides of suede leather is its specialized maintenance process. Suede leather requires specialty products, as normal leather cleaners and conditioners will ruin the leather’s nap. In most cases, this will simply be a suede brush to remove most dirt and debris.

Hard messes and stains may become extremely difficult to remove as there are limited solutions. Water, soap, and other stain-fighting products are often too intense for suede leather. 

Lifespan With Daily Use

When properly taken care of, suede leather can easily last decades. Where most suede tends to fail is when the nap becomes ruined. This often occurs from moisture or spills that cause the surface to harden.

If the leather is properly cleaned when this happens, the leather can be rejuvenated, often extending its lifespan. Overall, the material is fairly resilient, but liquids must be avoided to make the most of the leather. 

Available Colors

Since suede is chromium tanned leather, it can be dyed in any color or pattern. Unlike other chromium tanned leathers, suede can often be quite vibrant, lending to lighter colors. Also unlike other leathers, manufacturers tend to embrace this quality of suede by offering it in a wide range of colors, not just earth tones. Colored suede can be a great way to customize a project with a personal touch. 

Waterproofness

Suede leather lacks any form of water resistance as the surface is open and left unprotected. This means any liquid that comes in contact with suede leather will quickly absorb into the material, most likely causing damage and staining the surface it touches. There are waterproofing suede products that can help provide a layer of protection to various successes. 

Cost

Since most suede leather is created using the split side of a hide, its cost is fairly low. Starting at only $2 per square foot, suede makes the perfect lining or soft material. The manufacturer largely determines the price of suede, as some may have a higher overall quality. The animal used to make the suede may also affect the price of the leather, with more common animals being the lowest cost. 

Ease of Crafting

While suede is offered at a beginner-friendly price, the material provides unique challenges due to its nap. The fuzzy surface makes it difficult to mark and can easily obscure guiding lines used for cutting and punching. Suede leather may also stretch, causing the leather to pull if not cut with a sharp knife. When sewing, this can cause the leather to become wavy if pulled too tightly. 

Rarity (Common or Exotic)

Suede leather is a common leather that can be found in a variety of products. At over 100 million square feet produced annually, the material can be seen in everything from clothing to upholstery. Since suede leather is made using the split of other hides, it is heavily produced. Many suede leather retailers and goods exist, allowing the public to experience this luxurious leather in many forms.

Pros of Suede Leather

Suede leather remains a popular choice for many leather goods. It’s mostly used in the fashion industry for its luxurious qualities. Suede can be quite versatile and is offered in various animal types. Some benefits of suede leather include:

  1. Soft, velvety texture 
  2. Extremely flexible and lightweight 
  3. Relatively low cost 
  4. Offered in a wide variety of colors

Ork Nilay, Adiguzel Zengin Arife Candas, and Zengin Gökhan from Ege University, Engineering Faculty, Leather Engineering Department, in Izmir, Turkey, discussed the benefit of using suede for garments and how other fabrics impact it. They found that the leather’s ability to drape is only limited by the backing fabrics it is attached to, showcasing how suede leather is great for creating breathable, flowing garments. 

Cons of Suede Leather

The downsides of suede leather are essential to know. As they often determine how the leather can be used. While suede is versatile, its weaknesses are a defining characteristic of the material. The cons of suede leather include:

  1. Extremely vulnerable to water damage and staining
  2. Limited thicknesses available 
  3. Requires specialty products for maintenance 
  4. Traps dirt and debris easily 

How Suede Leather is Made

Suede leather’s manufacturing process starts much differently than most other types of leather. Instead of receiving a full animal hide, suede uses the split of other leathers. When a piece of leather is thinned, the underside of the leather is removed. It is this portion that is then turned to suede.

To do so, the fuzzy surface is sanded and buffed down to help control the fibers. Ideally, they will be short and semi-dense, resulting in a velvet-like texture. However, depending on the quality of the hide, suede can feel more hairy with longer fibers.

Once the surface texture of the leather has been addressed, the hide can undergo the chromium tanning process. It is placed in a vat containing proprietary chemical combinations to preserve, soften, and prepare the leather.

The preserved hide will then be ready to accept dye and is transferred to a separate vat containing the colors needed. The freshly dyed leather is stretched and left to dry. Finally, the surface of the leather is brushed to restore the nap for shipment. 

Production Statistics of Suede Leather

  1. Volume per year – Over 100 million square feet
  1. Key countries where it is produced – Vietnam, India, and China
  1. Biggest exporting country – Vietnam
  1. Biggest importing country – Indonesia

Cost of Suede Leather

  1. Square Foot – $2–$8 per square foot
  1. ½ Hide – $20–$80
  1. Full Hide – $30–$120

Suede utilizes the split of leather, allowing manufacturers to offer it at a lower price.

When You Might Leathercraft With Suede Leather

Suede leather is both versatile and budget-friendly. Making it a crafter’s dream if they can plan projects for it. While there are many uses for suede, there are a few situations in which it stands out the most. 

  1. When adding a soft luxury lining to a project 
  2. When needing a thin, flexible leather
  3. When looking for a budget-friendly yet luxurious leather 

Tips for Leathercrafting With Suede Leather

Working with suede may be different than working with other types of leather. The nap hides markings, the leather stretches, and fibers can clog up tools during use. Therefore, attention to detail is key to making the most of this leather. Tips for leathercrafting with suede leather can include:

  1. Mark, cut, and punch from the backside of the leather to avoid the nap.
  2. Use sharpened tools to prevent stretching.
  3. Gently run your fingers along the waxed thread to remove any excess, making sewing cleaner.

Some Examples of Items Made From Suede Leather

Suede leather started as a material for softer gloves. Over time, its use in fashion only continued to grow. The standout softness of the material gave it a reputation of luxury, upheld still today. Some common items made from suede can include:

  1. Shoes
  2. Gloves
  3. Bags
  4. Garments
  5. Upholstery 

For a few examples of suede projects that detail the leather qualities and how they can benefit different projects, check out this video from Weaver Leather Supply.

My Personal Research on Suede Leather

Although suede is a popular material used in various products, it is often a leather that is ruined before becoming worn out. This is largely due to the vulnerability of the material and the unique cleaning requirements. To research, I explored different ways to clean stained leather and the side effects of each method. 

Suede Eraser and Brush

For all my testing, I used a pair of suede boots that have seen better days, tackling areas with stiff naps and stains. Since the boots I used were lightly colored, any product side effects were much easier to see. The first product I tested was a suede eraser and brush. This is a common suggestion when looking for how to clean suede.

I use the suede eraser and brush when spot-cleaning my suede shoes. However, I would attempt to pull out darker stains in this test. When rubbing the eraser against the suede, the leather turns a slightly lighter color from the eraser rubbing off onto the area. This is then brushed away, hopefully restoring the nap in the process.

During my testing, this did very little for deep or dark stains. The eraser worked okay for fresh debris but could not fully remove any of the stains on the shoes. The brush, however, is a staple in suede care. While it does not remove stains, it does break apart any hardened nap to restore the smooth feel of the leather. 

Suede Cleaner

One product I recently came across was a suede spot cleaner. This was an aerosol can that claimed to remove stains from suede. When I tested it, I sprayed the stained area and used a brush to remove debris. Initially, this had caused the nap to harden and darken.

After rubbing for a bit, I could remove light stains, but darker ones needed more work. I was also able to brush the nap back to a smoother feel. However, the suede still remained slightly stiffer in the area. The product worked for the most part, but I was unhappy with the patch of stiff leather. 

Suede Shampoo

The most intense product I decided to test was suede shampoo. As the name suggests, this product is made to saturate the leather entirely with soap and water. This is typically not advised for cleaning suede, but I gave it a shot anyway. 

To use the suede shampoo, I first had to brush off any dust and debris that I could before starting. Then, I carefully mixed the shampoo with water. This application was nerve-wracking as I had to cover the entire shoe with the soapy mixture. The leather immediately darkened, and the nap collapsed. 

As I began scrubbing the leather, I could feel the inside of the boot slowly becoming more moist as water on the surface seeped in. When I finished scrubbing the shoe, I had to rinse it free from soap, soaking the entire leather. While drying, I stuffed both boots with paper to help absorb the water and prevent the leather from losing shape. 

When the boots had finally dried, the nap was slightly hardened and flat, but the boots were fairly clean. The color had lightened up, and almost all the stains were gone. A few spots were slightly darker, but overall, the boots looked much better.

The newspaper helped keep the shape; however, the opening became slightly wrinkled. The next step of brushing the suede fibers back up made a huge difference, and overall, the suede seemed to return to normal. 

Conclusion

Attempting to get suede clean is no easy task. The simple, non-invasive supplies do not do the best job of eliminating stains. On the other hand, the products that remove stains have side effects and can potentially ruin the leather.

While the suede shampoo worked well, I would not recommend this process for those uncomfortable working with the material. Water and suede do not mix and can easily worsen problems.  

Suede Leather Care and Maintenance

How To Clean Suede Leather

Often, the best way to clean suede leather is to use a specialty brush. This low-risk tool easily removes dirt and debris trapped between the fibers. For stains and discoloration, a suede eraser may help pull up the issues. Anytime an eraser is used on the leather, the nap should be brushed to help restore it. 

How To Condition Suede Leather

Currently, there are little to no products for conditioning suede leather. Much of what is available will often have unwanted side effects, such as discoloration or hardening of the surface. Therefore, the safest method to keep suede looking nice is to brush the leather and avoid liquids periodically. 

How To Store Suede Leather

Suede leather should always be stored in a dry environment, as any moisture will damage the leather. Any liquids are quickly absorbed into the suede, discoloring it and damaging the nap. Heat and sunlight should also be avoided when storing suede. These can quickly dry or fade the leather’s surface. Ideally, suede items should be stored in a dust bag, as the fibrous surface attracts and traps debris easily. 

Suede Leather Mittens - Suede Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Suede Leather Mittens

Helpful Insights on Suede Leather

Is suede leather real leather?

Yes, suede leather is real leather. It is important to note, however, that suede leather is created from the split side, meaning the outermost surface of a hide has been cut away, leaving behind a less dense material. Typically, split leather is seen as a lower-quality leather, but in the case of suede, it can create a fairly luxurious material. 

Is suede leather good quality?

The quality of suede will depend on the hide it is made from and the manufacturing process. Suede leather is typically made from split leather, which is more fibrous than other leather types. A low-quality suede will not address this well enough, leading to a material that stands and falls off. High-quality suede will be much more velvety with a tighter nap, leading to a more pleasant texture and durable leather. 

What are the pros and cons of suede leather?

The majority of the pros and cons of suede leather are a factor in how the leather is made. Suede leather is left without a protective coating, making it extremely soft and breathable. However, this also leaves it vulnerable to water and staining. Overall, suede benefits from a low cost while maintaining a luxury feel, yet falls short in water resistance and is more difficult to maintain over time. 

Is suede leather better than leather?

Suede leather is much different from other leather types, but one is not necessarily better. They each have their applications and fit their own needs. Suede is soft and flexible but lacks water resistance. Other leathers may have better durability and water resistance but lack the same softness as suede leather. It all comes down to preference when using suede over other leathers. 

What happens when you get suede wet?

When suede gets wet, the liquids on the surface immediately begin to soak into the material. This will cause it to darken and potentially stain the area permanently. If the liquid is not removed, the leather nap may become damaged. When it has dried, the nap fibers will harden, making the surface feel crusty and require brushing to help restore the area. 

Is suede leather luxury?

While suede leather is often treated like a luxury leather, it is fairly inexpensive. The softness of the material makes it seem more elegant than other leather types. However, it is a common leather and is often made from the remnants of other hides. As it stands, suede is a great way to make a project seem more luxurious without the higher cost. 

How do you clean suede leather?

The safest way to clean suede is to use a suede eraser and brush. The eraser helps lift stains from the surface, while the brush restores the nap. Other products, such as suede cleaner or suede shampoo, can also be used but may have unwanted side effects, such as darkening. If the stains are difficult to remove, it may be best to clean the suede professionally to avoid damage. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Suede is a soft, flexible, and budget-friendly leather.
  2. Liquids easily soak into suede, potentially causing damage.
  3. Suede requires specialty products to be cleaned and conditioned.

In Closing

Suede leather is a popular material due to its luxury feel. It is a great choice for enhancing leather projects or as a bold standalone leather. While suede has downsides, those willing to care for the material will receive decades with this beautiful leather. 

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