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Essential leather

Leather or hide in general, is one of the primary materials used by humans since the dawn of time. In addition to wood and stone, which are part of the plant and mineral world, the bipedal ante litteram ecologist soon learned to exploit all the spoils of his hunt. Thus, he captured and developed the remarkable potential of the hides of the animals he hunted for food. And not just to wear protect himself from the cold.

The use of leather continued over millennia. Apparently, one of the first elementary uses of skinned hide was to cut it into strips to use as laces and straps of various uses. Our current shoe laces are the same product, just updated. And, surprisingly, until a few years ago the transmission belts in the engines were still made from leather, a material capable of extremely high tenacity. And let’s not forget the introduction of parchment, long considered the most valuable writing support for desks, and still of great value today.

“Leather” derives from the Latin “corium”, and from the Greek “chorion”: some products obtained from it were qualified with the adjective “coriaceus” and “coriaceo”, meaning, made of leather. Given the exceptional strength that it could acquire with a particular type of drying, extremely light and resistant shields and armour could be made. In fact, the word “cuirass” derives from “coriaceo”, which was that part of the warrior’s defensive armour consisting of shaped leather shells to protect the chest and back, with freedom to movement from the straps that connected them.

But the typical coriaceous nature of the material is not its only known quality: the root of the word leather, from the Greek “keir-ein”, means both “cortex” and “to cut”, or more correctly “implement that cuts”. The know-how that associates leather with its own workmanship is already written in the origin of its name.

In fact, the basic techniques for the use of leather date back to prehistoric times: a material that can be worked with very simple tools (still today!), it requires specific treatment to become soft, flexible and rot-proof, and to be preserved through the ages as evidenced by archaeological finds. This treatment is called tanning.

The etymology refers to styling and spoiling, which we can summarise in a sort of “mistreatment in order to make it better”. Primitive man discovered, perhaps by chance, that hides that were left to rot in water with particular leaves and plants were preserved for longer and also became suitable for numerous uses.

Since then, little has been added to this knowledge, if not the improvement of the technical experience and the necessary manual skills. Leather is an ancient material but with a very current use, whose production today can, for some stages of the process, involve machinery but actually working the leather is in the most part facilitated by simple manual tools.

Article by Marina Bani

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