Bridle Leather - Explained
bridle leather meaning
Bridle leather is leather that has been worked and finished in a certain way known as ‘currying’ which gives the leather its distinctive look and feel. It is a type of vegetable tanned leather. Bridle leather was also produced to specifically make horse bridles in years gone by.
I use English bridle butt leather for my bridle belts so I’ll focus on this type.
What is English Bridle Butt Leather?
Premium Leather Cut - the butt comes from the part of a cow skin that runs down its spine (see diagram below). As there is fairly limited movement in the skin in this area, the fibres of the skin are tight and are not susceptible to stretch marks. This means a high quality leather. In comparison, as you go down the skin towards the belly, the skin stretches, becomes thinner and has stretch marks. This results in a lower grade of leather.
Vegetable Tanned - the initial part of the tanning phase is the same as other types of vegetable tanned leather where the skin is turned from raw animal skin to leather. The process for bridle leather changes when it comes to the finishing of the piece of leather and it goes through a process called ‘Currying’ which gives the leather it’s distinct look. I’ll explain ‘currying’ later on.
Waxy Look & Feel - you will see a white wax come to the surface every so often. This happens from how the leather is finished through currying.
Rich Colour - it has a rich colour on the surface which I’ve heard described in passing as almost patent like.
Smooth Surface- it has a very smooth surface which is achieved through the hand finishing techniques which are applied.
Strong & Substantial - when you feel the leather, especially when its cut into a strap, it feels strong, like it will last a long time.
‘English’ - the style, look & feel was originally developed in England for the equestrian industry with its hey day in Victorian times. Even though that industry has declined, people love English bridle leather for its durability and beauty using it more for belts and leather goods these days.
Image above taken from Leather-Dictionary.com
Currying - The process that creates bridle leather
Currying is a traditional set of processes using hand techniques to stretch & smooth the leather, apply colour and work in fats & oils to make the leather strong, supple and resistant to water. This also gives the leather its attractive appearance.
The bridle butt leather I use comes from JE Sedgwick’s in Walsall, England. The leather they use is initially tanned in Germany and they receive wet tanned skins.
Key Currying Stages - all hand techniques
Leather is stretched by hand slicking which ensures the surface is smooth and even - you’ll notice bridle leather feels smooth when you touch it.
Colour is applied through hand staining with a brush or by spraying for an even finish.
Last key stage is the application of a mix of fats, oils and waxes. They are mixed at their melting point and allowed to cool before being worked into the surface of the leather to nourish it.
What makes bridle leather unique?
The uniqueness of bridle leather to me comes from all the hand techniques in the currying stages which have been preserved over time. Bridle leather also has a rich history in Britain especially in Victorian England when the saddlery industry had its hey day.