Lambskin vs Sheepskin Leather

What is Sheepskin Leather [Definitive Guide]?

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Sheepskin is a type of leather with numerous applications but little used today, whose origins date back several centuries. Sheepskin, also known as "shearling", refers to leather made from sheepskin, provided that the skin and wool are intact. If the latter is removed, it is called "sheep leather" or "lamb leather" if a young lamb is used.

Let's dive into the woolly world of this material and discover what are its uses, origins and differences with other types of leather such as lambskin, lamb leather or sheep leather. 

In this guide, you’ll learn: 

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What Is Sheepskin Leather? 🐑

Sheepskin, also sometimes known as "shearling", is a type of leather made from the tanned skin of sheep, an animal belonging to the ovine family. It is different from other types of leather because the wool is often preserved, giving it a very different final look. 

sheepskin shearling leather hide

A whole sheepskin, washable. 8 October 2006, 14:12, Dina Wakulchik from Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (CC BY-SA 2.0)

How Sheepskin Leather is Made? ✂

Sheepskin is therefore produced using the traditional tanning process, which, by modifying the protein structure of the hide, preserves the main characteristics of the animal's hide over time, preventing it from degrading and rotting.

It is thanks to the tanning process that we go from a skin to a leather, which can then be treated, dyed and used in the manufacture of finished products. 

During this process, when applied to Sheepskin, the wool is often retained to serve as a thermal reinforcement when worn inside a jacket or clothing accessory. Present only on one side of the leather, the "flesh-side" being virgin, it can be used as an interior or exterior coating.

When the wool is preserved, we call this rendering "shearling". However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, for various considerations (breeds producing wool of average quality, desire to get closer to the aesthetic rendering of cowhide), we choose to remove the wool during the pre-tanning stage. The final result will then be called "nappalan".

Wool is a material with exceptional properties, used for thousands of years. It is naturally insulating, fireproof, hypoallergenic and allows perspiration to be easily evacuated by capillary action. The current industry even offers synthetic shearling, which have nothing to do in terms of quality, which can be found under the name of "sherpa".

📷 Credit: Peasantartcraft's Youtube Channel

Is Sheepskin Leather of Good Quality? 🏅

Sheepskin is naturally a good quality leather because it is 100% natural and not modified or mixed with other natural or chemical elements. However, not all Sheepskin is of equal quality, and this depends on the life of the sheep. 

It is also important to note that the quality of the leather will depend on the location of the skin used. Indeed, if the pelt is used, the quality will be higher than if belly parts are used. Why? Because the sheep lived!

Indeed, one of the first criteria of quality of Sheepskin concerns its "seed contamination" of brambles or other plants that the sheep may have been in contact with during its life. These seeds easily attach themselves to the wool fibers, even becoming embedded in the sheep's skin by friction, leaving scars and damaging the skin. These traces of scar tissue remain and can either fall off during tanning and create decompressions in the leather, or remain and create permanent imperfections.

To determine the quality of the skin, the skin should be examined closely and the following scale should be used: 

  • No seed contamination: no traces are visible on the skin of the sheep
  • Light seed contamination: some light traces are visible, scattered and on small portions, most often on the belly of the animal
  • Medium seed contamination: the traces are visible on larger portions and are no longer restricted to the belly of the animal but can also touch the legs
  • Heavy seed contamination: the traces are visible on the majority of the animal, on the belly and the legs.
  • Burry: The traces of contamination concern hard seeds and must imperatively be removed by hand with any treatment process of the skin.

Another factor determining the quality of the leather is of course the origin of the animal's breed. Some breeds produce better quality wool. This is the case of the Toscana sheep found in the Italian Alps but also of the Merinos, which are known for the softness and fineness of their wool.

Their wool is sought after for its fineness and whiteness, which comes from a complex crossbreeding over the centuries, making merino sheep a so-called "pure" breed. These sheep are not the only species to produce quality wool. Some species found in the Mediterranean basin offer high quality sheepskin.

The production, formerly concentrated near the farms, is however delocalized. Today 90% of the Merino wool is produced in Australia in huge farms.

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How do you Identify Sheepskin Leather? 🔎

While it seems easy to recognize the Sheepskin to the presence of wool on the leather, it seems interesting to us to give you some advice to recognize this leather and differentiate it from alternatives or imitations. 

The Smell of Sheepskin Leather 👃

If you smell oils, chemicals or other related odors when you handle a Sheepskin, it is of average quality. In fact, a properly treated and tanned Sheepskin has no residual odor. This is a good first indication of the quality of the leather. 

The Weight of Sheepskin Leather ⚖

Quality Sheepskin is lighter because it is produced from the breeds we looked at earlier that produce lighter wool with finer fibers and a skin that offers a finer grain. 

The Grain of Sheepskin Leather 🤲

The finer the grain, the better the quality of the leather. Indeed, a fine grain offers a better density of wool and thus a more homogeneous rendering and pleasant touch. 

The Softness of Sheepskin Leather 🌬

The fine grain, the lightness of the wool and its fineness give the material an extremely silky and soft touch, so that if you wear it on you, either on a garment or in direct contact with the skin, it will not cause you any discomfort.

The Durability of Sheepskin Leather 💪

Sheepskin is a quality leather. If it meets the conditions listed above, it can last for decades, provided it is treated with care. If you notice on examination that the skin is scarred and the wool shows signs of contamination, do not expect to wear it for a lifetime. 

Colors of Sheepskin Leather 🖌

Many colors are available today, especially through dyeing processes. If we refer to the historical aspect of Sheepskin, we will have to turn to a brown material. However, many uses of white, red or blue sheepskin in the clothing and fashion industry have democratized these colors.

Price of Sheepskin Leather 💸

The price of a sheepskin is relatively higher than other types of leather. It is an authentic leather that does not undergo any alteration (except for dyeing). Also, these natural characteristics make it a very desirable and sought after material, justifying the high price. 

Moreover, the price of your sheepskin will also depend on the quality of the breed, the skin and the treatment it has undergone (artisanal or industrial tanning, vegetable or mineral, type of finish, country of production). Depending on these factors, you can find important differences in price.

vintage shearling sheepskin leather coats

Fur Retail Trade Lanpher Furs: Sheep Lined Ulsters and Jackets, 1906/2008, 'Lanpher Furs, North Star Brand. Lanpher, Skinner & Co., St. Paul, Minn. Season 1906-7. 72 pages, page 55, unknown/--Kuerschner 20:07, 2 February 2008 (Public Domain)

What is the difference between Sheepskin Leather and Lambskin Leather? 🤔

Many people often ask us what the differences are between sheepskin and lambskin. Both can be often confused, at least etymologically by their proximity of species, the ovine. The main difference between these two types of leather is the following:

  • Sheepskin leather comes from mature sheep
  • Lambskin leather comes from young sheep, or lambs

The characteristics of lambskin leather come precisely from the youth of the animals used.

  • the grain of the hide is finer and softer and less textured
  • the hide is more elastic and resistant to tension, and can be worked on thinner layers
  • the finishing of the leather is often more refined (very few pigments are added, a simple polishing is done) to keep the natural characteristics of the lambskin leather
  • the weight of the skin is lighter

📷 Credit: eHowArtsAndCrafts's Youtube Channel

What do you use Sheepskin Leather For? 🧥

The uses of sheepskin are vast and are mainly due to its natural characteristics. Indeed, since sheepskin is a light, thermo-regulating, hypoallergenic and comfortable leather, it is used in the clothing industry to manufacture jackets, gloves, hats and other coats.

This leather is also naturally more elastic than other types of leather, which makes it a popular material for leather goods designers, especially for making wallets or bags, but also for making pants or other garments that are often subjected to stress.

Finally, sheepskin leather is also used in decoration and fashion, whether it is to make home furniture, tapestries and rugs or bed covers.

In these manufacturing processes, the wool will be kept in its full length, especially for rugs or bed covers, or cut to varying lengths, especially in the clothing sector.

The part that is not covered with wool can be treated differently, to offer a "nappa", "suede" or "velvet" finish, adding a luxurious and comfortable touch to the finished product.

Other treatments can also be done. We find for example the "beaver lamb", which is a sheepskin treated in order to resemble a seal or beaver skin, and the "mouton fur" which is a skin treated chemically and thermally to obtain a waterproof result.

sheepskin leather shoes

Super Ugg Boots, 11 September 2011, Own work, Rettinghaus(CC BY-SA 3.0)

What are the Advantages of Sheepskin Leather? 👍

Sheepskin leather is a naturally soft leather offering a unique touch. In addition, it is breathable and hypoallergenic offering a certain comfort of wear. Its breathability and ability to regulate temperature and humidity make it a sought-after material in the clothing industry for both summer and winter accessories. You can stay cool in the summer while enjoying its warmth in the winter. 

Sheepskin is also a fire retardant material and naturally elastic, making it a material of choice in the automotive, clothing and home furniture industries.  

Sheepskin naturally contains a molecule called lanolin, which is also found in human skin. It has the property of soothing sensitive or irritated skin and provides the leather with self-cleaning and antibacterial properties.

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What are the Disadvantages of Sheepskin Leather? 👎

The elasticity of sheepskin can also become a defect, especially in clothing. Indeed, with time, a sheepskin accessory tends to stretch and can therefore modify the cut and the wearability of your garment. So don't choose a size that is too loose when you buy it, but go for models that are on the verge of tightening you. 

Sheepskin leather, naturally light and thin, does not resist as well as other thicker and more robust leathers to the hazards of life and time, whether it be friction or stains for example. It is a more sensitive leather that will require more attention and maintenance than other types of leather. 

How to Care for Your Sheepskin Leather Product? 🧽

Since sheepskin is a rather sensitive leather, we recommend to take care of it as soon as you buy your accessory, even before you wear it.

You can for example treat it with a protective care, provided of course that it is suitable for delicate leathers. Less is more as they say, so be careful not to apply different products and just apply solutions with little chemical, sparingly. 

You have to find the balance between the protection of the material and its natural "degradation" over the days, offering also to your accessory a unique and authentic character like the patina that many leather lovers look for on full grain leathers. 

As for daily maintenance, it's pretty simple. Provide yourself with a soft, dry cloth and warm water. By gently rubbing the stain, it will be enough to remove it. Do not rub too hard and do not soak your leather with water, it could have the opposite effect and damage your leather. 

As for leather nurturing maintenance, take a special sheepskin conditioner and test it on a small hidden or inconspicuous area before treating the whole object. You never know, you might prevent a bad reaction with the leather from damaging the whole surface. After one hour, if the color of the treated part has not been altered and the leather is well nourished, you can then proceed with the complete treatment of the leather

When you are not using your accessory, make sure to store it in a cool and dry place, keeping it away from direct sunlight. This will prevent the leather from drying out and cracking. If you have an item of clothing, be sure to hang it carefully so that it does not become distorted.

📷 Credit: ehowathomechannel's Youtube Channel

Conclusion

You know everything about Sheepskin leather and you can now go in search of your item with peace of mind. You can enjoy an elegant and delicate, authentic and incredibly comfortable accessory, but don't forget to take great care of it, if you want to keep its natural properties as long as possible. 

While other leathers offer more strength and durability, with a distinctive look, weight and grain, it excels in comfort, softness to the touch, heat and moisture regulation. If you're looking for that, you know where to turn now!

If you want to know more about leather, you can dive into our A Brief History of Leather post, or look into the best Leather Alternatives you can find on the market today. 

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