The preserved hide of animals. It can be divided into two main categories: hides, which are taken from the skins of large animals such as horses and buffaloes; and skins, which are taken from small animals such as pigs, goats, sheep, reptiles and birds. Both hides and skins are composed of three layers: the top layer, or epidermis, which has fur or hair growing out of it; the middle layer, or corium; and the bottom layer of fat or flesh (adipose tissue). The top and bottom layers are destroyed before the tanning process, and only the corium is used to make leather. The surface of the corium is marked by a grain, formed by the holes of the hair follicles, from which the origin of the leather can be determined. Leather is strong yet flexible, and it can be treated to be as firm as board or as soft as woven cloth. Its fibrous structure enables it to be moulded and set, and it will also take many forms of decoration. It is used for clothing and footwear, armour, harness and saddlery, bookbinding, upholstery and various decorative and utilitarian items.
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© Grove Art / OUP

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