Leather 101

Common Terminology



Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannins and other plant-based substances found in trees, leaves, and fruit. The color is determined by different combinations of these substances and the color of the cow’s skin.  When you hold vegetable-tanned leather, you’re experiencing an ancient art: historically, it was used to bind books and make armor. But it’s still a sensitive leather. Water will have a severe effect on vegetable-tanned leather, causing it to discolor, shrink, and stiffen. Hot water will cause dramatic shrinkage, and can even make the leather become hard and brittle. 

Chrome-tanned leather dates to the mid-1800s, and is tanned using a family of salts derived from chromium, a natural element. Chromium naturally has a blue tint, which is why this leather is sometimes called “wet-blue leather.” The chrome-tanning process only takes one day, and allows the leather to be dyed more vibrant colors. In water, it will not discolor or shrink as severely as vegetable-tanned leather, and is more soft and flexible.  Most of your favorite leather pieces are probably chrome-tanned: it makes up around 80% of the global leather supply.

“Oil-tanned leather” is a bit of a misnomer, because it’s not actually tanned with oil. It’s typically chrome-tanned leather that has special oils worked into its surface after the tanning process is complete. Vegetable-tanned leather may even be used in special cases. The added oils provide a unique look and texture, and also protect the soft leather.

All leather can be oiled to add water resistance properties. Processing, called currying, happens after tanning is finished.  But that water resistance isn’t permanent: the added oils can be washed out if it’s repeatedly exposed to water. 

Hot-stuffed leather is a specific variation of this process. It is usually vegetable- or chrome- tanned leather that has been dipped into a mixture of hot oils, waxes, and tallows. The mixture infuses the leather, giving it a buttery texture, rich natural color, and water-resistant properties. 



Full-grain leather is the cream of the crop. Considered the highest quality leather on the market, full-grain leather has never been sanded, buffed, or had its surface refinished to remove natural marks and variation. That’s about more than aesthetics: the intact fibers in the grain are what makes leather strong, breathable, and durable. If you’re looking at luxury footwear or beautiful antique leather furniture, it’s most likely made from full-grain leather. That’s because where other leathers might crack and wear out, full-grain leather instead patinas with age and a little TLC.  Chic Sparrow uses full-grain leather for all products unless otherwise noted.

Suede leather is also made from leather that has been split – meaning the top grain has been cut off the hide. leaving the fibrous, fuzzy layer behind. It then undergoes special treatment to bring out the nap and texture.  It's strong and beautiful. Chic Sparrow occasionally uses suede in limited release products.

Top-grain leather is the second highest quality leather, and the most common leather used in leather products. It is thinner and more flexible than full-grain leather because it’s been split. Then, it is sanded and a finish is applied to the surface. That finish is what makes top-grain leather smoother, more stain resistant, and more uniform than full-grain leather – but it also makes the leather less breathable, and prevents it from developing a natural patina over time. 

Bicast leather leather is also called PU leather or PVC leather. Don’t confuse it with vegan leather or pleather, which is made entirely from synthetic material.  Bicast leather is made from real leather that has had its top layer – the grain – removed, and then a layer of polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride glued to the surface. You can recognize Bicast Leather, PU, and PVC leather by its uniform texture, solid colors or patterned designs, and plastic-like finish. Chic Sparrow does not use any corrected-grain leather in our products. 



It is a common practice to roll the leather to make it more flexible.    Before you do this, know that it will change the texture of your leather. It also may cause the stitching to come undone and cause the inscription to disappear.     Rolling is not something we  encourage and is something you'd do at your own risk.   We do not exchange notebooks that have been rolled.


Because of its high oil content, conditioning this leather should be done once every 6 months at most and only if needed.  This leather has a moderate amount of oil content and may stain lighter colored leather or paper items if left in close contact for a long period of time.   Any leather conditioner for smooth leather will work great.   

Avoid: Water, heat, cold, direct sun and petroleum jelly.


This leather feels firm in the hand. If you want a softer feel, you can put a light coat of neatsfoot oil on the back side of the leather. This will soften the leather a little. Then, you can further soften the leather by manually bending the leather back and forth gently.   Be careful not to over-do the oil or your leather will become a soggy mess!  

Please note, any oil or conditioner will change the color of the notebook. 

Avoid: Water, heat, cold, direct sun and petroleum jelly.

 Mr. Darcy

Once a year or as needed, massage leather conditioner designed for smooth leather. You'll know you need to condition when it starts to feel dry.  

Mr. Darcy is dipped in oils and Tallows and polished to a beautiful shine.  A small portion of the population can sometimes detect a pungent aroma with this leather.  If you are one of the few who can, simply air it out for a few days and the scent will disperse.

Please note, any oil or conditioner will change the color of the notebook.  

Avoid: Water, heat, cold, direct sun and petroleum  jelly.   

 Dr. Jones 

It is best to condition this leather from the inside, using any conditioner made for full grain leather. 

Please note,  any oil or conditioner may change the color of the notebook.  

Avoid: Water, heat, cold, direct sun and petroleum  jelly.


This leather has high oil content like the Creme collection. This leather is a pull up variety, so it's very deeply conditioned and will not need additional conditioning more than once or twice a year. 

Wiping this book with a baby wipe (to clean) or a conditioner will show color transfer, this is because of the deep pigment and oil content. It's totally normal - just remember, if you wipe one corner of the outside, wipe the entire cover evenly so the color stays as even as possible.  





5 Things You Shouldn't Do

  1. Do not panic!
  2. Do not rub the surface to try to clean up the spill.
  3. Do not blot the surface to try and soak up some of the liquid.
  4. Do not wet the entire surface to give an even color.
  5. Do not rub cooking oil or any culinary oil into the surface. Cooking oil can go rancid and make your notebook smell terrible.


What to Do If You Get Water on Your Leather

Resist the urge to blot or rub.

Set in a dry place out of the sunlight for a minimum of 24 hours.

If the water stains are still visible, lightly oil the surface with leather oil (such as neatsfoot) or leather conditioner. 

Remember that your stain will fade with time and be hardly noticeable.


What to Do If You Spill Oil or Milky Liquids on Your Leather

Resist the urge to blot or rub.

Cover the entire area with cornstarch or talcum powder.

Next, set it in a dry place out of the sunlight and let dry for a minimum of 24 hours.

Then, brush off the powder with a soft brush, being careful not to push the powder into the leather.

Finally, lightly oil the surface with leather oil (such as neatsfoot) or leather conditioner.

Remember that your stain will fade with time and be hardly noticeable.





Close (esc)


Use this popup to embed a mailing list sign up form. Alternatively use it as a simple call to action with a link to a product or a page.

Age verification

By clicking enter you are verifying that you are old enough to consume alcohol.


Main menu

Shopping Cart

Your cart is currently empty.
Shop now