In ancient history, tanning was considered a noxious trade and relegated to the outskirts of communities, amongst the poor. Tanning by ancient methods is foul smelling and tanneries are still isolated from those towns today where the old methods are used. Ancient civilisations used leather for water-skins, bags, armour, boots, and many more applications with the earliest known tanning being carried out by the South Asians as early as 7000BC.
Tanning hide into leather involves a process which permanently alters the protein structure of skin. Tanning can be performed with either vegetable or mineral methods. Before tanning, the skins hairs are removed and they are then degreased, desalted and soaked in water for up to two days.
Hemlock, oak bark, millet, birch, to name a few ingredients, can be used in various combinations to create vegetable tanned leather. Vegetable tanning, producing thick malleable leathers, which are more limited in use. The hides are soaked in a series of gentle vegetable extracts, a slow process, that results in firm even leathers and used making shoes and saddles.