RIP angora goatskin: death by cracking.
March 21, 2011 9:06 AM   Subscribe

What's going wrong with my 10-year old sheepskin? ok, actually it's an angora goat skin, but it's the same concept. The main body of it is okay, but the sueded leather is really stiff and fragile at the edges/corners/legs, and pieces keep cracking and falling off, though not yet to the point of crumbling. What's causing this? Can I fix it?

When I visited Turkey in 2000 I fell in love with the curly angora goat skins at the big market - it's like a sheepskin, roughly animal-shaped suede-texture leather on one side, with wool on the other. Instead of the super-dense sheep wool, though, this is long silky ringlets of curly angora wool. Like these. It's shaped roughly like a goat, in that there's the main body, with clear curves to the edges outlining the positions of the legs, neck, tail.

For the last 10 years, it's been draped decoratively over the back of a sofa or armchair, not really sat on by humans or cats, never washed, and has slowly stopped smelling particularly pungent (it was pretty bad at first). Currently it's on the back of an armchair that's sitting near a sunny window. Last summer, I found a little 3" chunk of the skin+wool on the floor after a party, and just figured that's the way it goes when I fill my house with beer. Similar chunk appeared after my brother and small nieces visited for Christmas. I investigated, and found that the leather is still fairly supple over a large part of the skin, but the edges are getting really dry and brittle, and pieces crack off the perimeter, especially the legs.

- is this a result of a poor tanning process and that's what I get for a cheap tourist item in a market in Istanbul?
- is this UV damage because the chair is sitting in a sunny window?
- is this the way all skins or all suede ages if you don't properly take care of it?

And most importantly:
- Is this preventable over the rest of the piece?
- Is this reversible on the portions already stiffened?
posted by aimedwander to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might consider calling and talking to a person who specializes in cleaning fur coats to give you a better idea of what you're dealing with and how to manage it. If they can't help, maybe they can point you in the direction fo someone who can.

I know that leather, in general, will dry and crack over time, and it's possible that's what is happening with your goatskin.
posted by royalsong at 9:22 AM on March 21, 2011

Best answer: I had a sheep skin that my parents tanned at home that did that after around ten years. Poor tanning is my bet. I had to let it go :(
posted by Namlit at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2011

It is possible to moisturize leather just as it is possible to moisturize your own skin. The traditional moisturizing substance for leather is called neat's foot oil (neat being an archaic term for cattle). I will add that for best results, this has to be done before the leather starts to crack, since moisturizing does not glue cracked pieces back together.
posted by grizzled at 11:33 AM on March 21, 2011

Response by poster: I worry that since neatsfoot is a brownish color liquid it will make my whitish suedey leather look gross. Mink oil is usually lighter colored and gooey rather than liquidy, but it's usually used for waterproofing as well as softening - would that be better or worse in terms of final discoloration and texture?
posted by aimedwander at 12:26 PM on March 21, 2011

Best answer: Neatsfoot will darken light colors leathers, absolutely. Also, any oil will affect that nice sueded texture. But since you're losing the leather anyway (agree, probably poor tanning) you might decide it's worth it to make an attempt to save it knowing that you're going to affect it one way or another.

But be aware, it's not likely to help. By the time leather starts getting brittle, the moisture is gone from the interior as well as the exterior, and putting conditioner on the surface won't save it. Brittle leather that encounters conditioner may just get mushy, which is horrible. Sorry :( If you're not of an experimental nature--happy to let experiments go when they die horribly--I'd suggest just using it as-is for as long as you can stand it.

If you get suede wet, it becomes stiff and the suede texture flattens. Generally to clean suede you use suede cleaner and a stiff brush to retain the texture. Obviously, using a stiff brush on your brittle areas is problematic and likely to damage it further.

Getting suede oily is likely to destroy the suede texture, period. If you need to condition suede you'll need to use something very light, not oily at all. Neatsfoot is too heavy, mink oil definitely much too thick. Hm, shoes aren't my area but there are suede shoes; perhaps a shoe store might have suede care products that you can pick up to try. Otherwise you can check furniture stores/supply or feed/tack stores for suede care products.

If it were me, I would try gently applying Leather Therapy conditioner to the brittle areas with a soft sponge and then brushing it in to the body with a suede brush to make sure that the body retains its condition, and to make sure any discoloration was even. (Leather Therapy is one of the lightest leather conditioners I know, and I usually turn to it when dealing with damaged leather that I am trying to restore.) But I'd be fully prepared to let it go if it discolored badly or the brittle areas just turned mushy; I'm happily experimental like that. You may not be.
posted by galadriel at 2:24 PM on March 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all. Leather Therapy seems like it would be a handy thing to have around in any case, so that's probably the route I'll go.
It's funny, I'm not sure whether I genuinely like the aesthetic of having a goat skin over my chair, or if I just like that I have a Turkish goatskin from that trip... if it died or I killed it in attempting to save it, would I buy another? Hmmm....
posted by aimedwander at 10:17 AM on March 22, 2011

Response by poster: Apparently leather conditioner is primarily sold over the internet and in little dusty shoe-repair shops. Found a bottle of Lexol at the shoe repair place, and smeared it all over the back of the skin, which drank all the liquid right in, used up the whole bottle. It does make it more flexible, especially immediately, and it turned a dark yellow/tan color. Overnight it dried back out to what I think is very close to the original color. It's definitely more flexible than when I started but it's not back to the original floppiness. I won't go buy another bottle right now, but I should probably put this maintenance as a task to consider coming back to every spring cleaning. In any case, all's well, ended well, thanks for the advice.
posted by aimedwander at 12:23 PM on April 23, 2011

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