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Our Leather

Sparrowhawk Leather pieces are handmade from
100% Full Grain Leather.

Our Leather Artisan, Fiona Ritchie, wouldn't work with anything else. Sparrowhawk purchases whole hides from a respected leather wholesaler here in NZ, and many of our hides are tanned at NZ's Tasman Leather.

Only 100% Full Grain leather has the unique character grain and lasting strength you expect from quality leathergoods. 

If its too good to be true, it probably isn't.

People prefer leather for its looks and durability.

Some sellers "bank" on the fact that people assume everything labelled "leather" is leather....its not. It can be difficult to compare "apples with apples" when sellers use a whole bunch of words and labels to mislead you.

Your 1st clue is the price.   

Full grain leather hides are not cheap. The tanning process requires skill and expense. The surface of full grain leather hides is irregular, and there are brands, scars and folds to be cut around and discarded. There is even more work if the leather is undyed vegetable tanned leather. (Some leatherworkers "airbrush" dye onto vegetable tanned leather. Fiona is one of the few who hand rubs the dye onto vegetable tanned leather, as it is the best way to enhance the leather's natural grain".)

If its oddly cheap, its probably not full grain leather. 

Your 2nd clue is the words they use.

Genuine Leather?

  • Could be split leather where they split off the top part of the hide (the full grain leather), leaving a material which is only about 50% as strong and has limited durability  The leather is usually treated, painted and pressed smooth, and while it might look like full grain leather, the grain will be regualr and have no scars. 
  • Could be scrap leather pieces that are shredded, mixed with polyurethane binders or latex and bonded to a fibre sheet (hence bonded leather or reconsitituted leather.(Legally only a 10% leather content is required to call something "geniune leather"). Over time the surface may "crack" and peel, the backing is exposed and it is stretched at the stitching. Also known as "Bonded Leather", "Pleather", "Reconstituted leather" etc.

Vegan Leather?

  • Its not leather

Eco Leather

  • Its probably not leather

PU Leather

  • Its not leather

Your 3rd clue is the edge finishing.

The edges of medium and heavy 100% leather pieces, such as belts, bags and book covers are left raw cut and then burnished smooth or finished with an edge coat. This is not possible with manufactured "leather", so all items are turned under and sewn at the edges. However, this is not an authenticity indicator for lighter leather pieces, such as garments and wallet inners and linings, where the turn under and stitch approach is used whether 100% authentic leather, bonded leather or imitation leather. 

Your 4th clue is look, smell and touch (if possible)

Genuine leather should show spider like creases when you press firmly with your finger. Items with vinyl content will not crease like this but have a smooth indentation. 

Finally low leather content items may not smell like leather. The price will seem cheap but in reality reflects its low quality and short life.

What leather does Sparrowhawk use?

Full Grain Hand Finished Leather
Strongest and most durable, patina develops with use
Widest choice of hand rubbed dye colours and finishes to highlight unique grain

Hand carving, embossed initials, laser engraving, nameplates

Sparrowhawk's hand embossed and hand dyed pieces are made from 100% full grain, uncoloured, "raw" leather, known as russet or vegetable tanned leather. This is the strongest, most durable leather available. Full grain leather retains the original grain and brand marks from the animal, and Fiona's hand rubbed dyeing highlights the grain, giving each piece a unique character and texture. Over time Sparrowhawk's hand finished pieces develop a softer touch and patina which can not be imitated.

Sparrowhawk Leather's hand finished leather pieces offer the widest choice of colours, finishes and personalisation - hand embossed initials, hand embossed pilot wings, hand carved pilot wings, laser engraving, as well as nameplates in stainless steel or black on brass. 


Russet leatherLeft: Russet leather being edge grooved & stitching grooved.
Right: Russet leather after dyeing being punched with stitching holes.

Work in progress on a wrap around pilot logbook cover with hand carved wings.

Tan ladies compact wallet with embossed initials.
(Thank you to Michaela Batty for her photo, a gift from her husband &
Sparrowhawk customer Ryan Batty)

Aniline Leather

Moderate price - rustic/distressed look - laser engraving only

The Full Grain Aniline Leather that Sparrowhawk uses is a tannery finished leather which maintains the hide characteristics of raw leather. It is tannery dyed with soluable dyes, without covering the surface with a topcoat or varnish. Sparrowhawk's "whisky" and "black" pure Aniline leather has an oiled finish, and can become marked with scratches giving it a rustic, distressed look. These "marks" can be "rubbed out' with your finger.

Aniline leather is flexible, but can "hold its own shape", so is suitable for bookcovers. Sparrowhawk Leather's "whisky" aniline leather pieces are suitable for laser engraving text and images, such as logos and pictures. Aniline leather can not be embossed or carved, and is unsuitable for high handling items such as for wallets.

Whisky Aniline leather pilot logbook cover, book cover (customer laser engraving) & passport sleeve.

Black Aniline Pilot Logbook cover & CASA Licence Folder cover.

Nubuck Leather

Moderate price - handle with care - laser engraving or nameplate

Nubuck Leather is a specific tannery finished, top grain leather, where some of the natural grain has been removed by sanding, resulting in a velvet like finish and then tannery dyed. Nubuck can stain from grease and is not usually suitable for everyday use items such as a wallet. However, given the care with which pilots handle their pilot logbooks, the Nubuck leather is "fit for purpose".

Nubuck leather is quite flexible, but can "hold its own shape" in a logbook cover. Sparrowhawk's Mocha Nubuck pilot logbook covers are available with Sparrowhawk's pilot wings and your name, or a Black on Brass nameplate. Nubuck leather can not be embossed or carved and is only available in one of the two pilot logbook cover options.


Left: Nubuck Leather pilot's logbook cover with laser engraved wings and name
Centre: Nubuck Leather pilot's logbook cover open with hand embossed & dyed Sparrowhawk Leather patch
Right: Nubuck Leather pilot's logbook cover with Black on Brass engraved nameplate

Hand Stitching

Fiona hand stitches most of Sparrowhawk Leather's leather pieces using a traditional two needle, locking saddle stitch with 4 ply Irish Linen waxed thread.  The diamond shape hole with the thick thread, provides a distinctive quality look and exceptional strength that can not be replicated on a sewing machine.  

While the pieces featured on Sparrowhawk's website feature the more popular thread colours of black, butterscotch and bone, there is a wide choice of stitching colours to choose from, including red and mid blue. Such a range of colours is not usually available on machine stitched pieces. 

Irish linen waxed threads in a range of colours 
Waxed Irish linen thread in a range of colours

Leather Care

Leather is a "living material" and can need a little care.

The greatest danger is when leather "dries out". It can lose its suppleness and develop cracks. It is good practice to condition your leather. The frequency will depend on whether the leather is exposed to warmth, or the sun, the frequency of handling and the type of leather.

When you receive your Sparrowhawk Leather order, we will include Care Instructions so you can care for your piece.

Hand Finished Leather care

Hand Finished leather needs the most care. Without regular handling, it may "dry out" over time. It should never be left in the sun as the hand rubbed colour may fade. 

Our Sparrowhawk Leather pieces are not of the type that are usually subject to "rough and tough" wear like shoes or a saddle. However, a few times a year, they would respond well to a natural, wax based leather conditioner.

Apply the leather conditioner sparingly. Make sure that you can "polish it off" with a dry cloth. It should not be sticky after you have finished. Avoid putting the leather conditioner on stitching. 

A natural wax or oil based leather conditioner will also enhance the colour and shine of your hand finished leather piece.

Tannery Finished Leather care

Tannery Finished leather is less susceptible to drying out, but a liquid leather conditioner should be applied at least annually.

Apply the leather conditioner sparingly. Make sure that you can "polish it off" with a dry cloth. It should not be sticky after you have finished. Avoid putting the leather conditioner on stitching. 

The leather conditioner will also enhance the colour and shine of your tannery finished leather piece.

Aniline Leather care

Aniline Leather generally will not dry out, as it is infused with oils. This does mean it can scratch with use giving it a distressed finish. If you prefer a smooth finish, in most cases you can rub the affected spot with your finger and the heat and natural oils in your finger will smooth out the scratch.

Do not use leather conditioners on Aniline Leather as the oil in the leather conditioner may leave dark spots on the leather.

Nubuck Leather care

Prevention is better than cure for Nubuck leather. Nubuck will stain with grease. While there are water proof stain repellants available from companies such as Pelle Leather Care NZ, such as used for Nubuck shoes, careful handling with clean hands is essential. Pelle also stocks a Nubuck Cleaner. This may be used for spot cleaning, but not over the laser engraving.

For Nubuck protection and cleaning products

Fiona Ritchie, Leather Artisan, Sparrowhawk Leather