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Hand-Dyed Kangaroo Leather

August 1, 2009

Ever since the drought in Australia began, it has become increasingly difficult to find an Australian tannery that sells top quality veg-tanned kangaroo hides, the tannage that is best for top-quality whipmaking, in the full rainbow of colors that used to be available.  These days, tanneries generally only carry black, natural tan, saddle tan, whiskey, brandy,  and sometimes red.  If  you look hard enough, you might come across someone in Australia who has some purple or white or perhaps another unique color from a limited run that they’re willing to share a few hides of, but that is unfortunately fairly rare.

Understandably though, many (though not all) whipmakers who do a majority of their work in bright colors have had to resort to either buying lower quality leather that’s available in more colors, ‘roo leather of a different tannage that may be available in more colors, or hand-dying their own leather.  Of all of these options, hand-dying leather seems to me to be the best choice because the whip is still being made with the best quality veg-tanned ‘roo, and I’m a bit of a traditionalist/purist about that issue when it comes to high-quality whips.  There are, however, potential drawbacks to having a whip that is hand-dyed.

First, if the whip is braided with two colors and the hand-dyed strands are not sealed properly, the dye can “bleed” a little bit onto the other the strands of the other color (though obviously this isn’t a potential problem if the other color is black).  Also, because the hide was not colored at the tannery during the tanning process, hand-dyed strands can lose some of their color over time and with use.  Below is a picture of another whipmaker’s work that we recently had in for a repair.  It is obvious that the red strands were dyed by hand because the color in the part of the whip that receives the most abuse is starting to fade back into its original natural tan.

HandDyedLeatherFadingThis post isn’t meant to criticize any whipmakers who do dye their colors by hand, because I know that it is a necessary part of business these days for many whipmakers who do most of their braiding with bright colors that are no longer readily available.  And without a doubt, some whipmakers have developed better methods of hand-dyeing than others over the years since the drought in Australia began.  Also, I’ve noticed that longer whips that drag on the ground are more likely to fade more quickly than the very short whips that never touch the ground.  Just try to be aware if you are thinking about buying a whip that includes one of the more rare colors, and be sure to ask plenty of questions before you make your final decision.

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