5 things to know about fish leather

Posted by Mortira vanPelt
on Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fish leather

Fish leather pendant.

Another fish leather pendant.

Both fish leather pendants.

Fish leather is a recent addition to the realm of natural crafting materials that is incredibly intriguing. As soon as I heard about the arrival of fish leather at some favorite bead shops, I couldn’t wait to try it out. The packaging shows some suggested servings of designs that involve sewing and gluing, and if you can sew it, you can bead it - I was determined to see how it would work with bead embroidery. Here are some things that I learned while experimenting with fish leather.

1. It’s really made from fish.

Fish leather is made from the skins of tilapia - a freshwater fish that has been a food staple since ancient times. It is commonly fished and farmed around the world - in Egypt, China, Indonesia and Brazil (where the tanned skins are made for crafting). Because tilapia feed on algae and not other fish, they are one of the most sustainable species of farmed fish, and are becoming a popular alternative to chemicals used to control plant growth.

2. It doesn’t smell funny.

One might expect fish leather to smell a bit funky, but by scent along, you’d never know that it came from a fish. There is an odor almost identical to bovine leather, and just the faintest hint of vegetable based dye, which dissipates after a few hours out of the package. 

3. It’s (not) just like leather.

Apart from the leathery smell, fish leather is a lot like it’s bovine counterpart in many ways. The underside is soft like suede, and the material doesn’t crease easily when folded. There are some major differences with this leather, including the beautiful scaly surface, which is much tougher than most leathers. Fish leather is incredibly thin, and has a stiffness not unlike cardstock.  Although it takes a little extra effort to sew through the scales, fish leather works well with nylon threads and braided beading lines.

4. It isn’t self healing.

The scaly top of the fish leather is not self-healing, so any misplaced stitches will leave a mark on the surface. This makes it a bit tricky for working with bead embroidery, when stitches are worked from the back of a piece.

5. Fish leather is totally gorgeous.

Although it makes a wonderful backing material, the natural scaled surface of fish leather is just too gorgeous to hide on the back of a piece. It’s an excellent material for bead embroidery using negative space, with the smooth, shiny scales perfectly complementing tiny seed beads.

Have you tried fish leather in your designs? How do you like to use it?

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