It’s no secret that Cork is very popular right now! My first try of it was on my recent new pattern release, The Fiona’s Freeway bag and BOTH my daughters loved the cork so much they stole my sample bags! LOL Anyway….It is still a mystery to many on just how to sew with it so today I have great pleasure in sharing a guest post by Toni from the The Little British Fabric Shop where she sells Cork! Over to you Toni:
Hi, my name is Toni and I live in Wiltshire in England. I am the owner of The Little British Fabric Shop where I sell quilting cottons and cork fabric through my website and in my spare time I love to make bags and purses (amongst other things!) which I sell through Facebook or at local craft fairs. You can also follow me on Instagram (and very occasionally twitter) @tlbfs
I’ve been meaning to write something about sewing with cork for a little while now so I was delighted to be asked to write this guest post for Christine 🙂 Cork fabric is such a dream to work with that there really are very few hard and fast rules that should be followed, however there are a few fundamentals that should be adhered to. In this post I will give a little explanation of what cork is and what you can do with it, and I will give what I hope will be some useful guidance on sewing with it.
What is cork fabric?
So, what is cork fabric, and why does everyone love sewing with it so much?
Cork fabric, also known as cork leather or vegan leather, is produced from thin cork shavings which are obtained directly from the bark of the cork oak tree. The cork shavings are backed typically with a combination of cotton, polyester and polyurethane and is very soft to the touch and very flexible.
When the bark of the cork oak tree is removed a new layer of cork re-grows, making it a renewable resource. When harvested at regular intervals the trees can thrive for centuries. This is what makes the cork oak unique as it is the only tree that survives even after its bark had been stripped from it. The bark can develop considerable thickness and can be harvested every 7 to ten years.
So it’s renewable which means it’s sustainable, and there are no harmful chemicals involved in the production of cork fabric which means it is also environmentally and eco-friendly.
But that’s not all! Cork fabric is hypoallergenic because it doesn’t absorb dust, so it helps to protect against allergies and does not pose a risk to asthma sufferers. It is anti-fungal which means it will not go mouldy when it gets damp. It is waterproof, stain resistant and easily cleaned. And it is as durable as leather, yet as versatile as fabric which I think is what makes it such a popular choice for makers of bags and apparel. Finally, it is seen as an animal friendly alternative to leather and so is very popular as a vegan leather substitute – you will find that most manufacturers of cork and cork apparel will carry the ‘PETA Approved’ logo (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
What can I make with cork fabric?
I saw a question posted on one of the bag making facebook groups that I follow recently which asked “I have some cork and I absolutely love it, but what can I do with it??”
Well another great thing about cork, at least in bag making, is that, because it is so soft, pliable and easy to work with (to quote one of my customers – “it sews like butter!”) you can either use it in place of your normal fabric in any bag pattern, or, because it doesn’t fray, you can leave the edges raw as you would with leather. I recently made a men’s wallet and a number of coin purses, all of which had raw edges, and they turned out great!
What size needle should I use?
Personally I have never sewn cork with a “standard” size needle but, since I started sewing with cork, I have read reports from others where they said they had no problems at all sewing with a standard needle. I normally use a Jeans needle (size 100/16) as I read somewhere before I started sewing with cork that this is the best size to use, and this works fine for me. I sometimes also use a leather needle (size 110/18).
Do I need to use a Teflon foot?
I recommend using either a Teflon foot or a walking foot when sewing with cork as it can sometimes get slightly sticky – similar to working with oil cloth. I normally use my walking foot due to the number of layers involved when making bags and this works perfectly well.
Ironing (or not!)
Cork fabric does not crease so there will be no creases to iron out, and it is not possible to iron creases into it (for example when ironing seams flat) so, unless you are fusing interfacing (discussed later) there is absolutely no point in ironing cork fabric!
Dealing with seams
As mentioned above, it is not possible to iron seams flat and so they must either be top-stitched or glued. (Because we all know that, if we want a nice professional finish to our bags, our seams should lie flat! 🙂 ) Prior to top-stitching I always use Prym Wonder Tape on the seams – this is a double-sided basting tape which holds the seams down just long enough to get the top-stitching done. (For those who are not familiar with basting tape it’s also great for holding zips in place instead of using pins, and can also be very helpful in making bag straps!) Of course, it’s not always possible to top-stitch a seam and this is where glue comes in. I have tried two different types of glue following recommendations from others – Fabri-Tac and Bostik leather adhesive. I found the Fabri-Tac to be much better – in my initial tests, after four days it was still holding whereas the Bostik had come unstuck.
Use clips, not pins
As with oil cloth, leather and PVC – the use of pins should be avoided at all costs because holes, once made, are permanent. Use clips such as wonder clips instead.
What stitch length should I use?
I use the same stitch length on cork that I would normally use on other fabric, so around 2.5 for normal sewing, and around 3.5 for top-stitching. If anyone has any strong opinions on what stitch length should/should not be used on cork I would be interested to hear them!
Can I apply interfacing to cork?
Yes, it is possible to interface cork. On my first attempt I was nervous about damaging the cork and so I used a pressing cloth but this just did not work – the interfacing would not fuse – so I ended up ironing the interfacing directly onto the back of the cork. I have only ever used a medium heat and I never keep the iron in the same place for more than a few seconds at a time but I have found that doing it this way works perfectly well. I haven’t attempted to fuse anything that normally requires steam, such as fusible fleece, so if anyone else has tried this I would be love to know if it worked!
A note on multiple layers
Sewing through multiple layers can be tricky at the best of times, especially if you’re using a domestic machine, so when those multiple layers are made up of cork it can be even more of a challenge. It is for this reason that I started using rivets when sewing with cork because trying to sew through bag straps and hardware tabs (sometimes eight layers of cork!) was proving to be just impossible! Not only do rivets save you a lot of sweat and tears, they also look awesome! Win win!!
I have now also started making shoulder straps by sewing two strips of cork wrong sides together, instead of making them the “bias-binding” way, just to cut down on the bulk.
Well that’s all from me for now. Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve found my ramblings even just a little bit useful and if anyone has any more helpful tips or anything else to add then please do leave a comment!
What an great post Toni! I really enjoyed finding out more about the Cork fabric – Very Interesting!! Thanks so much for sharing it with us! I for one will certainly be using cork a lot more in my future projects! 🙂
Please DO stop by Toni’s website and follow Toni on Facebook and Instagram.
Are you wondering which bag is perfect for a first try with Cork? How about Fiona’s Freeway written specifically for cork:
Or I have also seen some very AWESOME cork examples of the Ellen’s Esplanade: Here is one by Sue of Dreamscape Studio:
I am also seeing a lot of cork versions being made from many different patterns in my range popping up in our Facebook group…it really is a fantastic and versatile product! Have you made any ChrisW Designs bags from cork? I would dearly LOVE for you to share them on Instagram or in our Facebook Group so others can see the too! 🙂
Happy Sewing! 🙂
Excellent blog post. I learned a lot. Thanks!
Thanks for this, Toni. I feel much more confident about cutting into my precious cork.
I also find your writing very compelling. Good job!
Is it hard to get top stitching straight? Maybe an edge guide foot for a more professional look as the white thread is noticeably not straight, or possible a matching thread would look better
I saw someone post once on a FB group showing her newly made bag with cork and the cork had split and had holes. That made me not want to spend money on cork if that would happen. Does cork come in different thicknesses? Not sure how thick a cork this woman used and she was baffled why it happened. So how durable is cork after it has been sewn? If you can only sew once without mistakes then ripping cork out would certainly weaken the seams, which is another thing I would be nervous about using cork.
I was wondering what pattern you used for the wallet pictured above? I love sewing with cork and have made several bags and wallets with it.
Sorry Kathy but I didn’t use a pattern for this one. I may well put a pattern together at some point in the future though as you’re not the first person to ask this question 🙂
Hi Daryl, I know that there are different types of cork that you can buy, some are better quality, some can be described as being a bit like cardboard. The cork that I sell and sew with is ‘Touch PRO’ – it is very pliable and durable and I’ve never had any problems with it splitting before. I’ve also sewn, unpicked and re-sewn seams before (today infact!) without any problems. If you’re nervous about it I would suggest buying some samples so that you can check the quality and perhaps try out some sewing if the samples are big enough 🙂
Hi Lynn, I personally don’t have a problem with keeping my top stitching straight and I often use an edge guide 🙂
Thanks Marsha! 🙂
Thank you Judith! 🙂
What weight of thread do you use for construction and for top stitching?
Hi Sue, for construction I generally use Gutermann Sew All thread and for top stitching I use Gutermann Top Stitch thread, though I’ve seen some people saying lately that they just use two strands of standard thread in the same needle for top stitching so I am thinking of giving this a go 🙂
Very great info! Thank you Toni for the great explanation! Can’t wait to start with my cork, and rivets!
My cork is made up of small pieces pressed onto the vinyl backing, and is definitely splitting on the seams when it’s stretched tightly and topstitched. Are there better quality ones that have larger pieces of cork that don’t split…? Also mine definitely creases, and I press it fine and they come out.
Yes, if you are in the US, try Sew Sweetness, Canada = MM Cork Supply or Australia = VooDoo Rabbit. All those have top quality cork and should not have the issues you are experiencing!
Thanks for this helpful info 🙂
So excited to try sewing with cork!! I just came back from Portugal yesterday, where I bought a 100cm X 140cm piece of cork from a small company that makes handbags and wallets. Beautiful quality cork and I can’t wait to get it under a needle!
Made a wristlet using cork as the accent. When I went to turn the bag right side out the cork cracked at the bottom. (corners at the bottom were rounded thinking this would avoid cracking) Also used rivets for the straps, which worked well. Not so sure I want to use cork again.
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Hi Leona….where did you purchase your cork from? Unfortunately there are a lot of cheaper corks available which are really not worth spending any money on…..the better quality cork is fantastic and
should not have a cracking problem…
What did you use to cut your cork? I am finding that the fabric on the back of the cork frays a bit and I am not getting as sharp a cut as I would like. Also do you use anything on the edge to help with the fraying problem over time?
Hi Cheryl….I use a rotary cutter for cutting my cork or a very sharp scissors. Good quality cork has very little fraying issue but you could use a teeny bit of fray stopper on the edges to help counteract any fraying but always test on a scrap piece first as some brands may leave a mark.
Here you provide wonderful article related to fabric its very useful thank you.
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Thanks for stopping by!
Hi please can you explain what the abbreviation COF- number means I can see some COF-180 and others COF-390 what does this signify
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Hi Linda….I am sorry but I have no idea! I suggest you contact one of the suppliers directly and ask them as they would better know what the numbers mean!
I made a little crossbody bag as a test. My only complaint is that the strap (2 layers cork) seems a little wimpy. Would regular light fusible interfacing on both sides be appropriate to make the strap more sturdy? Thank you.
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Hi Lily, some interfacing will help prevent any stretch in the cork but if you want a little bit if extra beef, a layer of light fleece may be a good option…just one layer down the centre of the
strap. Hope this helps!
Upon further research, I think my cork may be flimsier than others. Question still stands, tho.
Thank you so much!
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Yes not all corks are created equal! Some are poor quality….price is often a reflection. If it seems cheaper than others, it is probably rubbish. Good quality cork isn’t cheap!!
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Great information you have shared. I gained much knowledge and you should write more informative blogs.
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Thank you for stopping by Louren, I’m so glad you enjoy the blog!
Would using leather prongs/pricking iron make it safer or worse? I just want to make sure it would not tear under stress/pulling.
Sorry, I cannot advise on this as I have not used those tools with cork so i am not sure what would happen. Cork is generally very easy to work with and not so thick as many leathers, so I doubt you would need any special tools like that.
I found your comments regarding cork informative. I plan to make a tote with cork on the bottom third. I am curious what kind of fusible interfacing you would recommend?
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Depending on how much structure you are after, you may not need to add interfacing, just your stabiliser. For example, Decovil Light. Otherwise if you feel you want to add interfacing, then something
like Ezefuse or SF101 or any light to medium woven interfacing that doesn’t need a really high heat t fuse.
Hop this helps!
Very good article, thanks to Christine Welsh.
Mentions a lot of practical details that are very useful to us.
Besides that, I know HZCORK is an original cork leather manufacturer and they manufacture from raw cork to cork leather.