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! :)
Are you wondering which bag is perfect for a first try with Cork? How about Fiona's Freeway written specifically for cork:
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! :)