SEWING WITH CORK
A few years ago cork began to gain popularity in international online bag making circles. Bag pattern designers began to incorporate cork elements into their patterns, and bag makers began experimenting with cork, using it in place of leather and vinyl. Fast forward to today, and cork is commonly used for handbags & pouch and wallet exteriors by home based makers and high end commercial bag makers alike. Surprisingly, cork is easy to sew on domestic sewing machines, holds it shape, is durable and water resistant. It looks great too!
WHAT IS CORK?
Often referred to as vegan leather or cork leather, cork is a sustainable, natural product that is harvested from Cork Oak trees. At this time, over 50% of cork comes from Portugal. When the trees are 25 years old, the bark can be harvested and the tree regenerates until the next harvest in 9 years. Cork Oak trees can live for about 200 years! The harvested cork is processed by a variety of methods that include drying and boiling the cork before gluing it to a backing and rolling it ready for distribution. Click here for some amazing pictures and information about the Cork Oak tree. This video shows the harvesting and processing of cork in Portugal. It is used to create a variety of items including wine corks, bags, shoes, cork boards and insulation. Did you know that cricket and baseballs have a cork core?
TIPS FOR PURCHASING CORK
Good quality cork feels light and strong and can be up to 1.1mm thick. Cork should not feel crunchy or look like it is peeling. When folded/scrunched it should spring back to its original shape. Be sure to buy from a reputable source as cork is an expensive product. Ask for a sample from your supplier if you are unsure about their quality. There is a great range of colours, textures and printed styles of cork available online. Note: Cork is not to be confused with ‘Uncorked” which is a range of look alike cotton fabric which is printed to look like cork. Uncorked cotton fabric is a good choice if you want the cork look but prefer sewing with cotton fabric.
Cork itself does not fray, however in my experience, the backing can sometimes fray if left as a raw edge in a high use area such as a raw bag strap. Different suppliers have different types of backing on their cork, some can feel fuzzy, some are black (usually on darker colours) and others are thin woven, only some of these backings fray. A little Fray Stop/Fray Check, washable glue or an edge coat product along the raw edge will help.
MY FIRST CORK SEWING ADVENTURE
About 4 years ago I first discovered cork and was immediately taken with it’s texture and sewing potential. I had a small sample of green cork that inspired me to make a cactus. So I hand cut a Saguaro cactus. One cactus soon became two and then a landscape with stitched, textured detail.
It is layered with some gold and white leather and was free motion stitched with my 25 year old BERNINA 1530.
Check out the tiny details of the cactus flowers. Those spots are only about 3mm in diameter!
DO I NEED A SPECIAL SEWING MACHINE TO SEW CORK?
The awesome news is that your domestic BERNINA can sew cork! For the Posh Makeup Pouch project below, I used Nina the Pretty BERNINA B335 and at times she sewed through 2 layers of cork, zip, one layer of duck cotton, woven & fleece interfacing at the one time! She handled the layers of cork easily and is a great machine for sewing small zippered pouches like these. With the help of the tips & tricks below, and a little practice, you will work out what works best for you and your machine when sewing cork.
TIPS FOR SEWING WITH CORK
- Be confident! It is surprisingly easy to sew.
- Sewing scissors or a rotary cutter can be used to cut cork easily.
- Use a polyester thread.
- Use a size 80-90 universal or embroidery needle.
- If the layers are thick use a size 80-90 leather or denim needle.
- Use the Reverse Pattern Sole foot #1 or the Teflon Foot #52.
- The Three-sole Walking Foot #50 will get the the cork moving if you need extra help.
- Check your tension by doing a test sew with a ‘fabric sandwich’ before you start. Make your fabric sandwich with the same layers that you will sew. Adjust your tension if required.
- Tiny stitches may perforate the cork, so lengthen your stitches. Also be sure to increase the length of your stitches when topstitching to 5-5.50.
- To prevent holes in your cork from pins, use sewing clips or even bulldog clips to secure your pieces while you sew. Pins can be used in the seam allowance.
- Double sided tape or glue is helpful to hold small pieces in place. Avoid sewing through the tape or it may make your needle sticky and may cause skipped stitches.
- If you do have to unpick, try to re-sew into the same holes.
Let me know in the comments below if you have tried sewing cork? What did you make?
Until next time, have fun making all the beautiful things!
Deadly Mojo Sewing
PROJECT DETAILS FOR THIS BLOG POST
Pouch Pattern: Posh Makeup Bag Trio from Needle & Anchor Supply Co.
Bag hardware:Betty Box Pleat (Australian supplier)
Lining fabric: Spotlight Stores Australia