How to Sew with Cork Fabric

WHAT IS CORK FABRIC?

Cork fabric has a similar handle to leather or vinyl, but it’s much easier to cut and sew with.  It feels like a quality leather because it’s soft, smooth, and pliable.  It’s not hard or brittle. Cork fabric looks stunning and unique.  Use it to make handmade bags, wallets, accents on clothing, craft projects, applique, embroidery, shoes, or upholstery.  Cork fabric is ecofriendly.  This material is an amazing alternative to leather or vinyl because it is sustainable, washable, stain resistant, durable, antimicrobial and hypoallergenic.

HOW IS CORK FABRIC MADE?

This high quality fabric is a natural product made primarily in Spain, Portugal, and France.  It is produced directly from the bark of the cork oak tree. Once the cork is harvested from the cork oak it’s stacked on concrete pallets and left to dry for a minimum of six months.  After it is fully dried, the cork is boiled and steamed for sterilization, flattening, and elasticity.  Heat and pressure are applied to press the cork into blocks.  The blocks are later shaved into thin sheets. These thin cork sheets are sealed with a non-toxic sealant and adhered to a fabric support backing.  The fabric support backing consist of 15.5% Polyester, 29.5% Cotton, and 55% Polyurethane.  Because of this simple and natural production process, cork fabric retains all of the qualities of “raw” cork!

QUALITY, COLORS & SIZES AVAILABLE

There are two main qualities of cork fabric: Touch and Pro. Touch is a coagulated fabric made of 65% cotton and 35% polyester. Pro is a textile made of 15.5% Polyester, 29.5% Cotton, and 55% Polyurethane. Touch is a lower quality than Pro cork fabric because it is solid cloth rather a woven textile. You cannot iron Touch cork fabric, and it is not as durable as Pro. In addition, the Touch cork fabric may fade and show abrasion over time. Cork fabric is sold in a variety of colors, textures and prints. It is common for cork fabric to be 27” wide or 54” wide.

HELPFUL NOTIONS FOR SEWING WITH CORK FABRIC

  • Microtex Needle — It is recommended to start each project with a new needle.  Microtex Size 80/12 or Microtex Size 90/14 work best; however, Universal Size 80/12 work well too. Microtex needles have a narrow shaft and very thin, sharp point which makes it ideal for cork fabric.
  • Rotary Cutter & Scissors — If you plan to cut a lot of cork fabric, I recommend to purchase a separate rotary cutter and scissors to designate for cutting cork. This will help keep your regularly-used cutter and scissors sharp.
  • Double Sided Basting Tape or Glue — Use basting tape or glue for holding seams, positioning pockets and zippers, creating straps, and more!
  • Sewing Clips — Pins will leave a permanent hole in your cork fabric. Use sewing clips to hold together seams.
  • Removable Marketing Utensil — Use a removable marking utensil to trace patterns on the wrong side of cork fabric. A leather pen works well if you need to make markings on the right side of the cork fabric.
  • Edge Finishing — Cork fabric will not fray, so you can leave the edge raw. If desired, use leather edge paint to coat the raw edge for a smooth, sealed look.
  • Rivets & Punch — Add rivets to stabilizer seams and straps on bags made with cork fabric. They also add a professional touch.

TIPS FOR SEWING WITH CORK FABRIC

For most projects I recommended using 3/8-1/2” seam allowance, 2.5-3mm stitch length for piecing, and 3-4mm stitch length for top stitching.  If you are sewing through several layers, you may need to lower your machine’s tension and foot pressure.  Home Sewing Machines can generally handle sewing through up to four layers of cork, or two layers of cork and 2 layers of foam at a time.

Use 40-50 weight thread for seaming and topstitching. Use either a Teflon foot, walking foot, or compensating foot to help your machine glide through layers of cork easily. Each machine behaves differently so please test what works best for your machine.

You can iron quality Pro cork on either side.  Steam will make the cork fabric more elastic. No pressing cloth is needed. I do not recommend interfacing cork fabric, unless your pattern specifically requires extra stabilization. It stands up beautifully on its own. Use foam or fleece batting for extra stability if desired.

You can also cut cork fabric on a digital cutting machine, such as the Brother Scan N Cut, for applique and cutwork designs. Be sure to test cut before cutting your entire design on cork fabric.

SEWING PATTERNS FOR CORK FABRIC

If you are new to using cork fabric, I recommend using a pattern that is specifically written for cork fabric to achieve quality, long-lasting results. All Sallie Tomato Patterns are written to accommodate a variety of materials, including cork fabric. Browse the patterns for cork fabric here!

If your pattern is not written for cork fabric, read through the instructions and test sew to determine if cork can be used. Remove or add interfacing and stabilizer as necessary. You can use quilt weight cotton and cork fabric together, but you will want to stabilize quilt weight cotton to establish a weight similar to the cork fabric.

TEN REASONS TO USE CORK FABRIC!

  1. Easy to Cut & Sew — You don’t need any special tools or equipment to sew with cork fabric.
  2. Extremely Light Weight — 50% of its volume is air! This makes it ideal for bags and laptop carriers.
  3. Easy to Maintain & Clean — Simply wipe clean with soap and water periodically. Cork fabric is also stain resistant!
  4. Water Resistant — Keep your items dry in bad weather!
  5. Long Lasting & Durable — Cork ages without deteriorating mainly due to its resistance to moisture. Cork cells are packed closely together in radial rows. This honeycomb structure makes cork extremely durable and abrasion resistant.
  6. Hypoallergenic — Cork is not allergy-proof, but it is very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. It is very gentle on your skin, which makes it ideal for bags, home décor, and craft projects.
  7. Soft & Unique — It feels like a quality leather because it’s soft, smooth, and pliable.  It’s not hard or brittle. No two pieces of cork fabric are alike!
  8. 100% Sustainable — The Cork Oak is the only tree in the world that can have its bark removed and survive, thus making the harvesting of cork 100% sustainable. The same tree can be harvested every nine years. Some trees have been harvested for over 200 years!
  9. Chemical Free Production — Yay!
  10. Use for a Variety of Projects — Make handmade bags, wallets, accents on clothing, craft projects, applique, embroidery, shoes, or upholstery. It cuts great on digital cutting machines too!

I hope this post has made you excited about this trending, new fabric! Please feel free to contact me if you have more questions about cork fabric!

Jess from Sallie Tomato


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