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How to sew with cork fabric (and make a cork bag strap)

Posted by Lisa Lam on

We only stock Touch Pro cork, this superb quality cork is backed with woven flannel-like fabric (see left-hand side) or canvas-like fabric which gives it a padded feel and durability and stability.

How does cork feel and what is it like to sew with? 

Well, in a word, it's lovely!  High-quality cork is beautifully smooth and pliable.  It has the handle of leather.  It's almost warm to the touch and has a strokeable peach-fuzz softness.   This cork fabric is made in such a way that it will retain these properties over time.  It will not dry, become brittle or flake with age.  As a fabric, the handle and drape are similar to leather, vinyl and thin sheet rubber.  It is water, dirt and crease resistant and incredibly earth-friendly.  Plus, it is vegan-friendly - no animal products are used in the manufacture or composition of cork fabric. 

What is fabulous about cork is its natural pattern and its ability to take on colour dye.  Corks colours are richly saturated.  The intense colours and the thicker, smooth handle of cork combine to make this fabric look and feel very high-end. 

Cork may look and feel unique, but it is actually pretty easy to sew with.  It's pretty much the same as sewing with real/faux leather/vinyl.  You just need to remember a few things which I will cover here.  After you've tried sewing with cork, I'm sure you're going to fall in love with it!


Quickie good to know (all of this info is inside this blog post): 

  1. Stitch length = construction 3mm; topstitch 3.5-4mm (the thicker the layers, the longer the stitch length.
  2. Needle size 80-90 universal.  You can also use leather needles.
  3. Securing your stitches, do not sew in forward and reverse. Instead, pull the top thread (the thread on the right side of your work) to the wrong side and knot the 2 threads together.
  4. Cork doesn't fray.
  5. Cork does not crease, if you want folds, you will need to stitch them in.  If an elephant has sat on the cork you can safely iron it (on med heat setting). 
  6. Cork can happily be sewn on home machines (typically 3-4 layers).
  7. Use rivets when things are getting too thick for your machine.  Don't battle-on with your machine, you will both get very cross...
  8. Use sewing clips/double-sided tape/glue to hold pattern pieces together, don't use pins on cork.
  9. Cork is perfect for bags as it is very durable and it is water and dirt repellent. 


What tools will I need?

  1. Quilt ruler - use with the rotary cutter (and cutting mat)
  2. Rotary cutter - for precise lines you can't beat a rotary cutter.
  3. Thread - my thread of choice for all bag making is Auriful 40wt (look for the green spool), or you can use a quality brand all-purpose nylon.
  4. Machine needle - I use 80 - 90/14 universal needles.  Cork fabric is not quite self-healing (in other words, when you make holes in cork, they won't fully disappear).  You need a strong needle, but not one so thick that will leave large holes behind in the fabric.  An 80-90 size needle is a good balance.
  5. Pattern marking - I use Clover Chaco chalk wheel pens. I love 'em.  They are precise and the marks rub off easily when needed.
  6. Pattern marking - Hera markers (or bone folder) are an alternative marking tool.  I prefer the Chaco pen, as you have to press hard with a Hera marker to make marks.
  7. Seam presser - there are times during construction when you need to press seams down and this seam marker is a very handy alternative to an iron.  But, bear in mind you cannot iron creases into cork (as the cork will just spring back).  If you want to keep seams pressed down flat, you will need to stitch the seam down.
  8. Glue - you can't use pins in cork as they will leave behind holes.   Instead, use glue (Gutermann HT2 is my fave)  or double-sided basting tape to hold pattern pieces in place.  Prym Wondertape is fab (as it does not gum-up your needle).  
  9. Rivets - cork is thick.  Home sewing machines will typically sew through 4 cork layers.  This becomes problematic when you are stitching your 4 layer handle loop to your 2 layer bag.  Ahhhhhhh!!!  You know what?  Unless you are on an industrial machine, don't even go there.  Instead, invest in a hand punch or press and use rivets to secure those bajillion layers.  Rivets work so well and (as you will see) look so awesome!  Try Chicago rivets as they look amazing and are so easy to use (plus you don't need a hammer).
  10. Sewing clips - as I mentioned before, you cannot pin cork.  Get yourself some sewing clips and you'll wonder how you managed without them! 
  11. Machine feet - (not pictured).  You can use, a roller or Teflon foot, but I think a walking foot is best, because not only will it not stick, but a walking foot will more easily handle the thick layers!  


How to sew with cork (demonstrated via a cork bag strap tutorial).

You will need:

    1. When making cork straps I think it's best to make them from 2 layers of cork cut carefully to the same width and stitched wrong sides together.  As cork fabric doesn't fray (and the raw edges look neat) you don't need to worry about exposed raw edges.   This method makes a perfectly nice-looking and strong strap that is not as thick and unwieldy as a (bias binding style) 4 layer strap would be.   So, cut your 2 cork strips to the same width as your ring or snap hook and to your desired length plus 7.5cm (3") for folding over the ends.


    2. Bring the 2 strips wrong sides together and take your time to match all edges perfectly.  Use sewing clips, glue or double-sided tape to hold the strips together.   


    3. Set the stitch length to 3.  (When sewing with cork you can actually sew with standard length (of 2.4-5) stitches, but I think that as cork fabric is thick, standard length stitches can look a bit small in the cork fabric).  Stitch all around the short and long strap edges.


    4.  Thread one of the snap hook rings onto one of the strap ends.  Look at your rivet, how tall is it?  The height of your rivet will determine how many times you will need to fold your strap end - a well-fitting rivet has sufficient layers to fill the entire rivet height (and a punched hole that is slightly smaller than the rivet shaft width).  Fold the strap end (over the ring) 4cm (1 1/2") to the wrong side.  Fold the strap end over again to the wrong side (so the first folded edge nearly touches the hook ring).


    5. On the strap to the wrong side (at the strap end), make a mark in the folded strap end.  Mark the centre of the folded strap end (I like to make the mark by pressing a rivet half into the cork.  Use an awl to pierce a starter hole into the mark you have just made.  Pierce through all layers. 


    6. Use a hole punch (I'm using a Prym Vario punch) to make a hole through all layers of the folded strap end. 


    7. With the trigger hook attached, pop the rivet in through the punched holes. If you like you can pop a dab of glue into the rivet shaft before screwing the halves together. I'm using a Chicago rivet as they look awesome, they are super-strong and you don't need to use a hammer. 


    8. As you can see, the strap raw edges are neat (and as cork fabric does not fray, the edges will remain neat).  Very nice! 


    • Thank you for a great tutorial! If I am using upholstery fabric for a wristlet, will this Chicago screw work? Or will this be too loose? I love the look of these!

      JOAN on

    • If substituting cork into a bag pattern that calls for cotton fabric + interfacing, is it necessary to interface the cork?

      Heather on

    • Thank you. This is what I need to know.

      Fran on

    • Thank you, again, for another wonderful article. I love cork’s beauty, have purchased some, but have not yet tried to use it. Now I feel comfortable enough to try! Thanks!

      Mynevere on

    • Lisa!!! You ROCK!!! Love the idea and love your color combos too KEEP IT UP!!

      rhonda on

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