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Working with Cork Fabric

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

Cork fabric is on trend right now. I was intrigued with this product and wanted to find out more so after some quick research on the internet I found out that Cork is a natural, environmentally friendly resource. Cork comes from the Cork Oak Tree that is native to Portugal. The bark is stripped from the cork tree and shaved into thin sheets, this does not harm the tree and it lives on to harvest cork around every nine years, cork trees can live for hundreds of years!

The thin shavings of cork are adhered to a backing fabric that is made up of polyester, cotton and polyurethane.

My next step was to put it to the test and to start experimenting, I wanted to see how it worked with some of my existing bag patterns and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised, so much so that it inspired me to design a new pattern especially for cork fabric called the Trio Pocket Purse.

Cork fabric has some great properties that make it easy to sew. It’s light weight, smooth, easy to manoeuvre and it doesn’t stretch or fray.

So here are my top tips for working with cork fabric on a domestic sewing machine:

Use a size 80 needle, a Jeans, Microtex or even a Universal needle will do the job. Also, increase your stitch length to 3.

Sew cork with an all purpose 50 weight thread, I used Guitermann polyester.

Don’t use pins on cork fabric as the pin holes will be permanent. When sewing, pin in the seam allowance or hold layers together with Wonder Clips. Overlay pieces can be held in place with sticky tape before sewing.

When cutting out the cork fabric, use sticky tape to hold the pattern pieces in place and cut all straight edge pieces with a rotary cutter, ruler and cutting mat to give nice clean straight edges, this is especially important for pieces that are going to have raw edges. (More on raw edges below)

Use a 4B lead pencil to mark position points onto the cork fabric.

Think ahead to reduce bulk in the seams. I would say that 4 layers of cork fabric would be the maximum to sew through on a domestic sewing machine.

Sew straps, tabs and trims with raw edges.

(This will also help to reduce the bulk in the seams)

Cork fabric is very stable, it doesn’t stretch or fray, this means that there is no need to have the seams turned under on straps, tabs and trims. Cut pieces like this less the seam allowance and position back to back, holding together with liquid pins or wash away double-sided tape before top stitching close to the edge. Cork also makes great zipper pocket overlays and is very easy to do with the raw edge!

Use a matching coloured thread for top stitching the cork fabric. If you need to unpick stitching from cork fabric the needle holes will be permanent so if you’re not feeling confident, use a matching coloured thread so that any little wobbles won’t stand out. Cork is a beautiful feature and looks great with matching coloured top stitching anyway.

There is no need to use a special Teflon foot, cork will sew easily with your standard machine feet.

Keep reading to see how I adapted the Mirabella Bag pattern to include cork trim, next week I'll show how I made the Adventurer Bag with cork.

Mirabella Bag with Cork Trim.

Kits for this bag are available here while stocks last.

(This is just a brief tutorial showing how to use cork, the pattern pieces and instructions on how to make the bag are in the pattern that can be purchased here)

Prepare the pattern pieces by halving the strap casing piece as we only need it to be a single layer and remove the 6 mm (1/4”) seam allowance on the flap as shown in the picture above.

Cut out the bag front and the cover strap from the exterior fabric.

Open out the front bag piece and lay it onto the cork fabric to use it as a pattern for the back of the bag. Position the bag base, the strap casing 2 x tab pieces and the zipper pocket overlay that you can down load here. Tape the pieces in place then cut out all straight edges with a rotary cutter, ruler and cutting mat, cut curved edges with your scissors. Cut the long straight edges of the zipper pocket overlay with a rotary cutter and the short ends with scissors as shown in the pictures below.

Cut out the lining pieces.

Cut out a piece of foam interfacing for the front of the bag.

As the cork fabric is already quite stiff I interfaced it with Shapewell which is a white woven non fusible interfacing to add some extra body without the bulk of a foam interfacing.

Cut the straps, tabs and handle from the same fabric as the front of the bag.

Cut light weight iron on pellon for the straps.

Mark the zipper pocket opening onto the wrong side of the lining pocket piece.

Place the pocket piece right sides together with the main bag piece. Stitch the pocket rectangle then cut in the middle of the rectangle and out to the corners, cutting through all layers.

Working from the wrong side, to reduce the bulk, trim away the foam interfacing from the rectangle.

Turn the pocket through the opening to the wrong side and pin to hold in place.

Using a large stitch length, tack around the outer edge of the rectangle opening to hold in place before sewing in the zipper.

Use double sided wash away tape to hold the zipper in place .

Peel away the paper backing.

Position the zipper and stitch close to the edge of the rectangle opening to hold in place. Next, unpick the tacking stitches.

Position the cork zipper pocket overlay, hold in place with sticky tape and stitch close to the edge of the cork on the inside and on the outside edge.

Attach the magnetic clip to one of the flap pieces and the bag front.

Sew the 2 flap pieces with the backs facing sewing close to the edge.

Sew the ring tabs, handle, cover strip and strap casing onto the back of the bag.

Attach the zipper to the top edge of the bag front.

Attach the zipper to the top edge of the bag back.

Attach the bag feet then sew in the exterior base.

Make up the lining and attach to the top edges of the bag, sandwiching the zipper between the lining and the exterior fabric. Position the bag so that the front and back lining is right sides together and the exterior bag is right sides together. Sew the side seams leaving an opening in the lining on one side.

Turn the bag through to the right side and hand stitch the opening closed.

Attach the straps.

The bag can be used as a backpack.

Or a shoulder bag.

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