If cork brings to mind the stuff stopping up wine bottles, that's great — cheers !— but it also comes in fabric form, and it happens to be ideal for making all kinds of bags, purses, or accessories. And psst: it's surprisingly easy to sew!
Cork fabric 411
The cork fabric you'll buy at the fabric store is made by applying thin sheets of natural cork to a backing. The backing is often a cotton/polyester blend or polyurethane fabric. The cork can be applied to the backing in different ways, such as patchwork or in thin strips, and can be dyed in a variety of colors.
You'll find cork sold at fabric stores and online in a bunch of sizes, anywhere from 9" squares to large yardages. For a small zippered clutch bag, an 18" square is a good bet. One great thing about cork fabric is that it's naturally water- and dust-repellent, and most are also treated with a sealant for added durability.
Some cork fabrics come printed with a pattern or have metallic designs added — which is a bonus because your project is already on the way to fabulous before you even get started sewing.
How to sew with cork
Here's the deal: it's not very different from sewing any other fabric. I find that a size 80 Universal needle, regular thread, and the standard presser foot on my sewing machine works just fine.
If you have your eye on some leather patterns, keep in mind that most things you can make out of leather can be made with cork, and an added benefit is that you don't have to fit your pattern pieces on irregular skins the way you do with natural leather.
Cutting cork fabric
To cut out the cork fabric, you can use regular scissors or a rotary cutter . I find it helpful to mark my cutting lines on the back of the fabric, which takes pencil or chalk very well.
Avoid pinning cork fabric
As with vinyl or leather, avoid using pins because perforations and holes can be obvious.
Use small craft clips to hold the pieces together instead. It's much faster than applying tape and easy to adjust as you go.
For applying zippers, a peel-and-stick tape designed for sewing works perfectly and keeps your zipper in place as you sew.
Go ahead and iron
Cork fabric presses like other fabric, but the seams won't stay pressed. If you want your seams to stay crisp, you may need to topstitch.
The backing on cork fabric adds quite a bit of stiffness, so you may not need to do any interfacing. But if you do want to add a fusible interfacing, it can ironed on just like other fabrics. Use the synthetic setting on your iron and press just enough to adhere the interfacing.
Trim away bulk
Because cork is very sturdy, you may want to remove any unneeded fabric. As you sew, you can trim away the corners to reduce bulk. On the other hand, leaving the excess fabric in can create some structure in your project. It's up to you!
No edge finishing needed
When you're creating straps and loops for a bag keep in mind that cork doesn't unravel, so you can leave the edges raw. Just fold and stitch. Or, give your bag a punch of color and use a matching fabric to create the handle. Either way, it's a win.