I love working with cork fabric and incorporate it into as many of my designs as possible. It brings a whole new dimension to the simplest of accessories
So...what is it?
This natural product comes from the bark of Cork Oak trees. It is exactly the same material used to make wine stoppers. It is impermeable, elastic, lightweight and naturally fire-retardant. To create cork fabric, thin cork sheets from the bark are laminated to fabric using sealants and special techniques. This makes it strong and allows it to hold its shape.
Cork fabric is called nature’s leather, as it has a similar texture and feel to leather. Being durable and strong, it can be used in accessories and bags, just like leather. Apart from being beautiful and soft, the fabric is hypoallergenic, anti-fungal and waterproof. Therefore, it is clean and easy to maintain.
How is it made?
The cork oak tree is native to the coastal areas of Portugal, Spain and France, and is the national tree of Portugal. These extraordinary trees thrive for centuries, when their bark is harvested at regular intervals. The oak tree is unique for this reason, as it is the only tree that survives even after the bark is stripped from it.
Does harvesting cork, destroy the tree?
No! Quite the contrary. In fact, removing the bark once in a decade allows the tree to thrive for two hundred years or more.
The bark is first harvested when the tree is 25-30 years old. This initial harvest is usually poor quality, and is not suitable for creating fabric. Subsequent harvests yield high quality cork, called “gentle cork”, and this is what is used in preparing cork fabric.
Extraction of cork is performed by skilled workers. They remove the bark carefully, using firm and precise moves with sharp axes to free the cork from the trunk. They exercise great care when removing the bark so that the underlying layers aren’t damaged, or the tree will be harmed.
Once the cork sheets are dried, the process of creating cork fabric begins. Here is the sequence of steps;