Cork! How to recognize durable and high quality cork fabric

Over the years, so many many questions have we been asked about cork. Is it durable? Is it brittle? Is it waterproof? With this article we hope to answer these questions.

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“How can your cork products be so expensive when I got this in Portugal for half the price?” The answer is in the details.

 

Different works, different corks

The versatility of cork as a material means there’s a plethora of uses of this material, from flooring to insulation, to accessories made of cork fabric. However different types of cork processing are indicated for specific uses. Therefore the kind of process one does to cork bark for a floor tile is normally not indicated for example for a cork wallet or umbrella. But what are these different processes? Let me explain.

Cork Agglomerate

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Cork Agglomerate is perhaps the cheapest kind of cork processing and there’s a reason for it. Essentially it’s any kind of cork grounded to whatever grain density is needed. This is the utmost re-usability of cork as it’s often made of used cork products such as wine stoppers or anything made of cork. Once the cork is grounded. The cork is then poured into a vat where it’s boiled. The boiling process makes the cork release a natural resin that binds the different granules together. With this process one can turn the normal sized cork bark into blocks of whatever use you need it for.

Pros: Ideal for large scale works that will use cork. Normally used in industrial settings or construction. Though it’s the most common use of cork due to how cheap and reusable it is. It can be died in different colors and has a high tolerance to synthetic dyes.

Cons: The cork granules will eventually flake away little by little. In a plank or cube form is ideal though it is brittle and not flexible. If cut into a sheet it will simply break apart.

Main uses: Insulation, wine stoppers or any kind of industrial sized where cork is needed. Lisbon harbor has famously incorporated cork granules with concrete into it’s foundations creating pillars of concrete with less weight in a very swampy part of the Tagus river.

Not Recommended For: Cork fabric! It’s low degree of flexibility means it will brittle away and soon enough your cork purse will decay into tiny cork pieces.

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Different grounds of cork granules drying in the sun Photo circa 1940s by Artur Pastor

Cork Stripes

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Cork Stripes is at least 40 years old was for a long time the most common use of cork besides agglomerated cork

Cork Stripes is composed of homogeneous sliced planks of cork bark bound together into a block and then cut into slices to whichever degree is needed. The planks are conjoined vertically and normally have only a couple of centimeters in thickness. As the planks are placed vertically a number of horizontal darker brown lines are visible. These lines, or pores, are naturally dug on the cork bark when it’s still in the tree. Insects and fungus create them to reach the livable cork bark on the cork oak. As the cork bark grows they slowly dig deeper and deeper. The planks are also of a lower degree of cork bark representing more pores and more inconsistencies in the final product making it a relatively cheap cork bark to obtain but with a lesser lifespan.

Pros: Cork stripes is the next step from agglomerates as it shows the typical cork smoothness in a relatively cheaper way of processing. The stripes are often cut from the leftovers of the wine stoppers industry so there is no wastage of cork! On top of that, the direct use of cork bark means the trees are kept in a healthy state and promotes the preservation of cork oak forests (montado) throughout Portugal and Spain.

Cons: The stripes joint together and the many natural pores cut horizontally means that for thinner cork products these could break apart at these parts. As it is cheaper to produce and widely available, many unethical businesses based in third world countries are making products with these process by the millions. Unfortunately this kind of fabric does not have the same kind of strength and leads to propagate the idea that cork is not a durable material. Adding to this the cheap backing and synthetic dies and is a perfect recipe for disaster at the consumers expense.

Main uses: Cork Floor Tiles, Cork Wallpapers. Some fabric uses such as towels or bed covers.

Not Recommended For: Durable Cork fabric. The many joints in the fabric and the pores themselves means the fabric will likely decompose from these parts and break away. Many cheaper cork fabrics made in unsustainable ways are sold in this way. The backing of these cork fabrics is normally a plastic mesh or sheet to cut costs. As a fabric it has a very low durability rate. It does not help either that it’s dyed normally with chemical compound. Chemical dies in a thin cork cut makes it dry up and break apart quicker.

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A pouch made of cork stripes fabric.

But wait, don’t you have some wallets and bags made in a similar style? Yes and no. Meaning yes we do, and no it’s not the same techonology. The Portuguese investment in Cork technology means that there’s new ways to process cork into stripes and other shapes ensuring it does not decay. This is done by ensuring that after the cut is made, a layer of natural plant based resin is added to the cork layer to ensure it won’t decompose. This will always be clearly identifiable as you won’t feel the joints and crevices on the cork fabric.

Cork Fabric

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Cork Fabric is created from cubes of cork cut directly from the bark or from the leftovers of cork wine stoppers processing.

The cubes are layed in 25 meters long by 1.80 meters sheets by hand and cut to 0.1mm thickness. This now layer of cork is then inserted by hand into a machine which binds it with a cotton baking. By pressing both layers together the cork releases a resin that effectively binds them into a waterproof and durable fabric. But the process is not over yet. Afterwards, skilled workers will cut by hand any irregularities in the cork fabric. The cubes cut in a vertical direction as opposed to the horizontal cut of cork stripes. Which means theres a lesser degree of porosity in the cork fabric itself. On top of that higher quality cork fabric is made of the less porous cork bark possible. And the lesser joints and pores means a higher degree of durability of the fabric itself. The backing is almost always cotton giving it an additional flexible strength to the fabric.

Pros: Cork fabric is the ideal for crafting and leather alternative. It takes color very well which means it can be crafted in different colors. it’s degree of flexibility means it’s an ideal natural fabric.

Cons: Being made of the highest quality of cork bark means it has a higher value but a higher durability as well. It takes only natural dies and attempts at using cheaper artificial colorants will damage the cork.

Main uses: Cork Accessories, Cork Footwear and even Cork Clothing. Also ideal for Cork Towels, Rugs and wallpapers.

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Not Recommended For: Industrial uses. Cork fabric can decay very quickly when in contact with some chemicals becoming brittle and breaking away. If you’re not sure on what to use on your cork product ask us first.

 

So in conclusion, what’s the best and most durable type of cork?

The most durable cork fabric will always be the one with the less pores and joints possible. The lesser parts that make the cork sheet, the longer it will last. The exception is if the layers where treated after the cutting process and this is easily identifiable by how the cork feels. It will feel like polished wood.

8 years in Ireland

Today 8 years ago I started my Irish adventure. I landed in Cork airport on the evening of the 27th and the 28th was the first day of work in Ireland. I did not have a fancy phone but had a semi fancy camera a Nikon D60 with a Nikor 18-200mm VRII lense! And so I was able to take this shot:

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It’s not very cool or astonishing shot but it represents the start of something completely new. It’s weird to talk about this as many would say I am an “ex-pat” but I don’t see myself as such I always saw myself as an economic immigrant. Simply put if I had a stable job and life in Portugal eight years ago I would have never moved to Ireland at all.

But back then the best job I could get was designing flyers for a teaching center and then distributing said flyers. i was proud of being able to distribute 10000 flyers a week. A feat easily made having into account how we have many apartment blocks in Faro with over 5 floors and multiple apartments per floor!

Before that I struggled for years to get a stable job as an Archaeologist. But the work was scarce and always on a non-contractual based. Meaning a job one day meant the next day might not be there. And that happened very often when archaeological services depended on construction work during the recession.

So when a job opening in a multinational company i very well knew the work opened up I applied immediately. I spent long nights preparing my CV and Cover Letter to apply for the job and in reality it took me 4 months and three denials before I finally got a phone interview. Each time I went back to the “drawing board” and refurbish everything for the application once again. In the meantime I was doing some photography work for the local theater and local museum.

Like photographing a play which curious enough had a scene inside a 1940s cinema:

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Or for the museum the photo work for an exhibition about traditional salt harvest:

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And in between… editing and CV prep I would go for walks along the old farms:

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And so I passed the phone interview, went to a real interview in Lisbon and once all of that was done I got the confirmation i was hired. Ireland and Cork City would be my destiny. Of course me and my friends made loads of jokes about. “oh you’re gonna get corked” “pretty sure there’s loads of cork in Cork” or “the cork laws are really strong in that city for sure!” *small history note – > Cork Laws where popular slang for freedom of speech repression during the fascist regime and it remained as a slang when you are trying to hide a secret now that Portugal is a democracy.

November was spent packing, getting ready for the big change. But still, just four days before leaving I decided to spend an afternoon taking photos along the coast:

When one changes country though I don’t know if we really know what to expect…

I did not know I would stay 8 years in Ireland but the truth is the longer I was away the harder I missed home. One becomes a stranger in a strange land. Trying to adapt to the new country and at the same time still trying to be the same person from that small town in Portugal…

It grows this wish to go back, to try and go back home. But when you return on holidays you realize that’s not your place either. Things have changed. And the longer you are away, the stranger your own home becomes… Slowly you drift away from your home away from home.

And so I became a mix of southern Portuguese and southern Irish, a kind of lusitanic and celtic symbiotic organism.

“Well you’re practically Irish now anyhow”. These words where told to me a few weeks ago and as those words set in I realized that I hardly  go back to that small town in Portugal where I grew up. There seems to be a detachment from it that does not seem it will be repaired anytime soon. And as this gap gets bigger the smaller the gap between me and Ireland.

Today I still feel like a stranger in Ireland, but I am today closer to Ireland than I ever was before as Portugal becomes stranger to me everyday…

So let’s hope for the future and see what it holds for the next 8 years. 🙂

 

Two Years of Cork Crafts

Two years ago we walked into a craft market with a suitcase filled with cork goods…

There where our humble beginnings. A few cork items on a table inside a church in Cork City.

Two Years on, we grew because of you. Because of your knowledge of how important cork products can be for the future, for the environment and ultimately for your future and of our planet.

We grew in size but also in diversity. We grew in friends both in Ireland and in Portugal.

We grew from a weekly Saturday stall at a market to having an online shop, and being present a 6 markets a week around Cork and Kerry!

To all of you that follow us, that know our message to be right. That want a sustainable future for our planet and understand how important cork can be for that future. we thank you and we will celebrate together many more years. 🙂

Where’s the online shop!? #shoplocal

“Good morning Johnny!” I greet my stall neighbor in a friendly manner on that sunny morning in Macroom. We end up talking a bit about how the markets are going. The market is abuzz with the regulars. Coming for some groceries and staying for some lunch. It’s not a busy market anymore but used to be and still is one of the oldest around County Cork

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Of the farmer’s markets we do, our favorite became Skibereen. With such a good crowd and food producers. It is one of the most lively markets we can find in Ireland. From fresh bread, to fresh coffee, to organic vegetables, this market has it all. Then there’s the brick a brack, the book seller, the artist and even the poet. All of them sell here.

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But the truth is, these markets, once the soul of the communities they integrate, are dying. They are dying because of the convenience of getting everything in a centralized mass produced style. This convenience became the norm to the point that nowadays we even avoid any human contact when we are shopping. We end up giving money to a machine while scanning all the products we bought on the convenient global supermarket. We end up paying way more for what we want to buy, to have it marketed to us in a nice presentable plastic bag, in a specific number of units.

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What if I want one onion? No! I have to buy six, wrapped in plastic. I want a soup? I can get it in the cold section in a nice plastic container. Oats? Cereals? Only from this or that specific brand and in their formatted container. And what about bread? Well! Some supermarkets noticed that people want fresh bread so they invest in having bakeries where before was only a wall of cutely, plastic wrapped bread.

Then comes the time to pay. And we go (as mentioned above) into a long queue for the “quick” check out, avoiding interaction with even the cashier that passes what you want to buy through a scanner. Sometimes, nowadays even the cashiers are waiting for costumers while the quick or self checkout queue grows…

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In truth, we just become more and more alienated, we don’t interact with anyone in this artificially lit environment only created to make you want to buy something more from the next big promotion.

But think about it? How do you think a supermarket can sell such cheap fruit and vegetables? At what expense are these vegetables that cheap? How can they do it?

I will leave it to you to discover that information for yourself, but there is a reason you don’t find your local farmers produce in any big chain supermarket.

But why are we writing about this? We are writing about this because we strongly support local markets and local producers. We strongly believe these markets to be the heart and soul of the community and that they are particularly important in making us engage socially with each other.

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We strongly believe that what is important is to buy from your local producers. And not only this, from your local shoe shops and clothes shops. It’s shocking to see in so many small shops around Cork how the main costumers are regulars from years past and the younger generations progressively skip the act of shopping from local shops.

In our view this is a symptom of a growing problem. A problem that creates an alienation between trader and buyer. Where there’s increasingly no connection between the person you buy from and the product you buy. The person is removed and only the product is important. This is epitome of what is called fast shopping.

It is easier to go into a big brand shop with 3 or 4 floors of clothes and buy there your clothes and then… Then wait in a long queue for one of the 15 cashiers to be available for you to pay. There’s no smiles no interest in talking with the cashier that’s not important only the thing you want.

This alienation and dehumanization of the process of buying products is even more blatant online. Everything is meant to be easy! To make your money quickly spread to a number of online shops in exchange of goods, be it physical or digital! The quicker the whole process the better and nothing else matters. It does not matter who made the product, how it was made and even if it’s a fair price for it.

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All that matters is getting the product, pay for it and wait for it in the mail.

This fast process of shopping creates a constant alienation between the costumer and the seller. There’s no kind of social interaction and is pure a simple extreme consumerism. The product is nothing more than that, a thing. Though, in reality, each of these things we buy, have a whole timeline of events that lead to it being in your mailbox waiting for you to get it. And all these events where caused by other humans.

Therefore when you shop,  you have chance to ensure that all those events have a positive impact in the world that surrounds you.

But what happens at your local crafts market you say? For starters you get to know the person you are buying from. Be it a local artist or artisan that will explain to you every single process to make something.

Is it cheaper than getting it online? Probably not, and that is because these products you are buying are locally made. Not made in a country on the other side of the world where people are exploited, work long hours surrounded by chemicals and can even die to get the clothes, shoes, hats or even that pet rock you gave your aunt as a joke on her 46th birthday. done for you.

And what if you don’t want to interact with people? Fair enough! That is your choice! Though your choice will always means that your local shopkeeper and your local farmer, shoemaker, artisan will be left at a disadvantage in front of these gigantic corporations designed only to make you spend more money.

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So what does this all means for Cork Crafts?

Essentially, we have been told time and time again how important an online shop is. How selling online is the future. How we can’t have a business if we’re not online.

But we disagree.

The most important part of a business is to interact with the costumer. Is to create an experience for every sale. A backpack can just be a backpack. Or… it can be a backpack handmade in Portugal with cork that is a sustainable product.

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A necklace can just be a pretty necklace. Or… it can be a handmade necklace painstakingly put together by experienced independent artisans that live off those same necklaces.

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It is true though, that this could all be explained in this nice website, explaining the whole process of it. But for us it is more important to explain to everyone how the products are made to have an actual conversation about the item you are about to buy (or not). To even talk about the weather, the sustainable world, geopolitics or even just some random gossip!

With all of this said we admit that we are against buying online. We believe in buying local from your local traders anywhere you can find them. We believe in making time to get to know what you are getting and not just impulse buy our products.

However!

We also understand that we have a number of friends all over Ireland now and it is not fair for us to demand from them to travel to County Cork to buy our products. Therefore we are working on getting the online shop ready. Despite the fact it really is not our business objective.

Looking forward. For 2019 we will start looking into stocking local shops with our cork goods, so we can make sure our friends all over Ireland can have access to our goods.

With this said, if you know of any shop around Ireland that may be interested in stocking our products, let us know either by private message or by commenting below.

Lastly, if you read this until the end! Thank you! We really appreciate it.

See you soon at your local market! #shoplocal

Introducing Hand Color

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It was a warm August evening in Silves during it’s Annual Medieval Fair. The cobblestone streets and alleys where packed with visitors dressed in different colors that attended the variety of medievally themed stalls around the old part of the city.

Suddenly from behind a stall someone calls my name “Hey Vasco!” I recognized the smiling man but something was amiss. The last time I had seen him, we where both Archaeology students in a roman dig in nearby Lagos and he had  long black hair in a pony tail that was now gone. That’s why I couldn’t immediately recognize him.

Back then, 8 years before, things where different and we both wanted to make Archaeology a living…

“Paulo! You cut your hair dude!” I said smiling. – How are you my friend? Are you working here?”
“I am! This is what me and Joana do now – Joana was Paulo’s wife and both of them worked on their products. While we talked Paulo kept working on a necklace he was preparing to have it ready for sale. I asked then the obvious question.”And Archaeology?”
“Stopped working on it, Now I do this fulltime, we go around the country doing markets and festivals, and that’s more than enough!” and he pointed at his stall.

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Only then I took a deeper look at their stall and noticed imediately it reminded me of Roman Mosaics, tile by tile making small pieces of art in the shape of necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets.

But not only that but also the characteristic Portuguese cobblestones that are a part of every single sidewalk in Portugal.

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And then there was the artistic “deviation” from this simple pattern, the tiny tiles in black and white where simply multiplying in a myriad of colors and geometric forms creating a spectacle of colors…

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And ranges, from necklaces to bracelets to rings…

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We talked for a good while about how they did their craft, how the market work goes and everything in between, like good friends talking after years of not seeing each other and catching up on all those years apart while the night slowly fell on the medieval city…

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We ended up saying our goodbyes and we both went our different paths.

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Years later when, Cork Crafts was starting there was one major point of it’s inception. To have a way of giving a gateway for Portuguese artisans to sell their crafts but it had to be intimately related to cork.

Immediately I got in touch with Paulo and Joana again. I really wanted to get their work to be a part of Cork Crafts. In my mind the color of cork would make a great contrast with all the colorful sets from Hand Color.

Ended up meeting them in their shop in Cabanas and we agreed it would be a great opportunity to get their designs outside of Portugal and at the same time to have  it as an exclusive cork collection of their necklaces. Lucky for us, Paulo remembered they had some left over cork strings from an experiment few years back and therefore, the first collection of cork necklaces was born:

From there on, Hand Color has been a constant part of our stall at each market, from Cork City, to Bantry, passing through Killarney, the necklaces and bracelets have been a complete success.

For me personally, it’s great to represent Paulo and Joana’s work, crafts from a small town on the south of Portugal to the whole south of Ireland and, with the cork twist!

With all of this in mind, I’m very happy to say that we will  continue to work with Hand Color. And if you ever end up in Cabanas and Mertola, look for Hand Colors shop! And if you meet Joana and Paulo say hi to them from us. 🙂

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