While I was in New Orleans last month, I came across this fantastic store called Queork, a retailer (and full-time evangelist) of the merits of cork as a material. I learned that cork can be made into everything from bags to wallets to shoes, but what most intrigued me was the use of cork as an upholstery material. They suggested cork as the perfect vegan alternative to leather, possessing all the same warmth and natural patterning, with a softer and warmer texture. It supposedly even resists scratching and cleans up easily, and they even have cork dog beds to prove it. I had to give it a try.
Cork upholstery fabric is comparably priced to leather, so it’s definitely not a budget alternative, but I’d been hunting for a new ottoman for the living room for months. Just in time, I found Target with this gorgeous Project 62 cork basket. It was the perfect cheap way to give cork a try, without the up front investment. I’m pretty thrilled with how it turned out!
I foster kittens with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which means that my furniture needs to be resistant to tiny claws, and very easy to clean. Thus far, the ottoman is holding up beautifully to the babies’ attempts to climb it. Interested in making one of your very own? Read on for instructions!**
**This same procedure should work for any similar type of cloth basket. Find your favorite, turn it upside down, stuff it, and like magic--an ottoman.
Base fabric—I used some leftover canvas dropcloth from Home Depot. You'll need a 16 inch diameter circle and a rectangle approximately 51" by 22 inches.
Batting or fiber fill
Top cushion piece—this can be more batting/fiber fill or foam. I had an old memory foam pillow on hand that I never use, so that's what I went with.
5 gallon bucket and lid
Scissors and/or box cutter
Hot glue gun (optional)
Sewing machine (optional)
The beauty of this project is that it is perfect for a lazy DIY. The cork is extremely forgiving—it’s firm enough that it covers any weird corners from a bad sewing job or from hacking at a memory foam pillow with dull scissors, and it’s smooth enough to slide on and off your under layer easily. Don't worry too much about it. Perfection is the enemy of completion.
Step 1: Fabric form
The diameter of the basket is 16 inches, but make this easy on yourself and just trace around the outside of the bottom of the basket and cut it out with another half inch grace. This will give you your overage for sewing (ahem, or gluing) your top to your sides.
The circumference is around 50 inches, so measure a section that’s about 51 inches by 22 inches (we want to leave lots of extra room in the length for later on). Fold in half hamburger style and sew. Tack the top and sides together and sew, mimicking the shape of the basket. Again, this doesn’t need to be gorgeous, so if you’ve got a sewing machine and skills, do that. If you’ve got a sewing machine but without any real skills, then you’re in the exact boat I was in, and you can still sew something totally functional here. And if you’ve got a few skills and no sewing machine, I won’t judge you if you just whip out the glue gun and get it done that way.
Step 2: Top cushion
If you’re going the route of batting/fiber fill, you can skip this step. Grab your foam piece and trace two concentric circles: the outside of the basket, and the lid of the 5 gallon bucket. Cut the foam to the size of the larger circle.
Now, the 5 gallon bucket is nearly exactly as tall as the basket itself, so I cut out some of the inside of the foam in order to take down the overall height of the piece once assembled. So take your scissors or a box cutter and cut maybe an inch (depending on the size of your foam section) along the line of the inner circle. From there, shave off that inch deep section from the entire inside of the circle, so in the end you have sort of a bowl shape. Again, this doesn’t at all need to be pretty.
Step 3: Prep your bucket
For starters, remove the handle of the bucket.
The lid of the bucket is a little more flexible than you might hope it would be if you want to be able to use it as a seat as well as a foot stool. In order to add a little more support (and also a little more weight to the thing overall), I filled the bucket with rolled cardboard. Rolled cardboard is actually an extremely stable substance, and works really well to reinforce the piece. Cut sheets of cardboard into strips about the height of the bucket and roll it into a coil. Once you have it to a diameter that makes you comfortable, tape it so it doesn't unravel and tuck it in the bucket. If you haven't rolled to the same diameter as the bucket, you can tuck scrap foam into the sides to the cardboard coil centered in the middle.
Step 4: Assemble!
Stuff your foam in the base of the cloth form. Put the bucket in next with the lid against the foam. Wrap it with batting (this is the recommended path), or stuff with leftover fiber fill that’s been in a bin in your basement for the last few years, if you’re the type to hoard craft supplies for eons at a time (no judgement).
Step 5: Close the bottom
If you’re one of the aforementioned folks with sewing skills, feel free to cut a second circle of the same diameter as the original one and close the thing up neatly. If you’re continuing to follow in my lazy footsteps, I recommend grabbing the hot glue gun again and just attaching the fabric to the bottom of the bucket directly. I stretched it nice and tight and glued the four quadrants, and then the eighths, and then glued the flaps left over together. Finally, finish off with a last circle to cover your seams and make everything neat and tidy.
Step 6: Turn your basket upside down and slide on the form.
Ta da! You're done!