Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Just a Little Sole - Part Seven - Cork Cloth

" No. 13,286.—William Johnston, of Brooklyn, (E. D.) N. Y.— Improvement in Cork Sole Stuff.—Patent dated September 29, 1857.— This improvement is described by the inventor as follows : I construct the cork cloth of cotton muslin, silk, leather, or other suitable material, which material is stretched on a solid frame ; on the surface of the material is laid a priming of boiled oil, over which I sift a quantity of fine pulverized cork, and press it in with rollers before the oil is dry, and allow it to remain some time to dry. I then apply another coat of oil and sift another quantity of fine cork over it, which is pressed in as before, repeating this process until I obtain the substance required. The pulverized cork is made by grinding solid cork in a burr stone mill, or any other that will reduce it fine."

Cork cloth or lino cork is frequently referenced as being used in the construction of cork soles, but does anyone still produce it? And where might I find it?

Well I did manage to find it, and this is great example of following an obscure lead when doing research. I was searching for cork products and encountered an artisan creating purses from cork cloth. The cork cloth she was using was beautiful, but not the product I needed, but I ran a search using "cork cloth", which led me to a company that has been producing cork products since 1855!

Jelinek Cork Group (JCG) is over 150 years old. Today it is one of the oldest continually active cork companies in the world. It remains a privately owned, fifth generation family run company headquartered in Canada with subsidiary warehousing, office, and/or production facilities in various countries around the world. Jelinek Cork Group was founded in 1855 in the province of Bohemia within the former Austro-Hungarian Empire but known today as the Czech Republic. That area of the world was known then, as it is today, as the capital of world beer consumption. Cork stoppers were supplied by Jelinek to the leading breweries of the world when beer bottles were still sealed with natural corks. Distilleries and wineries quickly learned the advantages of using natural cork in sealing their own bottles and Jelinek Cork was soon also supplying these two industries, as well as the cosmetic, spice, and food markets with their stopper requirements.
During the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the communists in 1948, Jelinek Cork was nationalized and the Jelinek family escaped to Canada to find freedom and a new start. The new North American company was started and prospered throughout Canada and the USA and began expanding into other countries. In 1989, with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the ousting of the communist regime, Jelinek Cork Group re-established a division of JCG in Eastern Europe and today also have facilities in both the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic.

The product that caught my eye was their lino cork:

"Fine grained cork roll material with natural linseed oil and rosin binder. Secured to natural jute backing. Color remains consistent throughout thickness of roll. Will not crack or break when bent around 2-3/4" (70mm) diameter cylinder. The material is washable, self-healing, and resistant to bacteria."

Sounds quite similar to William Johnston's patented procedure from 1857.

So I decided I was just going to have to order a roll.

Here's what it looks like:

When it was first unwrapped, there was quite a strong linseed oil odor, which has mostly dissipated with time. It is fairly easy to cut, using good strong scissors and a single roll will supply probably close to a dozen pairs of soles, making the product economical if you have need for that number or if several people go in together for the purchase.
I decided to cover my cork soles with canvas on the upper surface and an extremely heavy weight wool on the lower surface. The sides are approximately 1/4", which should work nicely to attach the uppers to the sole.

I should have a completely finished pair of slippers soon - pictures to follow!


  1. How cool! Thanks for the mini history lesson. Looking forward to seeing the finished product, all in good time...

  2. i agree - thanks for sharing. i also am looking forward to seeing the finished product.

  3. How exciting! I'm getting really inspired to make some slippers myself.