Repurposing Wine Corks for Stuffing

As all of us who study historical fashion know, our foremothers had all sorts of ways of changing the shapes of their bodies in keeping with the current trends. Of course, we all know about stays and corsets, and hoopskirts are all but notorious, but we can’t forget about all the ways that women have shaped their backsides over time! Bum rolls, false rumps, bustle pads and other forms of hip and rear padding have been coming in and out of fashion for centuries. Sometimes we forget that, if you’re looking for a small waist, padding out your hips goes a long way towards achieving that goal. The contrast of large hips makes the waist look even smaller.

There are many kinds of stuffing you can use in your padding, but I have a definite preference.

Fiberfill is always available, but it’s hot, gets lumpy and flat easily, and it’s basically a million pieces of microplastic, which I try to avoid putting into the environment whenever possible, especially for my hobby.

Wool roving is also a choice but has the same problem of eventual flattening. You’ll also have to buy either Fiberfill or roving (unless you have sheep), while my other options are free!

Fabric scraps are always around in any costumer’s studio. My first rump was stuffed with these, but it was very heavy, because you have to pack A LOT of fabric scraps in to get enough volume. It also, inevitably, will eventually deflate.

That leaves my favorite option: cork! Cork is lightweight for the amount of volume you get, and is much less prone to being slowly crushed by the weight of gowns and petticoats. Cork is also a very historically accurate material for this kind of padding. In the 18th and 19th century, the cork was generally carved into blocks of the right shape and size before being covered in fabric and attached to a waistband. Today, though this may still be possible, it’s a lot easier to repurpose the corks that many of us already have lying around!

Of course, whole wine corks would make for a very lumpy and uneven stuffing, so it’s necessary to process them down into something a bit more effective. You will need:

  • Lots of corks
  • A large pot
  • Water
  • A serrated knife
  • A cutting board

Before you start, you’ll want to go through your corks and make sure that none of them are synthetic. It’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference. The synthetic ones are generally very smooth around the outside, and spongy on the ends. In these images, the two top corks are both real, the bottom one is fake. You can also see that the two real corks have cracks where the corkscrew went in, while the synthetic one has a clean, round hole.

Put your corks into a large pot. You will probably need to work in batches in order to get enough. You don’t want to do too many at once or they will cool before you have a chance to cut them all up. You will also probably get tired of this after a while, so give yourself a break before you get too tired and start to rush and cut yourself!
Add enough water to cover the corks by an inch or so (they will float, but add enough water that they would be covered if they weren’t).
Cover the corks with something that will weight them down and hold them in the water (or at least hold in the steam). I used a smaller pot lid, but you could also use a plate or smaller pot. Make sure that whatever you use, you will have a way to lift it easily while it is very hot!
Bring the water to a rolling boil and let boil for 20 minutes.
When you remove the lid, the corks should look swollen. Remove a cork carefully with tongs or a slotted spoon. Replace the lid so that the rest stay nice and warm.

Your cork should be larger than an un-boiled cork, and be squishy and pliable. In these photos, the cork on the left has been boiled. The one on the right has not.

Cut your cork in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. I found it was easier to cut it part way and then just tear it the rest of the way. You want to work pretty quickly, as the cork will become harder quickly once out of the hot water and steam. Don’t try to work so fast that you cut yourself!

I have read about people grinding whole corks in the food processor, but that didn’t work for me at all. There was always one cork that got caught on the blade, effectively capping it and rendering the whole thing useless. Go ahead and try that if you want, and I wish you better luck than I had!

Cut each half in half lengthwise again.

Chop each piece into 4 equal pieces, 16 pieces total.

At this point, if you need smaller pieces, you might try the food processor again. For my purposes, these 16ths were just fine. (Remember, the smaller your pieces, the more cork you will need to stuff something, and therefore the heavier it will get. I would only go smaller than this to stuff quite a small pad.)

Leave your pieces to air dry, or pop in a warm oven for a while.

You can now use your cork pieces as stuffing!

I used mine to stuff a 1780s split rump made using the pattern from the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.

Now, go use up those boxes and jars and bags of wine corks you’ve been stowing away forever!

3 thoughts on “Repurposing Wine Corks for Stuffing

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