Monday, 16 February 2015

All about bark cloth

If you've got a soft spot for vintage fabrics then you've probably come across barkcloth at some point. I often see it at vintage fairs and on vintage fabric websites, but have never used it or indeed owned any. So when I saw that Annie from The Village Haberdashery was stocking a new collection of organic cotton barkcloth I really wanted to get my hands on some. The collection is called Time Warp by Jessica Jones and is made up of  four mid-century-inspired retro prints. I love the patterns she's chosen for the designs, I think they look very Orla Kiely-esque and the colours are great. 

Sunburst in blue

Loop in pink

Quadrant in pink

This is the one I've fallen for:

Ripple in navy
Annie has very generously gifted me a metre of barkcloth to review, which I'm ever so slightly excited about! Before I start working with it, I thought I'd do a bit of research, so if you're interested in a potted history of barkcloth, read on! 

What is barkcloth?
Barkcloth in its original, primitive form was made from the inner bark of trees found in the South Pacific and surrounding areas. The bark was soaked, then beaten into a paperlike fabric which was then dyed, printed or painted.
The barkcloth we're familiar with today is a cotton fabric made from densely woven fibres. It’s the texture of the cloth, rather than the fibre of the fabric itself which gives it its distinctive appearance. Barkcloth doesn’t appear to have a wale (rib) or distinct weave effect, which results in a rough, textured appearance reminiscent of tree bark.

From SportSuburban on Flickr
An early incarnation of the fabric we now know as barkcloth was produced in France in the 1920’s using cotton mixed with rayon. This woven cloth with a rough, nubby texture was known as Cretonne. By the late 1930's barkcloth was being manufactured in America and was especially popular in Hawaii. GIs and sailors stationed there during the Second World War often sent barkcloth home after seeing it used in home furnishings and shirts. Common designs were florals, botanical prints, tropical prints (especially hibiscus flowers and other native plants) as well as geometric and abstract 'atomic era' prints. 

Source
From barkclothhawaii.com

From barkclothhawaii.com

The dense weave and durability of barkcloth made it a popular choice for curtains, cushions and upholstered home furnishings from the late 1940s to the 1960s.

Source

Cushion by Carol Seatory

Cushion by Carol Seatory

The vibrant, bright designs and durable texture and weight also make it a perfect choice for accessories. 

Source
Source
Barkcloth is less commonly used for garment making, but some of those awesome prints are just crying out to be made into clothes. I love this beautiful barkcloth dress…

Source
…and this skirt worn by Emma at The Fiercest Lilliputian is the perfect showcase for an amazing print.


I fully intend to use my bark cloth for clothes making - a skirt to be exact. The fabric actually has quite a nice drape to it, it's just the textured appearance which makes it look stiffer than it is. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Have you ever made a garment from barkcloth? Or do you have an amazing vintage piece in your stash? Please tell! x




49 comments:

  1. I love your roundup of barkcloth - so informative! It reduced my skiving time by approximately two hours this morning :-p

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    1. Ah, always happy to help with a bit of skiving! x

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  2. Fabulous,colourful and informative post, I am a huge fan of vintage barkcloth and have a nice collection too. The trouble is I am the vintage stuff is too precious to use!
    How lovely then to be introduced to a new fabric that has all the beauty and colour of the old, but not too scary to cut up....my favourite is the quadrant print...
    bestest daisy j

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    1. I know exactly what you mean - I have some vintage fabrics that are too precious to use, I should frame them really! That's also why I got so excited by the new range - you don't feel bad about cutting it up! x

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  3. Jane you are making me buy things...just ordered a 'bit' of lovely fabric from the village habadashery...The power of a blog post eh?
    bestest d

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    1. Wonderful! Which one did you choose? x

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  4. Thanks for the barkcloth info. Never heard of it until now. I'm now interested in buying some to make a skirt. I love that "Sunburst in Blue".

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    1. I soooo nearly chose Sunburst in blue instead, it's lovely isn't it?! If my skirt turns out ok I may just have to buy some for contingency! x

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  5. I have some crazy barkcloth (gifted curtains) which has kangaroos, koalas and puffing billy - an Victorian railway icon - on it! I made a bag for a friend with some of it not sure I could handle clothing - just a bit too crazy

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    1. That sounds AMAZING! I'd probably have made a bag too, although I know a couple of people who would have no hesitation making a dress from that fabric! x

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    2. I would wear the shit out of a dress like that, no question.

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    3. I didn't mention any names Roisin, but obviously it was you I was thinking of! x

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  6. I have the most amazing 60's barkcloth dress, one of my most treasured vintage dresses. It's deep turquoise with pink and yellow paisley swirls, utterly amazing and hand-sewn too. I often get it out just to look at as it's so gorgeous!
    Totally got my eye on the Quandrant in Pink print...would make a lovely shirt to wear with jeans.

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    1. Your barkcloth dress sounds beautiful Laura, I'd get it out just to look at too if it was mine! There's something unmistakeable vintage looking about barkcloth isn't there? I love it! x

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  7. I had never heard of Barkcloth until now but I'm sure I have unknowingly come across it and may even have some in my stash! Thank you for the informative post!

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    1. I bet you have! Glad you enjoyed the post! x

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  8. I picked up a 2m length pristine vintage cloth yesterday, in fabulous 1970s orange, yellow and brown. Having read this post I'd love to know if it is bark cloth, it feels quite textured and warm, but is not as fluffy as a brushed cotton. I can't decide whether to make lampshades, a bag or a skirt out of it (or all of the above!) because it does feel home décor-ish. Wish my touchscreen would actually allow me to touch fabrics online and then I could compare it to your barkcloth!

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    1. The texture is the most distinctive thing about barkcloth, if it's slightly rough and nubby to the touch then it probably is! What a find, you lucky thing! x

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  9. I have several bits of barkcloth, some vintage, some more recent. One of my very favourite pieces features (late 40s/ early 50s?) Picasso-esque harlequins and acrobats on an anthracite background which I intend to have framed one day.

    I absolutely adore the texture and feel of the fabric, so I'm very excited by this new collection. When you've used it, I'd love to hear how it handles on the machine. Only once have I sewn with the 50s stuff and I was surprised at just how hard it was. Not like thick fabric that strains the machine, but just hard, like it had a woodiness to it almost - which is why it is so durable, I guess! Would love to hear if it is the same with this fabric.

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    1. How fascinating that the fabric felt hard. I've just washed mine and it feels quite drapey but it hasn't been anywhere near a sewing machine yet, so only time will tell! I'll certainly report back.
      Your Picasso/Harlequin barkcloth sounds amazing, perfect for framing I bet?! x

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  10. One of my most favourite skirts is made out of barkcloth. But I do find it tends to bag by the end if the day. A wash and it' s back to normal - so you probably don't want to make something too fitting. Love barkcloth - it has the such great mid century patterns
    .

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    1. Excellent tip, thanks Caroline. I've been thinking for ages about what kind of skirt to make and have just decided against a fitted one. I must have foreseen your comment! x

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  11. I've never sewn with barkcloth but it will make a lovely skirt, I think. I'm actually thinking that my grandmother had a couch with barkcloth upholstery? It was a wood-framed couch with upholstered cushions and I could swear it had the same texture as these examples...

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    1. Almost certainly! I think everyone's grandmas had couches with barkcloth upholstery! Or curtains and cushions! It's such a familiar fabric from my childhood. x

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  12. Very informative. I feel a spending spree coming on. Looking forward to seeing how you get on.

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    1. Thanks Louise, I can't wait to make it! x

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  13. I loved the Ripple barkcloth as soon as I saw it on The Village Haberdashery website - will be interested to see how your skirt turns out!

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    1. It's gorgeous isn't it?! I can't wait to work with it! x

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  14. Lovely fabrics - I made a straight skirt from barkcloth, I wore it in OWOP -

    http://vintagerockchick-gill.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/its-not-over-yet.html

    I don't care if I look like I'm wearing a pair of curtains! Look forward to seeing what you make x

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    1. Was it he one you wore on the first day? That was my favourite!! I must have known it was made from barkcloth! x

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  15. I made a crop top with Barth cloth.. Easy to work and fun to wear

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    1. Good to hear it's easy to work with Rachel, thanks! x

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  16. I have a piece of barkcloth I bought at a flea market, which i plan to use for pillows at some point. I would like more, but it's hard to find in my city and tends to be expensive.

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    1. Yes, the pieces I've seen for sale have all been expensive too. I need a lucky find in a charity shop! x

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  17. You might be interested in this exhibition which is on right now at the British Museum: http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/shifting_patterns.aspx

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    1. That does look interesting, talk about perfect timing! Thanks so much for the link. x

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  18. You will love it! I made a dress with it last year, from a vintage piece it got crazy cheap. I have plans to make all fabrics in our new addition bark cloth because we try to stay with the feel of the original which is from 1939 when our boat was build.

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    1. Ah that's great to hear! Gosh, a piece of barkcloth from 1939, what a find! x

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  19. Bark cloth is one of my favourite fabrics up there with tana lawn. I bought a bark cloth curtain panel at a vintage fair and might sew it into a dress though the pattern is very large so might chicken out. Love the new fabrics at the Village habby which unfortunately for my wallet is down the road.

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    1. Oh dear, that is unfortunate! That' s the equivalent of me living within spitting distance of the Goldhawk Rd - lethal! Glad to hear barkcloth is one of your faves - I also love tana lawn! x

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  20. Great article Jane - love the feel of barkcloth and gives everything a lovely vintage look. But what I love best? The colours! Though I would probably have gone for your choice for a skirt too. I had a little trip to Linton tweed mill yesterday and came back with some pretty special Chanel fabrics for skirts. x

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  21. Really interesting information! I'm excited to hear how working with it goes :) And those prints are gorgeous, I love Sunburst especially...not that I need anything else to add to my fabric wish list but y'know... xx

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  22. So interesting, I have been eying up some bark cloth on ebay but didn't know the background behind it. Also, I've had my eye on the same blue print as you from The Village Haberdashery with a view to making coordinating cushions to go with the ones being made from the fabric I won from you....which will be in progress very soon!! x

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  23. Oh gosh. I've got my eye on some bark cloth on M is For Make at the moment, which I'm desperate for. I'm not allowed to buy any fabric until I've used my way through my stash though so I'm fervently stitching away in my spare time. I love that dress you posted.

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  24. Ooh. Hadn't heard of bark cloth before, but I now realise I have some bark cloth scraps in my stash from my grandmothers house. There was some in a patchwork duvet cover she made for me. I have take. It apart and saved the barkcloth bits - will defo have to use them now!

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  25. Oh god, don't tell me VH has retro barkcloth in stock?! My £25 gift voucher that I got for Xmas is burning a hole in my purse... xxx

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  26. Great! One seeing these designs I feel that is an amazing work you have done. How long you have done this design?

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  27. I bought a quilt top of bark cloth. Never worked with this fabric before....wondering if it tends to ravel and if I need to go back and "safe stitch" or "zigzag" loose edges. Any thoughts?
    Trisha

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    1. Yes, I would advise you to finish the edges as it does unravel and it can also stretch. There are a few tips for working with barkcloth in this post which might be helpful: http://www.handmadejane.co.uk/2015/03/barkcloth-skirt.html. x

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