In this era of wearable art consider barkcloth. Bordering somewhere between vintage and collectible, barkcloth is very utilitarian with its’ tactile design and, because of wearable art in apparel and its’ many applications, is experiencing a design renaissance. The added bonus is that it can fit into most decors since barkcloth was made during several design periods in the 20th century.
Starting in the 1920’s, the cloth with origins attached to the tribal design movement in France, had a nubby texture with noticeable slubs since it was made of densely woven cotton fibers. Most of the barkcloth of this era are floral designs.
In the 1930’s, barkcloth began to be made in the United States. Early motifs centered around tropical designs and were indicative of the growing interest in hawaiian and japanese designs. Barkcloth became a staple in home design and was used for drapes and curtains, upholstery, and slipcovers.
In the 1940’s, sailors saw these brightly colored barkcloth curtains and other home furnishings and shirts and brought or sent them home.
In the following decades — the late 1940’s through the 1960’s, barkcloth became a popular fabric in the home interior textiles market. Usually the process from 1930’s-1950’s involved vat dyeing.
The most collectible of these barkcloths are the atomic "Eames era" prints popular in the 1950’s and early 1960’s due to interest in science and the race to the moon.
In the 1960’s barkcloth reflected a hawaiian floral motif, and in the 1970’s took on a more modernist optical look–almost psychedelic.
Barkcloth comes in many fibers, predominantly cotton, but also in linen, to rayon, polyester and fiberglass, depending on the age of the fabric. Vintage large pieces can be found in drapes and prices will vary according to condition, quantity, and popularity.
Where to look for barkcloth? Retro outlets and shops, and Ebay™ are your best sources for variety and selection; however, you may get lucky from time to time at an estate or garage sale.
The many uses of barkcloth include draperies and curtains, furniture upholstery, slipcovers, pillows, headboards, lamp shades, accessories and apparel.
One great pattern for an apparel application and utilization of smaller pieces of barkcloth Markdown Mom found is the Pacific Rim Vest & Coat at Nancy’s Notions®. Beautiful and durable, a coat made from barkcloth material could easily go from day wear to evening wear!