Friday, April 3, 2009

Retro Style - Re-Discovering Vintage Barkcloth Fabric

Barkcloth gets its name from a primitive fabric which is made from the fibers of tree bark found in tropical and subtropical countries. The outer bark is stripped from the tree and then the inner bark is separated with the outer bark. Next the inner bark is beaten with wooden beaters or steel tools on an anvil to spread the fibers. Often water and soaking may be introduced to soften the fibers. Larger cloths are made by layering and felting smaller pieces together during the beating phase. Sometimes a starchy glue-like substance derived from tropical plants is used to attach small pieces together. Primitive barkcloth was used for clothing and wall hangings.

Barkcloth made is way to France in the 1920's and was made using cotton mixed with rayon. Our introduction to barkcloth was the imported material from France known as cretonne, a woven cloth with a nubby texture. By the late 1930's barkcloth was being manufactured in America. During the colorful era (1940's-1950's) barkcloth, a generic term to describe nubby fabric with a bark-like texture dominated American households. From upholstered furnishings to window treatments barkcloth was favored because of its durability and dense weave. I have heard people claim that barkcloth is so strong that it is cat proof. ....I have my doubts.

Florals, country scenes, geometrics, abstracts, botanicals, landscapes, leaves and birds are all common designs found on barkcloth. Today there are many design houses reproducing barkcloth using older designs. When buying barkcloth be sure to ask if what you are buying is vintage or new. Atomic era barkcloth with geometric and abstract designs by noted artists in large quantities is very hard to find. If you discover a website that shows so much inventory that you think you have gone to heaven and are probably looking at a reproduction studio. Most times, you will find a yard or two here and there. It's not common to hit the jackpot anymore with these vintage textiles. Expect to pay $10.00-25.00 a yard for vintage barkcloth.

C. Dianne Zweig is the author of Hot Kitchen & Home Collectibles of the 30s, 40s, 50s and Hot Cottage Collectibles for Vintage Style Homes. She is also the Editor of an actively growing internet based resource community for people who buy, sell or collect antiques, collectibles and art. You can find Dianne’s fabulous retro and vintage kitchen, home and cottage collectibles at The Collinsville Antiques Company of New Hartford, CT, a 22,000 feet antique emporium with an in-house retro cafĂ©.

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1 comment:

  1. That's a good article on barkcloth. When I'm looking at my vintage Hawaiian dresses, I'm looking at barkcloth, right? Are some of the bright 60s patterns also barkcloth? I think I can identify barkcloth, but would just really like to be sure!