In the “Back Room,” my yarn and fabric are co-mingled into an organized system by color, content, weight and gauge. While knitting, I think about sewing, and while sewing, I think about knitting. I know many sewists and knitters listen to podcasts, audio books, or stream, but I let my mind wander in silence.
Today, while knitting the cuffs on a cashmere sweater, out of the corner of my eye, three pieces of bark cloth caught my attention, two are vintage and the other a current day piece from Japan.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a very curious person. I like to “fill in the blanks” so to speak, when it comes to the history of things. And I constantly wonder why I am attracted to a certain style, design, fabric or yarn? What about the history of bark cloth, and why do I like it?
According to Wikipedia, bark cloth was once common in Asia, Africa and the Pacific. Bark cloth has been manufactured in Uganda for centuries and is Uganda’s sole representative on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. France produced bark cloth as cotton mixed with rayon in the 1920s and was known as Cretonne. In the 1930s, the fabric was produced in America and was popular in Hawaii. Common designs were florals, botanical prints, tropical prints, geometric and abstract atomic era prints. American bark cloth also shot through with gold lurex threads called Las Vegas cloth, and was a combination of 65% rayon as well as cotton. I remember bark cloth being used in the 1960s for upholstered furniture, curtains and cushions. Along with a rough textured appearance, bark cloth is about the texture of the cloth, rather than the fiber. It doesn’t have a wale (rib) or distinct weave effect. Vintage pieces of bark cloth may be found on etsy or ebay.
Today’s densely woven cotton “bark cloth” is named such because it resembles the texture of tree bark and are look-a-likes to the traditional fabrics.
According to Blueprint Africa http://www.blueprintafrica.com/interior/homewares/female-african-textile-designers-not-designing-african-print/ currently, there is a female African Textile Designer, Yemi Awosile (Nigeria/UK), using the bark of the East African fig tree, also known as the Mutuba tree. Mutaba is harvested every year without felling the tree and has a naturally occurring fibrous structure which resembles woven bast fiber. Her design was exhibited at UNESCO’s Bark Cloth in Manufacturing Architecture, Arts and Design event.
Ugandan born British eco-sustainable designer, Jose Hendo, http://wwwjosehendo.com “takes a fresh approach to contemporary fashion designs challenging the obsolescence nature of fashion and the throw away culture.”
I seek pleasure “filling in the blanks” about the the material I use. Building a connection and having a relationship with the tangible object I create is an extension of who I am. How could I throw away a piece of fabric or a skein of yarn I cherish for its unique qualities? I like bark cloth because of its texture and its resemblance to the bark of a tree, and not having a distinct weave effect creating an uneven texture. Expanding my knowledge and worldview adds meaning to my life experience.