Material culture defines the relationship between physical ingredients, their purpose and influence over communities. Bark cloth is a unique example of this as over three hundred years it has established a special bond with Ugandan population. This Material Monday, we discuss its exceptional tactility, signature rust colour and product opportunities.
It is a sustainable cloth that comes from the bark of the mutuba tree. The process of making bark cloth is a skill that has traditionally been handed down from generation to generation. Each craftsman owns a set of grooved mallets, called nsammo, which are used to pound the bark, hit by hit, into a supple cloth.
The process of making this cloth has not changed much over time. Firstly, the outer layer of bark is stripped off, revealing an inner, moist bark. Two horizontal cuts (at the top and bottom) are accompanied by two vertical cuts down the length of the tree, which allows the bark to be removed from the trunk. Secondly, the bark is boiled and spread across an open structure for 2-4 hours. During this time it is systematically pounded, folded, rolled and stretched until the cloth is considered to be finished. Finally, as the bark becomes cloth (4 times wider than the original piece) it is stretched one final time, and laid outside to dry and develop its colour.
This natural material promotes its sustainable properties through its colours and textures. BARK CLOTH® can be transparent or opaque at the same time. Depending on angle of view, lighting conditions and distance to the cloth, the grade of transparency varies. If a transparent or translucent attribute is not desired, it can easily be backed with an opaque material.
BARKTEX® is a refined BARK CLOTH®. In essence, it is BARK CLOTH® plus an additive material, which can be a backing material, a coating or a treatment that changes its properties. It gains additional functions through different industrial, semi-industrial or even manual treatment and finishing. It is an extremely versatile material that can be processed with textile, wood and leather agents, dyes, varnishes and coatings.
Current applications of BARKTEX® include fashion accessories, furniture, clothing and transportation. It has been also successfully used by many automotive brands.
BARKTEX® and BARK CLOTH® are renewable materials that are both tactile and visually interesting. Consider using them in small quantities as accents in high price point products such as furniture or exclusive storage and gift boxes, or on their own in objects like place mats.
What is more, it is a versatile material that can be processed in many ways and carefully stretched. When stretching, the cloth becomes larger and plainer. The stretchability also allows the material to bend over edges and corners, which is in especially interesting for panel manufacturing. The stretchability even allows to mould the cloth. BARK CLOTH® is easily cut, ironed, pressed, sewn with a sewing machine. It is easy to laminate with non-woven-fleece or with a cotton fabric.
If you are interested to find out more about the tactility of this, or many other natural materials, which revive age-old crafts, please feel free to get in touch to arrange a workshop session! You can also request material spec and samples!