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An Eco Friendly BarkCloth Workshop at University of North Texas

March 2, 2011

The BarkCloth Back Story

Back in December I participated in an Eco Chic Fashion Show at the Elements by Westin Hotel for the group Dallas Greendrinks.  You can see photos of the models in Millinerium cocktail hats and clothing by Sarah Jones of Status Clothing on my Facebook page here:  http://www.facebook.com/album.php?id=343843515118&aid=313522

So, Brandon Morton from the University of North Texas (UNT) Sustainability Department attended that fashion show and, remembering my hats, suggested that I participate in a workshop hosted by Lesli Robertson with the Fibers Department at UNT featuring BarkCloth.  Lesli graciously invited Sarah and I to participate, along with a few other designers and several students.  The workshop was sponsored by the representatives of BarkCloth Europe, Mary Barongo and Oliver Heintz, who were both very nice, knowledgeable people.  UNT just opened an exhibit of art pieces made using BarkCloth which runs from March 1-March 26, 2011.

The goal of the workshop was to introduce us to the product and then push the boundaries of exploration by playing with the material and seeing what we could do with it.  UNT selected people of varying backgrounds who would each bring fresh perspectives to the workshop – they had me, a milliner; Emily, a designer of products for interiors based out of London; Sarah, an apparel designer; and numerous fiber and fashion students.

It was really interesting to see what the product can do.  I kept remarking how similar the BarkCloth felt to very thin leather.  It is surprisingly strong when stretched along the grain; when stretched against the grain* it tends to fray and tear (it is stronger overall when wet).  *Technically, BarkCloth doesn’t have a grain in the true sense.  It is created by taking a layer of bark and beating it to compress the fibers, then it’s hand-treated with non-chemical agents to set the fibers.  It actually has similar consistency and characteristics of thin beef jerky!

BarkCloth is 100% organic and each “cloth” represents one solid piece of bark removed from one Mutuba tree grown in Uganda.  The cool thing is that stripping the tree of its bark does not kill the tree!  As long as it is done properly and the tree is nurtured by the skilled hands of farmers using age-old techniques (which it is), the bark will grow back completely within one year!  This is apparently one of the oldest known sources of fiber for clothing and other functional items in Africa.

Given that each BarkCloth comes from one tree, every piece of BarkCloth is unique and special, with a variety of coloration, texture, thickness, and flaws.  Some cloths have a lot of holes while others are more uniform.  You will see from the photos below that there are many ways one can use BarkCloth.  I played with ways I could make a cocktail hat from BarkCloth.  I selected a thicker piece of BarkCloth with few holes and was able to block it in a very similar manner to buckram with only slight fragility in one spot which had a flaw.  Overall, though, it blocked very nicely.  The aluminum in my push pins reacted with the cloth and turned it black where the pin made contact.  Mary told me that they used a solution containing iron to dye the black BarkCloth they had at the workshop, so it didn’t surprise her that the push pins caused a reaction as well.

BarkCloth can be dyed, treated with bleaches, felted, coated in rubber, embossed to look and feel like leather, and used in a burnout treatment for texture.  You can make bags, shoe uppers (coated in rubber for durability), molded sculptures, embroider it, and do just about anything else that you can do to paper or very thin leather.

So cool!

Photos from the BarkCloth Workshop

I’ll try to limit the number of photos I post, but there are just so many cool ones that show you the range of things you can do.  I would like to continue the direction I was taking with the leaf and feather shapes, and try making petals out of double layers of BarkCloth, plus experiment with wired BarkCloth and ways of firming up the cloth once it’s been formed.  Fun fun fun!

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