Our conservation team have been looking at a sample of our barkcloth in preparation for some exciting workshops later this year (postponed from this Spring).
Barkcloth is a non-woven cloth made from the inner bark of certain trees and flowering plants, it was used throughout Oceania, central Africa and other areas of the tropics. Barkcloth had enormous social and spiritual significance and always belonged to women. It was often used as clothing, soft furnishing, room dividers and many other functions up to the 20th century.
Barkcloth is still culturally important and highly prized and continues to be produced today.
To make it, the inner bark is stripped and soaked to soften and then beaten with wooden mallets to stretch and widen it into the cloth. The result is a surprisingly soft and strong material which is then dyed and decorated with hand-painted, rubbed, printed or stencilled designs.
The planned workshops have given us a brilliant opportunity to take a look at these wonderful items in our collection. As they are essentially paper (made of beaten bark), they fall under the remit of paper conservation. As the in-house paper conservator my task will be to gently unfold, clean and make small repairs where necessary and plan some new spacious storage of the items. We will also get the chance to do a little more research and take some better photographs, so watch this space!
Amy Junker Heslip, Paper Conservator