Celebrating barkcloth

In October I blogged about a project looking at Pacific barkcloth. The project was entitled Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place. I highly recommend taking a look at their website as new material is constantly being added. It has some excellent videos showing how barkcloth is produced and decorated.

Kew EBC 42861. Samoan tiputa or poncho, hand-painted in the tradition of siapo mamanu cloths. (© Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

The result of this five year project is a new book on barkcloth.

“Barkcloth or tapa, a cloth made from the inner bark of trees, was widely used in place of woven cloth in the Pacific islands until the 19th century. A ubiquitous material, it was integral to the lives of islanders and used for clothing, furnishings and ritual artefacts. Material Approaches to Polynesian Barkcloth takes a new approach to the study of the history of this region through its barkcloth heritage, focusing on the plants themselves and surviving objects in historic collections. ” Publisher’s website.


The collections involved are from the Hunterian, University of Glasgow; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.


The book is divided into 3 parts:-

Part I: Tapa as Fabric: Bast and Colourants

Part II: Understanding Tapa in Time and Place

Part III: Tapa in Collections and the Community

This book is now available to access free online from Sidestone Press here, or you can buy the print version.

For those who would like to learn more about barkcloth (or simply admire photos of some fantastic examples) I suggest the National Museums Scotland website. They have a collection of over 140 barkcloths, some of which were collected by Captain James Cook.

One example from a slideshow which shows a selection of 110 samples that are part of a compilation bound in half-calf, the majority of these samples were cut from larger pieces of barkcloth that still remain in the Museum’s University Collection.

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