Barkcloth is so named as it was originally made using tree bark.
It became very popular in the 1940’s, when sailors brought the fabric back from Hawaii after WW II. It was most often used for draperies and slipcovers. Manufacturing of barkcloth continued into the 1950’s and into 1960’s and is usuallyharacterized by its heavy texture and “nubby” weave. However there are different weights with some pieces more lightweight than others. While most barkcloth is made of cotton, it can also be found in blends, including polyester and fiberglass.
Where can I find it? Vintage barkcloth is enjoying a renaissance and is very collectable. Several manufacturers also produce contemporary barkcloth, although it feels quite different. Online sites Ebay and Etsy have a very good selection but they can be a bit pricey. Review the sellers description and photos carefully to make sure the fabric is in decent shape. Depending on what you are making, you may be able to cut around a few holes and stains, which will usually reduce the price of the fabric. Barkcloth can have "dry rot" if not stored properly, so please take care when making a selection online. I have purchased two pieces with dry rot and both had an unusual brownish color. After washing, the fabric tears very easily!
You can occasionally find barkcloth at estate sales and on rare occasion at garage and yard sales. Antique malls may also have a vendor who sells barkcloth, but you will pay more for it there. Prices very widely, from about $10 per yard for fabric with flaws to $50 -plus per yard for the highly collectable, rare pieces made in the mid-century.
How do I wash it? While you should not have any problems washing the fabric in the machine on normal cycle, I use the hand wash cycle in the machine to be on the safe side. A detergent specially made for hand washing vintage fabrics is preferable (such as Retro Wash) but any detergent made for hand washing (like Woolite) will work also.
What can I make with barkcloth? Barkcloth is ideal for all kinds of tote bags, jackets, duffle bags, pillows and window treatments. It can also be used in quilts, but you may want to use it sparingly as the fabric as it may be too heavy for this purpose.