When we began "mid-centurizing" our apartment we knew that our mission would not be complete without barkcloth drapes. It took a while but thanks to Urban Burp in San Francisco we finally were able to find Eames inspired drapes for our sitting and living room. With tall bay windows this task was not easy but I am satisfied with the results.
I was first introduced to barkcloth fabric about fifteen years ago when I purchased a vintage window panel. I recall the sales clerk looking a bit disappointed when I shared my plan to cut the mint condition panel to make a few throw pillows for my futon at that time. Now knowing the importance of this fabric to mid century design I can now appreciate the look of horror on this salesperson's face.
With barkcloth's durability I can see why it became an easy choice during the atomic age.
As Sarah Callen explains:
The original barkcloth was quite literally made from the bark of trees. To make this type of barkcloth the inner bark of certain types of trees (primarily trees of the Moraceae family) is beaten flat and formed into sheets. These sheets are then used as a primitive fabric in many different applications.
If you hear the term barkcloth used today, however, it is most likely referring to a different type of fabric all together. From the 1930's through the 1960's (and even early into the 1970's) one of the most popular decorating fabrics was also known as barkcloth. In this case, the term barkcloth refers to the weave of the fabric which is thick, nubby and slightly textured. Barkcloth got it's name because the texture of the fabric bears a slight resemblance to the bark of a tree.
Barkcloth fabric is often made of cotton, although it can be made of other fibers as well including linen, rayon, polyester, and fiberglass depending how old the fabric is. Although thicker than a standard cotton, barkcloth is surprisingly soft and drapes nicely which made it a great choice for draperies and curtains. Because of it's thick texture barkcloth is also quite durable which also made it well suited to being used as an upholstery fabric.
In the 1970's the popularity of barkcloth faded. However, there is currently a big renewal of interest in this beautiful fabric and it is becoming quite popular again today. Some of the most coveted prints included atomic prints from the Eames era as well as soft, pretty florals with a cottage feel.