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Barkcloth drapes from the 1950’s depicting a village scene near a body of water.

It’s the Dog Days of Summer and we’re feeling the heat here in the Northern Hemisphere. The “Dog Days of Summer” run from the third week of July to the third week of August coinciding with the rising of Sirius the Dog Star found in the constellation Alpha Canis Majoris, the big dog. The Dog Star lives up to its reputation being second only to the sun in brightness. During the dog days Sirius and the sun occupy the same region of the sky and together they were believed to be the cause of the scorching heat that drove people mad and brought pestilence. The Dog Star was used as a “watchdog” for the annual flooding of the Nile River that occurs during this time period.

By now you are probably wondering what the heck does this have to do with textiles? Well there is a textile that has bark! Barkcloth is made not from the loud dogs’ vocals but from the bark of trees! Many a home in the 1940-1950’s had drapes made from this uneven woven fabric that created its distinct, tweedy, rough, texture. Originally the fabric was made in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands from the inner bark of trees. The bark was soaked and pounded into a thin layer of “paper-like fabric” and decorated using dyes and/or paint.

In the late 1930’s barkcloth was being manufactured in America for home furnishings and drapes. Big tropical floral prints and novelty prints or leaves, birds, animals Toile de Jouy scenes, children’s prints, and country scenes were the rage reaching their peak in the 1950’s. In the 1960’s synthetic fabrics became the rage and barkcloth fell out of favor. I’ve seen where upon the purchase of more contemporary drapery, the barkcloth drapes were relegated to the family’s lake cottage where their old-world charm still worked.

Back in the late 1990’s a resurgence of Mid-Century Modern (MCM) began. Young adults didn’t look to their parents’ decorating style but to their grandparents’ tastes. Now another generation entered young adulthood so if the trend holds true a resurgence of 1980’s “country” is on the horizon: Only time will tell.

For people who love timeless fabrics, there will always be a place for barkcloth. Whether the vintage pieces from the 1940-1950’s or reproductions, it is the cloth that keeps on “barking!” You can bet your dog on it!

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Lois Levihn

She is the author of the "Around the Frame" quilting column. She is a graduate of Wayne HS. Quilts have always been important to her, she loves the stories surrounding them, the techniques used in making them, & restoring them. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer