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Environmentally friendly and sustainable bark cloth for garment applications: Evaluation of fabric properties and apparel development

Venkatraman, Prabhuraj D and Scott, Kirsten and Liauw, Christopher (2019) Environmentally friendly and sustainable bark cloth for garment applications: Evaluation of fabric properties and apparel development. Sustainable Materials and Technologies, 23. e00136-e00136.

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Abstract

Ugandan bark cloth has been recognised by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’, to protect the knowledge, traditions and livelihoods associated with its production. Bark cloth is a non-woven, fibrous textile that has been produced from the wild fig or mutuba tree (Ficus natalensis) by the Baganda people of southern Uganda for hundreds of years. A typical bark cloth has a rich, terracotta colour and is worn by kings and chiefs during coronations, religious ceremonies and cultural gatherings, as well as for funeral shrouds. Due to the growing awareness and the need to reduce the environmental impact of textiles, there is a pressing rationale to use natural materials or fibres in fashion clothing in recent years as designers and practitioners embrace environmentally sustainable raw materials and promote traditional craftsmanship. Various properties and significance of bark cloth from cultural, ethical, technical and aesthetic perspectives to determine its feasibility as a sustainable fashion textile was explored. The potential of bark cloth specifically in relation to the characteristics of luxury fashion (craftsmanship, quality, rarity, heritage and storytelling), through using techniques that include embroidery, appliqué, gilding, laser cutting, natural dyeing and fusing is highlighted. The bark cloth was investigated for its practical suitability for apparel end use. Various fabric tests were conducted to determine its performance including fabric drape, stiffness, surface morphology, and tearing strength. The bark cloth was subjected to CO2 laser etching and sublimation printing to incorporate surface patterns and attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy [ATR-FTIR] was used to monitor the loss of fibres. Based on the trials, an optimum set of parameters were identified to use laser and sublimation printing. Raw bark cloth was stiff when heat-pressed, so it was fused with various fusible interfacing fabrics [A,B, and C] to enhance drape, texture, handle and strength. Results indicated that bark cloth when fused with woven interfacing [C] improved its strength [warp direction aligned with fabric grain] by approximately six times [330 N] the strength of bark cloth [57 N]. Fabric drape increased marginally [1.0–3.0%] when fusing with the interfacing, however it offered better handle when making the garment. A basic test garment (size 12 female full-sleeve top) was developed with the fused bark cloth that offered good drape and its shape and fit were evaluated on a mannequin. Outcomes indicated that bark cloth could be satisfactorily developed into outer garments with specific treatment.

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