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Investigation of bark cloth for its surface texture and durability for apparel applications

Venkatraman, Prabhuraj and Scott, Kirsten (2018) Investigation of bark cloth for its surface texture and durability for apparel applications. In: The 91st Textile Institute World Conference, 23 July 2018 - 26 July 2018, Leeds, UK. (Unpublished)

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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. This research is part of a project that explores the properties and significance of bark cloth from cultural, ethical, technical and aesthetic perspectives to determine its feasibility as a sustainable fashion textile. It will highlight the potential of bark cloth specifically in relation to the characteristics of luxury fashion (craftsmanship, quality, rarity, heritage and story-telling), through using techniques that include embroidery, appliqué, gilding, laser cutting, natural dyeing and fusing. In addition, the bark cloth has been investigated for its practical suitability for apparel end use. Various fabric tests have been carried out to investigate its performance including fabric drape, stiffness, surface morphology and tearing strength. The material was also subjected to laser etching to implement design patterns. The bark cloth was subjected to CO2 laser etching and sublimation printing to incorporate surface patterns. Based on the trials, an optimum set of parameters were identified to use laser and sublimation printing. As the material is stiff when it is heat-pressed and to facilitate the garment making process the bark cloth was fused with different types of knitted and woven fusible linings, and its drape and strength were also tested. 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. It is anticipated that this research will indirectly create demand for bark cloth from Uganda and help to support the artisans involved in the production of sustainable bark cloth.

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