Alright, gang, hands up if you’ve ever sewn with barkcloth! We can’t see you, but we bet there’s more than a handful of you with your hands still in your lap. You are in for a treat, because this mildly underknown substrate is a total treat to sew. First things first, though, let’s get to know our new, deeply textured friend.
Barkcloth is a newish iteration of an ancient fabric, originally crafted from (you guessed it!) tree bark. These days, what we know as barkcloth is a soft, thick, slightly textured fabric, so named because it has a rough surface, like that of tree bark. The roughness comes from a mix of medium and thick cotton threads across both the warp and weft, creating delectable slubby hand with a moderately loose weave and surprisingly full, fluid drape.
Still a little lost? Think of it like a cross between a cotton canvas and a drapey, loosely woven linen. It’s DREAMY!
There are a couple things to bear in mind when sewing with Birch Barkcloth.
First! It’s 100% cotton, which means it would be prudent to pre-wash or pre-treat it. Our rule of thumb is to always treat your uncut fabric the way you’ll treat your finished garment – same temp in the washer, same duration in the dryer, etc.
Next, even though it’s a medium weight fabric, it’s on the thicker side. This contradiction exists because of the thick threads and loose weave. Because of this, you’re going to want to make some machine adjustments. Use a longer stitch length (the 2.5-3.5mm range seems safe), and, if you can, maybe adjust your presser foot/feed dog settings.
Finally! You’re going to want to be a little intentional with your seam finishes – it’s a looser fabric, and therefore more prone to unravelling/tearing. Let’s talk about works, and what doesn’t, with some visuals!
What’s going to be crucial here is using a seam finish that distributes tension across the seam, and that is not prone to unraveling. Stitching and serging is always a great option, but here are a few finishes that are a little “extra”, and a lot satisfying. These are also great options if you don’t have a serger!
First is my personal favorite: a flat-felled seam. Flat-felling is the same highly durable finish you see on denim jackets and pants. It encases the raw edges, eliminating fray. Closet Case Patterns has a fabulous step-by-step tutorial as part of their Kelly Anorak sewalong, which is a great fit for this fabric!
To make a flat-felled seam, stitch your pieces RST. Press your seam open, and trim one side down to about 1/4″. Press again, this time to the side, so that the narrower seam is on top of the wider one. Fold the wider seam over the narrow one, so the edge of the wider seam allowance just kisses the seam you stitched. Finally, press that folded bundle to the opposite side, encasing all raw edges, and topstitch. GORGEOUS!
Another professional way to finish your barkcloth seams is with bias tape! You can use it to finish hems, which is a beeeeeautiful way to stabilize and prevent fraying without bulk, or you can get really fancy with a Hong Kong bias finish. Colette has a lovely photo-heavy tutorial, and it really couldn’t be easier!
You’ll press your seams open, and apply bias tape to each side of the seam allowance, about a 1/4″ from the edges. You’ll then fold the overhang to the underside of the seam, and stitch in the ditch. This is a super fun way to add a pop of interest to unlined garments, like lightweight jackets, without creating overly thick, stiff seams. I love making my own bias tape, but I wouldn’t recommend making it out of the barkcloth – it’s probably too heavy and loose to press flat.
You can also combine the durability of flat-felled seams with the prettiness of Hong Kong seams by applying bias tape to a seam pressed flat, then topstitching it down. My recommendation would just be to slightly grade your seams, to reduce bulk.
Thanks for reading along! I hope this clears up any questions on what the heck is barkcloth and how do you sew with it? We love texture and cotton, so barkcloth just does it for us! If you have more questions, suggestions, or want to chat about this lovely stuff, drop us a line! -> firstname.lastname@example.org