Originally, the term barkcloth referred to a non-woven material made from the strips of inner bark of certain trees (variety depending on place of manufacture). Strips were peeled and pounded together into a serviceable fabric.
Today, barkcloth usually refers to a soft, dense, plain-weave – usually of cotton or a cotton/rayon blend – with a texture that is somewhat reminiscent of tree bark (although the fabric soft). It was popular in the middle of the 20th century, especially when printed with pop-culture motifs of the time. Think geometric abstracts and hula girls.
If you’re looking to make groovy vintage-styled shirts for that Mad Men theme party, you want to look for barkcloth. It’s also used as a home decor fabric, although it’s not as popular as it once was, barring the trend for retro looks that landed on us in the early 2000’s.
I’ve seen garment-weight barkcloth – or faithful imitations – starting at $12/yd. The upholstery-weight prints seem to start around $20/yard.
Sew with a universal needle and all-purpose thread. Cleaning and care depends on the component fibers. If it’s pure cotton, it can be machine-washed in cold water (for the sake of the printing) and laid flat to dry. Only throw it in the dryer if you don’t mind the color fading.