Where to find vintage-style barkcloth? Full Swing Textiles is a new player in retail

40s-style-barkclothSeveral readers have pointed out that Melinamade’s website seems to have gone away… But just in time, I recently heard from Suzanne at Full Swing Textiles about their product line. The company has been making barkcloth for some time, she says, but it was only offered to “the trades” – professional designers. In October, the company launched online, retail sales. They have an absolutely wonderful selection of barkcloth and lighter weight “birchbark” designs.  The material is not inexpensive…so I asked Suzanne to explain their process and their story. Here it is….

She writes:

Here’s the Full Swing barkcloth story in a nutshell:  In 1989, the founder of Full Swing, Michele Mancini, had hundreds of different barkcloth samples in her antique fabric collection.

Full Swing Textiles' Bacall barkcloth

Wanting to reproduce the best barkcloth she could, she took her absolute favorite and sent it to the Cotton Inc. for analysis and their recommendations for how to reproduce it.  They mapped out the structure and gave her a listing of all the weavers in the US for her to contact. Unfortunately, there were no more looms in existence capable of handling the “double twisted” thick yarns used to make this weave.  Undeterred, Michele went to every weaver on the list asking them if they could find a way to recreate this fabric for her.  After over 20 weavers refused her, she found one that said he could retrofit a modern loom that could handle the size and type of yarns required to do this.  After much work and test runs, vintage-adirondack-barkclothFull Swing barkcloth was born and this same custom weaver here in the USA still weaves Full Swing barkcloth today.  After this, the next challenge was finding finishers and  printers whose machines could handle the weight of the barkcloth and again came many rejections . We have been working with the same printing mill for 20 years and are very proud that our product is made from start to finish on American soil.  But the process is not without losses almost every time we print and we reject all second quality yardage which as a result eats up our precious barkcloth.  Bearing in mind, there are no short cuts anywhere in the process.  Every step of the process is a challenge because of the thickness of the yarns:  purchasing the highest quality long staple cottons to spin the double twisted yarns, weaving on a retrofitted loom, finishing, printing, etc.  vintage-style-barkclothWe must pay more for every step of the manufacturing process because of the uniqueness of our fabric.

In the beginning and for most of Full Swing’s life (1989 – Oct. 1, 2008)  it has been a line only available to the design trade. Available only in design centers around the country and in Canada. So now our new retail customers are getting a very high end product chosen by the pickiest designers who would only offer their discerning clients a product of the highest quality. You’re not getting your average retail fabric store product.  One great customer testimonial that I love to share is when one of our restaurant clients in Honolulu tried to save money by buying one of the less expensive barkcloths for their lounge and it ended up falling apart within a year. vintage-atomic-barkclothThey came back to Full Swing and on average, only have to recover their chairs every seven years. That’s every seven years with Full Swing barkcloth, versus falling apart in one with the cheaper fabric.  So if we charge 2-3 times as much as the competition, they are still saving money. I also forgot to mention that because our fabric is printed using the best attainable vat dyes you can throw it in your washing machine and it actually gets even better, softening and opening up the weave, kind of like your favorite jeans. Because the fabric is vat dyed as opposed to pigment dyed, which just sits on top and isn’t as durable, the colors stay true even with the occasional laundering. Our return customers are our best advertising. For example, The Chateau Marmont in Beverly Hills just ordered our Full Swing Stripe again for their Garden Cottages, I think they’ve been using that for at least 15 years. Swept Away in Jamaica has been using our barkcloth throughout their lobby and accommodations for about 20 years now.

So, our Barkcloth costs more because…
– is WOVEN, FINISHED and PRINTED in the U.S.A.  We can’t manufacture our barkcloth off-shore because of our small lots and the need for us to work closely with our weavers, finishers, and printers.
– it  is thick and durable enough to cover first class airline seats for Jamaica’s Avianca Airlines yet…
– it is soft enough to be chosen for the bedding in the luxury suites at the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas
– since it is printed using the best attainable vat dyes, it is machine washable
– it improves with use because the long staple cotton yarns soften and open up with age
– the thicker yarns make it more challenging to print on but produce a much better end product
– we reject all of our seconds and do not sell them in any secondary marketplace (our name is on the salvage and don’t want it out there)
– all seconds from the printing process consume our raw barkcloth and raise the price yet again of all first quality goods
– we are a small boutique line we are able to give our customers very personalized service when needed and excellent customer service in general to all of our customers.

In one final note, we feel it also important to say that we lowered most of our prices when we changed our business from wholesale “to the design trade only” to the current retail model. When we pulled our fabrics from all of the design center showrooms around the country, we no longer had to pay designer showroom commissions.  So we dropped a lot of our prices by as much as $20.00 per yard because we wanted to pass the savings along to our new retail customers. We love our customers and have formed lifelong friendships with many of them.

Many thanks, Suzanne! Your products are indeed gorgeous!

Looking for a Tussah? Full Swing Textiles also has 6 colors of this retro appropriate upholstery fabric.

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Comments

  1. Maggie says

    I would offer a word of caution to anyone thinking of buying very inexpensive reproduction barkcloth. I bought a huge amount at about $10/yard to recover cushions on several pieces of tropical rattan, and after two years I had to replace the side gussets in some cushions when the fabric simply shredded away, without any unusual usage at all. One piece pictured here, AFTER gusset replacement:
    http://tinyurl.com/cqfkyo

    I dread to think what would have happened to that fabric if I’d used it for a drapery application, where it would have been subjected to extreme fluctuations of temperature and moisture.

    I think a heavy 12-ounce fabric like Full Swing offers could be a sound investment in your collection-worthy furniture.

    …Maggie

    • Pam Kueber says

      Yes, Maggie, there definitely are differences between fabrics meant to endure life as upholstery vs. “hang idly” as a window treatment (which itself must also be able to endure sun rot.) I knew that the price for Full Swing Textiles would appear high vs. some of the other available barkcloths – that is why I asked them to explain their process in detail.

    • Grimm says

      Yes, it is in the nature of the fabric weave for some of the more ready avaliable repro barkcloths to “shred” with time. There are ways to prevent this that don’t take much extra time as a sewer.

      French seams, serging the seams and using seam glues or tapes will help prevent the shred effect. You don’t have to use all these methods but leaving seams unfinished on any fabric can cause shredding.

      Why do you think clothes have finished seams and hems?!

  2. says

    Pam,
    Thank you so much for exposing your readers to Full Swing Textiles and the barkcloth we produce. We have received so many inquiries as a result and love talking about what we do. After reading some of the comments, we thought we would try to clarify a little about our fabric, even though Maggie has already hit on the main idea. With regard to the comparisons between ours and other barkcloths, we understand that our barkcloth is a specialized product and perhaps not for every budget. But if the application is one that requires quality, authenticity, durability or actually getting better with age, Full Swing should be strongly considered. The best way I can make this point is as follows: Full Swing barkcloth is made to the exact specifications of a beautiful barkcloth from the 1940’s. Here is a photograph of a pillow made with the exact same barkcloth that was used as a model for Full Swing’s.
    http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/q6aW0fFTpTuPanrZQXu28Q?authkey=Gv1sRgCPXIwc7byaLq7wE&feat=directlink
    I know it is hard to believe, but the pillow in this picture is made with antique barkcloth that is approximately 65 years old. Also, we have been using this pillow in our home for over 16 years. Granted, it shows some wear, but I know your readers will agree, when Maggie shared her story about having to repair her cushions after 2 years, this is what our commercial and residential customers are trying to avoid when choosing to go with Full Swing. Hope this helps.
    All the best to Retro Renovations readers! We love the discussion!
    Fred Boucher
    Full Swing Textiles

  3. Carleton Heights girl says

    Love, love, love these fabrics! And the the 1940’s colours! Thanks so much for posting this, Pam.

  4. Jean says

    I absolutely agree that less expensively priced fabric is assuredly nowhere near the quality of Full Swing, but I think it is good to have some other options. But most definatelyy, for a major project such as upholstery or pinch pleat drapes, you really have to start with quality fabrics.
    My husband and I just closed on our 1965 ranch and we can’t believe all that we are finding. The first owners seemingly went first class on so many things, including the pinch pleat drapes (beautiful, neutral color fabric-not sure what type it is) which are still hanging beautifully throughout the house. I am planning to take them to the dry cleaners for
    cleaning and then relining all of them. The fabric has a nubby textured, darker color thread running through them. . Any ideas what the fabric would be? There are no tags on them anywhere, so the appear to have been custom made.
    Thanks!
    Jean

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