Several 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….
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.
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, Full 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. We 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. They 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!