Wooden Textiles is a project that connects sustainability, artisanal innovation, and cultural diversity. BELéN's Inspiration came after visiting the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, where a material called Tapa, a cloth made out of wood fibre traditionally created on the Pacific Islands, was exhibited. The raw material for making Tapa derives from the paper mulberry tree. The women of the islands harvest the thin layer between the tree's bark and stem and make fibrous sheets out of it. This process requires a minimum amount of water and the women only use one wooden tool to work. Several layers of sheets are glued together to form the actual Tapa. The sheets are firstly rubbed together with sticky potatoes to make them hold. The entire process of making Tapa requires minimum strain on nature and the environment.
It is one of the aims of the Wooden Textiles project to use and promote Tapa — not only as a visual, haptic, and attractive material but also as a sustainable and clean alternative to conventional textiles. On the isles of the Pacific, the fragile and delicate Tapa is predominantly used for ceremonial attire. Due to its sustainable and clean alternative to the conventional textiles overflowing the current market, BELéN got inspired to make the woody fabric suitable for contemporary, everyday use while honouring its traditional source.
BELéN found a way to strengthen the material and make its structure more cohesive: full surface but open stitch, using big embroidery machines. Silk thread is utilised as yarn. This not only gives it a visual appeal, but it also has a practical, sustainable advantage too. Mulberry silk is spun by silkworms, who feed off the leaves of the mulberry tree. In this manner, man can use what first was waste in the production process to aesthetically and practically enhance the product. In addition, BELéN developed a method to ensure the fabric gains flexibility. This involves soaking the material in a bath to dissolve the potato glue. After this process, it becomes easier to dye the fabric with natural pigments.
The result is the sum of a rich tradition of the Tonga people, fused with a wayward innovation. Wooden Textiles portray a unique aesthetic and can be applied in numerous ways and settings. With this project, there is more than meets the eye. By utilising this fabric, one stimulates the local economy of Tonga and contributes to the preservation of cultural diversity and immaterial world heritage. The positive impact is a function and usage of the material itself.
Tapa from paper mulberry cambium, cotton or silk stitches.
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Sponsors: Stichting Doen / Textielmuseum / South Pacific Business Development / Bruno Ninaber van Eijben.