wooden textiles

Wooden Textiles is a project that connects sustainability, artisanal innovation and cultural diversity. During a visit to the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, we became interested in the material called Tapa, a cloth made out of wood fibre traditionally created on the Pacific Islands. The raw material for making Tapa derives from the paper mulberry tree. We were particularly inspired by the women of the islands who harvest the thin layer between the tree’s bark and stem and make fibrous sheets out of it. This requires a minimum amount of water and the women only use a wooden tool to work with. 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 con- ventional 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, we were inspired to make the woody fabric suitable for contemporary, every day use whilst honouring its traditional source.
Dyed with tanine, reseda, rubia, non-dyed, indigo.
We found a way to strengthen the material and make its structure more cohesive: full surface but open stitch, using big embroidery machines. We utilised silk thread as yarn. This not only gives it a visual appeal, it has a practical, sustainable advantage too. Mulberry silk is spun by silkworms, who feed off the leaves of the mulberry tree. In this manner we can use what first was waste in the production process to aesthetically and practically enhance the product. In addition, we 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.
Wooden Textiles dyed by Aboubakar Fofana front side.
The result is the sum of a rich tradition of the Tonga people, fused with a wayward innovati- on. Wooden Textiles portrays 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 sti- mulates 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.
concept, development, design:
tapa makers:
Folaha group
Pisila Illiuli
Alisi Pahulu
experts of Tonga:
Tuna Fielakepa
Rosemarie Palu
Amy Lofgren
Moana Guttenbeil
Merel Godrie 
tapa embroidery:
Union AG
Guus Schoth