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- story by MaterialDistrict

This very special textile has a wooden core and is embroidered with a black yarn in a various ways. The result is a textile with a gradient effect.

The inspiration for this material lies in Tonga, an island in the South Pacific. Here, one of the oldest handicrafts for producing textiles, called tapamaking, is still being practiced. The basis for this ancient handicraft is the cambium of the paper mulberry tree, a thin layer of fibers between the bark and the wood of the tree.

After harvesting the tree, Tongan women soak the cambium to beat the fibers to small cloths. During this process, they only use hardwood tools and a minimal amount of water. They then glue different cloths together using the starch of potatoes. In this way they create tapa, a soft and flexible wooden cloth which Tongans use for rituals like weddings and funerals. These wooden cloths have a fascinating beauty but lack the practical qualities needed for contemporary use. That is why buro BELÉN enriches these wooden cloths through industrial European techniques of textile processing.

First, the wooden cloths are embroidered with threads of silk from the mulberry silkworm, which eats the leaves of the tree. This treatment gives the wooden cloths the firmness of textile. Then, they are washed to dissolve the adhesive starch. Finally, there is the possibility to dye them with natural colours. Through this process, ancient craft and modern industry come together to give this new material the right textile qualities for contemporary use.

Material Properties