Thanks be to the Goodwill gods

The tapa cloth tale 

This colorful magic on my ceiling is called tapa cloth, or mulberry cloth. It is made from the bark of mulberry trees and dyed with its berries. It’s a rare piece, probably something very special to the family that made it, and I (miraculously) found it while treasure hunting on the Goodwill website. (I put this cloth on the ceiling about 9 months ago but I didn’t have a blog then and now I do.)

 This picture got me 1,000 followers on instagram, it's so strange what goes "viral" and what doesn't! I think it has to do with the color pink... 

This picture got me 1,000 followers on instagram, it's so strange what goes "viral" and what doesn't! I think it has to do with the color pink... 

What is tapa cloth?

Tapa can be decorated by rubbing, stamping, stencilling, smoking (Fiji: “masi Kuvui”) or dyeing. The patterns of Tongan, Samoan, and Fijian tapa usually form a grid of squares, each of which contains geometric patterns with repeated motifs such as fish and plants, for example four stylised leaves forming a diagonal cross. Traditional dyes are usually black and rust-brown, although other colours are known.

In former times the cloth was primarily used for clothing, but now cotton and other textiles have replaced it. The major problem with tapa clothing is that the tissue loses its strength when wet and falls apart. (Still it was better than grass-skirts, which usually are either heavier and harder or easily blown apart, but on the low coral atolls where the mulberry does not grow, people had no choice.) It is also labour-intensive to manufacture. Tapa cloth was made by both the men and women in ancient times. An example is the Hawaiian men, who also made their own weapons.

Nowadays tapa is often worn on formal occasions such as weddings. Another use is as a blanket at night or for room dividers. It is highly prized for its decorative value and is often found hung on the walls as decoration. In Tonga a family is considered poor, no matter how much money they have, if they do not have any tapa in stock at home to donate at life events like marriages, funerals and so forth. If the tapa was donated to them by a chief or even the royal family, it is more valuable. It has been used in ceremonial masks in Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands (Mangian masks). It was used to wrap sacred objects, e.g., “God staffs” in the Cook Islands.
— From Wikipedia
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When I bought this online, it was labeled as “rug”, it was in the “art” category, and it looked super small in the picture. I remember looking at the dimensions and thinking it was definitely a typo. (193” by 168”) But I bid anyway, won it, and when the huge box arrived I did a happy dance.

 I had to open the box outside because this was so big it didn't fit in my house! 

I had to open the box outside because this was so big it didn't fit in my house! 

Then the box sat in my shed for like 6 months.

Until, creativity suddenly struck. I was 7 months pregnant in a loopy mood and decided to drape the giant thing on the ceiling of our guest bedroom. IT WAS NOT EASY.

It’s not like wallpaper; it was one giant heavy cloth, and I didn’t want to cut it into sections and possibly ruin the peice. So I decided to roll it up and attach it to the ceiling as if I were rolling out a rug, except upside down. I attached the corners and edges with a staple gun and used spray adhesive on the ceiling. I uninstalled the chandelier, cut a small slit, and reinstalled the chandelier right over the tapa cloth.

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My pregnant arms were sore, but it only took about 1.5 hours and I was done!  

The finished project did not look like a wallpapered ceiling. The tapa cloth itself had flaws, the hand-dyed pattern was not straight, and my ceiling was definitely not straight. But the end result was breathtaking all the same. I used to lay in that room and drink in all the beauty and variations of the cloth. It was like having a piece of art on the ceiling!

We have recently moved from this house and the buyers wanted to keep the tapa cloth, though I considered removing it and taking it with me. It makes me happy that it lives on with a new family in all its glory.

If anyone sees another giant tapa cloth for sale in the wild, please let me know!

Until next time friends,  

Katie