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Tapa cloth

SisterT | Posted in General Discussion on

A friend from Tonga (South Pacific) has sent me a piece of Tapa cloth and a request to take on a sewing project for her.  I need to know the best way to handle tapa cloth. 

Am I going to have to hand-sew the project? 

Is it possible to sew a lining onto tapa? 

How well does it handle, for example, a fabric border?

I would be grateful for any information!

Sr. Tracey Sharp, SCRH


  1. ShannonG4d | | #1

    I actually own several pieces of tapa cloth which dh brought back from a trip to Tonga several years ago.  It acts a lot like mudcloth, and techniques for each should be interchangeable.  The pieces I have are very soft, but are about the weight of a good quality linen.  There is a definite "feel" to the cloth, as well.....rather a waxy sort of texture. 

    If you can do so, pretreat a swatch to see if the dye will fade at all.  That would be my primary concern in using this fabric.  Mine lost a lot of the cleanness of the colors when I tested a swatch, so I use it only for home dec.....I'll pull it out once in awhile and tie it around some pillows.

    The latest issue of Threads has an article about mudcloth; that's where I'd start looking for sewing techniques.



    1. SisterT | | #2


      Thank you very much.  I have a couple of pieces of finished Tapa, and they have that waxy, flexible feel to them.  This piece is a bit heavier, and it is not finished with the designs.  She wants a celebration stole for a priest's vestments.  I am concerned about poking holes in something that is not woven--will it pull apart easily?  Will machine stitching merely create a perforation line?!  I remember skimming over the article on mudcloth, will go back and take a closer look now that I have a project in my hands!

      Again, thank you.

      Sister Tracey

      1. ShannonG4d | | #3

        I don't think sewing it will be a problem.  After all the islanders make clothing from it.....my bigger concern would be the results of washing and ironing.  Since it is to be vestments, likely you could get away with hand-washing, which shouldn't be too destructive (although I'd still test first).  Ironing might be a problem.....pressing seams, that kind of thing.  I'd use a sew-in interfacing and skip fusibles altogether.

        I do think machine sewing would be easier than trying to handsew this fabric.  Come to think f it, my MIL made basement curtains from hers.....she didn't have any trouble with the machine sewing, as I recall.  Those curtains have been hanging for about 15 years and still look good!

        Try the medium end of the machine needle range....a big needle might cause holes to show.  About a size 11 or so should be about right.

        We want to see finished photos of your project, please:) It sounds great!


        1. SisterT | | #4

          Thank you--I have not actually seen clothes made from tapa and I needed to hear that someone had sewn something and it lasted.  The needle size information is helpful... I'll post pictures when I am finished! 

          Sr. Tracye

          1. marijke | | #5

            I don't know anything about tapa cloth, but perhaps you could consult Ronke Luke-Boone's book, African Fabrics.  She discusses sewing with mudcloth, but also other fibers.  Some of that may apply (I am thinking especially of her guidance regarding kuba cloth).


          2. SisterT | | #6

            Thank you for the suggestion.  That LAST thing I need is another sewing book, but  that one sounds interesting.  We have a store here in Los Angeles that carries beautiful African fabrics at what I think are reasonable prices and I have had a lot of fun with stuff from them.  I will look up Kuba cloth.  Unlike mudcloth, tapa is not woven, and that is what concerns me a bit. 

            Sr. Tracey

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