Tapa cloth is distinguished by its unique texture and traditional South Pacific island patterns. An unwoven fabric, made by pounding strips of tree bark, it can often be found in large pieces (up to 5 feet by 7 feet) and was originally used for floor coverings, curtains and clothing. By hanging a tapa cloth, you can transform an ordinary room into an island oasis. You have to be careful, however, because tapa cloth is fragile and sensitive to light, humidity and gravity. Follow different procedures for hanging small (12 inches by 18 inches or less) or large (bigger than 12 inches by 18 inches) tapas to preserve their integrity and beauty.
Small Tapa Cloth
Smooth the cloth gently. Pressing too hard on wrinkles can damage the tapa cloth. Allow time (up to a week) for the tapa to lie flat so the natural moisture in the air can help soften wrinkles.
Attach the corners of the tapa to acid-free backing paper with small pins or craft gum. As an alternative, place the tapa on backing paper and use a matte board to help hold it in place. This method essentially treats tapa the way you would treat a piece of fragile paper. The fewer fasteners you use, the less you will damage the fabric.
Insert the paper-backed tapa into a picture frame for hanging.
Choose a hanging location that will help preserve your framed tapa. Avoid areas of high humidity or excessive dryness. Hanging your framed tapa above a radiator or forced-air register, for example, will dry out the bark fibers and make the tapa brittle. Placing it in a humid location subjects it to mold and mildew. Natural dyes react to strong sunlight and strong artificial light as well, which can cause discoloration or fading.
Large Tapa Cloth
Smooth out the cloth as directed in Step 1 of the previous section.
Purchase or make from wooden doweling a hanging rod that is four inches longer than the top edge of your tapa cloth. Having the rod extend two inches beyond either side of the cloth lets you mount the rod in brackets or attach hanging hardware without damaging the tapa.
Roll two thicknesses of polyester quilt batting around the rod and staple it to the rod. Trim edges to within three inches of each end of the rod so they will not show when you hang the tapa.
Cover the padded rod with a thickness of cotton fabric. Fold neatly along the length of the rod. Fold the ends back to cover the quilt batting. Staple the fabric to the rod. As an alternative, you can machine-stitch or hand-sew the fabric covering for a neater fit. Do not sew the tapa.
Mount brackets or hanging gear. Hang up the rod.
Drape the tapa cloth over the padded rod, with roughly 2/3 of it down the front and the remaining 1/3 down the back. Allow enough fabric weight on the back side to hold the cloth in place as it lies over the padded rod. Although you will not be able to display the entire tapa by using this method, you will not tear the fabric or add weight to it.
Allow for the natural composition of your tapa, however you hang it. As nonwoven fabric, it is far less flexible than woven fabric. Holes or cuts will produce permanent damage. Even tacking your tapa to a hollow wood frame will put stress on the edges.
While it may be tempting to glue tapa, and natural pastes are used in its manufacture, test any glue you want to use on an edge or scrap to make sure it will not stain or cause other damage.