February 26, 2015

Retro Barkcloth Nail Art Tutorial

Like most vintage lovers, I love mid-century modern fabrics! Whether used for a dress or for curtains, I adore atomic age textile prints. One of the most common mid-century fabrics is barkcloth, a thick textured fabric named after the actual ethnographic (usually from Indonesia and the Pacific) textile barkcloth, which is made from actual tree bark. I had been thinking that the fabulous patterns of mid-century barkcloth textiles would make for lovely retro nail art and decided to give the idea a try. This manicure is the result, and I took pictures along the way so you too can get the look!

Above are some various examples of barkcloth patterns pulled from pinterest. For this manicure I was inspired by the boxy pattern of the cloth in the upper left and the colors from the cloth in the lower right. I think the key to getting this manicure to look like a vintage print is to match the colors from an inspirational cloth. Copying the way mid-century designers matched colors tends to give a modern replication that desired authentic look.

For this manicure you will need:
-Several colors of nail polish, I recommend creme finishes with no shimmer
-A few different brushes, at least one small flat brush and one very thin line brush, I cut and old small round brush's bristles off until only a few remained to create a super fine line brush
-Nail polish remover or pure acetone (to remove the nail polish from the brushes)
-Clear topcoat
-and as always, Patience!

Start by painting your nails a solid color for the background, I used a light grey like my inspiration image. Make sure your base color is completely dry before continuing.

First, lightly dry brush on a similar color (I used white) over your base color to give it a bit of a textured look. Use a light hand as this is still part of the background.

Using a small flat brush and your first accent color, dab on little square shaped blobs onto your nails in no particular pattern. These do not have to be perfect squares, in fact many of the original barkcloth prints feature very wobbly shapes so don't worry too much if you can't keep your hand steady! I only put 1-3 blobs/squares on each nail but you could varry the scale of the print and include however many you would like!

Here are the rest of my green blobs, see how far from perfect they are, topcoat heals most wounds!

I then repeated the last step with my second accent color. I used the edge of the brush to dot on little saucer shaped designs too for variety. I think everything is already looking very mid-century at this point!

You can see my super fine liner brush above. Dipping the brush lightly in black, I began to draw thin lined squares around the colored squares on my nails.

Again this should not be perfect and geometric! I added a few extra lines intersecting the outlines of the squares to complete the atomic mid-century looking pattern.

Wait for everything to dry and then add a thick layer of clear topcoat! Make sure to apply your topcoat carefully so you don't smudge your beautiful new design!

I am really happy with how this manicure came out! I can't wait to try other barkcloth inspired patterns and color combinations. I was feeling lazy so for my left hand I only put the design on my thumb and ring finger as accent nails and the pattern looks cool that way too. Plus this design isn't crazy impossible to do with your less dominant hand as things are allowed to be wobbly.

I hope you enjoyed today's tutorial! Any other vintage lovers out there obsessed with barkcloth patterns like me?

Like this nail art? Please pin this tutorial!


  1. This is such a fun, original nail art idea. Love, super love actually - and all the more so because I feel like I could pull it off (mega nail art expert I am not).

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thanks Jessica! Even though I love my nail stamping plates, I know not everyone has access to tools like that, so I keep trying to come up with nail designs that anyone can achieve!

  2. This is a great design, I liked seeing the fabrics that you were inspired by too. Good Mid Century colours!

    1. Thanks Kate! It has been a fun design to wear this week!


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