As in other Polynesian islands, paper mulberry was the most usual source of bark for making barkcloth or kapa, although breadfruit and wild fig were also used.
Strips were glued together with breadfruit juice or arrowroot and laminated at right angles to make large sheets of cloth.
Designs in a variety of colours (black, red, yellow) were either drawn on in freehand or using a long comb or printed using bamboo printing blocks. Kapa was used for underclothes as in other Polynesian island groups, also shoulder capes (kihei) for men and women and multilayered sleeping mats (kapa moe), with a decorated top layer. Distinctive elements in Hawaiian kapa manufacture include extremely fine quality cloth resembling lace in texture, in which the pattern in the beater is clearly visible.
The earliest examples of Hawaiian kapa come from Captain Cook’s first contact in 1778, and are often in the form of small samples made up into books (see number 40). A great variety of forms and pattern styles is exhibited in Hawaiian kapa . Most of these designs are 19th century in origin, probably made at about the time barkcloth was beginning to be replaced by woven textiles as clothing. It was not until the late 20th century that the craft was revived, using the surviving early sample books and training from barkcloth makers from Tonga and Samoa.