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Mud Cloth

Mud Cloth

Photo by Ryan Sacco

What Is Mud Cloth?

African mud cloth is a traditional Malian fabric dating back to the 12th century. This handmade cloth is dyed using fermented clay (aka mud) giving it its namesake.

First, the cotton is grown locally and hand woven together into strips of fabric. Later these strips are zig-zag stitched together to create the larger cloth used in clothing, home goods and more.

Artisans begin by soaking this cloth in a bath of tree leaves to bind the dye to the fabric. It is then laid in the sun to dry, after which special patterns and symbols are painstakingly painted on it with a special type of fermented mud collected from ponds in previous seasons.

One of the things that make this textile so special is that each cloth has its own story to tell. The symbols, and their arrangement, carry special meaning for the artist, wearer, and onlooker. This language has been passed down from mother to daughter through generations. There are a few basic symbols, such as a swirl for “life,” and a circle for “world,” but there are many that are a mystery to the outsider. The motifs were originally codes for small groups of people.

The cloth is dried, then washed, and repeated many times until it reaches the desired depth. The unpainted areas are treated with a bleaching agent. It will then be left to dry in the sun for up to a week. Once it is washed, it will reveal the characteristic white pattern on a dark background.

How We Used It

Each of the pieces in our Artisan Collection is created from authentic mud cloth from Mali. We carefully hand chose each cloth because of it's color, pattern and quality.

Once we (excitedly) brought it back to the studio, we hand washed each cloth, and reinforced the zig-zag stitches.  Then the real fun began! We played with symbol placement, direction and size to make pieces that are more art than pillow. 

Our Favorite part of these pieces is that they the work of many artists. The fabric itself has passed through many hands, minds and hearts to reach you. There are beautiful irregularities and unique details on each piece, which is the value in buying handmade artisan goods.

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