If you're like me, then you can't get enough of the gorgeous African textile known as mud cloth. Every piece is unique in color and print because each piece is handmade in an incredibly in-depth process. As Zuri began to carry mud cloth I did some research to learn more about where it came from and its cultural meaning. So here's what I learned!
Where is it from?
Mud cloth is from Mali - in west Africa, and specifically, it originated in the town of Beledougou.
Why is it called mud cloth?
In the Bambara language, the language spoken in Mali, mud cloth is called bogolanfini. Bogolanfini is made up of three words: Bogo, lan, and fini. Bogo means "earth" or "mud," lan means "with," and fini means "cloth." From this we get the translation, mud cloth. Bogolan is easily confused with other folk dying techniques, such as batik or tie dye. What distinguishes the bogolan method of design application is that the artist paints the background a dark color, leaving the outline of the pattern untouched.
What do the patterns mean?
As you may have imagined, each piece of mud cloth has a story to tell. Sometimes the symbols themselves display messages, historical events, social status or proverbs. Originally, symbols were meant to only be understood within small communities of people. Even though some symbols have become decodable, many remain a mystery!
How is mud cloth made?
The skills and techniques artists have been using for centuries are passed down through intergenerational rituals. Traditionally, the men weave the cloth and the women dye it. Once the strips of woven cloth (usually cream colored) are sewn together, the women follow a very painstaking dyeing process.
1. Soak the fabric in a leaf bath. The branches and leaves dye the cloth a yellowish color. Artists use different types of leaves to attain different colors.
2. The fabric is dried in the sun and covered with dark mud. Once the mud has turned gray, the excess is scraped off.
3. These first two steps are repeated multiple times until the desired dark color is achieved.
4. The yellow areas are painted with a bleach, which turns the yellow patterns brown. The cloth is left to dry in the sun for a week. When the bleach solution is washed off with water, what remains is the characteristic white pattern on a dark background.
Chis Seydu has been credited with bringing mud cloth to the international fashion scene in the 1970s. Now mud cloth production is seen as an entrepreneurial opportunity and large quantities are made for the tourist market. The gorgeous textile has been used to upholster chairs and cushions, as rugs and tablecloths, hung as wall art, and sewn into beautiful bags and clutches like the ones we carry at Zuri!
For more information on mud cloth, check out these sites: