by Meghan Hart
February 16, 2018
Celebrate Black History Month!
Let’s talk about one of the coolest textiles to come from Africa, namely, mud cloth! Many of us can recognize mud cloth, with its slightly rough woven texture and striking patterns. It’s a sturdy fabric with tons of potential, from home decorating to fashion. Mud cloth fits a range of decor, from clean and traditional, to layered and eclectic- add a little or a lot!
It’s also a great way to bring graphic, ethnic flair to your personal style. You can use it anywhere you would use medium weight fabrics, or simply hang it on a wall for a one-of-a-kind work of art. Beyoncé even wore a gown made entirely of mud cloth panels for L’Officiel Paris magazine! It’s absolutely amazing- check it out here! https://fineartamerica.com/featured/new-upload-abodiya-idakwoji.html)
However, mud cloth is more than just a versatile and striking fabric. It is a traditional handicraft and labor of love. The textile originated in Mali in about the 12th century, and is still created through a multi-step process that is much the same as ever.
Mud cloth is also known as “bògòlafini”. Bògòlafini comes the Bambara language, meaning bogo (“earth” or “mud”), lan (“with”) and fini (“cloth”). The process starts with a piece of fabric made from woven cotton strips. This sheet is soaked in a bath made with n’gallama leaves, which turns the fabric yellow. The fabric is removed and dried before the mud is applied.
This particular mud is gathered from riverbeds and fermented in clay jars for about a year. It has a high iron content that oxidizes when in contact with the tannins from the n’gallama bath, which creates the familiar black color. The patterns are made by carefully outlining the intricate shapes with the mud, then filling in the background. The mud painted cloth is left in the sun to dry completely, then rinsed free of excess mud.
Lastly, the craftsman makes a soap/bleach paste, and traces over the patterns, to remove the yellow tint from the initial dye bath, and leave the detailed designs a stark white. This step is how the graphic contrast found in mud cloth is achieved. Modern mud cloth can also be found in black on white, and shades of brown. Learn more about the process and history of mud cloth here!https://folklife.si.edu/malian-bogolan/smithsonian
Mud cloth was traditional material for clothing in Mali, worn during times of transition or significant events. The patterns were laden with symbols to help bless, protect, or convey meaning to the wearer and those around them. Now days you can still find specific traditional symbols used in the patterns. These are just a few of the more common symbols and their meanings. https://i0.wp.com/tomacadesigns.com/wp-content/uploads/african-symbols2.jpg?resize=768%2C994)
Another exciting feature at Colorado Fabrics for Black History Month is our display of quilts from Wa Shonaji, a quilting and fiber arts group here in Denver that focuses on creations from an African-American perspective. The name Wa Shonaji is Swahili for “people who sew”, and this great organization has generously lent us several quilts from their artisans to exhibit around the store. Each quilt has a distinct style, but they all represent talented African-American artists from our hometown. http://www.washonaji.org/
Come see us and check out these exceptional quilts, along with our selection of African motif fabrics (including a limited supply of mud cloth!) and get inspired for your next handcrafted work of art!