African mud cloth and African indigo comes in a wide range of qualities. I have worked diligently to hand pick only the best African textiles I could find for my Morrissey Fabric Customers. Seen above is a very old African indigo the has a fine hand twisted and knotted fringe with almost no fraying. To keep this African indigo in top shape, I carefully soak the cloth overnight in a gentle textile cleaning solution that works out most of the palm oils, dirt, and stains that have been with the African textile for years. More often than not, the African indigo wraps with fringe that I carry at Morrissey Fabric are over seventy-five years old. Because of the age of the African indigo fabrics, I never use bleach which can break down and destroy the vintage cotton fibers. Not only that, I've seen my share of African indigo that has been ruined because someone attempted to spot clean it with bleach leaving behind an ugly white patch in place of whatever was there before. The bleach will take out the indigo color along with the stain so it should be avoided at all times.
photo: Morrissey Fabric
One of the best features with authentic African indigo is that each piece is truly one-of-a-kind. The indigo blue color can range from the darkest velvet-like blue to an ultra-faded powder blue color. When I'm searching for African indigo in solid denim-blue shades, I sort through literally hundreds of pieces to find those with the least amount of damage and staining. At the last LA Textile show I attended in September of 2016, the African Indigo vendor there had wholesale prices for a piece such as the one seen above set at $150. Because that was wholesale, you would then find this vendor's pieces at retail boutiques for $300 to $450 for an African Indigo in top condition.
Photo: Morrissey Fabric
The African indigo shown here is not as tightly woven as some of the pieces I find in the market. However, I selected this African indigo because the color blue was stunning and it was very clean. There were virtually no stains on this vintage African indigo which is rather unusual. Also take not of how the strips of cloth are joined. Each hand loomed strip is joined with hand-stitching rather than by machine. This trait helps to denote that it is an older vintage African indigo. You can see the fringe has a bit of fraying, and the yarn used to weave this African indigo was not as refined as others, but it's beautiful none the less. Because the quality of the cotton yarn was not as high as some it tends to get a bit of a flannel feel to the surface. This softer hand can be a nice effect depending on how you plan to use the cloth.
On a recent buying trip I spoke to several of my African friends about white and natural African mud cloth and African indigo. There was a lot of smiling and contemplation, but in the end I was told to refer to the natural color vintage mud cloth at "White Indigo." It seemed like a contradiction to call the cloth white and indigo, but the consensus was that it was originally woven to be dyed indigo blue. The natural cotton color of the vintage variety African indigo is often quite dirty and full of staining. After all, we all know how difficult it is to keep light clothing free of stains. So finding pieces of vintage African indigo with the fringe still in tact is no simple feat. Each of the natural African indigo pieces you see pictured about required at least two 24-hour textile baths to get them clean. Again, bleach is not the answer to cleaning Natural African indigo of the white variety. Because it's decades old, bleach can easily break down the cotton fibers leaving you with a cloth full of holes and torn to bits. So AVOID the bleach!
Photo: Morrissey Fabric
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that African indigo can also be found in faded shades of black and gray. Most likely these colors have been created to cover dirt or stains present on a vintage natural color African indigo or even a lighter indigo blue wrap. I often find black indigo with fringe, but it's often in very poor condition. When I come across a piece of gray African indigo like the vintage textile seen above, I have to pay a premium for it because the vendors know how hard it is to come by. Maybe some day I'll attempt to dye one of the natural African indigo pieces I can't restore. But for now, I will simply keep on the look out.
Photo: Morrissey Fabric
Be sure to visit my Etsy Shop for the widest selection of vintage African indigo textiles. I do have several listed on this website, but you will find many more when you click the link below.
A thoughtfully curated selection of Vintage Global