Mud cloth is a hand made African textile that has been strong in home decor for much longer than many current design trends. I believe this is because it ticks many boxes within much larger trends. Authentic mud cloth is hand made, natural fiber (cotton), and has a recognizable global style. This post is about authentic mud cloth, or strip cloth, and will compare the antique and vintage versus the newly crafted mud cloth. Colored with natural dyes, mud cloth can be found from the rarest antique museum quality to newly-made, non-traditional colors and patterns.
It's not historically informed for African mud cloth to be produced in pastel colors such as dove gray or petal pink. But as the slub-filled rustic texture of mud cloth grew in popularity, designers requested colors and patterns that would more easily translate into Western culture homes. Major trend purchases like gray sectional sofas could be easily refreshed with mud cloth pillows in coordinating colors like those seen above. As one high-end African textile dealer said to me, "these are trendy, not classics." Given the number of pieces I have shipped in these colors, obviously there is plenty of room for trendy mud cloth in the market as well as the traditional beauties.
So let me explain briefly some of the the differences between vintage and antique mud cloth, or Bogolan, versus the newly produced, also authentic African mud cloth. Mud cloth has been hand produced by indigenous cultures on the African continent for decades. It was woven from cotton fibers, then the symbolic tribal patterns were applied with fermented mud paints and dyes. Sometimes the patterns were painted onto the mud cloth with a brush or a resist-dye method was used to express the geometric designs.
Above is a very old Bogolan created in the early 1900s. It was crafted entirely by hand including the weave, the hand sewn seams, the one of a kind pattern, and the mud dye bath that was used. If you look closely, you can see the skill involved to create this antique textile. Note how the cotton fibers are refined and closely woven, and see if you can find the tiny hand stitching that holds the strips of cloth together.
Because not everyone can afford or may not want an antique mud cloth that is decades old, new versions have been crafted. Newly produced mud cloth is still woven, colored, and printed by hand, but it doesn't have the refined appearance or patina that the older Bogolan has. This modern mud cloth is ideal for projects such as upholstery or pillow making. It has a thicker, coarser hand than the vintage pieces, but it is also more durable.
The black and white home decor trend paved the way for mud cloth to gain a strong foothold in the market. Consumers had the option of selecting recognizable tribal patterns or less obviously-African geometric designs.
Over the past four years I have sold just about every kind of mud cloth imaginable. The example on the far left has very traditional colors and can easily be identified as an African textile. The earthy rust and brown colors above are also more traditional, but due to their monochromatic geometric design, this type of mud cloth has become very popular for a wider range of customers.
In contrast to the first photo of authentic vintage bogolan, the examples above are an entirely modern interpretation of hand made mud cloth. The simple bar or dash graphic printed in white on pink has a much different aesthetic. The Malian dealer I purchase this hand made cloth from disclosed that the dye is actually from Germany so that it will not fade. The soft yellow mud cloth on the right is also hand made and hand printed, but the gray color graphic is a modern twist.
So the next time you are in search of an antique or modern mud cloth, I hope you will take a look at the Morrissey Fabric offerings. I have a selection on this website as well as the Etsy shop. Don't see what you are looking for? Shoot me a line and make a request. I will do my best to source what you are looking for.
Here at Morrissey Fabric I have been repurposing and selling vintage global textiles as a business since 2015. Decades ago I fell in love with the textures that can only be found in hand crafted, loomed-by-hand fabrics. Just recently I put together a group of Guatemalan indigo pillows that each have hand-embroidered details. The indigo is durable and colorfast, and the hand embroidery is heavy, so making pillows has given the textile a second life as home decor.
The faded denim textile the pillow rests upon is an authentic African Mossi, commonly known as mud cloth.
Clients often ask about the origin of my vintage textiles. What they don't realize, is that many fabrics come from garments. I find these garments in countries where hand crafting is celebrated and the skills are carried down through generations. In the example above, a Guatemalan woman is wearing a Huipil (Blouse) and a Corte (skirt) filled with colorful indigenous patterns. This may help to visualize how the fabric in the first photo of the pillow was originally worn.
Beautiful textiles have been a source of income to Guatemalan villages for centuries. Each small town has a specific woven pattern that identifies the place of origin. Seen in the "Friducha" dolls hand made for Folk Project, Huipil remnants now honor Frida Kahlo. Repurposing the vintage textiles into one of a kind dolls is a wonderful way to educate people about the artist and Guatemalan culture.
Creating products with anything vintage usually means some clean up is going to be necessary. This is certainly the case with antique textiles. Sure, you can skip the washing, but I don't recommend it. I always hand wash or gentle machine wash vintage textiles. You should test a corner to be certain the colors won't bleed. It is likely natural dyes were used and not all of them are colorfast. Caution is always essential. You can find Guatemalan corte fabric like this in the MorrisseyFabric.Etsy.com shop.
I hope you can see the joy I find in repurposing vintage textiles. The accessories and pillows you find in my shop were crafted in California from textiles that already had a life as apparel. Now that I'm in my fifties, I see this process as a reflection of my own creative life. I began my career as a fashion designer, and my current life is to reimagine antique apparel into something new.