World of Sewing Fabric: Mudcloth

Gorgeous fabrics from faraway places — that was the theme of Stitch Fall 2009.


It’s also a favorite theme of mine; I think of myself as a global textile explorer, and I love the incredible diversity and beauty of textile traditions from around the planet. Fortunately, we modern sewists no longer have to wait for camels on the Silk Road or tall ships to bring us treasures; we can find authentic international fabrics everywhere.

EP2826Here at Sew Daily, we thought we’d start a series of posts to tour the world of fabrics. The only passport you’ll need is your sewing machine and your imagination. Today, a look at African mudcloth, an earthy sewing fabric with a name that belies its beauty.

Designer Zelda Grant used mudcloth to make the beautiful graphic tote from Fall 2009, at left. Traditional mudcloth originated in Mali, in western Africa. Handwoven cotton strips are joined and patterned with mud containing iron oxide, then sometimes bleached and overdyed for greater contrast. Bogolanfini, the traditional name for mudcloth, has a long and rich heritage in Mali, and colors and patterns are carefully chosen and laden with meaning.

The Smithsonian Institute offers Discovering Mudcloth, a wonderful online exhibition where you can make a virtual mudcloth! Just roll your mouse and click through the steps to get a feeling for the mudcloth experience. You can also learn more here, at Cornell University’s Afrikana Library site, and look on for videos of mudcloth being made.

There are many sources for mudcloth online, and you may find reproductions at your local fabric store. Use graphic mudcloth prints on their own or combine them with linen or cotton in pillows, totes, or garments. Mudcloth is somewhat heavy; use it in bold, simple shapes rather than intricately detailed patterns. In fact, a large piece of mudcloth can be striking as a wall hanging. The weave of this handwoven cloth can be somewhat loose, so finish seams with a zigzag stitch or binding to avoid raveling.

If you plan to travel this summer, look for sewing fabric to bring home with you from wherever you go (or related treats like beads and buttons). Textiles are everywhere, once you begin to look, and the fabric you bring home will remind you of where you’ve been and fuel your creative efforts. Ask your friends, too, to look for fabric for you when they travel.

If you’ve made this tote, send us a picture, or write and tell us about how mudcloth has inspired you, or tell us about your favorite international fabrics. Happy stitching!

Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


Sewing Fabric & Fabric Basics