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Mae Woven

What is African Mudcloth?

What is African Mudcloth?

African cloths have been popular in Western cultures for quite some time. Among the most well known are the Ankara fabric from Western Africa, kitenge from Eastern Africa, and African mudcloth. They are used to add an extra element of style or design and each has their own rich history and meaning from their respective cultures. The African mudcloth has a fascinating history and meanings.


Though it’s commonly referred to as “African”, the fabric hails from northern Africa, specifically the inland country of Mali in the Western Sahara region.  The term “mudcloth” is loosely translated from Bambara, the language spoken in Mali. “Bògòlanfini” as it is called in Bambara, combines three root words: “bogo” meaning earth or mud, “lan” meaning ‘with’, and “fini” meaning cloth. The handmade Malian cloth dyed using fermented mud, giving it its name-sake. The tradition dates back to the 12th century.

Mudcloth was a local tradition

Traditionally made by men, they weave together thin strips of plain fabric, usually a yellowish beige natural color, into squares that were then stitched together. After the construction of the cloth, the fabric was then dyed in baths of leaves and branches. This process is used to bind the dye to the fabric.

The fabric was then laid out to dry in the sun, after which beautiful patterns would be intricately and carefully painted using a special kind of mud. The mud was collected from numerous streams and ponds and left to ferment over seasons.

As the mud dries, it changes colors, from dark brown or black to a gray color. The excess mud is washed off the fabric and the process is repeated many times. With each repetition, the affected area becomes darker. The unpainted areas were treated with a bleaching agent, turning the natural yellow color brown. After sun drying for a week, the fabric is washed off and leaves the characteristic white pattern on a dark background.   


The meaning of the patterns

Similar to Ankara and kitenge fabrics, mudcloth were often manufactured to carry meaning to the wearers and onlookers. The designers used the pattern of the light shapes and figures on the dark background to convey meaning, often passed from mother to daughter. These meanings could often be quite complex, but there were some standard patterns that had accepted meanings within certain ingroups. A twirl, for instance, meant life, while a concentric circle could represent the world.


Mudcloth in modern fashion

Chris Seydou, a Malian fashion designer, is widely credited with bringing African mudcloth into the modern fashion arena. Growing up with his embroiderer mother, Seydou was frequently surrounded by the fabrics and incorporated them into his haute couture clothes, modifying the complex patterns for Western audiences.

Large amounts of mudcloth are still produced in Mali, mostly as part of the tourist trade, with men responsible for most of the production. Today, it is used in a variety of ways, from fashion to furniture and home decor. It remains a popular way to add texture and pattern to an outfit or a room.

At Mae Woven, we love having our pillows made from African mudcloth. We find fabric in many different colors from black, to rust and white or cream and even pink! We love the designs and textures that make each pillow cover unique.

Styling Our Pillows in Your Home

Styling Our Pillows in Your Home

We often receive questions from customers about styling our pillows in their homes. To help answer these, we've gathered our favorite tips and tricks to find your style and apply it to your home. We believe that by representing yourself in your decor, you'll feel more at home in your space.

We love using our handwoven pillows as a simple way to switch up the style of any space. Pillows add warmth, increase livability, and help express your unique style in your home.

When developing your personal style, ask yourself these questions:

1)   How do I dress? Do I like a lot of color and pattern?

2)   Do I like to match things (match shoes and purse, etc.)? Am I more comfortable using a matching set of dishes or do I like to mix it up?

3)   Do I like many decorative elements or do I prefer more minimalist and simple style?

Once you've determined your style, you'll know what works best for you and your home.

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you get started:

MONOCHROMATIC / If you love to mix patterns and styles, selecting pillows that have the same predominant colors can help the combination feel more cohesive.


MIXING TEXTURES / Mixing textures is a great way to bring visual interest into any space. We love mixing pillows of different colors and patterns for a playful spin on traditional home decor. You can achieve a more minimalist look by mixing textures that have similar patterns or predominant colors.


MIXING SIZES / Create dimension in your space by mixing pillows of different sizes on sofas, beds, or benches. We love throwing in a lumbar (or two!) to complement the larger, square pillows!


A FEW OR MANY  / When it comes to the quantity of pillows, you can't go wrong. A single pillow on the end of a sofa can be a beautiful statement and a collection of pillows on your couch can create a comfy composition. 


Happy styling!

-The Mae Woven Team

Hill - From the mountains of Thailand, to your home.

Hill - From the mountains of Thailand, to your home.

Meet our Hill Collection! These beautiful pillow covers are crafted from ceremonial clothing, hand-woven by the Hmong Hill Tribe. Nestled in the mountainous regions of Thailand, women of these remote communities follow the entire production process, from harvesting hemp to weaving each textile by hand on a traditional backstrap loom. Read more