When we acquired Ilene Danchig’s studio, we received some really beautiful mudcloths! We love how current trends are celebrating global looks like our mudcloths- particularly those with a hand-crafted, authentic artistry feel. These pieces blew me away visually, but when I really dug into learning the process of how they are created, my appreciation for them grew even more!
It takes anywhere from four to seven days to complete a mud cloth, depending on the weather. The base cloth is 100% cotton and is usually woven by men on a handheld loom. The loom makes a strip of cloth approximately five to six inches wide. For a traditional mud cloth (6’x45”), they will weave nine panels, then piece them together.
The cloth is then soaked in a traditional dye bath made from leaves of the n’gallama tree. It is laid out in the sun to dry, resulting in a yellow hue. Patterns are then painted with special mud collected from ponds during the previous season and left to ferment. The motifs on the mudcloths represent many different things- the wealth, social status, character, or occupation of the person who made it as well as where it was made. However, one aspect of the designs that I find particularly interesting is that they are a sort of code! If you are not from the particular area where a mudcloth was made, there’s a good chance the meaning of the pattern will remain a mystery to you!
As the cloth dries, the mud reacts with the cloth and turns the designs grey. The cloth is washed to remove excess mud, then painted and washed several more times to make the patterns darker and darker. The yellow areas, which is the base cloth, are painted with bleach which turns them a brown color. Then the cloth is left to dry in the sun for a week. The bleach solution is washed off and what’s left is a traditional mud cloth, complete with the quintessential white patterns on the dark ground!