History of African Mud Cloth – Paulski Art

History of African Mud Cloth

The tradition of making cloth out of mud is thousands of years old. While it may seem like something that belongs in the past, the art form is still practiced today by many African countries. It has been passed down through generations and helps keep that knowledge alive for many tribes across Africa. The process remains painstakingly long and arduous, but the end result is remarkable.

The first step in the process is to soak a number of plant fibers until they are moist and supple. This usually takes two or three days, depending on the climate and season. During this time, it's critical that no dirt or other particles come into contact with them as it will make the dye much less useful later on.

The process of making mud cloth involves laying the wet strips of plant fibers or fabric over the top of smooth rocks that have been heated until they're nearly too hot to touch. The heat dries those pieces quickly, creating thin layers of fabric. As many as ten may be needed to create thick cloth for clothing or other purposes. Then, these sheets are laid one on top of another and pounded with wooden mallets so they fuse together and become strong and sturdy.

To create designs on this cloth, a dye made from mud and or water is carefully poured onto the material. A stamp, usually made of wood with sharp edges, is then pressed into the cloth to transfer patterns onto it. These patterns are typically brightly colored and geometric in shape, but over time they have become more elaborate as seen on traditional African Mud Cloth today.

After the pattern is painted on, the dye needs to set before the cloth can be washed and allowed to dry. Many hours later, it is ready for use on clothing or as a decorative piece of home décor.