Mud cloth is a traditional African fabric that is made by hand. This centuries-old craft is still practiced today by artisans in various parts of Africa, and the brightly colored cloths are often used to make clothing, bedding such as pillow covers, and other household items.
Mud cloth patterns are created by dyeing groups or strips of fabric before they are cut or sewn into garments. Mud cloths can sometimes be identified by their patterned borders, which are typically the only areas that were not dyed. To make this traditional fabric, crafters begin with a base layer of white cotton, linen, or other suitable material and then apply the coloring agent to sections of it using brushes made from animal hair. The resulting designs are often abstract in shape and deftly evoke African textiles.
After dying the fabric, crafters will stretch it over a wooden frame for drying or allow it to air-dry naturally. If they want to retain the same color throughout an item, such as a garment, they will often dye the entire piece before cutting it. Otherwise, they can dye each section individually after completing the cutting process or allow parts of an item to fade gradually over time by only partially immersing it in the coloring agent.
Mud cloth was once worn exclusively by Africa's ruling class or for religious ceremonies, but today it is made and worn for everyday use. Mud cloth items like clothing and bedding are highly prized by collectors and artisans alike, and their bright colors and unique patterns make them desirable pieces of folk art.
Mud cloth has been produced for centuries in various parts of Africa, including areas that are now part of Nigeria, Benin, Mali, Ghana, and Togo.