Obsessed With... African Mudcloth

It happened at the Wellfleet Flea Market, a strange and wonderful place on Cape Cod, last summer. While browsing for random tchotchkes, I came across a table piled high with the loveliest tribal fabrics: rough textiles featuring hand-drawn, asymmetric ivory patterns on a field of indigo, charcoal, and rust tones. “African mudcloth,” the vendor explained to me. “Vintage—the real thing.”

Who knows if that was true—it’s hard to judge the cred of random vendors selling from the back of a box van. But I loved the fabric: the asymmetric edges; the bits that had been worn through with use.

As I’d already burned through my budget on a small Tibetan rug for my new kitchen ($175—score!) and a few random and quirky vintage books, I didn’t buy the mudcloth. And it has haunted me ever since.

Turns out I’m not the only one obsessed; the lovely Erin Gates at Elements of Style posted about mudcloth earlier this year, with gorgeous examples of the material being used in contemporary interiors. 

 

Design*Sponge and Apartment Therapy articles fed my fascination even more: I learned that it’s a traditional handicraft practiced in Mali, where these fabrics (known as bogolanfini) are produced primarily by men using vegetable dyes and bleach. The artisans often sew many smaller pieces together to form one giant textile, which would explain the asymmetric shapes of the scraps I found at the Wellfleet flea. Like the oh-so-trendy-but-actually-really-culturally-interesting Moroccan shag carpets you now see everywhere, African mudcloths feature one-of-a-kind patterns that tell a story about the people who created them.

If you’re the creative type, this cool site from the Smithsonian lets you practice mudcloth pattern-making online. If you like to get your upholstery on, Homepolish recently ran this awesome DIY mudcloth bench tutorial. Me? I’m the shopping type. Here are some of my current mudcloth obsessions. 

1. No. 4 mudcloth pillow, $90, LoomGoods 2. African mudcloth pillows from Michael Haskell, $249 each, 1stdibs. 3. Vintage African mudcloth, $150, Chairish. 4. Osei Duro mudcloth poncho, $128, Urban Outfitters. 5. Mali mudcloth x-bench, $128, Minda Home. 6. African indigo mudcloth pillow cover, $85, Etsy.

1. No. 4 mudcloth pillow, $90, LoomGoods 2. African mudcloth pillows from Michael Haskell, $249 each, 1stdibs. 3. Vintage African mudcloth, $150, Chairish. 4. Osei Duro mudcloth poncho, $128, Urban Outfitters. 5. Mali mudcloth x-bench, $128, Minda Home. 6. African indigo mudcloth pillow cover, $85, Etsy.

If I could be like Cher and turn back time, I'd buy a swath of indigo mudcloth outta that box van, then drape it over a console table in my parlor to add a bit of personality. (Added benefit: it would cover up some unfortunate dings on the edge of the table.) Tell me: How would you incorporate it into your decor? Or do you hate the look?