One of the things I love most about New York is the ability to be so fully immersed in endless forms of self-expression. We love nothing more than traipsing through the city, discovering a tiny new art gallery or an unassuming storefront offering the most unexpected things. A few weeks ago, we discovered a piece of handmade mud cloth that was astoundingly beautiful. Smitten by the fabric, we came back eager to learn about the history of this traditional African textile.
An important symbol of Malian culture, the handmade textile known in the Bambara language as bògòlanfini (which translates roughly to ‘mud cloth’) is a time-consuming tradition that takes days to make. After cotton is weaved into strips on a loom and sewn together, it is soaked in a tea dye made from leaves of the n'gallama tree, which turns the fabric yellow. Once dried, the entirety of the fabric is painted with a special fermented mud, except specific areas that create the unique patterns and designs. The mud is dried and washed and the process is repeated numerous times, allowing the mud-painted fabric to get dark while the symbolic patterns stay light. Finally, the pale designs are bleached with a special solution turning them from yellow to white, completing the painstaking process.
Taking inspiration from this breathtaking fabric, we created a super simple DIY version that adds a handmade touch to any wedding. Traditionally, the symbols and patterns of the mud cloth are a language all their own, containing hidden messages passed down from mother to daughter and only understood by the intimate members of their community. With a twirl representing life, or sets of concentric circles referencing the earth, you can tell your own story through your cloth. We love this fabric idea for bridal bouquets but can think of so many additional ways to use it.
- Elmer's School Glue Gel
- Cotton twill tape
- Black fabric paint
- Iron and ironing board
- Bowl or bucket of warm water
1. Create your own unique pattern by drawing directly onto the cotton twill ribbon using the Elmer's glue. (Traditional Malian mud cloth showcases simple geometric patterns or graphic designs.) Allow the glue to dry completely.
2. Paint both the front and back of your ribbon with black fabric paint and allow it to dry completely before ironing the ribbon with the glue face down for approximately five minutes. Next, let the ribbon soak in warm water for 20 minutes, allowing the glue to dissolve away. Finish by hanging to dry before ironing again.
Now you can use your beautiful handmade ribbon throughout your ceremony. We love the way it looks wrapped around a bouquet of blooms!