The Meaning of Mudcloth

Mudcloth has become popular lately in the western world. It is a beautiful fabric. It comes in unique and exotic colors and designs. When combined with a hand-spun hand-woven fabric, it produces a rich and elegant textile. Each piece of mud cloth has a story to tell! The symbols, the arrangement, color, and shape, all reveal different secrets.

Ankara fabric from Western Africa & kitenge from Eastern Africa are two popular types. Each one of them has its own rich history and meaning from their respective cultures. They are used these days to add an extra element of style or design in the clothing line. Know more about the meaning and mindset behind mudcloth. This can add to your satisfaction and depth of spirit.

Mudcloth: A Local Tradition In The Past

Mudcloth was made by weaving together thin strips of plain fabric into squares. These squares were then stitched together. The fabric was then dipped in water containing leaves and branches such that the dye binds to the fabric.

The fabric was then sun-dried. It was later painted with beautiful patterns. These patterns were made using a special kind of mud. This special mud was collected from different ponds and streams. It was then left to ferment over seasons.

As the mud becomes dry, its color changes from dark brown or black to gray. The excess mud was washed off the fabric and the process was repeated many times. With every repetition, the affected area becomes darker. The unpainted areas were treated with a bleaching agent. It turns the original pale-yellow color of the fabric to brown. The fabric was again left for sun drying for a week and then washed off completely. Finally, they used to get the characteristic white pattern on a dark background.

This is how a traditional mud cloth was made in Africa. It demanded time and efforts of the artisans to create a single piece of fabric. Later, this fabric was used to create different outfits for men & women.

Different Mudcloth Patterns & Their Meanings

A piece of mudcloth communicates social status, characters, and occupations. Even now, African people are cautious about what they wear. What you wear shows what kind of person you are!

Below we have shown a few of the many symbols you'll find in a piece of mudcloth. Patterns and varieties in mudcloth are endless. Also, the meanings of patterns may differ by region, ethnic group, or individual. So, don’t be surprised if someone tells you a different meaning than you see here!

Mudcloth Meanings:

Wealth and Luxury

Supposed to represent the cushions of rich women from the Mauritania area. Suchwomen are so wealthy: they don’t have to work. Just rest their heads on pillows such as these!

Beds of Bamboo and Millet

It is said that this pattern is used by a woman who wishes to show her superiority to a Co-wife. However, the pattern is extremely popular and so it is not always assumed that a woman wearing it is making this assumption.

Farmers Sickle

This pattern has a unique story. A farmer had a sickle he particularly liked. It worked well for him and he thought it deserved its own pattern. So this pattern is named for the back of the sickle.


This design represents the spindle. A very old and traditional design.

Calabash Flowers

The name says it all, a popular pattern that shows prosperity from the calabash flowers.

Calabash Flowers

This pattern represents a belt used by warriors before they went off to battle. This pattern therefore signifies being brave and fearless.

Iguana's Elbow

A very common pattern as Iguana's are very common in many parts of Africa and represent good fortune. An Iguana can lead a hunter to water and is also symbolic of African people in warfare with foreign powers.

Mudcloth Items:

The Making of Mudcloth

- To see African artisans click here!

The Making of Mudcloth In The Modern Times

The making of mudcloth is a time-consuming process. It may take four days to a week to complete depending on the weather. Each piece is made of 100% cotton and is completely hand-made.

The men start the process by weaving cotton thread on a loom. The loom is hand-held and makes a strip of cloth 5"-6" wide. After they weave around 9 panels, they sew them together, and then the women paint and design the cloth.

A mudcloth artist deals in a specific field. Each concept is taught and learned over a long period of time. A person who wishes to learn the art of mudcloth needs proper training. He is taught how to make each of the different dyes out of organic substances. Also, how each of the substances will react with the fabric and fixatives.

The first step in making the cloth is to set it in a fixative solution made from tea. The mud designs are then hand-painted and the tea sets into the fabric. Mud used to make mudcloth is usually mixed with water and set aside for about a year.

Using twigs or metal instruments, the artist paints the designs with the mud. They saturate the area so it will not wash out. After washing, the process is repeated. It is then dried and put in another solution to make patterns stand out more. On black and white fabric, a soda is painted on the areas with no patterns causing them to be white.

The Colors of Mudcloth

Each color has meaning. The most traditional coloring has been the black background with white designs. This is typically used for story telling or the portrayal of a proverb.

- To read African proverbs click here.

Another popular color among hunters and the Fulani people is rust. This color gains lots of appreciation. It doesn't show dirt and represents strong supernatural powers that protect the hunter. The rust color signifies blood either from the hunt or from warfare. Because mudcloth is made from the soils, it has been useful to both groups as a form of camouflage.

White mudcloth is the most challenging fabric, and it's easy to stain with the dye. White is a color worn by women or girls at ceremonial events. Another rare color is gray which is also worn by hunters. The cream is a natural color of the mudcloth before dying it.

Recently many colors have been added to the traditional colors. Bright reds, purples, yellows, and oranges are being developed by new artists. Many people view these with disdain as they are not traditional.

Explore the unique mudcloth fabric range, colors, and patterns available at Africa Imports. We also have different mudcloth outfits for men & women. African Craftsmen design them keeping in mind the modern style and demand. Their goods still preserve the traditional flavor of mudcloth fabrics & their exclusive patterns. Make handmade mudcloth fabric bestselling product of your store. Tell your customers as well as family & friends the unique story of its making. Also, find mudcloth fabric at wholesale rates to re-sell.

How To Sell Traditional African Fabrics?

Apart from hand-made African mudcloth, Africa Imports also offers bold African print fabrics. These are fabrics for everyone. You can sell them at craft fairs, to craft stores, or online. Many online stores like eBay, Amazon, and Etsy are some popular places for selling fabrics. If you know how to sew, make different products out of these African fabrics. You can craft handmade pillows, print curtains, pots, bed sheets, and much more!

Here Are Some Tried and Tested Methods For Selling African Fabrics.

  • You can book your stall at a craft fair and sell your exclusive African fabrics or products made from them. Many cities have craft fairs or craft festivals throughout the year. get a booth, set up your African products range, and sell your fabrics or craft creations!
  • You can also sell online. eBay, Esty, and Amazon are some of the best places to sell fabric online. Also, you can make products out of unique African fabrics. Buy them from Africa Imports at wholesale rates and sell them online. You can also showcase your fabrics or handmade items on Craigslist, or your own website.
  • Create a YouTube channel where you can tell different ways of using African fabrics. Decorate your store using a piece of mudcloth. Use it as a tablecloth along with other fabrics. This is a great way to generate interest and draw the attention of the customers. You can tell them the ways to use these fabrics.
  • You should tell your friends and potential customers about different fabrics. You can also share the story behind their making. Also, give them knowledge of the symbols made on the fabric and what they actually mean. Learn about the history and designs to keep conversations flowing with your customers.

To purchase mudcloth and other fabric click here.

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