The African mud cloth is an intriguing piece of artwork that has been made for centuries. Originally from the nation of Mali, the cotton-based fabric is a cultural treasure, and the unique designs that adorn it are handmade by African artisans.
Once the cotton strips are sewn together on a loom, they are then stitched together by a professional tailor, so that the cloth becomes large enough to suit various functions, such as for curtains, furniture covers, or clothing.
The delicate process of making and painting a mudcloth involves many coats of using fermented mud which was gathered from local African rivers. The artists use this mud to create the darker portions of their designs, and then use a caustic solution to bleach the areas that are not covered with mud.
Thus, whenever you find yourself with a mudcloth, whether you bought it, are borrowing it, or are just caring for it, you need to keep in mind that it is fundamentally made of cotton– which is a perishable material– and mud, which can be washed off significantly if the cleaning process is too harsh. This is a fabric that needs extra special attention and care to last long. And, if you’re an interior designer, you might be interested in a long-lasting African mud cloth from Acaciawood.
So, the first step in caring for the mud cloth is pre-washing it. This is a simple step used to prepare the cloth for the various crafts or sewing that you might use it for. This pre-washing will remove any excess dirt or dye that still might be in the material. After this stage, the fabric will become softer and smoother to the touch.
Before doing the pre-wash, or any kind of washing of the mudcloth, it is best to test a small piece of any part of the fabric to make sure the cleaning agent and/or detergent works properly. If you have never cleaned a mudcloth before with a certain kind of detergent, it is best to test it. But, once you know that a detergent works well, you can use it on future mudcloths.
Most detergents will work well, but it is best to take the extra precaution. Avoid using the harsher kinds of detergents and soaps as you can never be quite sure of the chemical reaction that might take place with the dyes of the fabric and the cleaning agent.
The precise method of cleaning can be by machine washing, or by hand washing. If you decide that you will clean your mudcloth in a washing machine, the best thing for you to do is place the fabric in a lingerie bag and wash it in cold water. You also want to use a gentle cycle with not too much agitation, and a mild detergent without extra chemicals (as mentioned above). Avoid the warm water and harsher cycles on your machine as this may cause extra wear on the fabric and cause the colors to fade.
Also note that in the washing the water may turn a dark color initially due to the presence of the mud dyes. This is normal, but your washing machine may require an extra rinse before you wash other clothes. To dry, hang it up in the sun, or lay it out flat to dry. The mudcloth can be ironed with a steam-iron if you so desire, although keep in mind that too much steam will wear out the fabric in the long-term. Use the “cotton” setting on the iron or a cooler setting.