The Meaning of Mud Cloth

Each piece of mud cloth has a story to tell! The symbols, the arrangement, color and shape, all reveal different secrets.

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Social statues, characters and occupation, these are all things which a piece of mudcloth communicates.

Even now African people are very careful about what they wear, as each fabric, color and dress is interpreted by others. What you wear shows what kind of person you are!

Here we'll talk about the meaning, the making, the colors, and the patterns of the mudcloth.

Here we show just a few of the many symbols you'll find in a piece of mudcloth. There are many symbols not shown here which you may find in your mud cloth. Patterns and varieties are endless. Also, many meanings differ depending on the region, ethnic group, or individual. SO do not be surprised if someone tells you a meaning different then you see here!


African Mud cloth

Wealth and Luxury

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

Mudcloth from Africa

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.

Mudcloth from Africa

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.

Mudcloth from Africa


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



African Mud cloth

Calabash Flowers

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

African Mudcloth

Brave and Fearless

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

African mud cloth

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.


Even without meanings being well known, mudcloth has  become tremendously popular lately in the western world.  An extraordinarily beautiful fabric: the unique and exotic colors and designs combine with a hand-spun, hand-woven fabric to produce a rich and elegant textile.

Authentic African textiles here!

Knowing more of the meaning and mindset behind mudcloth can only add to your satisfaction and depth of spirit. 

Even without meanings being well known, mudcloth has become tremendously popular lately in the western world. An extraordinarily beautiful fabric; the unique and exotic colors and designs combine with a hand-spun, hand-woven fabric to produce a rich and elegant textile.

Knowing more of the meaning and mindset behind mudcloth can only add to your satisfaction and depth of spirit.

The Making of Mudcloth

Meet the African artisans!

The making of mudcloth is a time-consuming process, normally taking four days to a week to complete depending on weather. Each piece is made of 100% cotton, and is completely and totally hand-made. 

The men start the process by weaving cotton thread on a loom. The loom is normally hand-held and makes a strip of cloth 5"-6" wide. After they weave around 9 panels they sew them together and then traditionally 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 wishing to work in the art of mudcloth has to be taught how to make each of the different dyes out of organic substances, as well as 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, saturating the area so it will not wash out. After being washed the process is repeated and 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 then 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.

Another color popular among hunters and the Fulani people is the rust. This color is appreciated because 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 perhaps the most difficult fabric, and it's easy to stain with the dye. White is a color normally worn by women or girls at ceremonial events. Another rare color is gray which ia also worn by hunters. Cream is a natural color of the mudcloth before it has been dyed.

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

Patterns of Mudcloth

Mudcloth Jackets

It is difficult to find the precise meaning as different people have different meanings that they will give to the same pattern or color combination.  It is important to find information from as many different sources as possible to avoid individual biases.

Mudcloth is often meant to be interpreted, and in starting this project there was only a small amount of written information. I am consistently asked to interpret the meanings behind some of these designs; and am enriched by watching people become excited by the stories behind their own fabric!

Complete list of fabric.

This article is free. You can publish or circulate this article on other websites as long as you give credit to Africa Imports; and include a link back to at the end of the article.


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