We’ve just released the new Mungo Mali, a vibrant textile range that features woven patterns inspired by traditional West African strip-cloth. The story behind this cloth began five years ago when Master Weaver Stuart Holding embarked on a trip to Mali to learn about this ancient textile tradition.
Mali is well known for its beautiful textiles, from mud-died fabrics to woven strip-cloth. Strip weaving is one of Africa’s oldest art forms. Stuart’s fascination for textiles lead him in search of local independent weavers and indigo dyers across the country.
In Mali weaving is generally done by men. Simple plain-weave looms are entirely hand made by skilled artisans. Branches from hardwood trees are use to make the frame, bound together by natural fibre chord. The reed which is used to push the weft yarn securely into place is sourced from local rivers. The heddles which control the warp threads are made from string coated in animal fat.
These hand looms are used to weave long narrow strip panels, which are then sewn together to form a wide cloth. Rows of patterns are added by means of weft floats (threads that run laterally). The complex and intricate detail of the added motifs is something that can only achieved through this hand made process. Stuart couldn’t resist the opportunity to give weaving a go on one of the looms. He said that they are far more difficult than they look!
One of the challenges the weavers face is matching up the weft-wise patterns when the strips are sewn together. The weaver has to pay careful attention to the spacing of the various designs, often using a finger, hand or arms length to measure.
Woman play an important role in the spinning, carding, and dying process. The cotton is grown and hand picked by village farmers. It is spun into yarn on simple homemade drop spindles by skilled woman with the help of younger family members. The yarn is then dyed in large clay pots. Blue yarns are dyed with real indigo that is heated over a flame.
This art form is not separated from daily life in Mali. These artisans often work outdoors, surrounded by the comings and goings of the village.
Stuarts journey to Mali culminated at the Festival au Desert, an annual music concert held on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the Sahara Desert. Musicians and traders from across the continent come to perform and sell their wares. Stuart remarked ‘it was one of the most magical experiences of my life and we were lucky to have had the opportunity to do this before the present conflict’. Festival au Desert is considered one of Africa’s leading festivals for music, dance and cultural exchange. Due to violence from extremists in the north, the festival has not been held in recent years.
Stuart returned to Plettenberg Bay, inspired by the creative people, patterns, colours and techniques encountered on this trip. About year ago he started to experiment with a new textile design, which draws inspiration from the geometric rows of patterns, and the weft faced weave construction of the unique West African Strip cloths.
The Mungo Mali range is woven on wide width Dornier looms in Plettenberg Bay. Now available in cushion covers and table runners. Browse the Mungo Mali cushion covers online here.