A year before I graduated from college, I drove to Washington, D.C. with a small group of friends who were fellow art and art history majors. We’d been driving to Adams Morgan (a neighborhood in D.C. known for it’s cultural diversity) on and off during our senior year to visit a shop that carried an amazing collection of handmade mudcloth fabrics from the western coast of Africa. The owner told us about an exhibition taking place at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History that showcased a wide range of mudcloth styles, techniques and history, so we drove back into town to see examples in person. Thankfully that exhibit still exists online today (you can check it out here) and I’ll never forget the feeling of connecting so strongly with the artistic traditions of another country. I was studying tapestries in school and the idea of telling personal stories through textiles was at the top of my mind. Artists in Mali have been creating bògòlanfini (mudcloth) to tell the stories of their lives for generations and contemporary artists are now reviving the technique to apply it to fashion and home textiles throughout the world. The Smithsonian Institution exhibit encouraged and taught visitors how to make their own mudcloth-inspired designs, emphasizing each pattern and shape’s symbolism. Some patterns symbolized age, status and wealth, others represented a transitional period in someone’s life and my favorite symbols were those that indicated home.
One of my friends who visited with me that day, Katie, went on to work in the Peace Corps in Mali and she came home with the most beautiful mudcloth she had made with women there. They encouraged her to experiment with shapes and patterns that meant something to her (even in traditional mudcloth designs, patterns have multiple and very different meanings to individual artists) and ultimately those fabrics became the first pieces of art she hung in her apartment. Today we’re sharing our own mudcloth-inspired designs that you can use as frames for photos that tell your personal story. Whether you frame photos of your family or places that you’ve traveled that have been significant in your own journey, I hope you’ll enjoy them. And, if you’re ever in the D.C. area, the The National Museum of African Art often teaches classes on creating mudcloth. You can learn from artists firsthand, hear how their stories shaped their designs and learn how to translate your story into fabric, too. xo, grace
*Images above: Linus, whose story is long and heartbreaking, but ends with happiness. The home in West Hurley where we’re staying, with a history that dates back to the late 1700s.
Click through to download both files after the jump!
Click here to download the black/white frame (above)
Click here to download the black/orange frame (above)