Textiles in Mali

by Rachel Hoffman
Formerly University of California, Los Angeles

Hibiscus flower leaves used as a dye material displayed by a weaver in the village of Mbunda, Mali. Photo by Rachel Hoffman.


At Mbuna village, this professional dyer displays hibiscus flower leaves, which, as a dye, produce deep red hues, and chips of tree bark used as ochre and umber colorants. In the foreground is a pot filled with bark and mordant—used in much the same manner as indigo and mordant—beginning the fermentation process. Over the course of several days, the acids will cause the chips to disintegrate, and the mixture will develop into a thick meaty soup ready to impart color to fiber. The process is one of organic maturation in which the soupy compound continues to grow more potent over time, and, rather than ever being discarded, it is simply fortified on occasion with additions of acid and bark. The spun fiber at left is naturally white sheep's wool, which, after a mordant soak, absorbs indigo and other dyes as beautifully as cotton.