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Mali’s Fabulous Textile Arts

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Mali, a land-locked country located in the north east on the continent is the 8th largest country in Africa. Life in Mali can be quite difficult, and it’s certainly a developing country, however it is also one of my absolute favorites. The people are among the warmest and gracious you’ll meet and the food, is simply incredible.

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Mali is also known for its textile designs. Textile making, both weaving techniques and the print-making, are a long-standing tradition. Many Malians pass down their print-making methods from generation to generation. These methods include intricate tying off and dyeing of sections of material to create bold patterns, images and symbols. In fact some cloths include moral principles and historical references. Here’s a peak into a recent market visit I made.

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A centuries’ old tradition, all of these textiles are woven, waxed and dyed in small batches  by hand. I absolutely had to take entire bolts of these fabulous batik prints. The dramatic colors and color combinations, the striking patterns. I just knew there would be a market for these in North America.

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And from the market to home, these are what I came up with. I couldn’t be more pleased with how they turned out. Stuffed with down-pillows, these are sure to make a gorgeous addition to soft seated areas.

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Unlike in other regions, in Mali the loom is foot-powered. They create cottons and other fabrics with such deftness and speed. It’s totally mesmerizing and inspiring to watch artisans as they weave their cloth. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that it’s not just cloth they weave, but also the furniture and home accessories. Truly amazing.

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Here’s a picture to illustrate exactly how the foot-powered loom works. It requires a level of coordination that is mind-boggling.

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Mali isn’t just known as its textiles. It’s also known for beading. Many contemporary artisans are making beads from clay or carving them from wood. Working with found materials is also common and some beads are made from metal and wire scraps.

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I simply couldn’t resist adding a few choice pieces to my own collection. This necklace is made from beads that are formed with metal scraps. I just adore the shimmer and chunkiness.

Such a rich culture and beautiful people making beautiful things. I take great pride in the way I do business on these buying trips. I love interacting directly with the artists and artisans who make these wares, I don’t go through middlemen (I do use translators in some instances). In the end the transactions are happy ones for all involved and I really feel it when I’m so warmly welcomed back on my return. And I love being able to share the skill, point-of-view and voice of the makers with you here at home.



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