Mudcloth is a simple handmade fabric that packs a knockout graphic punch. Integrate this global treasure into your home—with projects designed for your dining room.

Mudcloth dining room overall

Every textile tells a story. That’s because each symbol painted onto traditional mudcloth means something. A circle with a dot in the middle stands for family and community, for example. How the symbols are arranged bears a secret meaning, too: It’s a language handed down from mother to daughter in Mali.

Mudcloth dining table

You may not understand the codes used in a textile you buy from Africa. But when you create your own version, pay homage to the design process by drawing minimalist shapes in vertical rows. Stick to organic colors or stark black and white, as West African women do. Or contemporize this ancient craft with color. Either way, you’ll be tapping into a global conversation.

Mudcloth napkin on plate

Transform plain napkins with a bleach pen and a steady hand. The bleach may spread, so leave space between lines and shapes. Let the bleach sit for a few hours, until the design turns white. Rinse napkins in warm water to remove bleach, then toss in the dryer.

What You’ll Need

  • Natural fiber fabric napkins in dark color
  • Iron
  • Waxed paper
  • Bleach pen

Mudcloth design with bleach pen

Step 1 Iron napkins. Place your flat napkin over waxed paper on a work surface.

Step 2 Shake the bleach pen and begin drawing your design very lightly—the bleach will spread as it dries (you may want to do a test piece first to get the application density you’re looking for.

Finished mudcloth napkin

You can make a freehand geometric design or, if you’re unsure, look for shapes among household objects to use as a tracing tool for circles, lines, triangles.

Step 3 When you’ve finished drawing on all your napkins, allow them to dry until the desired color has been achieved, then rinse in warm water and dry.

Table runner with mudcloth design

If you have an hour of free time, you can create a table runner enhanced by global geometrics.

Mudcloth motifs on table runner

Iron the runner flat, then, use a medium-point fabric marker to create a simple pattern of lines and shapes along the edge.

Mudcloth bench

Part of a laid-back dining set, this padded bench is made with actual white-and-gray mudcloth layered over foam batting and plywood. Purchased hairpin legs are screwed on underneath.

Materials for mudcloth upholstered bench

What You’ll Need

  • ¾-inch plywood or MDF
  • Fabric
  • Upholstery foam
  • Quilt batting
  • Staple gun and staples
  • Scissors
  • 4 hairpin legs
  • ¾-inch wood screws
  • Drill

Wrap batting around foam

Step 1 Cut a piece of plywood to size. Ours is 18 x 36 inches, to fit within the legs of our small table. Using your wood as a template, trace around your board on the foam. Cut the foam to size and place on plywood. Wrap batting around foam to back side of plywood and staple in place.


Step 2 Lay the fabric on top of your foam. Place it to center the pattern on the middle of the bench top. Ensure that you have enough fabric to cover the sides plus 2 inches all around to wrap underneath. Cut off any excess fabric.

Wrap mudcloth around foam

Step 3 Using your staple gun, secure the fabric on one side, stapling about an inch from the edge of the bench and spacing the staples about 3 inches apart. Fold in the corner as if you were wrapping a gift and staple this flap down.

Detail of mudcloth bench

Fold the rest of the fabric up over the edge to the back, pulling and stapling to minimize wrinkles and bulk.

Step 4 Place hairpin legs about 3 inches from the edge of the bench for stability. Using your drill and wood screws, secure your hairpin legs to the wood.

Mudcloth inspired curtain panel

Add an exotic patterned backdrop to your room with mudcloth-inspired curtains. (Ours are from The choice of a window treatment with neutral designs allows other pieces to stand out. Want to go DIY? Purchase plain panels, then apply geometric designs with a fabric marker.

African baskets

Finally, display a group of handwoven baskets to enhance the Afrocentric atmosphere.

If you love these ideas, check out the mudcloth-inspired projects we created for the bedroom. And don’t miss our next post with another decorative take on the possibilities of mudcloth.


© Caruth Studio

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