Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Blanket from Mali

A friend let me borrow a handwoven blanket from Mali that was brought to the US in approximately 1979.

I photographed the blanket on a lime green sheet on our front porch.

The blanket was woven in strips that are 4.5 inches wide. There are 10 strips in this blanket. The blanket is 45 inches wide and 87 inches long.

Although I have never been to Mali, I did find a photo of a weaver producing similar cloth in Mali.

The turquoise, red, black and white bands are made from commercially produced cotton. The white bands elsewhere in the blanket are made from handspun cotton. The warp is commercially produced white cotton with 16 ends per inch.

The handspun cotton was spun using a stick with a small ball of gum from a tree at the end. I'm not a spinner, but I'm guessing that was a drop spindle.

The fabric is weft-faced, with the handspun white cotton at 26 picks per inch and the commercial cotton at 56 picks per inch.

The strips are machine stitched (zigzag) together.

The weft yarn was carried up one side of each strip as weaving progressed.

The commercially produced cotton is doubled in the weft to make it roughly the same size as the handspun white cotton.

In each strip there are 2 areas of inlay - one near each end of the blanket. The area may be red, turquoise, or a mixture of red and turquoise.

On one side of the blanket, the ends from the inlay hang free.

The ends of the blanket are not stitched or tied.

The person who brought these blankets from Mali, collected over 200 pounds of textiles at that time. He tried to find out about the history of each blanket, and sometimes met the weavers.

Some blankets were wool, handspun from local sheared sheep. Those blankets were woven on a loom made from sticks and strings, with rock weights to weight the weft.

Other blankets were checkered, with fine, imported thread and very crisp patterns. Some of those blankets were woven on commercially produced hand looms. That style of blanket was very geometrically uniform, but sometimes included symbolic animals and other patterns.

Some blankets were a mixture of handspun wool and cotton, which were sometimes dyed with a very pungent indigo dye. Years later, a visit to the dye pots stands out for the strong smell of ash and cow manure that the visitor to Mali remembers.

I'm very glad I was able to examine and photograph this blanket, and I appreciate that the person who traveled to Mali remembered details of the textiles he collected all of these years later!


Sharon said...

I appreciate what Ann Hecht did with her textiles of the world book. It's the first I understood and appreciated what great weavers these indigenous peoples have. I will never have their level of weaving comfort and yet they go unrecognized. Great post - thanks.

Jennifer said...

How facinating to make the piece from woven strips. Thanks for sharing. I'm curious did you have a choice on the various blankets and if so - what made you choose this one?

Life Looms Large said...

That book sounds great Sharon! I'll have to see it sometime!

I didn't have a choice of blankets at all. I think my friend's father purchased this blanket in 1979....and at that point he probably had a choice.

I'm amazed at how complicated and interesting this combination of colors and stripes can look!


Leigh said...

This type of fabric is definitely on my to-do list. There is something very appealing about it. Interesting that they zig-zag stitched it together!

charlotte said...

This is a very interesting cloth, I like the pattern. I also have a blanket from Mali, a gift from my aunt in the early eighties. It is also woven in narrow stripes, and has a weft faced pattern, which has been picked in. The warp and the bottom-weft is white cotton, the weft used for pattern is a kind of stiff black or brown wool, probably goat. Perhaps I take a picture of it one day and put it on my blog.

Life Looms Large said...

I thought the zigzagging it together was interesting too.....Sometimes I obsess too much about perfection - and I like that on this blanket they didn't try to hide the fact that it was strips stitched together.

I think it would be really interesting to see your blanket from Mali Charlotte! I'll be watching your blog for it!!


India said...

Interesting. But I do not think my weaving teacher would have liked all the loose ends!

Anonymous said...

Sue, Thanks for posting pics and writing about that blanket in detail. Otherwise I would have missed the scattered inlaid designs that are my favorite parts.