Mali, in western Africa, is the largest cotton producing country in Sub-Saharan Africa, and one of the world's poorest countries. But artisansespecially women cloth dyershave helped make their culture's famous cotton cloth into a worldwide commodity, bringing much-needed income to this unstable nation.
For centuries women have spun cotton into thread using a simple drop spindle made from a ball of mud at the end of a twig. Traditionally men do the weaving on narrow foot looms, as all metal tools are associated with the blacksmiths, which are traditionally a sort of secret society. Since the French colonial era in the early 20th century, hand-operated looms have also been used.
One side of this reversible jacket is made of handspun Malian cotton, its rich texture due to the slubs or irregularities in the cotton thread. The reverse is a rose-colored jacquard called bazin, an imported cotton that most Malian clothing is made of.
Since the 1960s Malian women have become master dyers, adding patterns to floral bazin using tie-dye, wax-resist and batik dyeing, machine stitching, and stamping. With the beginning of microcredit lending in the late 1980s, these women have been able to expand their traditional skills into a craft recognized around the world.