Expressions of Afrika
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March 2002

Sm. Blk Mud Cloth

Bogolanfini, which literally means mud cloth, has risen from a rural cloth to an international favorite among designers in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Mud cloth is produced in Mali, West Afrika by women in the Bamans-speaking region.  Traditionally, this fabric is worn to mark important rites of passage.  Ancient mud cloth comes in four basic colors: black, brown, mustard, and natural.  However, one can occasionally find purple, red, blue, and even green in the market place.  The black background with the white geometric motif is by far the most common of the colors; and it is the color's process that I will briefly describe.

White cotton yarn is woven, by men, into narrow strips about five to six inches wide.  The strips are then hand sewn together to make pieces that are approximately one or two yards.  There is no specific rule regarding the size of mud cloth, it depends on the artist.  There are pieces large enough for bed spreads and even area rugs.  More often they are found in the one and two yard pieces.

At this point the women begin the process by washing the cloth and allowing it to dry in the sun so that it can shrink to its final size.  The cloth is then soaked in a brown solution made from pounded leaves which gives the cloth a deep yellow color as it dries in the sun.  The cloth is now ready to be outlined with the mud dye.

Mud is collected from the deepest parts of the ponds which become exposed for a couple of weeks during the height of the dry season.  The mud is placed in containers and left to ferment for up to a year.  The mud is then removed, diluted with water, and is now ready to be applied to the cloth.

Small pieces of bamboo and other implements of various widths are used to draw an outline of the designs onto the cloth with the mud dye.  After the design has been totally outlined, wider implements are used to fill in the mud dye over the spaces left between the designs.  The unique feature of this art is that it is the background that is actually painted with the mud dye and not the motif.  Again it is allowed to sun dry and then washed with water to remove any excess dye leaving a black background from which the yellow designs stand out.  The entire process of soaking the cloth in the brown leaf solution and letting it dry; outlining the motif; and application of the mud dye is repeated a second and sometimes a third time.

The final stage is to paint a caustic solution onto the un-dyed yellow areas which turns them brown.  the cloth is left to dry in the sun which bleaches these un-dyed areas white.  It can be anywhere from a couple of weeks to months of painstaking work, to produce a quality piece of mud cloth.

Crystal Morrison
March, 2002

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