What is Bogolan?

Bogolan means ‘made from mud’ in Bambara, the main language of Mali. The Bogolan technique of dyeing and printing cotton is entirely organic and kind to the environment. It contains no harmful mordants or chemicals and it uses dried leaves and tree bark as dye stuff.

Bogolan is the quintessential West African textile, also called mudcloth, made in a large part of sub Saharan West Africa, although particularly associated with Mali and above all the river Niger. Traditionally the textile is made using narrow strips of cotton cloth woven on looms in the villages producing ca 15 cm wide cloth, which is then sewn together by hand to produce a fabric wide enough to make into clothing etc. This base fabric on which the designs will be painted is first dyed either a rich red from a dye obtained through boiling the bark of a special tree, or in fresh yellow tones obtained through soaking the dried and pounded leaves of another tree.

 
Once the fabric is dyed it is ready to receive the mud, often applied with the help of a toothbrush and painted free hand or using stencils. The mud comes from the river Niger, and through a fascinating process of oxidisation it reacts with the natural dyes , producing a rich black when it has dried and been washed off the fabric. This process is also traditionally done on the banks of the river Niger or its tributary the Bani where the fabric is spread out to dry in the sun.
MaliMali uses only one traditional pattern, the ‘forgeron’ or blacksmith’s pattern. All the other patterns are bold contemporary designs on wider pieces of fabric. We work on tables rather than on the floor, which is used in traditional bogolan painting, but we still use the toothbrush, which is the best means of applying the mud.