The cotton base cloth of bogolanfini is created in a distinctively West African technique known as narrow-strip weaving. Individual strips of cloth are woven by men on treadle looms, then sewn together to make a larger textile.
Bamana women then use an unusual method of patterning the cloth in a process known as ‘discharge’ dyeing. This uses a combination of natural yellow dye, river mud and a caustic solution. The process is in many ways the reverse of the much more widespread technique of resist-dyeing.
The whole cloth is first dyed yellow using a solution obtained from the leaves of local trees and shrubs. Patterns are then painted onto the cloth using river mud. When dry, the cloth is washed, dyed again and re-painted with mud so that the designs appear yellow on a dark ground. A caustic solution is then painted onto the yellow designs and the cloth is left for a week in the sun, until the designs have been bleached white.
The complex patterns are thought to conceal a coded system of meaning which help to protect the owner from harm as well as having a variety of other beneficial properties. The cloth itself is worn as a wrapper by married women and, in tailored versions, by men, particularly hunters, who wear it in the form of tunics, caps and trousers.
The numerous different patterns of ‘mud cloth’ are all named and frequently commemorate historical events, as well as reflecting the natural world. The zig-zag motif on this cloth is known as ‘the legs of a cricket’. Today machine manufactured fabric inspired by ‘mud cloth’ designs appears all over the world in a great variety of forms including clothing, upholstery, curtains and accessories.