We have seen several ethnic fabrics in this blog, and today we will talk about a wonderful African fabric: the bogolan or mud cloth.

Throughout the entire world and for thousands of years, humans have developed different fabrics using materials from their environment, creating patterns that reflected their myths and culture. These ethnic fabrics serve us today as a window that lets us look into the history of ancient tribes and civilizations.

bogolan1Bogolan prints. Via: Restoration Hardware

Paisley tells us about Asian princes and damsels; kilim, about nomads in the desert; batik, about palaces in the island of Java; shibori, about peasants and imperial kimonos; and ikat, about merchants in the Silk Road… The African bogolan, or mud cloth, tells us about the myths and beliefs of the tribes on the banks of the Niger River.

bogolan2Photo: Eric Piasecki

Like other ethnic fabrics that we have seen in this blog, the African fabric bogolan has the power to revitalize and modernize any room with its prints, colors and textures. All these fabrics are not so “untouchables” that you can´t play with them and try new decorative effects. These fabrics transform any room, as the bogolan that fleshes out these shower curtains.

bogolan3Via: One Kings Lane


From the twelfth century in Mali, mothers teach their daughters how to decorate fabrics using mud of the River Niger. Bogolan means “made of clay”, a unique textile process that can not be replicated outside of Mali.

bogolan4Via: xnasozi

The river mud is collected and stored with water in a crock pot during a year to ferment. The cotton nurtured by each family in the village is spinning by women and weaving by men. Then women sew the woven fabrics, stained it with bark of trees and shrubs, and dried it in the sun.

bogolan5Via: One Kings Lane

Once the fabrics are ready, the older women apply the mud with a stick, brush or pencil, sometimes with stencils, other freehand. Designs are not just geometric prints, but ideograms that tell stories through symbols, as events in the village or important things for the recipient of the fabric (a wedding, a birth…). According to the pattern, the cloth may be for a hunter, a bride or a pregnant woman (they attribute magic properties to mud cloths).

bogolan6Via: Studio Matsalla

The key of bogolan is chemistry. The fermented sludge reacts with the natural pigments. The traditional process remains the same for centuries: to dye fabric with natural colours, apply fermented clay dried in the sun, rinse, repeat and white it with a solution of ash, nuts or shea butter. Dogon, Bobo and Senufo tribes still do by hand and can spend more than four weeks to the whole process.

bogolan7Via: Bethany Nauert

In the 80s, bogolan jumped to the catwalks of haute couture. And from there it arrived to the interior design. Currently the traditional designs of bogolan coexist with others tailored to Western tastes. That is how an African fabric for hunters or brides has become a sophisticated decorative element in bedspreads, tablecloths, cushions…

bogolan8Via: Amber Interiors

Here are the links to all post we have already published on different ethnic fabrics:

ikat, batik, kilim, shibori, paisley.