The term “mudcloth” is translated from Bambara, the language spoken in Mali. “Bògòlanfini” as it is called in Bambara, combines three root words: “bogo” meaning earth or mud, “lan” meaning ‘with’, and “fini” meaning cloth.
Though it’s commonly referred to as “African”, the fabric hails from northern Africa, specifically the inland country of Mali in the Western Sahara region. The handmade Malian cloth dyed using fermented mud, giving it its name-sake. The tradition dates back to the 12th century.
Traditionally made by men, they weave together thin strips of plain fabric, usually a yellowish beige natural color, into squares that were then stitched together. After the construction of the cloth, the fabric was then dyed in baths of leaves and branches. This process is used to bind the dye to the fabric.
The fabric was then laid out to dry in the sun, after which beautiful patterns would be intricately and carefully painted using a special kind of mud. The mud was collected from numerous streams and ponds and left to ferment over seasons.
As the mud dries, it changes colors, from dark brown or black to a gray color. The excess mud is washed off the fabric and the process is repeated many times. With each repetition, the affected area becomes darker. The unpainted areas were treated with a bleaching agent, turning the natural yellow color brown. After sun drying for a week, the fabric is washed off and leaves the characteristic white pattern on a dark background.
Neutral yet punchy, mudcloth-inspired textiles are a wonderful choice for the pattern-shy and pattern enthusiast alike, and it works everywhere from shower curtains to hamper liners to accent pillows.
There are many symbols which you may find in your mudcloth; the patterns and varieties are endless.
Also, many meanings differ depending on the region, ethnic group, or individual.
There are many other patterns that have meaning. It is difficult to find precise meanings as different people have different meanings that they will give to the same pattern or color combination.
The more knowledge that a person gains about this art form, however, the greater and deeper your appreciation will be!