Pile of colorful bogolan textile

What is Bogolan fabric and how is it made?

Bogolan or Bògòlanfini is a 100% handmade cotton fabric from Mali, Bogo meaning in Bambara "earth" or "mud" and lan meaning "with" or "by means of". The cloth is traditionally dyed with fermented mud and plant dyes. It is also known under the name of Mud cloth. It takes from four days to a week (depending on weather conditions) to create one piece of Bogolan. Bogolan was traditionally used to tell stories, transmit moral advice or bring protection to the person who was wearing it. The symbols were used as a language, a silent language in a society where silence was valued as a quality.

erathy colors of bogolan

Steps to create a piece of Bogolan

The creation of a piece of Bogolan starts by weaving cotton balls in order to create threads. The weavers then create 15 cm-wide strips which are gathered to create a 1-meter-large white sheet. The length is about 1.50 m to 1.70 m on average. Once the cloth is created, it is dyed with African birch leaves which have been previously harvested, dried out and infused in water for 24 hours, to create a yellow liquid. The white sheet is immersed in water and, due to the high quantity of iron in the African birch leaves, the fabric turns yellow. It is later dried out in the sun. This stage is repeated several times in order to create an intense yellow color.

In the meantime, the fermented clay is prepared. The mud, which is naturally iron-rich, is mixed with some millet and this mixture is then applied on the cloth to create a design. At this stage, the artisan can also add different natural colors.

A chemical reaction happens between the clay and the fabric and everything that has been painted with this clay turns black once the mud is washed off. The remaining yellow parts can be cleaned with a solution created from soap and bleach and the Bogolan is finally completely washed out and dried. 

Bogolan has an important place in Malian culture. It is a traditional craft. The cloth can be transformed into clothes or used as home decoration.

symbols of Bogolan