MATERIAL MOMENT: Bógólanfini – African Mud Cloth

In the last several months, African mud cloth has been having a MOMENT in upholstery and decor, and I’ve fully fallen in love with its rich textural and graphical nature. Mud cloth, or Bógólanfini (translates pretty literally into mud w/ cloth), originates in Western Africa, specifically the country of Mali, but I’ve also seen some imported from Burkina Faso – and has been a traditional textile of the Bamana (also known as Bambara) people for centuries.

Mud cloth of all patterns and colors in this photo from African Interiors, published by Taschen.

Mud cloth of all patterns and colors in this photo from African Interiors, published by Taschen.

HOW MUD CLOTH IS MADE:

One of the distinctive features of mud cloth is that it’s not one giant continuous piece of material; rather, it is made by hand-weaving strips of cotton (woven by Bamana men), then sewing those pieces together. Then, the cloth is dyed by hand by Bamana women (which is really awesome teamwork, btw).

First, the cloth is soaked in water infused with cengura tree leaves, which is basically a primer to help the darker colors adhere. Then the cloth is dyed with fermented mud, clay, other leaves (for the black / darker colors), and caustic soda (for the white patterns in the mud cloth). Specifically, the iron-rich mud is painted on first, and then the caustic soda bleaches the designs from the primer’s yellow tones to white. Impressively, the whole process of making an authentic mud cloth takes 2-3 weeks!

The designs are all different – they often stylized depictions of plants and animals, and are arranged to honor specific events or purposes, like a girl entering womanhood, or to camouflage hunters and signify their status.

MUD CLOTH IN INTERIOR DESIGN:

What I love about mud cloth is how versatile it is, and how much of a presence it carries in a space. It works in a variety of applications from pillows to throws to upholstery.

NOZNOZNOZ - Mud cloth best chair ever

This is one of my absolute favorite “inspiration” chairs to ever come from Google Image Search. The mud cloth on this Louis XV-style gilded chair provides such a cool juxtaposition of European 18th-century and African tribal styles.

I especially appreciate upholstery applications where mud cloth is used on the backside of chairs as well. A couple projects I’ve seen feature mud cloth on the back, but a solid black/charcoal upholstery material on the seat + front of the chair.

NOZNOZNOZ - Mud cloth chair home office

Something else I love about mud cloth upholstery is, since the patterns differ across mud cloths and even vary within a single piece, you can arrange the mud cloth sections to create a unique look based on which patterns you are most inspired by.

NOZNOZNOZ - Mud cloth in a home

This mud cloth-upholstered chair really grounds this room by providing a contrasting style.

No budget for upholstery right now? No problem. This space just coolly draped a piece of mud cloth over a vintage rattan chair, adding visual interest to this global-styles reading corner.

NOZNOZNOZ - Mud cloth draped

… or, drape it over the edge of your bed.

NOZNOZNOZ - Mud cloth on a bed

If you are looking for just a touch of mud cloth for your home, I’ve noticed a pretty steady increase of options on sites like One King’s Lane over the last few months. Also, a really rad store in San Francisco that carries lots of responsibly globally-sourced decor is St. Frank!

I’m working on a little mud cloth project for my baby bean Vivienne (crazy dog mom, yes I am), so I’ll update in a future post when it’s done!