- 08 / 04 / 2016 -
Spitalfields Market in East London is a fantastic place to find all manner of interesting things – from vintage clothing to contemporary art and much much more. I was recently browsing the stalls there when I came across a mudcloth from West Africa. I was instantly drawn to it because of the faded indigo dye, intriguing neon coloured embroidery and obvious patch and repair jobs it had had over the years.
Bògòlanfini or bogolan “mud cloth” is a handmade Malian cotton fabric which is traditionally dyed with fermented mud although my Spitalfields mudcloth is indigo in colour and has bright and bold embroidered detail. Mud cloths have an important place in traditional Malian culture and have, more recently, become a symbol of Malian cultural identity. The cloth is being exported worldwide for use in fashion, fine art and decoration so a perfect source of inspiration for a new set of bunting flags.
In traditional Bògòlanfini production, men weave the cloth and women dye it. Strips of cotton fabric are woven on narrow looms and stitched into larger sections before being dyed. The cloth is soaked in a dye bath made from mashed and boiled, or soaked, leaves of the nagallama tree. Now yellow, the cloth is sun-dried and then painted with designs using a piece of metal or wood. The paint, carefully and repeatedly applied to outline the intricate motifs, is a special mud, collected from riverbeds and fermented for up to a year in a clay jar. Thanks to a chemical reaction between the mud and the dyed cloth, the brown colour remains after the mud is washed off. Finally, the yellow n’gallama dye is removed from the unpainted parts of the cloth by applying soap or bleach, rendering them white. After long use, the very dark brown colour turns a variety of rich tones of brown, while the unpainted underside of the fabric retains a pale russet colour.
(Source of information – Wikipedia, 2016)
To make my own mudcloth for this bunting project, I needed to simplify the process but keep the traditional effects. I chose to use linen fabric and tie dyed large sections with indigo dye. I then hand cut each flag with scissors and frayed the edges to give them an aged appearance.
To decorate the linen flags I collected vintage lace doilies and dyed them bright red and yellow. I carefully deconstructed them and sewed them onto the indigo flags with long loose machine stitches for a hand stitched look.
This new set of festival bunting will be available to hire this summer so watch this space for photos of the final set of African inspired festival flags!