African Mud Cloth: Soil and Art at it’s Best!

African Mud Cloth: Soil and Art at it’s Best!

So, I love combining art and soils, and this is by FAR my favorite activity! I have done several variations of this for all age groups (from 5-100+). Each group is totally different. Some people put a lot of time and effort into their patterns and paintings, taking several hours if you let them. Others prefer a faster method (and don’t really understand that the white parts of the cloth are supposed to be a negative.

The irons in soils have been used as artistic materials for centuries.

An example of African Mud Cloth done at a teaching workshop.

An example of African Mud Cloth done at a teaching workshop.

Time: 1 – 1.5 hours


  • White cloth (bandana, T-Shirt, flour sack, etc.)
  • A bucket of mud (orange and reds work the best, store bought brown or compost is ok. Must be sticky when wet. Mud from under water paints best.)
  • Masking tape
  • Paintbrushes
  • Elmers glue (optional, gives the color a bit more sticking).
  • Food coloring/tempera paints to give a more vivid color (optional)
  • Black Tea (optional)


Bògòlanfini comes from the Bambara language: bogo, meaning “earth” or “mud;” lan, meaning “with;” and fini, meaning “cloth.” It is the name used for a cloth decorated by women in the Bamana-speaking region of Mali, using dye made from mud and leaves to produce white designs outlines by a black/brown background.

Making mud cloths is a cultural tradition among the Bamana regions, north and east of the capital Bamako. Plain white cotton cloth is woven by men, and the thin strips are sewn together to make shirts and robes. The main colors are black, grey, red, and white, though black is by far the most common among traditional bogolanfini. Women dye the cloths, and pass on the tradition to their daughters.

One characteristic feature is that the artists paint the backgrounds onto the cloth, leaving the design to be the unpainted areas. When it is finished, they use water to wash away any excess mud. This is repeated, to darken the design. Finally, the undyed areas (that are yellowed) are bleached with a special solution, and the cloth dries in the sun.

Optional Setup:

Soak white pieces of cloth in a black tea mixture. The longer the soak, the darker the baseline color. The tea can be used to mimic the actual chemicals that are traditionally used. It can help fix the color. The soda ash used for tie dye can also be used. It also works using nothing.

Mud Setup:

Mix the soil together with water (and food coloring/paint if you wish) until the paint sticks to the brush and spreads smoothly. If the clay is REALLY dry, do this the night before. If the medium is too runny, add more soil, if it is too clumpy, add more water.


Use masking tape on the areas that you wish to remain white (the negative areas). Gently paint around the tape with the desired colors and patterns.  Set them out in the sun to dry.  A second coat of mud may be applied once the first one is dry. Remember, it is the first color that is applied that sticks to the cloth, and painting over doesn’t really work well. It is also important to get a thick, wet strip, as too many clumps doesn’t take well.

Ending Process:

The next step is determined by the amount of wear and tear it is going to have.

1. If it is to be worn as a garmet on a repeated basis: After 24 hours of drying time, rinse out the soil in a faucet, and dip the solution in tea (or soda ash) if a brighter color is desired. Let the garmet dry.

2. If it is an accessory (like a purse, flag, etc.) that doesn’t need to be washed, I prefer to let the soil dry and flake off completely, leaving the dye in.

3. If you used tea, you may use a bleach pen to return yellow areas to white.


The Smithsonian Site for Mud Cloth


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