May's speaker was fiber artist, Judy Dominic, speaking on the Mali technique of mud cloth dyeing--also known as Bogolanfini. The traditional mud dyeing culture has been in Mali since the 12th or 13th centuries. At that time the men of the village were the weavers using narrow makeshift looms for weaving and the women dyed the woven cloth. The narrow cloth was sewn to make larger fabric and put in a dye bath of the n'gallama leaves which are made by either mashing and boiling or soaking the leaves. This fabric stays in the dye pot until it turns a yellowish color, then is taken out to dry in the sun. The mud used by the women is taken from riverbeds around their villages, put in clay pots and fermented up to a year before it is used for dyeing.
By employing several different types of handcrafted tools, symbols/designs are applied to the cloth. As mud dries on the cloth there is a chemical reaction between the two and once it is washed off the mud leaves a brown color on the fabric. Lastly the yellow n'gallama dye is removed by using soap or bleach to render the unpainted parts white. Today men are getting more into the dyeing to help support their families. Stencils have also helped in speeding up the process for the designs. Contemporary fashion houses have used many of the Bogolanfini in their designs. Bogolanfini has become a generally ethnic decorative cloth in the United States. So next time your husband, kids or grandkids stain their clothes with mud they are really keeping up with the fashion trends.