IN THIS ARTICLE:
On authentic mudcloth; My quest for the most doable
DIY faux mudcloth; My final video
True bògòlanfini, known as “mudcloth,” is a 100% hand-woven and hand-dyed textile from Mali that derives its color from fermented mud via a dyeing technique that dates back to the 1100s. It’s only in recent years, though, that this gorgeous and painstakingly made textile known for its symbolic, culturally significant, repeating motifs has enjoyed widespread popularity thanks to decor bloggers and pinners everywhere, especially those who dig the whole minimalist aesthetic. Which is, like, pretty much everyone right now. The thing is, as beautiful as true mudcloth is, it can be cost-prohibitive for a lot of people.
No surprise, then, that eHow would have given me the assignment to create a home decor tutorial that was “mudcloth inspired.” So, off I went a-Googling. It didn’t take me long to find these lovely authentic mudcloth wall hangings and cushions on Etsy by iheartnorwegianwood.
Beautiful, right? And as expected, the cost of the real deal exceeds many people’s budgets. So I needed to find out how DIYers created their own mudcloth-inspired textiles — while saving up for the artisan pieces, of course — using methods that were both budget friendly and doable by anyone — as that’s what eHow’s all about.
THE ONLINE TUTORIALS
Textile artisans in Mali use fermented mud to dye the cloth its characteristic two-tone colors, and I found a few different copycat methods that attempt to simulate this effect. For example:
“Resist” dye method: This is when you use a dye resistant material, like wax, (in this tutorial’s case, gel glue) to draw your design onto the fabric, and then immerse in dye. The dye will color just the untreated areas, and the pattern will emerge from the undyed areas.
Bleach pen method: A technique that’s really popular among DIYers for creating tribal-inspired designs on leggings and tees. This is is kind of the resist dye method in reverse — but the color is removed after the textile has been dyes. In fact, Malian mudcloth artisans use a mix of bleach and washing powder to create their white patterns on mud-darkened fabric.
Paint marker method: simply draw your design onto the cloth with a paint marker.
In the interest of ease and overall doability, I crossed the dyeing method off the list. The results looked terrific, but potentially very messy and more time consuming than the other methods. Which left me with:
BLEACH PEN METHOD VS. PAINT MARKER METHOD
BLEACH PEN METHOD
WHAT I LIKED:
- All the materials were easy to find and inexpensive. I went with the most readily available bleach pen out there — the ubiquitous Clorox brand — and some el cheapo black quilter’s cotton. Linen would have been a nice choice, but I wanted to see what I could get away with, price-wise, to make this an accessible project for all.
- The process was easy and straightforward: draw your design on the cloth, let the bleach do its bleachy thing, wash off dried crusted bleach.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
- Ok, I’ll be the first to admit that the reasons why I didn’t like this one have more to do with my ineptness with a bleach pen than anything else. So, I guess the first bullet point should be: I didn’t like that I’m so rotten at drawing with a bleach pen — which really isn’t fair to this method. As you can see from the image above, the lines were fat and blobby and there was a lot of bleed. That’s because I couldn’t dispense the bleach from a pen at a constant rate — it came out in spurts. For steady dispersal, one would probably need a fine tip squeeze bottle, like the kind actual mudcloth makers use. HOWEVER, it did prove that drawing with a Clorox bleach pen takes practice, so it might be more time consuming and frustrating than most people would like a project to be.
- You’ll probably have to chose a far less busy pattern with more space in between lines (which I obviously didn’t), so there’s not much room to play in that area.
- Though that color gradient effect you get from bleach is really cool looking on other projects, it wasn’t working for me here. Not only was there not enough definition to my design, I was getting some unwanted red/orangey tones in there — which were the undertones of the particular fabric that I bought. Also, you’re probably going to be unsure what undertones will emerge until you start bleaching.
- For more precision, you’re probably going to need a stencil that will withstand bleach (I haven’t researched what the best material for that would be), which is another expense if you buy one, or another time-consuming step if you make one.
- It’s bleach, and the stuff does not play nice. If you make a mistake, tough luck. Also, you have to: work in ventilated area, wear gloves and clothes you don’t care about, and of course double protect your work area because the stuff will seep through your fabric.
PAINT PEN METHOD
WHAT I LIKED:
- Oh man, was this ever easy. I had complete control when drawing my simple repeating motifs. I could easily make some lines thin and some thick.
- Sharp, punchy color contrast.
- More design flexibility. You can keep it uber simple, like these pillows, or you can go a little bit busier, like I did. (I was inspired by these lovely examples.)
- If I made a mistake, I could wipe it off with a damp rag (but I had to work quickly).
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
- It probably may have to do with the brand of paint pen that I used, but I had to trace over every line twice or thrice in order to achieve the opaqueness that I wanted.
- The design is quite obviously painted on, rather than part of, the fabric when you do a close-up inspection. I wasn’t really bothered but this, because it looks terrific from just a few feet away. Works for me!
For general doability, and to minimize the frustration and guesswork for people, I chose the PAINT PEN METHOD. However, I have to make clear that ALL of the methods I researched above will work very well (and may be closer to the authentic textile) for those who are willing to put in the time and effort to learn them. But since I needed to create something for a general audience, doability trumps all.
FINAL DIY VIDEO
And now I present my final DIY video. Visit eHow to see the entire written tutorial and to download a PDF of my mud cloth inspired design. (Plus, I include no-sew options! You’re welcome.)