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African Mud Cloth

We are pleased to have Patty Urda, Handwork Teacher at the Detroit Waldorf School, joining us for our February 2023 online handwork conference. Patty will be sharing how she brings the ancient art of African mud cloth to her students. Mud dye is a one-thousand-year-old (plus) tradition in India, Japan, New Zealand, and Africa. Each culture has their own unique way of working with mud.

In Mali, West Africa, handspun and hand woven strips of cotton cloth (finimugu) are mordanted with local plants and painted with fermented mud. Traditionally, artisans soak the cloth in a tannin bath, dry it in the sun, apply a layer of mud with a wooden or metal tool, dry it in the sun again, remove the mud, and repeat the process. The fermented mud reacts with the tannin to create a dark brown image on the cloth (bogolan or bogolanfini).


We appreciate the artisans of Mali and their willingness to share techniques with us. May our hands unite in the joy of making. Respectfully, we do not appropriate their culture by calling the pieces we make African mud cloth or bogolanfini, instead we can say, “inspired by Mali” or “in the style of mudcloth”.

In our conference, Patty will share traditional methods of creating African mud cloth in the style of Bogolanfini. She has shared this beautiful imagination for preparing for our work together:

The Good Brown Earth and the Warmth of the Sun; Painting with Mud in the Motor City

With gratitude to the Earth, divine Mother Earth, and the warmth of the sun, divine Father Sun, and all the bounty of the natural world that makes this work possible! With thanks to my teacher, the artist and farmer Aboubakar Fofana, who lovingly shares his cultural knowledge and his deep respect for the people and resources of Mali, West Africa. With love for the artisans of Africa, and throughout the world, who practice their craft with reverence for the natural world, and who carry ancestral knowledge forward to future generations. We are one.


Bogo- sacred mud

Lan- with

Fini- cloth


Close your eyes and imagine yourself in Mali, West Africa. The sun is shining brightly and the ground beneath your feet is baked and cracked. It is very hot, even in the shade. Thank goodness for the river, dear to all the people, that makes a path through the countryside.

You see a man walking along the river towards you. He is tall and dressed in a blue tunic with a cloth wrapped around his head. He is your neighbor, the farmer who planted acres of food, enough for two villages; delicious mango, cashew, and citrus trees, okra, watermelon, and sunflowers for the bees. You smile at him, your friend, the artist Aboubakar Fofana.

Once a year, before the rainy season begins, Aboubakar Fofana asks the local fishermen to take him up the Niger River to that special place where there is mineral mud. Excellent mud for painting on cloth, but not at all good for building houses. He climbs into the wide boat with the fishermen, and they set out together. They glide past African birch (n’galama) along the shore, keep an eye out for crocodiles, and finally arrive at the spot where the murky water has an unusual sheen on its surface.

The fishermen dive over the side of the boat into the cool depths, and bring up bucketfuls of silky, smooth mud from the bottom of the river. Aboubakar thinks to himself, “getting mud is like finding God, a sacred process.”

As the fishermen fill an enormous clay pot with river mud, Aboubakar remembers what his grandmother told him.

“High Spirit created the universe and left it unfinished. It is our job to continue God’s work; sowing seeds, growing things, creating (dani), and farming (dali), with the vital energy (n’yama) of the earth. Give all your attention to the interaction between humans, plants, and spirit. There is something happening that we cannot see with our eyes. Joy and art, like nature, are not separate from us.”

Wise words from Ma’bana, an elder whose name means “woman who talks to trees”. She was a healer of people. He remembers collecting medicinal plants for her when he was a young boy herding goats, before he was sent to France to get an education. Aboubakar honors his grandmother in his work. He brings joy and beauty in his process and acknowledges the healing properties of the cloth he makes.

Like many artists in Mali, his first painting of the day is always a catfish, to show gratitude to Faro, the river goddess.

To learn more join us for our online international handwork conference February 18, 19, & 20, 2023. Our theme this year is Exploration, Revolution, and Handwork.

We will be diving deep into the 7th and 8th grade curriculum and exploring innovative ways to connect handwork to what the students are learning in their history and geography blocks.

From the Age of Exploration to world revolutions, handwork connects us to history and cultures around the world bringing learning to life in our hands.

We will explore Native American pine needle baskets, learn to appreciate African mud cloth, Japanese origata, the revolutionary history of pockets in womens’ clothing, and more as we circumnavigate the globe.

3 days, Saturday, Sunday, & Monday 9 - 3 pacific daylight time, for anyone who self-identifies as teaching handwork in a Waldorf setting, school or homeschool.

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