Home > Products > StencilClub > August 2023 - African Mud Cloth by Gwen Lafleur

I have a life-long and deep-seated fascination with other cultures. I’ve been blessed to have many opportunities to travel and most of my artwork and product designs are influenced in some way by places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit or by other parts of the world that inspire me. My inspiration for this month’s stencils comes from Mali. I love the variety of African tribal symbols and I also have a fascination with textiles in general. Quite a few years ago, I discovered Bogolanfini – usually referred to as mud-cloth, which perfectly merges both of those subjects.

The word bogolanfini can be literally translated to “mud-cloth.” (Bogolan means something made by using mud and fini means cloth.) This traditional Malian art, central to Bamana culture, has two main parts in the process of creation. First, men weave the cotton cloth strips which are then sewn together to make the surface that will be decorated by the women using a complicated resist process that includes plant extracts and mud. The designs painted on the cloths are beautifully graphic, but also have symbolic significance. Young women learn this visual language from their mothers over the course of many years. The motifs that make up this language of symbols are usually abstract or semi-abstract representations of everyday objects. When they’re used together, they can be the visual expression of a song, share a message, or represent an historical event.

The Bogolanfini that we see in America is often made for tourists – usually it’s a little less refined and often features only a single pattern and / or color on the cloth. Authentic mud-cloth usually has multiple different patterns and can also incorporate several colors. I’ve referenced some traditional patterns and symbols to create these stencils but designed them to try and make them work for the way that I like to make art and to be more easily used for cards or tags, art journal borders and backgrounds, or to make collage fodder or even embroidery patterns. Some of the symbols that I’ve represented in these stencils include a spindle, a farmer’s sickle, wealth and luxury, a woman’s cushion or pillow, “brave and fearless,” and several others. Some are purely decorative, but all were inspired by actual samples of authentic Bogolanfini.

Because these patterns are so heavily associated with textiles, I’ve used them to make stenciled fabrics, turned one of those fabrics into an embroidery pattern and stitched over it (that will eventually get used as part of another project,) use them with air-dry clay to make flat, lightweight tokens that I can use in my work, as well as handmade clay beads, and also lots of different types of collage papers. I’ve used these elements in several projects, including a handmade mini art journal (about 1-1/2” x 2-1/2” pages) where I stenciled the fabrics and tape on the cover as well as all of the pages inside the book so that the backgrounds are all ready for me to add more layers. I also combined some of the fabric, papers, and clay elements in a mixed media piece, and the project for my video lesson that’s available only to StencilClub members features lots of stenciled papers for collage.

I’m so excited to finally be able to use and share these new stencils – I hope you love them and if you aren’t already a member of StencilClub, make sure to sign up by August 14th to get them shipped to you on the 15th (and to get access to the video mini workshop that includes a downloadable PDF!)

Happy Stenciling!