Saturday, 16 January 2016

Bogolan Skirt with Sarah

One of my favourite things that we've made with Madame Tây so far is this skirt of beautiful bogolan or mud cloth fabric from Mali. Cara is writing a blog post about the history and cultural contexts of bogolan, and about the fascinating hand-dying processes used to create it. Bogolan is traditionally made in Mali and is strongly associated with Malian cultural identity, yet in recent years the cloth has also gained popularity within global fashion and design. By using this cloth outside of it's original cultural context, we are engaging in a form of appropriation that removes the fabric from its original meanings, so Cara is also going to explore this and discuss the ways in which bogolan production in Mali has been affected by global interest. We did not travel to Mali but purchased our bogolan at a Malian market in Senegal. Once Cara's post is ready I will link to it here!

For this post I'm going to focus on how to wear and care for the skirt.

I love the crisp white-on-black lines of the bogolan, so to keep these lines as the main focus of the outfit, I've worn the skirt with a plain fitted black t-shirt and black sandals, keeping everything monochrome. 

The skirt is quite fitted, like a pencil skirt fit, and tends to hug the body. There is a small slit at the back for easier movement. The fabric is a thick, soft cotton, which has a tiny bit of give, and is sturdy and comfortable to wear.

Let's take a closer look at the fabric!

It's possible to find fabrics that imitate the designs of bogolan, but are not actually created using a mud-dyeing process, for example thin linens and cottons that are machine-printed with bogolan-inspired patterns. These fabrics may also look good, but for our Madame Tây skirt we really wanted to source some genuine Malian bogolan, because the fabric has the most amazing individual character and texture, and we were trying to find fabrics that were local and hand-made in the region.

In these close-ups you can see how thick the fabric is. You can also see the underside of the fabric and how the design seeps through slightly. Cara's Malian friends taught her that if the design seeps through to the underside of the cotton, it is genuine bogolan, but if it doesn't seep through it probably didn't go through the same production process (soaking in ngamilla solution, mud dye, bleaching) and could be a mass produced variation.

Back of the skirt, with the hem turned up

The skirt has a cotton lining so it feels smooth and comfortable against the skin.

Because of the unique fabric, I think of this skirt as a piece of wearable art, rather than an every-day skirt. Treat it with care, like you would for a hand-woven fabric wall hanging. (Wearing the skirt does feel a bit like you're wearing a beautiful carpet or tapestry!) Even though the skirt can be easily styled for office-appropriate outfits, it's probably not the kind of piece you would wear to death every day at work and then just toss in the washing machine a couple of times a week. 

If anything, I would encourage owners of this skirt to wash it as little as possible! It's like having a quality suit or raw denim - basically you would spot clean it where necessary and avoid washing when it's not dirty. For the occasional clean, do a cold hand wash with very mild fabric wash. Since this is a hand-dyed piece and has not been treated for colour-fastness, I would expect some fading over time, and would always wash it separately to other clothes to avoid any colour transfer.

It takes a little bit of extra care, but I think it's worth it for such an interesting garment! This is a piece to treasure for many years.

The warmth and thickness of the cotton, and the long length, also make this a great skirt for autumn and winter outfits. Here I've worn it with a cosy jumper and boots.

Since we are quite a small-scale project, we only made a total of eight of these Bogolan Skirts. Perhaps one of them can find a home in your wardrobe.

photos by me, Steph and Carlo

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