African prints are everywhere this summer, from trendy boutique Darkroom to House of Fraser and the V&A. We visit designers at work in Burkina Faso whose textiles are being made into cushions for sale.
The sun is scorching the courtyard in suburban Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, where Malian designer Boubacar Doumbia has set up a temporary workshop. Swatches of fabric from his new collection – hand-painted in intricate detail – are drying on the hot, dusty ground. A young assistant appears, bringing a bowl of mud. Deep grey, it has the consistency of custard and smells of river water and metals.
Doumbia runs his fingers through the liquid and, finding the texture to his liking, dips a paintbrush into the bowl and begins to coat his fabrics. Given that it has taken him and his team nearly two days to dye, paint and dry these fabrics, covering them in strong-smelling mud feels.
Tall, with slim, elegant fingers, Doumbia (right) is the leading proponent of bogolan, Mali’s traditional mud-dyed textile design process.
Cotton is locally grown and coloured with plant-based dyes, while the mud is as organic as the river in which it is found.
But, as if by some elemental magic, when it dries and is rinsed off, the mud has fixed the fabric’s monochrome palette. Iron in the mud reacts with the dye and turns it black – three coats for deep black, two for grey.
Prints from, and inspired by, Africa are big design news. Having appeared on catwalks for a few seasons, courtesy of the likes of Kenzo and Matthew Williamson, they are now in evidence in our homes: shots of colour and pattern that lift plain sofas, armchairs and beds.
From London’s trend-setting Darkroom boutique to House of Fraser and the V&A museum, which launched an African Pattern range this summer, the continent’s palette is everywhere.
It’s a truly sustainable technique that, coupled with eye-catching contemporary design, means African textiles are reaching the audience they deserve.