Getting Down and Dirty for Mud Cloth
So, last year – before I got committed to opening a new online quilt class Web site (QuiltEd Online) – I was fooling around with mud, glorious mud, to make some mud cloth! I collected soil samples from the roadsides on the way to Baringo from Nairobi. With lots of road construction going on, that part was easy. I even found helpful volunteers along the way. One fellow assisted me by using his panga (that’s a machete, not a dirty word – no pun intended) to dig dirt out of an embankment for me!
Many folks along the way were curious about what I was doing. It’s unusual here for an old, white-haired, light-skinned woman to stop her car on the roadside, get out, scrape up a bunch of dirt into a plastic bag, get back into her car and drive away. Several people found the courage to ask me what I was doing, so I got extra practice for my Kiswahili as I explained about making mud cloth: “Natakakuweka rangi ya nguo” – “I want to put color on cloth” – not so great, I think.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, some people I chatted with had heard about making mud cloth before! We all learned something new, had a few laughs, and life moved forward. It is surprising what you can learn if you’re willing to risk stepping “outside your comfort zone.” (I’ve always despised that cliché, but there is some truth in it.)
Anyway, I brought all my lovely dirt home and spent a couple of days refining it. I washed it, much as I would wash dirty rice or peas, by multiple passings of water over it. The rubbish floated, and the best stuff sank. I drained off most of the water, then left the tubs of dirt in the hot sun to dry out completely before shaking, breaking, even pounding it all into a fine powder.
Mud Cloth – The Real Colors of Africa
The differences in colors were noticeable, even then, although all had that lovely earthy quality I personally so admire in much Japanese patchwork due to their fabrics. Check out “sakizome” for examples of that gorgeous stuff, especially Akemi Shibata, who I met yesterday on Facebook – serendipity!
I made my soy milk, mixed in the mud and began painting, stamping and even dyeing my silk fabrics with the mud as well as with tea, henna and the oxides from an old iron pot. This post is to show you some (not all – saving the rest of it) of the outcomes of my efforts at making mud cloth(click to enlarge):
These fabrics have literally been through the mill. White silk dupioni, 28 yards of it, I dyed with commercial dyes gone out-of-date. Disappointed with the results, I began distressing the fabrics further with my collection of wonderful muds. Using everything from my Bernina plastic sewing table (the underneath hexie part) to a kitchen pancake turner to a paintbrush, I worked these pieces of cloth over and over, in true Jane Dunnewold “Complex Cloth” manner. Working fast – what fun I had!
Interestingly, these mud cloth colors are far more my idea of what African fabrics should be; they echo the earth. Where colors or lack of texture were most disappointing, I went back in with some acrylic fabric paints in Yvonne Porcella “Colors Changing Hue” style. Even the paint colors were toned down and seem to work beautifully with the mud colors.
It’s hard to say whether it was messier working with the mud or the paint, but I didn’t mind either. In Africa, all things are washable, and if they aren’t, it does not matter anyway!
Dye plus mud
Dye plus mud
Dye plus mud plus paint
The one thing I did not do was to mix mud directly with paint. Funny – I never thought of doing that at the time. Never mind, though! I have plenty of fairly solid color fabrics left over to play with. I had expected this to be the last post in this series about mud cloth, but it seems I have more work to do . . .
I have a hunch all this would work even better on hemp . . . hmmmm . . .
Make a quilt! Maybe more! Twenty-eight yards is a lot of silk . . .
I would be happy to write and teach an online quilting class at QuiltEd Online about mud cloth, but my posts here record my experiences and you can easily follow along with your own experiments:
If you want technical information about how to harvest and clean mud, how to make soy milk, how to stamp with household and found objects or how to print fabrics in general, you can find lots of information about all that and more on the Web. Google away and have a great time – there’s some wonderful information out there and you’ll want to see it for yourself!
Then, come back to QuiltEd Online and let me teach you how to make original art quilts out of your mud cloth. In the meantime, please sign up for the QuiltEd Online newsletter to keep informed and up-to-date about what’s going on in my world.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my mud cloth adventures as much as I enjoyed doing the work. If so, how about leaving a comment and sharing with your friends?
Cheers, and thanks!
PS: If you like this post and would like to see others like it from other bloggers, check out Nina Marie Sayre’s Off the Wall Friday!