Category Archives: Quilt Tips & Tutorials

Tips and tutorials about anything and everything to do with quilting

Mud Cloth Happy Endings

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):


Mud cloth dyed, stenciled, stamped and painted by Dena Dale Crain


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!


Mud cloth dyed, stenciled, stamped and painted by Dena Dale Crain

Dye plus mud


Mud cloth dyed, stenciled, stamped and painted by Dena Dale Crain

Dye plus mud


Mud cloth dyed, stenciled, stamped and painted by Dena Dale Crain

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 . . .


Next Step

Make a quilt! Maybe more! Twenty-eight yards is a lot of silk . . .  ;-)


Special Note

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!


Filed under Art, Art in Kenya, Online Quilt Classes, Patchwork Quilting, Quilt Supplies, Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Quilting Technology, Surface Design

Single Sashing Quilt-As-You-Go Tutorial

Just posted a free tutorial about an unusual quilt-as-you-go method for making 3/8″ narrow sashing to join quilted sections. This method would probably work well on curved cuts if we cut the sashing on bias – I’ll have to try that sometime!

Find the tutorial in QuiltEd Online’s News and while you’re there have a look at our online quilt class offerings. New online quilt classes are under construction even as I write!

Sign up for the QuiltEd Online weekly newsletter to learn about all our online quilt class news!


Single sashing quilt-as-you-go tutorial

3/8″ sashing for quilt-as-you-go


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Filed under Online Quilt Classes, Quilt Tips & Tutorials

Quilter’s UFO Solution

Some months ago, I started making a new quilt in the series called Redefinitions. This piece, made entirely from silk fabrics and a little synthetic lamé, had a title right from the beginning: Liquid Gold!

As the work progressed, I quickly fell OUT of love with this piece. In sheer desperation, I took it to a QuArKe (Quilt Artists of Kenya) meeting and shared with my quilt artist friends in Nairobi. Most of them were, of course, tactfully supportive, telling me it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, that maybe with a little tweak here or there I could salvage it. I received their great supportive vibes as well as I could and returned home with the quilt, never to touch it again!

That is, until today! This afternoon I went into my studio with an intention to make a small quilt top for the same series, something that would be fun and easy for me to do. The fabrics I reached for first were – guess what! – the same fabrics as those that were in Liquid Gold!

Well, I thought it rather silly to make a second quilt from the same fabrics, so I set those aside and reached for the original work. Suddenly, after months of percolating in the back of my brain, I had come up with a solution for what to do with this work in progress gone astray! I had to work through a technical solution, a method for sewing two sections of finished quilt together with a contrasting strip of fabric. That took me about 15 minutes to think it through and make sketches to illustrate the idea so I would not forget it.

Then I turned back to the quilt, by then hanging on the wall, finally understanding what was bothering me.

LIquid Gold, Redefinitions quilt by Dena Dale Crain

Original quilt gone bad


See all those lines that are not straight between the colored sections and the white silk? Curved seam lines between colored patches of fabric did not bother me because the patches blended and the curves gave a bit of added life to the piece.

What really bothered me was when a seam line between a colored section and a white patch was not straight. The high contrast showed very clearly that I had no control over the patches when I sewed them, and that read to me as generally sloppy construction, something I do not like.

My solution was simple: to cut apart the original quilt along all those curved lines where white met color, and to straighten those seams! Big difference!!

LIquid Gold, Redefinitions quilt by Dena Dale Crain

First mock-up


So, now all I have to do is to develop a final composition, knowing that each section will be bounded by an outline about 3/8″ wide, said outline to be made from a printed silk charmeuse, shades and tints of turquoise on a black ground.

LIquid Gold, Redefinitions quilt by Dena Dale Crain

Second mock-up


LIquid Gold, Redefinitions quilt by Dena Dale Crain

Third mock-up

Now all you have to do is to sign up for my newsletter or subscribe to this blog, so you get to see the finished piece when I’m done with it!!


Filed under Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Quilting Technology, Quilts

Muddy Again!

OK, so after my recent experience with henna dyeing silk dupioni, I came back for more mud.  I spent about three hours stenciling, stamping and painting mud on some more of my fabrics.  I used only a trashed out old paintbrush for all of this work.  Don’t ruin any expensive tools with the mud; the old grotty things you have for stamping and painting will work just fine!

Here are photos from my last session’s mudding in progress (click each photo to get a better view):


Fabrics, the one on the right wetted and awaiting scrunching

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Wet silk fabric scrunched and awaiting mud

Contemporary African Mudcloth

First results from scrunching and daubing

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Second scrunch/daub session

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Another scrunch/daub session

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Serious scrunching/daubing

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Painting for solid color; note dry mud in dish needs more soy milk before continuing to paint; keep stirring!!

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Painted cloth–so easy and fun to do!

Contemporary African Mudcloth

First daub session

Contemporary African Mudcloth

More daubing–three colors, red, yellow and green but soft, so soft!

Contemporary African Mudcloth

And more daubing

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Stencil over daubs

Contemporary African Mudcloth

One color stripe at left becomes multicolor strip at right by shifting stencil and daubing previously blank areas; love the little peeps of pink flashing through!

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Close-up of multicolor stripe

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Mud/soy milk mixing

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Wet, sloppy stencil stripes; I love the imperfections!

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Dry, tidy stencil stripes

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Stencilled; notice the wet areas around the mud where soy milk soaks the fabric

Contemporary African Mudcloth

Selection of fabrics printed and painted today; I love the textures!

So, I am getting really excited about working with these fabrics.  I can hardly wait to wash out the mud and see how they turn out.

I’ve got more soy milk in the fridge, just waiting for me to get off the computer and head for my studio.  There were two colors of mud I did not use in this last session, so I will play with those in the next one and again share the results with you.

Oh–a caution about using soy milk.  I got some of it on my hands and did not bother to wash it off.  Within five minutes those places on my skin where the soy milk remained began to burn and sting.  If you get soy milk on your skin, wash it off straight away!

What are you working on today?

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Filed under Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Surface Design

Henna Headlines

OK, so I dyed my tied and loose silk Dupioni fabrics in henna.  The results are far less than exciting, but at least the fabric is not damaged.  I still have the option of working it over again with some other medium.

Henna results

Henna results

There must be something about henna that functions much like a surfactant, something that makes water wetter so the bonds that cause dirt to adhere to fabrics or other objects are broken more easily and the dirt washes away.  Whatever that property is, it caused my efforts at tie-dye to come to nothing, because the dye bath soaked all the way through the tied silks!

Apart from some soft mottling, which may have been the result of my carelessness in the original dye lot using Dylon Cold Water dyes that were likely very out-of-date, there is no indication that the fabrics were bound before immersion in the henna bath.

In typical fast-moving Dena style, I neglected to photograph the fabrics before they went into the henna dye bath, so I cannot show you here the difference between any “before” and “after” shots, other than to share once again the original batch.

Poorly dyed pink silk dupioni

Poorly dyed pink silk dupioni

My belief, though, is that the henna browned down the previous sickly pink, but actually made little impact on the fabric at all.  This makes me wonder how light- and colorfast the dye would be over the long term, even if it had been taken up well.  Never mind; nothing lasts forever anyway!!

Probably, the iron and the coffee had more to do with the process than my friend Charu suspected.  My iron was actually not very rusty, and my coffee was not instant coffee nor very strong.  I think of the traditional South African three-legged cast iron cooking pot, a potjie (pronounced poy-kee).  If the cloth was put into an old one of these, healthily rusted inside and out, with the henna and only old coffee (no fresh water), I should think it would indeed dye as Charu expected, but more from the iron and coffee than from the henna.

I hope you enjoyed the video about Mehndi in my last post in this series about the charming tradition of hand and foot painting with henna.  I have seen much of this along the coast of Kenya and one of my nieces who was married in Lamu had a “HENna” party the night before the wedding where she and her bridesmaids were all properly embellished–what fun!

OK, so the lesson to be learned from this experience is, of course, not to view it as a failure.  The experiment failed, that’s true, but I learned a lot from this effort so it was not wasted.

What I learned was that it’s time to turn back to my mud.  So yesterday I put some soya beans in water to soak overnight and whizzed them up in my trusty blender this morning.  I’m well prepared to spend a few more hours stenciling, stamping and painting–perfect activities for a very rainy few days!

Speaking of rain, you may find it interesting as we do that Lake Baringo has actually fallen a few inches.  I have a stick and a special spot where I measure the water level.  I was recently surprised to see that it fell to about 1″ below where the water was when I marked the stick in April, having risen about three inches above that by the middle of September.  Oh, well, more about that in another post, I expect.

Hang in there with me for another couple of weeks while I finish painting my fabrics.  By the time this next batch are finished with painting and preliminary drying (will anything dry in this weather–I wonder?!), it should be about time to begin washing out some of the first fabrics that were mudded over.  I’ll keep you informed of my progress over the next few days and share some more photos of painted cloths here, so be sure to check in with me every once in a while, or else subscribe (top left sidebar under my photo and intro) so you’ll receive notices by email.

In the meantime, why not share here any interesting stories you have about your experiences with dyes, mud or otherwise?  We have soooo much to learn from each other!  Read more . . .


Filed under Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Surface Design