Solid Waste – Simple Solution

Road from Marigat

Yesterday, I drove home from Nairobi. The trip passes over what surely must be some of the worst roads in Kenya. There’s not much worse for cars than broken tarmac, and that’s what the road is like between Marigat and home.

Suddenly, I knew what we could do with the solid waste in Kampi ya Samaki! We can use it to build new roads!

Now, the challenge is to find out how to do that. Later, we can work on how to get people in the area to participate in solid waste collection, compaction and use. Very poor, many people in this area will not do anything unless they get paid for doing it.

Gee, maybe I should have that attitude!

Mud, Glorious Mud

So, I wanted some new fabric, right?  So I bought 28.5 meters of white silk dupioni at what must be a reasonable price in an escalating market.  That means it wasn’t cheap!

Then I bought 6 or 7 packets of dye.  I came home and dyed 24 meters using the dyes and guess what–all the fabrics came out PINK!!

So, I gave the matter some thought and decided to try dyeing (painting, actually) some of these disappointing cloths with mud.  Earth pigments have always appealed to me.  They are indeed my colors as I am an autumn color type, and there’s something so fundamentally earthy about using mud–I love the idea!

So, on my last trip home from Nairobi, I stopped several places along the road and collected some soil specimens.  I had a great time doing this, making up a fictitious story about being a visiting geologist from some obscure oil or diamond company looking for the right soils to indicate that 2000 feet below lay riches beyond belief!

Instead, a couple of fellows took great interest in the notion that mud could be used to color fabrics.  One happy guy even offered me the use of his panga (that’s not a dirty word; it’s a machete) to chip some stubborn clay out of a bank.

I could see their minds working, “I must run straight home and tell my wife that she should be dyeing fabric with mud!”  I did impress upon these fellows that they would need cow’s milk or soy milk to bind the mud to the cloth.  It should not surprise me, then, next time I go to Nairobi, to see lengths of mud-painted cotton cloths waving from clotheslines along the sides of the highway, right?!

Cleaning soil
Cleaning soil–the cup is for my coffee; all else is for washing dirt

Anyway, I brought my soil samples home and set to work cleaning them.  A somewhat messy business that reminded me very much of my years working with ceramic clays, the job was one that took me away from the computer and let me work in the out-of-doors–I loved it!!

So, I washed the dirt and sieved it with a fine plastic sieve, let it settle in plastic ice cream tubs (that was good, too!), and then poured off the excess water.

Tubs of clean dirt drying in the sun
Tubs of clean dirt drying in the sun


Now, two days later, the soils are really drying out, having been left out in the hot sun (jua kali).  The colors are lighter than they were when the soil was wet, but still they are indeed the colors of Africa!!

Dried dirt samples
Dried dirt samples

The red on the right is from Nairobi, and the orange on the left is from Limuru, higher above Nairobi.  It was drifting down through the red iron oxide (?) of the lower lands.  See the set of four colors together just to the right of center?  That was my comparison of browns–quite a range!  The near white was the toughest to clean; I had to pound it with my hammer.

I just love getting down and dirty!!  😉

Next step:  soaking the soy beans!  Read more . . .

Read the entire series on mud cloth in Kenya:

And, just for fun: Night Noises


“Out of Africa” Opens in Canada

The “Out of Africa” quilt festival opened in London, Canada, earlier this week. It features the Patchwork Promises quilts from last year’s Irish quilt festival, work by the Tentmakers of Cairo courtesy of the American Quilter’s Society, some 130 quilts from the Kenya Quilt Guild, a collection of wonderful pieces from the Harare Patchwork and Quilting Guild in Zimbabwe, the Major Minors collection of 10″ square fine art pieces from FibreWorksArt in South Africa and much more.

Some quilts and products sold before the show even opened, and trade has been brisk for the last couple of days. With late evening openings tonight and tomorrow night, we anticipate even larger crowds of visitors. Don’t miss this great chance to see some of the finest patchwork quilting from the Dark Continent. Who knows when you will have such a unique opportunity again?!!

Off to “Out of Africa”

I’m visiting family in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the moment.  The temperatures here are about as high as they get during our Baringo dry season, but here everyone lives in air conditioning.  I would rather be out of doors, but that would require a completely new architectural strategy for this city!

Las Vegas
Las Vegas

Next week I will be heading out to London, Canada (near Toronto), for the London International Quilt Festival.  Organized by my good friends Garnet Smalley and Suzanne Agnew, this event promises to be the first ever major festival featuring quilts about and from Africa, and it’s one you will not want to miss!

On tap are more than 150 quilts from the Kenya Quilt Guild, at least ten pieces from the Tentmakers of Cairo exhibition, fifty small works that comprise the South African “Major Minors” exhibition, and several quilts made by a group of men from African Faces Contemporary Arts Studio in Nigeria.  Workshops will be offered, taught by Bev Rebelo, Paula Benjaminson, Magie Relph and myself.

Redefinitions IV: Urban Africa by Dena Crain
Redefinitions IV: Urban Africa by Dena Dale Crain

The Festival will be held at the London Hilton Hotel, 300 King Street, in downtown London, Ontario.  Stop in and see us!!


Soweto, South Africa

On my recent teaching tour to Johannesburg, South Africa, for the IQCAfrica, I was fortunate to have a little free time and managed to slip away for a tour of Soweto.  Accompanying me were Gül Laporte, author of Quilts of Europe: Projects and Inspiration and consultant to the European Patchwork Meetings, and international patchwork quilt teacher Cynthia England with her husband.  We had only the morning with a private tour guide who ably drove us all over town, but what a morning it was!

Views of modern-day Soweto street-scenes compared rather favorably to some of the living conditions I have seen in Kenya, so the populace must surely be slowly rising economically despite any historical disadvantages to be overcome.

Soweto, South Africa
I was most impressed to see the artwork on two abandoned coal refinery towers, the Orlando Power Station Cooling Towers, bridged at the top by a walkway from which bungie-jumping is now popular!  To paint such images is remarkable in itself, but to paint on such huge and curving surfaces must have been a great challenge ably met by the artists!

Orlando Power Station Cooling Tower, Soweto, South Africa
Orlando Power Station Cooling Tower

We also visited the Walter Sisulu Square.  If you visit the link location, don’t let the X’s disturb you; they are part of the theme for the website and they echo the skylight in the Open Air Museum which houses the Freedom Charter Monument. It was quite a remarkable place, and we were afforded an opportunity as well to shop in a typical African open air market!   We got a glimpse of Nelson Mandela House, too, but did not go in as time was short and the place was packed with tourists– can you imagine that?!  (Click on any photo below to see full sized gallery of all shots.)

The final stop on our tour was a visit to the very famous Regina Mundi Catholic Church.  This was a most moving experience, as evidence of the church’s history and its role in anti-apartheid movements abounded.  You can learn more about this famous living landmark from Wikipedia.

Stained glass window in Regina Mundi Catholic Church, Soweto, South Africa
Stained glass window in Regina Mundi Catholic Church
Black Madonna in Regina Mundi Catholic Church, Soweto, South Africa
Black Madonna in Regina Mundi Catholic Church

My trip to Soweto was most memorable.  If you ever get to Johannesburg, I would encourage you to visit Soweto if you possibly can!

Guest on American Patchwork and Quilting Radio

Teaching recently in South Africa for Johannesburg’s International Quilt Convention Africa 2012, I was interviewed at some length by Pat Sloan for one of her American Patchwork and Quilting Radio programs, part of  The podcast for that will be released later today.

American Quilting and Patchwork Radio

Others who will be speaking on the same podcast include South African quilt teachers Wilna De Beer and my good friends Wendy Burtenshaw and Suzen Bornman.

I hope you will download the podcast and listen to it in its entirety–enjoy!!  Your comments are welcome!

IQCAfrica, Round One

Back now from the International Quilt Convention Africa 2012, I’m kicking myself that I carried a camera around in my handbag for four days and did not take any photos during the show!  Luckily, you can find plenty on the IQCAfrica website.

International Quilt Convention Africa 2012

I did have one of my teaching “angels” take a few shots of one of my ongoing classes, and I also took photos while on a tour of Soweto.  I’ll post about both of those events next week, time permitting.

The important thing is that everyone had a great time!  I did not hear any complaints; everyone seemed to be full of praise.  Hopefully, that means an even greater turnout for next year’s IQCAfrica 2013, already booked for September 6-8.  Follow the website for coming details and information!

Cnoc Suain

In my recent post Irish Roots at the International Quilt Festival of Ireland, I mentioned Cnoc Suain.  Unfamiliar with Gaelic, I could not be certain of the correct pronunciation, nor did I even know what it was!  I referred to Cnoc Suain merely because it was mentioned on the International Quilt Festival of Ireland Web site as one of their Special Places.

Cnoc Suain

Curious, I later took time to investigate and I share with you now this most remarkable place.  I cannot do such a fine job of presenting Cnoc Suain as does the International Quilt Festival of Ireland Web site, so I direct you there to find Cnoc Suain owners Dearbhaill Standún and Charlie Troy and to take a good look at what Cnoc Suain has to offer.

“Beannachtaí (It means – Blessings – in Gaelic)!”