I am about to head off to the kitchen to find my mud/soy milk solution and give mud printing another go today. While I worked printing the last round of mud cloth, I recorded some of my thoughts about the process. If you are working along with me, or think you might like to try this someday, perhaps you will find these suggestions helpful:
- You don’t need a huge space for the work unless your fabric piece is very large and would be unwieldy unless otherwise laid flat.
- If you’re stamping or stenciling, you should probably work on a padded surface protected by a sheet of oilcloth or plastic.
- The consistency of the solution should be equivalent to that of double cream.
- Yeast in the air will contaminate the soy milk and start the fermentation process. Keep unused soy milk tightly covered and refrigerated at all times. If you have any that has been left sitting out and uncovered, dispose of it rather than mixing it back in with fresh soy milk.
- Don’t worry about perfection; this is African art!
- Clean any stencils periodically; otherwise solution runs underneath and makes a mess. Always dry the stencil before using it.
- Pin down fabrics so they don’t pop up and down as you work.
- Work toward yourself, rather than away from yourself, constantly moving fabric away from you so you don’t smudge it. Put the top edge of the fabric in front of you with the excess hanging between you and your table. Stamp that section, then lift and push the fabric away from you, bringing the next printing area onto the table. By the time the first section of printing goes over the table edge on the far side, the mud will be pretty much dried in place.
- Keep stirring the solution so soil doesn’t settle too much. It will congeal on the bottom and be tough to dislodge. It’s better to keep the solution in motion.
- The mud will leave stains on your clothing, so wear an apron. This is messy work, and the faster you work the messier it will become.
- Don’t waste your mud. If you’ve got mud left in the dish, tip off the soy milk, even if it’s a little discolored, and add that mud to some other mud and carry on. We’re not trying to achieve any particular color, not color matching, so mixtures of different muds will give you more possibilities. Only make sure that you have enough of that one color of mud to complete the task before you, because you’ll never be able to achieve exactly that same color again!
- Give thought in advance to working in layers. If you stamp more than one layer, one mud, at a time, places where the two muds overlap should finish up being the color of the first mud applied. Make sure you stamp the layers in the correct order for the results you hope to achieve.
- If you want two colors to create a third color where the layers overlap, print the first layer, cure it, launder out the excess mud, and print the second layer. Where the second layer overlaps the first, you may achieve a third color.
- If you vary your process, write simple notes in permanent ink in the selvedge of the cloth, and save that swatch as a permanent record.
- If the mud cakes on the fabric, there’s not enough soy milk–dilute it.
- If you spill or misprint, don’t worry. If you don’t like the effect, you can cut around the error, or stencil or paint over it. Otherwise, leave the misprint alone; it adds character!
- The mud is remarkably forgiving. It sticks to the cloth right where it is meant to go and doesn’t smear because it begins to dry quickly and the soy milk helps hold it together. If the fabric folds back on itself, the mud won’t smear off and spoil the cloth. This quality makes mud printing very easy to manage.
I want to try adding black India ink for darkness. I had thought to work with some mud containing charcoal chips, but as I thought about the possible hardships of working with charcoal, it occurred to me that India ink is proper carbon black in suspension. How the chemicals in the ink will affect the soy milk and the permanence of the color is yet to be seen.
I’m also wondering about baking the cloth in the hot tropical sun, whether heat setting would help it cure faster. Uncertain about whether it is a physical or chemical process that causes the mud to adhere to the cloth via the soy milk, I suppose I will have to test this idea as well. Testing is such a nuisance; I just want to get on and do the work!!
Then, this morning I heard from my good friend Charu Patel. She had trouble with passwords as she tried to post a comment here, but she had this important information to share:
Totally love reading about your experiments with mud; after reading your last article my eyes are constantly roving for things that can be used as stamps. You really can inspire. Anyway, I would like to tell you of two substances I know that work to dye fabric and are colour fast. One is turmeric. This combined with detergent gives a variation of red/rust colour depending on the quality of turmeric.
The other is henna powder mixed with vinegar and instant coffee and spread in an iron vessel and kept overnight. This gives a dark grey to charcoal colour. The iron vessel is important as it is the easiest way to get ferrous sulphate. I am aware you are experimenting with mud. Maybe when I see you next I will give you some soil I collected from Jordan which in the ancient times was used as cosmetic. I collected it for fun but it would good to see what color you can get out of it.
Now, where can I find some henna . . .? Read more . . .