Smashwords Author Interview

Yesterday, I submitted to an in-depth Q&A session for a Smashwords Author Interview. You can read the interview at

It was fun to do, took me down a bit of Memory Lane and gave me a few interesting things to think about. I hope you enjoy reading the interview!

We can engage in a similar interview right here on my blog!

Simply ask me questions about my work and my writing, and I’ll be happy to answer. Ask me about publishing through Smashwords. Perhaps you think to write and publish independently too–we have a lot in common, then!

Come on–challenge me! Ask whatever you want to know about Dena Crain: Artist/Teacher in Kenya.

All comments are moderated, so if there’s something that comes up I feel is inappropriate for this venue, I can always reply to you privately.

Otherwise, I’m pretty open about my life’s work, and will be pleased to chat with you about it!

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!

AfricaGoal: A Stepmother’s Pride

Yesterday we received word from my stepdaughter about a new video she and her husband had made. AfricaGoal founders and members throughout, their immense dedication and technical skills are obvious weapons in the ongoing fight against AIDS.

Mouse, whose voice you hear throughout the video and you see snatches of her with her butterscotch blonde hair, and Maciej, who appears only briefly in one or two scenes (not the fellow with blonde dreadlocks–that’s Dom), and all their friends have made huge sacrifices over the years to bring the World Cup digital broadcasts into some of the most remote areas in East and southern Africa. They have had remarkable experiences and gathered amazing memories of their safaris throughout the continent, and they have made many good friends as they worked to save lives along the way.

Please visit AfricaGoal to see more of their photos and read their stories. These young people deserve all the support they can garner. Thanks!

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 . . .