Mali Mud!

The real intent of the trip to Mali was to learn more about bogolanfini – the traditional cloth dyed with mud. We didn’t see every possible maker of bogolanfini, but we sure did take in a lot. And experienced some other wonderful textiles, cloth, fibers and mud.

I tell a lot of the story with the pictures. What I don’t tell with the pictures is how much fabric the group wound up bringing home with us. Between the finished bogolanfinis, the plain woven cottons, the splendid African prints and the lovely batiks….

The bogolanfini process as I observed it is not quite what I’ve read about. Actually making a piece of bogolanfini was magical – the bonding of color that was almost instantaneous on the tannin dyed cotton. Wow! My modified method takes forever….. and I had understood that the Mali method took time, too. Apparently the time is not in the bonding but in the actual painting on of the mud. Of course, everyone does everything differently and we only talked with and observed a small sampling of bogolan artists….

The overall trick seems to be in having a very iron rich mud and a dye that is high in tannin.

The artistry now is in how they use over-dyes and bleachings to create colors that are not normally associated with bogolanfini. Quite spectacular!

I’m on a hunt now to find anything similar to the dyes/tannins here in the US. Looking suspiciously at the walnut juice on my shelf…


Oooohhh, I ache!

Yesterday I got a call from a neighbor – they were pulling some grapevines out of trees in the pasture and wanted to know if I would like them. I’ve used grapevine in the past in my basketry work, but haven’t collected in a couple years now. It’s been a combination of not enough time, too many other interesting things to do, and the diligence necessary to make sure I don’t bring any poison ivy or powder post beetles home in the vines.

I caved and said yes. Even though in the back of my head I’m telling myself that there is bound to be poison ivy there and I should just politely thank them and offer to pull next year with them.

So, after finishing the quilt top yesterday, I headed out into the countryside before it got dark. The neighbor had the vines pulled and laying in a pile in a semi-wooded/meadow area. In among the grapevines I discovered a distinctly NON-grape vine. It was either Virginia creeper or one of the 27 different varieties of poison ivy that we have growing around here. Some ivy looks almost identical to creeper so I try not to touch the stuff unless I can count the leaves. Unfortunately, the leaves are all down and so was the vine. The neighbor nonchalantly said “Oh, yes, that’s poison ivy” and kept bundling up the grape. I hate people who aren’t affected by the stuff! I kept covered as much as possible and stripped/washed as soon as I got home.

Today I wrestled with the stuff. Some of the vines are of Tarzan size and quality. Tough babies. Figured I might as well use them for a potential outdoor installation coming up next June – I’ll make sure everything that touches the vines is washed well and I’ll wash the vines in the spring. The installation proposal is based on orbs – lots of them of varying sizes. I was able to wrangle some of the smaller vines into one modest size piece; the rest of the thick vines became two sort-of orbs: one is sort of squished and the other is flatish with an opening at each end. They probably won’t get up into any trees – they are sooooo heavy! – but they were fun to do. It felt good working with the grapevine – such a solid and sturdy material.two orbstwo hole orblarge orb w end holes

The material is so large that I worked outside on the driveway. I wind up putting my whole body into the weaving when working with the large diameter vines. They need to be “coaxed” a whole lot more than the smaller vines. The two larger pieces stand about 3 feet high, to give perspective to what you are seeing. I’ll need to measure them officially, but not now.

Now I just want to sit back with a glass of wine, maybe soak in the tub. Oh, wait! We have company coming for dinner! Guess I’ll just go with the glass of wine.