Sewing, Gut and pH

First, I want to thank Dave for his concern over my finishing the sewing project the other day. I DID get it finished – the machine soldiered on. Had to slow the pace, but made it through.

In fact, I made two prototypes and let the former PCV decide which would work best. She chose the one which utilized the width of the traditional strip weaving in the shoulder strap and had a drawstring closure (thanks, Mary, for your ideas!). It is in Mali right now, but I don’t think it will find its way to the proper co-op until later in the month, towards the end of her visit. If nothing else, maybe it will give them some ideas for items to sell.

The last couple days have been spent with my hands wet with gut working on some smaller wall grids out of willow and gut. The weather has been great – not too hot or humid – for working outside and drying the finished work. Listened to two more Fforde books while working: The Eyre Affair and The Fourth Bear. Love the irony and puns!

I’m anxiously awaiting some pH test strips that I ordered – they will show all levels of alkalinity. I’ve got a spot of experimenting to do as soon as they come in – I want to check pH levels while testing my water vs distilled and muds vs pigments and soda ash in the mud vs on the cloth first. I know my water is really alkaline due to our hot tub experience; now to find out just how much so.

I hope the students I have this weekend doing mudcloth are as excited as I am about finding alternative ways of making this work!

Sewing Machine

My sewing machine is not a happy camper. It makes metallic noises and thunking noises and does unanticipated thread breaking. All of which makes me a little anxious as I work with it. I had to decrease my speed of work and pay a bit more attention to the machine’s action – and that still didn’t stop the thread from breaking. Just had it in for a check-up recently, too. Sigh. I really don’t want to have to think about a new machine… And yes, I did change the needle.

I was doing some quickie prototype work for a women’s co-op in Mali. The short version of the story is that a former Peace Corps volunteer from nearby is going back to visit with them and was interested in other items for the women to make for sale. I devised a sling bag to make from their mud cloth strips – hope it is something that can work for them.


Actually got something accomplished today! In fact, I got something accomplished yesterday, too!  Some days I have to look hard and grab whatever I can.

Yesterday I extended our top bedsheet. Yeah, you are right. Sounds extremely exciting. But after having my feet stick out from under the bottom edge of the sheet the last couple nights, it was great to keep them covered up.

The short story is that the sheet was not the right size to comfortably use on our queen-sized  bed so I bought some fabric and sewed it to the bottom edge.

The long story is the sheet set is just the perfect color to match our brick/cranberry red bedroom walls and was marked down. (Now I know why.)  When you put it on the bed the way it should be, it was plenty long but much too narrow to cover two people. When you turn it sideways, it covered bodies just wonderfully, but came no where close to being able to tuck under the bottom of the bed and so the toes got cold.

A quick trip yesterday to Jo Ann Fabrics produced an almost perfect color match in a polyester fabric. Doesn’t match the cotton fiber content of the sheets, but this part will never touch our feet so…. strips were sewn together to make it wide enough, then sewn on to the bottom edge (or actually the original side edge) of the sheet, hemmed and…. voila! We now have a sheet that stays tucked in while we pull the rest of it up to our chins. Life is good.

And today life got better. The hot tub, which quit working on Saturday evening, is now back in service! Turned out to be a very weird set of circumstances in the breaker box that has now been corrected. My love can explain more fully if you are interested.  All I know is the water is back up to temperature, the jets are bubbling and the towels are now wet again.

But the hot tub was not my accomplishment for the day. I actually cleaned off my work table (well, most of it) and made some stationery. I’ve got a couple of sales opportunities coming up soon and need to get work ready. Tried a couple different methods of adding mud marks. Also used some old corn starch sizing as a glue (Gin, I know you are going to have a fit over this, but it was there in the same room I was and taking up space on the table…). I may have to go over those sheets…. we’ll see.

Hmmmm……….. sheets……….. seems there is a common ‘thread’ so far this week………

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…


My friend D just had back surgery. This is the third time she’s had surgery to alleviate extreme back pain. By all indications, it seems that this might work. All her friends are certainly hoping so.

While brainstorming what to do long-distance to let her know we care, I was reminded that D has made what she terms ‘hang-on-ladies’ – little clay figures of mature women hanging on for dear life to a beaded cord. She usually gives them with a card that says: “At the end of your rope? Tie a knot and hang on!”

D needs her own hang-on ladies from her friends!

About an hour after that thought struck, I happened to be in my sock drawer pulling out a few items to get ready for our trip north for the Thanksgiving weekend. One of the socks I was going to use had a big, gaping hole in the heel. Just the thing for a h-o lady!

So, with scissors, needle and thread, a few buttons and a bit of yarn, I changed my useless sock into a charming (at least I think so!) hang-on lady for D! (And I’m having trouble getting it to show properly on this blog – darn!)

Well, with Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to do something with chocolate and pumpkin – just have a craving for those two together – so I threw some canned pumpkin pulp into a brownie mix and added pumpkin pie spices. Topped it off with a melted white chocolate icing. Not too bad, except the brownie part is pretty dense. I kept telling myself I like dense as I ate my way around the edges. Gotta save some for T-day.