While some of us try to remove mud stains from clothing, fashion designers are reigniting a terms-of-wearable-endearment with the natural mucky material; the traditional process of the art of mud silk. The entirely organic technique births buttery silk with a beautiful deep brown or black hue and undeniable luxurious quality. Only achieved through the laborious, season specific process, the special silk boasts cooler wearing properties and even permits grease and oil from staining the fabric.
Originated in the Guangdong Province of China and dating back to the Ming Dynasty in the fifth century, the craft has been kept alive within the region where subtropic river deltas carry a special iron-rich mud that binds to the silk.
The result can finalize in either bi-colored, or simply one color depending on the technique used. For one color, the silk is buried under mud for up to two months!
To achieve bi-colored mud silk, like the Narcisco Rodriguez coat shown for his Spring 2010 collection, a technique using Shuliang yam is employed. The process hasn’t changed, even after almost 2,500 years.
1. The yams are dried, finely ground and simmer in a large clay basin until the water is a deep orange-brown color.
2. The silk fabric is delicately soaked in the dye and then laid out in a large grass field to dry. The soak and dry process is repeated about thirty depending on the depth of color one wants to achieve.
3. The now fire orange fabric is laid out by a river and mopped with mud, which gives the fabric its buttery texture.
4. The silk is rinsed in the river and set to dry through midday and over night to set the dye.
5. Finally, a thin layer of anthracite coal is applied to cover the silk with a precious varnish.
Like Hawaii’s hundred words for rain and eskimosk four hundred words for snow, the Chinese have several — approximately nine — words for the bi-colored mud silks. From “xiang-yun-shā” meaning “perfumed cloud clothing” or “fragrant cloud silk cloth,” to xiang-yun-shā” translates as “singing silk cloth.”