Friday, May 24, 2013

Rag of the Day Special Edition: Alluvium

Alluvium is a mass noun that refers to soil components deposited by the movement of water. Maybe I'll extend the meaning a bit to include 'stuff', like cloth.
Small pant leg, wool? Lots of mud still. April 3, 2013, Weekend Park. Same cloth from the photo below and in the previous post.
As spring flooding has receded here, all of the cloth I have found is alluvium, either caught up in branches on the shore, deposited on the ground where the water slowed, or partially exposed by bank erosion. This last type was deposited in some earlier flood and then sealed into the river bank by successive deposits of alluvium.

Cotton blend sleeve; Weekend Park Early May 2013.
Sort of 'seersucker' hexagon. Maybe polyester? Necktie Beach, May 2013. Just improbably laying there on the sand like it had just dropped out of the sky. It has been buried at some point, because it was heavily caked with clay. How does a patchwork piece appear washed up on the river bank?
What makes this group of small cloths remarkable to me is that I found none like them last year. Because we experienced a year-long drought: too little snow to produce a spring flood, too little spring rain. Nothing to spur annual alluvial deposits.
The disaster of this failure is evident to me in these little cloths themselves, because? Because they are remarkably difficult to clean: they are covered in sand that (most important) is glued onto and into them with the finest clay silt. The first soak in a bucket releases the sand. The second bucket softens the clay. And then the cloth will just continue to cloud the water of many buckets of water.

White cotton rag; cut on one edge, torn on the other. Poking out of the steep river bank by Ridout Street bridge. May 2013.
White cotton rag; cut on one edge, torn on the other. Neck tie beach, poking out of the sand. May 2013.
Of course all of this sand and silt are components of healthy soil, and without a flood they don't make it to the soil. And so the failure of the spring flood last year has me thinking more about water and how important it is in shaping life here, in the nearby spaces I enjoy everyday. And as a result, I'm experimenting with other ways of cleaning these bits that uses less water.

First step was 'wind cleaning'. I just hung them up for a few days in the windiest spot in the yard. This largely loosened the sand, and made it possible to rub a lot of it off. Next step was a long soak- three days. After a bit more scrubbing, another three day soak with a little soap. And then a scrub and rinse. And now I'm going to let them dry again, and then give them another scrub while dry, then I will rinse them again. And all this water is in buckets so I can put it in the garden after.

Brown medium weight cotton sleeve; had an elastic in the cuff at some point, but the rest of the sleeve is cut with no marks from stitching. Sitting in a little bundle on the bicycle path near Neck tie beach, washed up there. April 2013.
Obsessing about these links between the water that shaped the fate of these cloths and the larger question of how much water I use cleaning them might have to be a framework for what I end up using these specific bits for. I don't know yet, but some morning strolling around with the dog by the river I'll probably think of it.

And finally, these are two little finds that have been waiting to be cleaned up and documented.

Crinkled cotton, about 4" on the long sides. Train tracks, February or March 2013.

Poly-Cotton blend sleeve. Has been on fire. Edges are beaded with melted thread. Weird CN Triangle February 2013.
Thank you for stopping by.


  1. I so enjoy your Rag of the Day segments. I wonder what story each piece holds; as well as, what new story they will tell.

    1. Thank you Sharon; I don't quite know why but keeping track of these scraps is important somehow to me.

  2. I think of you and your work so often as I commute to work, passing by lumps of forgotten cloth.
    Love how the stripes meet on the "Cotton blend sleeve;"
    and Love how the "Brown medium weight cotton sleeve" looks like an elephant in that photo!
    Warmly, Nancy

  3. it's amazing what you come across.

  4. i just love (that over used word i use constantly, but) that they are
    for me that's just quite enough, really. if they continue on through your hands to yet a new form, then yes...more goodness.
    but this is so satisfyingly just absolutely Enough.
    that you have photographed them. cataloged them. just the as~is`ness of it all.
    my breathing changes as i look and read.