The Color of Mud: Inspiration from Soil

During my tenure at Handwoven, I’ve read many articles on color in weaving. “Be careful,” they say, “sometimes colors that look good next to each other on the shelf will turn muddy on the loom.” But inspiration can come from anywhere if you’re open to it.

Christina Garton Mar 26, 2018 - 4 min read

The Color of Mud: Inspiration from Soil Primary Image

Desert soil with large, white cobbles. Photo by Shawn Salley

Mud is, of course, undesirable—unless you get your inspiration from soil.

I admit that when it comes to admiring soil color, I’m at a bit of an advantage. I’m married to a soil scientist who’s taught me to see beauty in what others see as plain old dirt. We’ve admired road cuts and soil pits. Soil can be beautiful in deep reds, rich browns, and cool taupes. In fact, he’s currently working on a soil identification app that involves—you guessed it—looking at soil color.

Here are just a few examples of how lovely it can be. First is a soil local to me. At the top you see the typical desert soil in a lovely light brown. Then, below it you find the cold, hard caliche (pronounced kuh-lee-chee) in a pink that’s almost—but not quite—white. I would very happily use these colors in a set of towels, maybe with a bit of turquoise thrown in to make it fully New Mexican.


Soil pits from two very different places can provide a great source of inspiration: At left, a desert soil pit and at right, a soil pit from the Arctic. Photos by Shawn Salley

To its right is a completely different set of soils from Alaska. Gray soil is speckled with bits of iron-y orange and some deeper browns. Then, below all that is the almost black permafrost. If this soil pit looks a bit mixed up, it’s because every year the soil freezes and every year it thaws, and as it does so it “churns” up the bits of organic matter and clay to create the stripes and ovals you see here. I’d love to see these colors in a man’s scarf—something dark and wooly, possibly in a plaid—with just a few picks in the warp and weft of that orange to brighten things up.

Now let’s move across the pond for a moment with this photo taken from a peat bog outside the town of Bowmore on the island of Islay, Scotland (please ignore the image of the very cold writer). You get not only a good view of the wet, black peat both in its natural habitat and in piles cut and left to dry, but also a reflection of the blue Scottish sky. I very much want a silk scarf woven with those two colors: peat brown and Islay blue.


At left a photo of Islay peat bogs and at right a colorful road cut in Tennessee. Photos by Shawn Salley and Karen Vaughan

Last is one of my favorite photos of soil. This one was taken by Dr. Karen Vaughan during this year’s National Collegiate Soils Contest. Located in Tennessee, the road cut is a swirl of yellows, pinks, reds, and browns, the latter of which range from pinkish beige to the darkest of taupes—absolutely stunning!

(If you want more soil inspiration, I highly recommend the Society of Soil Judgers Instagram where you can see many more examples of gorgeous road cuts and soil pits.)

I hope after reading this you go out into the world, and find inspiration in equally unlikely places.

Happy Weaving!