Natural Dye — Bark Contact Prints On Silk

Years ago, I left damp bark from a basketry project rolled up in a dish towel in the fridge, thinking I would start another project with the leftovers “soon”. You know how that turned out. When I finally opened it again, the bark had stained the towel — and I loved the marks it made. My process now is a bit different because, really, my refrigerator is scary enough. And barks are among my favorite contact dye materials. The bark bundles I mentioned last time are making it into my Etsy shop as table toppers in a new shop section, Eco-Friendly Home.

Bark-dyed table topper by Donna Kallner.

I sew these table toppers from silk noil (raw silk), using silk thread. In the dyebath, the plain white thread takes on the colors of the other materials to match the eco-printed fabric. The piece at the top included white pine bark and willow bark.

Natural dye with willow bark dye on silk, with white pine bark soaking.

To dye it, I began by soaking the stitched table topper in diluted white vinegar, then wrapped the fabric around damp bark. The bundle mellowed for a few days before going into the dyepot.

Bark bundles left to mellow.

The color and marks from the bark transfer to the fabric, dyeing both sides of the piece where the plant material comes in contact.

Speaking of contact, I haven’t been very good about staying in contact with my lovely blog readers lately. We’re moving my web site and e-course site to a new server, and doing some other behind-the-scenes work that’s necessary but not very interesting. So I’ve been making more quick posts on Instagram. If you’re over there, you can follow me as donnastitches. But to recap, lately I have…

Bracken harvested to dry for natural dye.

harvested bracken to dry for winter dyepots…

Wool-silk yarns dyed with goldenrod, hops and dock.

… and dyed yarn with goldenrod, hops and dock…

Natural dye fermentation experiments with hops and staghorn sumac drupes.

… and started some dye fermentation experiments with hops and staghorn sumac drupes. I’m not sure how successful these will be, but you never know unless you try, right?



Starting From Where You Are

Sometimes when it feels like you’re so far behind you’ll never catch up, all you can do is start where you are and redefine success as any forward progress whatsoever.

Dock for natural dye.

Fortunately, this time of year there’s plenty of natural dye material to gather, at least when it’s not raining.

Dock top dyebath for immersion dyeing wool yarn.

The dock tops dyebath I prepared looks promising on wool yarn.

Dock tops exhaust dyebath on bark bundles.

I used some of the dock dyebath to simmer bundles I made before leaving for a family reunion. This would be the family reunion that started with cousins driving through torrential rains and ended with our nephew taking his daughter to the emergency room after she fell while climbing a tree and us on our way to an emergency vet clinic. In the end, everyone survived but we’re pretty sure none of us will forget this reunion!

Bark bundles left to mellow.

Before leaving for the reunion, I wrapped briefly soaked dry willow bark and white pine bark in raw silk dampened in 50/50 water/vinegar, throwing a few dried Siberian iris leaves in one bundle. The bundles were tucked into a plastic bag while we were gone. When we got home, I simmered them with a rusty bottle cap in dock bath left over from dyeing the yarn..

The dock yarn and some recent scarves are now in a rinse soak. I’m about to head out to the studio now to unwrap those bark bundles. The puppy who met the emergency vet clinic staff  (she developed a scary abscess while we were away) is coming with me for a little change of scenery. Not that she can see much with the conehead on.

Blue with drain for abcess.

We’ll be taking things slow this week, and hoping for a boring Labor Day Weekend.

New Wringer Washer

Anyone who shares a home and a life with someone else will understand: Sometimes you make a decision that seems crazy to everyone else — one that’s impossible to explain rationally. I understand that it’s hard to understand why I wanted a wringer washer in our basement.

Wringer washer is now in the basement.

But I’m glad it’s there now. Thank you to the two strong young men who carried it down there for us while they were here for our family fishing camp!

I’ll post more about why I wanted it later. First, I have a few things to move…

Ripple Effect

Long drives to and from events are a good time for thinking through pieces for exhibitions. I was crossing the Mississippi River when my thoughts came together for 20 For 20.  The show is a 20th anniversary celebration at the Textile Center in Minneapolis.

Ripple Effect for 20 for 20 exhibition at the Textile Center.

Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

The Textile Center has had a huge impact on the fiber community, and that impact reaches far beyond the Twin Cities, far beyond even the people who’ve actually been there. Knowledge and enthusiasm and inspiration spread like ripples in water when you drop a stone into a river or lake. That ripple effect is what I wanted to celebrate in this exhibition.

Ripple Effect work in progress.

So when I got home, I collected 20 stones of varying sizes and got to work.

Ripple Effect work in progress.

For the past few weeks I’ve been looping sheaths for the stones.

Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

When the last stone was finished, I took them to the Wolf River near where I live. At least once, I wanted these stones to be dropped into water.

Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

I was also auditioning different ways the stones might be displayed during the exhibition.

Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

I’ll leave it up to the staff in the gallery, but I’m partial to the cairn shape.

Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

Cairns make me think of trail markers, and I think the Textile Center has helped a lot of fiber artists find their way over the past 20 years.

Package insert for Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

After their bath in the river, I washed the stones. They’re dry now, and on their way to the Textile Center. They won’t be coming back to me after the show. I’ve asked that the stones be given to the Textile Center’s staff and board members as small tokens of thanks for helping to create an inspiring community.

Spending a morning wading in the river taking pictures gave me a chance to reflect on all the wonderful people who’ve been part of the Textile Center. I’m especially grateful to Jacki Bedworth, who first offered me the opportunity to teach there as a visiting artist, to founder Margaret Miller and to Becka Rahn. I’m grateful to every single person who contributed to the astonishing textile library, and to those who created the amazing dye lab, and to all the students who’ve taken my classes there. Special thanks are in order to the students who made do without irons when we were without power after one storm, and to the student who calmly pulled the plug when one of my garage sale irons was shooting flames out the back end in another class. Thank you to all the people who worked with the Textile Center on the Surface Design Symposium and on the SDA conference when it was in Minneapolis. Thank you to all the donors and volunteers who make the annual Fiber Art Garage Sale a great success. Thank you to the Mondale family and all those who support the gallery and exhibition program. And thank you to all the guild members who contribute their energy to the place. Every time I visit, I see something that inspires me. And all that creates a ripple effect.

Happy Anniversary, Textile Center!

The 20 For 20 Show at the Textile Center.

Local Color Workshop Reflections

Twenty years ago, I went to Sievers for the first time as a student, and it truly changed my life. Friendships formed there are still so important to me. I always hope a little of that magic rubs off in the classes I teach. And I think it might have in the Local Color class last week. Every member of the class was a delight, and it was a lovely, collaborative group. Every time I turned around, I saw a different combination of people discussing ideas, helping, and encouraging each other.

Sievers Local Color 2014 class photo by Carolyn Foss.

The class worked hard to cover a lot of material — from sunprinting with transparent fabric paints…

Sunprinting with transparent fabric paints.

to natural dye contact prints…

Gathering natural dye materials.

to digital imaging and thermofax screen printing.

Thermofax screens printed from photo taken by student.

We managed to fit in some other local color, as well, including the ice cream stand at Jackson Harbor…

Ice cream break.

and a Washington Island fish boil.

Fish boil at KK.

One of my favorite parts of the class is the photo scavenger hunt students do on the Sievers campus.

Photo scavenger hunt in the Local Color class at Sievers.

Each student gets a slip of paper with two prompts — things like “a wavy line” and “a rough texture”.

Photo scavenger hunt at Sievers Local Color class.

They fan out across the campus and start to see things they’ve maybe overlooked before.

Seeing from different perspectives.

Altogether, the class is designed as an exercise in observation and seeing from different perspectives.

Queen Anne's lace.

It was a special treat to share my sister-in-law’s first Sievers class experience, and first trip to Washington Island.

Ferry ride to Washington Island.

It’s always good to get home after a trip like this and mull over ideas and inspirations. I had some stitching to finish for an exhibition, so had plenty of time for rumination. And what I kept coming back to was how strong and long-lasting the energy is from a class like this.

Stone fence on Washington Island.

That’s truly something to build on.

Workshop Preparation: Local Color To Wear

It takes a lot more time to pack and prepare than it will to unpack and set up for the Local Color To Wear workshop when I get to Sievers on Saturday.

Packing for the Local Color workshop at Sievers.

Sievers is close to home — just over three hours plus a ferry ride. That’s so much simpler than packing and shipping materials to teach in an unfamiliar venue. And familiarity plays a huge role in designing a workshop like this.

Actually, this is a redesign, a melding of elements from three workshops I teach — a photography on fabric class with surface design elements, a digital fabric design class, and a natural dyeing class. It wasn’t an easy decision to combine them. I have no trouble saying no when people ask for things that don’t make sense or that I don’t think I can deliver. But students were asking for and when I thought about it, it did make sense. It will be a fun exploration of the local color on Washington Island, and I’m excited to see where students go as they express a sense of place in their work.

My students are coming with a broad range of goals for this class. And they’ll be working on a variety of devices and platforms — from digital cameras to iPhones, android tablets, and computers with operating systems that range from the latest Apple has to offer to the orphaned Windows XP. So before I even considered submitting this proposal last fall, I had to figure out how we would be able to print from all those devices. That was just the start.

Preparing handouts for fiber art workshop.

Since then, I’ve been sampling (and mostly ruling out) various apps and alternatives to GIMP (the image editing program I teach for digital fabric design), distilling concepts to what I think are essential skills, planning how to meet the varied learning styles of the group, plotting ways to work around any curves the weather throws our way, preparing to help troubleshoot problems on a variety of devices, and revising handouts.

It’s a huge help that I know what equipment I don’t have to pack because Sievers has it. Because I pack a lot of stuff for this workshop. That way, students get a very lean list of things they need to bring.

I know that for some students, sorting through and deciding what to bring with them to a class is joyful mental preparation. But over the years, I’ve seen many students bring vast quantities of materials from home, then spend a lot of time sorting and resorting through it to delay taking that next step into the unknown. Having done that myself, I know a stall tactic when I see it. So this class will have plenty of raw materials to work with, and plenty of options for making them into interesting things to transform into local color to wear.

So my laundry is on the line and I’m almost finished packing clothes as well as, well, a bunch of stuff. And I just remembered that when I woke up this morning I forgot to put spritzers on the list. Better do it right now before I forget again.

Dogbane, Buckthorn, Kudzu and Bulrush

After my week in Decorah, Iowa at the Willow Gathering in June, I’ve been plotting some new dye experiment for later in the year.

Spreading dogbane in my back yard.

One evening, my friends Peggie Wilcox and Carol Madison gathered some of last year’s dogbane near Luther College. They were boiling it to see if they could encourage the fiber to let go of the outer bark. And the liquid was a beautiful deep red.

The spreading dogbane in my back yard showed up for the first time about 20 years ago after we had a load of firewood delivered. I’ve harvested it for fiber, although it doesn’t produce as much as the dogbane friends gather in other parts of the country. But it sure looks promising as dye. On Facebook, Dawn Walden shared that not even bleach will remove this dye, and that it’s very resistant to fading. She gathers it after frost when the stems turn red then strips it for fiber and cooks the bark after that.

Invasive buckthorn for natural dye, maybe.

I’m still trying to decide if I have the nerve to try buckthorn as a natural dyestuff. This invasive species is a huge problem in our area. I could rip out every bit on our place, but there’s so much in the fence row behind us that it wouldn’t take long for the birds to redeposit the seed. When/if I do get around to putting the berries in a dyepot, I figure I would have to treat the stuff like hazardous waste. I sure couldn’t dump it in our compost pile like most of my spent dyestuff. I had planned to peel bark and dye with that after ripping out the plant that’s taking over a large lilac by the house, but may have lost the window of opportunity for easy peeling.

Peggie Wilcox with kudzu fiber looping.looping

We have plenty of invasive species in rural northern Wisconsin. Luckily, kudzu isn’t one of them. But while I was in Decorah, Peggie showed me some looping she had done with kudzu fiber she harvested. Peggie took an online looping class with me, and put her own beautiful spin on the technique.

Peggie Wilcox's kudzu fiber looping.

As you may know, Peggie is an amazing basketmaker who works with natural materials she gathers — one of which is bulrush. I can totally understand why medieval people spread rushes on the floors of castles. The fragrance of dried rushes is one of my favorite scents. I’ve been meaning to do some natural dye experiments with bulrush.

Oconto, County lake once where I harvested bulrush in the 1990s and early 2000s.

After seeing Peggie in Iowa, I got to wondering about a spot near where I live. It’s a bit off the beaten path, and I can’t remember the last time we were there. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I harvested bulrush there twice — responsibly, I assure you. There’s almost none there, now. I suspect the water was so low for so low in the lake during our drought years that the bulrush here declined then. It may be several years before I even think of cutting a small amount here again. In the meantime, we should go back more often to check on it just because it’s such a pretty spot.

Ice cream stand in Lakewood, Wisconsin.

And it’s on the long way home from the ice cream stand.

Reflective Writing 101

We’re no busier than anyone else, but somehow I lost a whole month. It’s the longest I’ve gone without posting since I started blogging in 2009. It’s not that there was nothing going on or that there was absolutely no time. There were wonderful things going on — some of which I shared on Instagram. But my writing time was spent on other projects.

Ship Rock formation in Wisconsin.

No, not graffiti. That’s Ship Rock, which I stopped to photograph on my way home from the Willow Gathering in Decorah, Iowa.

I write because it helps me figure out what’s important. I teach students in fiber workshops to use simple reflective writing exercises, too. Figuring out what’s important to you is at least as important as the slew of techniques and possibilities I present in class.

River Rescue training photo by Renae Worden

The things I’ve needed to figure out for myself lately have been more community-related than fiber-related. You may know that I’ve been a member of the Wolf River Fire Department’s search and rescue team since it formed in 1990. We had a particularly frustrating incident in June, which I wrote about here for the Daily Yonder. And I wrote for the Yonder about rural school funding issues because there’s so much talk and so little understanding.

Neither of those articles will change the world. Our school district just got the word on how much the next round of state aid will be cut, and it’s huge. Our public safety communications problems haven’t been solved. But nothing ever changes for the better when no one talks about an issue.

Natural dye scarves by Donna Kallner.

Change is scary for many people, and definitely for many fiber artists. It’s easy to go from project to project without reflecting on why this or where next. Trolling through Pinterest is not the same as reflecting on possibilities. So I have a small challenge for you. Some of you have done this with me in class, and maybe forgotten that it works outside class as well.

Reflective Writing 101
In this exercise, you bounce back and forth between doodling and writing.

  • Trace your hand on a sheet of paper.
  • Doodle in the thumb area. Don’t worry about how “good” your doodling is.
  • Give yourself a minute, more or less, to respond to one of the prompts below. Don’t self-edit what you write — just scratch out the first thoughts that come to mind.
  • Repeat doodling in another area, then writing, until you’ve filled in the whole hand.

Writing Prompts

  • What did you enjoy most about making the last piece you did? Why?
  • What did you enjoy least? Why?
  • What have you been doing because it’s safe? Why?
  • What have you been putting off? Why?
  • How do you measure success in your fiber art?
  • How would you tell someone else to measure success in their work?
  • What do you need to do next?
  • Start a list of what it would take to begin.
  • Circle one thing on that list — a task you can complete or at least begin in less than one hour.
  • Make an appointment to complete that task within the next two weeks. Put it on your calendar.

Hand doodle from reflective writing exercise.

How To Prep Quilting Fabric For Ironing

Who remembers when ironing was a weekly (or more often) task? My husband loves it when I iron. It reminds him of how his house smelled when he got home from school. Frankly, he doesn’t smell it all that often. But this week, I’ve been ironing a lot, getting hand-dyed quilting fabric ready to sell at the farmers market on Saturday. And I pulled out a trick I learned from my mom back in the day.

Hand-dyed quilting fabric by Donna Kallner.

Mom always had a pop bottle with a rosette on it for sprinkling fabric. I’ve never had a rosette, so I poked holes in a plastic cap. I use that to sprinkle fabric with water to dampen it.

Holes poked in plastic cap for sprinkling fabric.

Then I roll up the dampened fabric and put it in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight to “mellow”.

Hand-dyed quilting fabric mellowed overnight in the fridge.

By the next morning, the moisture has dispersed evenly throughout the fabric, making it easier to get press out wrinkles.

Binding on baby quilt made with hand-dyed fabric.

This week I finally got fabric dyed and the binding on a whole-cloth baby quilt my sister-in-law quilted from two panels of my hand-dyed fabric. I’ll take it to the market Saturday.

Wall hanging made by Cindy Helmer from my hand-dyed fabrics.

And I’ll take this wall hanging my friend Cindy Helmer made for me, using my hand-dyed fabrics. But it’s not for sale :-)

Now, back to ironing — this time, naturally dyed silk scarves. But that’s another story.


Natural Dye – Patience The Easy Way

It’s a good thing when there’s a lot going on to distract you. That way it can seems like you’re patient, even when you’re not.

Natural dye silk scarves by Donna Kallner

I was distracted by, well, it doesn’t matter. So the bundles I unwrapped this week had a chance to mellow for a good week after I simmered them in the Strong Brew – Willow Leaf Dye. The prints are from sumac and cranesbill leaves I pressed last fall then refreshed in hot water before wrapping them in the fabric. The fabric is raw silk, which I’m sewing with silk thread into flat scarves and infinity scarves.

The first farmers market of the season is June 7. I’ll be taking scarves, along with other items. But I’ll save that post for next week. Do you think I can cloak that as patience?