Rites Of Spring

Outside, the birds are singing, and lettuce is up in one container despite eight inches of new snow last week. Inside, I’ve been plugging away at the New Age looping e-book, with breaks for one of my area’s rites of spring.


Our neighbors tap trees and cook the sap down into syrup. Bill and I show up to help collect the sap, pouring it from collecting bags into buckets then transferring buckets to barrels on a trailer that are then pumped into holding tanks until Mike fires up the cooker.


During sapping, the woods can be snowy or slushy, and slippery with ice and mud. But it’s fun to spend time with our neighbors, and satisfying to work at a task that produces measurable resultsMuch of the work I do takes weeks or months to complete. Sapping, on the other hand, takes a couple of hours. In the fresh air.

Hyperlinking illustratioins in New Age Looping e-book.

Yesterday, before sapping I finished bookmarking and hyperlink indexing the 66 illustrations in the new e-book. After that, it felt really good to get out in the woods.

Pulling taps at the end of sapping season.

It was the last sap pick-up for the year, so we helped the crew get started pulling taps, taking bags off the frames and getting stuff ready to put away until next spring. Meanwhile, Mike was back at the sap shack cooking syrup, which smelled heavenly.

I’m almost to the point with the new e-book where I can see the sweet, sweet end of the task. The next e-book I do will go faster, now that I sort of know what I’m doing. I’ll keep you posted on when this one is finished, and on what comes next. In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying your own rites of spring.

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Risking The Digital Empire

Cleaning up formatting errors in my new e-book on New Age Looping basics doesn’t produce many pictures that make the life of a fiber artist seem glamorous and exciting. But after I spent yesterday changing all my passwords and checking everywhere for the Heartbleed bug, this old one came to mind:
Donna Kallner is a fiber artist, not a trained IT professional.

Fear is a funny thing. I have no problem making mistakes with fiber materials or recipe ingredients. Those are things I understand. Fear doesn’t stop me from doing lots of other things I really don’t understand — like building my own web site or formatting e-books. For the most part, I figure I’ll learn from my mistakes and clean up later.

Bugs like this, on the other hand, really scare me. So I dropped what I was doing and took what seemed to be prudent measures to protect my digital empire, with a break for shoveling snow (yes, more snow).


For those of you who are registered in an online course at tworedthreads.com, rest assured: I found no cause for concern there from the Heartbleed bug. I was afraid it would require a forced password change for everyone on the site, but it looks like that won’t be necessary. Even so, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to change your own password there, and on the other sites you frequent. Remember to make them a tricky mix of capitals, lower case, numbers and symbols. And don’t use the same password for all your sites.

I’m about to throw caution to the wind, though, and risk my entire digital empire because of the proverbial final straw. The prudent thing (or so I read) was to switch to the Chrome browser with the Chromebleed plug in, which is supposed to alert you if you land on an infected site. But in this (expletive deleted) browser, I can only see HTML mode for composing in WordPress. This has no impact on you, dear reader, but it’s making me want to curl up with a trashy novel and some dark chocolate and potato chips. I’ll never get that e-book done if I do that.

So I’m going back to my Firefox browser and taking my chances. Sorry, Chrome — it’s not you, it’s me.

Here’s hoping you and yours are safe from malicious code, that it isn’t snowing where you are, and that none of us runs out of dark chocolate.

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Picot Bead Edging Video

Mosaic Bead Looping will be an online workshop, probably by the end of 2014. But in the meantime, I promised the students in my in-person workshop at Wisconsin Spin-In a short video of the picot bead edging used to finish the project.

Picot edging used on mosaic bead looping pouch by Donna Kallner

This versatile edging can be used on jewelry, bags, garments and other projects. But this video focuses on its application in bead looping.

Bead Picot Edging for New Age Looping Projects from Donna Kallner on Vimeo.

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The Rule Of 500

A comment, an observation, a word of encouragement, an offer of resources: It’s amazing how much impact a chance conversation can have.

Mosaic bead looping work in progress.

The morning and afternoon workshop sessions at Wisconsin Spin-In were separated by a four-hour gap, giving me plenty of time to linger over lunch, shop the vendors and visit with some friends. Finally, though, I found the corner of a table where I could work on a small bead looping project. When the mold jumped out of my hands and flew at two women seated nearby, they took the interruption gracefully and folded me into their company. Before long, we had found common interests in adult education, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Moodle (the Learning Management System I use for my online courses), and more.

On the drive home, a story from years ago came to mind. Back when my husband and I still had our whitewater canoe and kayak school, we had a student who was the director of a camp program in northern Minnesota. He’s the one who told us about the Rule of 500.

You can make a profound and positive impact on another life at least once in every 500 contacts — and you never know when you’re at 499.

I’m still mulling ideas sparked during that conversation at Spin In. Where those ideas may lead, I’m not yet sure. But I do know I feel like someone’s #500, and grateful for the wonderful, generous people you meet at fiber events.

Has a chance encounter had a profound and positive impact on your life? I’d love to hear about it in the Comments.


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Alternating Stitch Cord Video

Why it never occurred to me before, I can’t say. But last weekend at Wisconsin Weave Away, someone asked about a handout for the alternating stitch neck cord I teach at the end of the Burundi Looping class.

Burundi looping with Donna Kallner workshop students at Wisconsin Weave Away.

It’s a simple technique based on a structure that’s already familiar to students by the time I show it. And yet, students at conferences and retreats are usually getting tired by the time they see this. So I told them I would post a short video refresher. And here it is.

This will live on the page with other video resources I’ve posted for students. If you can’t find this page again to use that link, look at the menu bar at the top of this site. There’s a pull-down menu under “Students”. It’s at the bottom of that menu.

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Connecting The Dots

What kind of activity helps you when you need to connect the dots in your master plan? For me, preparing materials for upcoming workshops can do that. Sometimes. When I don’t have to count, or measure, or figure out some ingenious way to make an impossible amount fit into the space and weight allowed for checked luggage.

Materials prep for upcoming workshop.

When the tasks are simple and repetitive, I can let my mind wander. And with all the things floating around up there, it’s good to have some quiet time to connect some of the dots.

So while the class prep to-do list gets shorter, the master plan to-do list gets longer. And longer. But it’s exciting to contemplate those dots. Two more online courses to get going on. More e-books to do. Maybe even (do I dare?) a New Age Looping app for mobile devices.

In the meantime, I sipped tea and stuffed pincushions yesterday, and everything fell into place in my head. This morning, everything fell back out of place while I fought with a fussy browser. But those dots are all still there, just waiting to be re-connected.

And maybe soon we’ll have enough snow melted that I can work out some of these questions while walking the dogs. In the meantime, I might stuff some more pincushions I don’t really need.


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What Have You Improvised Lately?

I’m not as good as I should be about showing all the day-to-day missteps and recoveries in my work. Now that I’m on Instagram, I promise to try to do a better job, even when it looks like a bad version of the Chicken Dance. Because I’m not trying to hide anything. It’s just that I get wrapped up in figuring out how to get out of whatever corner I’ve painted myself into.

Freeform looping bag by Donna Kallner

That’s what happened last winter when I made this bag as a demonstration project for the Freeform Looping eCourse. I used cross-knit looping as an edging to cover the side seams in this bag. Since the strap wasn’t part of the lesson, I decided to see if I could transition from cross-knit looping to knit I-cord — while watching a DVD. It should come as no surprise that the strap started out too narrow, so I increased to the point where, well, let’s just say it was ugly. But the movie was good, so I kept going and figured out I could fix it or frog it.

Cross-knit looping added to knit I-cord.

I decided to fix it. I worked cross-knit over the ugly part of the I-cord where you start a new row after sliding the last row to the other end of the double point needles. That took a couple of episodes of Mad Men on DVD. Then I added some cross-knit looping that covered the joints between the original cross-knit edging and the I-cord. My guiding philosophy is, If you can’t fix it (or choose not to), feature it.

I finally remembered to show this because I’ve been listening to Mark Frauenfelder’s book Made By Hand: Searching For Meaning In A Throwaway WorldHe makes a great case for the value of mistakes in learning, whether it’s raising backyard chickens or making cigar box guitars or finding a way to meet your child’s learning style needs.

It reminded me of this great article from years ago by Malcolm Gladwell on Physical Genius.

Yo-Yo Ma says that only once, early in his career, did he try for a technically perfect performance. “I was seventeen,” he told me. “I spent a year working on it. I was playing a Brahms sonata at the 92nd Street Y. I remember working really hard at it, and in the middle of the performance I thought, I’m bored. It would have been nothing for me to get up from the stage and walk away. That’s when I decided I would always opt for expression over perfection.” It isn’t that Ma doesn’t achieve perfection; it’s that he finds striving for perfection to be banal. He says that he sometimes welcomes it when he breaks a string, because that is precisely the kind of thing (like illness or an injury to a teammate) that you cannot prepare for—that you haven’t chunked and, like some robot, stored neatly in long-term memory. The most successful performers improvise.

Doesn’t that want to make you want to cue up some Yo Yo Ma (Appalachia Waltz would be my choice) and paint yourself into a corner so you can chicken dance your way out?

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Springing Forward

There’s still a deep blanket of snow all around us. But it’s warmed up enough for me to turn the heat back on in my studio. In anticipation of flooding from the snowmelt, I’ve moved the sewing machine pedal up, unplugged everything, and finished one job that requires the big work table before I start stacking other things on it.

Irish waxed linen hand-painted by Donna Kallner.

For workshops coming up later this month, I needed more painted waxed linen. Years ago, Bill built me this lovely reel, which screws onto the table. The video below shows how I do this in smaller quantities.


In the meantime, I’m making good progress on adapting my print book New Age Looping to make it compatible with e-readers. But how to picture the process of editing an e-book in a visually compelling way? I haven’t figured that out. Yet.


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Slow Progress Is Still Progress

In some ways, the job of converting my print book New Age Looping for e-readers has felt like remodeling an old farmhouse: You sort of know what you want to do, but every time you started something there turns out to be six things you need to learn first. Then you realize you’ve done two of them totally wrong, and have to re-do them. And along the way you learn something you could do that would make the whole project soooo much better, so you have to back up four steps to incorporate it.

New Age Looping Skipped Stitch Patterns ebook by Donna Kallner
It’s been slow progress this week. But I’m proud to say I now have one small, modest e-book that should work on most e-reader platforms.

E-book on Galaxy tablet.

It’s a far cry from having the whole book converted, but it’s progress. New Age Looping: Skipped Stitch Patterns is adapted from a chapter in the print book. Last spring, when I was trying to figure out e-book formatting on my own, I excerpted it to Smashwords. The auto-vetter identified a number of problems that I kept meaning to fix but didn’t know how (insert remodeling analogy of your choice here). With the help of the online class I’m taking, I’ve been able to resolve most of those problems and tackle the big one.

Getting illustrations to work across e-reader platforms -- sucess at last.

The big one is getting instructional illustrations to work across so many e-reader platforms (Kindle, Nook, tablets, phones, PDFs, and who knows what else will be in common use the day after tomorrow). It might be easier to follow my sister’s advice and switch to writing bodice rippers, except I know more about bodice construction than plot pacing and character development. With text-only books, the copy flows from beginning to end with a chapter break here and there. But for books someone is going to use to learn from text plus illustrations? Well, the formatting is pretty important.

So now I’m in the process of reformatting every single illustration from my print book. This is as much fun as tearing out old polystyrene bead insulation. And I’m breaking the book into at least two segments to keep them within recommended file size limits. This one really hurts, because I wrote the book to present a progression of techniques that build on each other. So that one feels like kind of like this:

Burning down our old farmhouse as a fire department training exercise.

That picture is from 2002, when the local fire departments burned our old farmhouse as a training exercise after our new house was built. After the burn, we planted willow beds on that site and they thrive there.Hopefully, when I get all the formatting and tweaking and fussing done on these e-book editions, no one but me will even care that once upon a time this was here and that was there. It will all just work.
And then? The instructor says that in the last class we’re going to learn about building apps. I’m intrigued. What do you think?

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Learning To Format Ebooks

Last year, I ran up against something that turned out to be more complicated than it first appeared. And it didn’t get the benefit of my usual tenacity. Despite huge gaps in my skill set, dogged determination has helped me learn enough about WordPress and Moodle to build my own web site and online learning platform. Persistence pays off, even when you can’t quite see the payoff like you can with a stitch mastered or a lovely dye job.

Plant-dyed scarf by Donna Kallner.

But not when you don’t put in the effort. Last year, I had allotted one whole day (snort) to figuring out how offer a digital version of my print book New Age Looping. One day was just about enough to discover how many different e-reader platforms and formats there are. So I’ve been shuffling this task to “next month” over and over again. Until this week.

With my studio still closed up because of the extreme cold (20 below tonight, they say), I’m sadly lacking in beautiful, messy distractions. When this task cycled back to the top of my to-do list this time, I had no excuse.

So yesterday, I signed up for a 6-week online course in how to publish ebooks through the local technical college. The course content comes from Ed2Go, which produced the course I took on blogs and podcasts in 2009, right after we got off dial-up. I think I paid $60 for that course, and it was definitely a good investment.

This ebooks course actually started last week, so I spent yesterday catching up on the first three lessons.  I’ve already gotten my money’s worth. And by the end of the class, I’ll have a digital edition of my book that should work on whatever e-reader you use — and one thing off my to-do list for good.

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