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?

Strong Brew – Willow Leaf Dye

Through what seemed to be an endless winter here in northern Wisconsin, there was a five gallon bucket sitting outside my studio. It’s been slowly brewing dye, and it turned out to be a strong brew.

Bucket of willow leaf dye overwintered.

In late October, I packed the bucket with willow leaves and filled it with water. It froze, pushing the leaves up above the rim. It was covered with snow, and eventually the snow melted.

Cold-brewed willow leaf dye.

On Monday, I finally got around to checking on the bucket. I pulled out most of the leaves, then strained the liquid.

Cold-brewed willow leaf natural dye.

In case you’re wondering, it smells nice — kind of like very strong black tea, which is also what it looks like.

Bundles simmering in willow leaf dyebath.

I popped some silk scarf bundles into a bath of the willow leaf brew. They should be ready to open in a few days.

Natural dye bundles yet to be opened.

I put those willow leaves back in the bucket, filled it with water, and have it sitting outside the studio again. As the weather warms up, we’ll see if I can get another dyebath (or two) with good color and a pleasant fragrance before it starts to stink.

Good Enough Is Better Than Perfect

You may recognize the discomfort of a recovering perfectionist when I say that for now, good enough is better than perfect. Remind me later, okay?

Dye garden to be, maybe.

I fully intended to get seeds started and plant a small dye garden this year to supplement the plant material I already grow and gather. But winter hung on a long, long time this year. There was travel, some expected, some not. And then it was May, and no plants were started. I didn’t even have the bed ready.

Natural dye seed to plant.

Last week a window of opportunity opened. So I grabbed a grub hoe and direct-sowed seeds. Anything I get will be more than what I would have if I never got anything in the ground at all.

Dyers broom seeds.

I did take time to scarify and soak the dyer’s broom seeds before planting. But those seeds didn’t get any other advantages.

Planting dyer's broom.

If I had been on top of things last fall, I would have prepared beds and sowed them then, letting them stay buried under the snow we had all winter. We’ve had great success with perennials and self-seeding annual wildflowers sown that way. But I didn’t get that done. So instead, I’m hoping for the best from the best I could do. And it might even turn out fine. After all, some years we get our best tomatoes from volonteer plants that pop up in unexpected places.

The Trouble With Space-Dyed Yarns

Students in my online classes know my preference for tonal threads, which I dye or paint myself. This project reminded me why I steer away from space-dyed threads in most looping projects.

Looping necklace with shell center.I’ve been meaning to overdye this silk thread, which I acquired some time back. But Mother’s Day kind of snuck up on me this year. Even if it feels more like March than May, Mother’s Day is Sunday. So yesterday I plugged in an audio book and got busy.

Space-dyed thread and shell for looping project.

As-is, the colors of the thread worked with a shell piece I wanted to incorporate into a necklace for my mom. And the colors look like a Florida sunset — perfect for Mom. So I figured I could make it work, despite the weird “puddling” effect I generally get from space-dyed yarns.

Oval start from needle chain.

I used a needle chain start to make an oval piece that covered the back of the shell.

Looping necklace with shell and beads work-in-progress.

Then I decreased to cradle the shell in a silky “bezel”, edging it with a non-picot version of the beading technique in this video.

Shell necklace with beading work-in-progress.

To complete the pendant, I worked more looping, incorporating some beads, around the shell. The neck strap is where the space-dyed puddling became a problem.

Looping necklace work-in-progress.

Mom’s skin is very sensitive, so for necklace straps I generally stick with silk and/or beads — no metal closures. Mom prefers her necklaces shortish, so instead of a continuous piece that slips over the head I planned a two-piece fiber “chain” with a loop and button closure. My first attempt was a double needle chain, which looked awful with the space-dyed puddling. After unstitching that, I used a single needle chain with bead looping along both edges of the chain. The extra thread from the bead looping helped mask the puddles a bit. This is what it looked like while blocking.

Blocking the finished necklace.

I’ve had students do amazing work with space-dyed yarns by carefully cutting out short lengths of the colors they wanted. It’s reasonable to manage all those thread additions in the looping structure. But working in a lot of ends on a long needle chain is not much fun. A Russian join should work on a plied yarn, but I didn’t even try it on this silk. I just decided to live with the puddles.

When it’s worn, I don’t think the splotchy colors on the strap will be the first thing other people notice. What I hope they notice is Mom’s smile when she wears it.


New Age Looping Good Start E-Book Launches

It’s kind of a thrill to write this: I now have an Amazon Author Page. My formatting has passed the test. The Kindle version of New Age Looping: Guide To Getting A Great Start is now for sale on Amazon. I know some of you have been waiting ages for me to get this done. Thanks so much for your patience!

I'm now an Amazon Author.

If you have a different type of e-reader, other formats are available on Smashwords. Those should also be available soon on Barnes & Noble, Apple and other channels.

E-book available on Smashwords.

And for good measure, I’ve added a PDF digital download version to my Etsy shop.

PDF version available on Etsy.

It’s been a huge learning curve for me to get the formatting right so the e-book would work on so many different devices. I now have a cheat sheet that should save some aggravation next time. And I have lots of ideas for e-books to work on next. I wrote a bit more about my plans here. But I’m always open to suggestions. Want to help bump something to the top of the list? Tell me in the comments below.

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.