Fun With Fermentation – Natural Dye Experiments

It’s a good thing Bill started his autumn homebrewing this week. The aroma of soon-to-be beer helped mask the clinging odor of fermented walnut hull dye on yarn while it soaked out in the the bathroom.

Yarns naturally dyed with black walnut hulls and other local materials.

The smell washes out of the yarn and the color is lovely. But the odor in the bathroom is nothing compared to how my studio smelled while that yarn was simmering. Peeeuw.

Fermentation experiments with staghorn sumac drupes and hop vines.

I’ve had a couple more stinky fermentation experiments going lately. Staghorn sumac drupes (berries) counted as a success, both from color on the yarn and general lack of nastiness. Hops, on the other hand, counted as double peeeuw. On top of the smell, I have to be extra careful with hops disposal because of our dogs. Anything truly odiferous is irresistible to them. Rolling in it would be bad, but hops are poisonous to dogs so ingesting it would be worse. I won’t be fermenting hops again, especially if I won’t be home and reliable enough to check and stir them every day.

Natural dye fermentation extraction experiments.

I just started a couple more fermentation experiments — one with willow leaves and another with Siberian iris leaves (covered with paper bags). I hereby resolve to attend to them every day, but I still expect them to stink. What may not stink is the other experiment in the big jars — an alkaline bark extraction technique. One jar is willow bark, the other birch bark. This technique is from Jenny Dean’s new book, A Heritage of Colour.

Jenny Dean's book A Heritage Of Colour.

To get a red color in the basswood bark I use for looping, I boil it with wood ashes to make the bath alkaline. So I have high hopes for these extractions. Stay tuned. But maybe if you visit soon you’ll want to take a whiff before the hello hugs!

Stocking Up On Inspiration

Last weekend was a great one for inspiration and ideas, which are still buzzing in my head. Now that stuff is unpacked and I’ve washed the yarns from my Saturday afternoon demo, I have some time for winding yarn into balls and pondering.

Sock yarn leftovers overdyed with Kool-Aid.

The Gathering at Sievers School of Fiber Arts is one of my favorite places to stock up on inspiration as well as fiber. The inspiration is my favorite part, but I came home with my share of tangible items, as well, from this biennial event.

Finished project photo from a former student.

On Friday, I managed to get a few pictures, like this one of a former student showing the end result of a project she began in my class.

Books and patterns at the Sievers fiber art garage sale.

I had good intentions of snapping lots of pictures all weekend, like this one of some of the books and patterns in the fiber art garage sale on Saturday morning.

"Knit while watching television, trim in your spare time."

Contrary to expectation, I came home with only a handful of vintage books and patterns….

Yarn and more yarn at the Sievers garage sale.

…and one small bag of yarn (but that bag was a luscious angora/silk/cashmere blend). People donate so generously to this event, which raised $2,300 dollars and will benefit two Washington Island non-profits — the Art & Nature Center and the Friends of Plum & Pilot Islands.

Donna Kallner demo at The Gathering at Sievers in 2014.

The picture-taking part of my brain shut off on Saturday when there was so much going on, so I’m borrowing some pictures from Carolyn Foss’s post about The Gathering on the Sievers blog. That’s me above, doing my “New Life For Leftovers” demonstration. The scent of simmering Kool-Aid drew in people who learned how quick and simple it can be to overdye wool and silk yarns. Now that they’ve had that taste of a “gateway dye,” I hope they’re addicted to the possibilities of overdyeing. Much of what I used for the demo was stuff I bought at the Sievers garage sale at the 2012 Gathering.

Donna Kallner visits with rug hooker Betty Heath at The Gathering at Sievers 2014.

In the afternoon, I had a chance to visit the vendors and see the other demos, including this one by rug hooker Betty Heath. The rug hookers went above and beyond in the inspiration department, winning both Viewers Choice awards.

Betty Heath's hooked rug at The Gathering at Sievers 2014.

Show And Tell was an absolute blast! People were so generous in sharing all kinds of work, from wearables to samples to challenges.

Show & Tell at The Gathering at Sievers 2014.

I wish I had pictures of more of the pieces from Show & Tell, and had taken time to make notes about some of the stories people shared. But I can tell you that while Pat Hewitt knit the elegant wearables in the photo above for people, what she was binding off that afternoon was a sweater for the new puppy coming into her home soon. And that the elegant model in the center above (whose own creations are always stunning) finds some of her inspiration on the water on a stand-up paddleboard.

Show & Tell items from The Gathering at Sievers 2014.

People shared items that came from all kinds of inspiration sources — from family to favorite places to travel, life experience, classes, and more. It’s amazing to see students of Daryl Lancaster model garments that fit perfectly, busting the myth that some of our figures are “flawed” when what’s really flawed is the fit — and that can be fixed. We had “weaver’s poker,” overshot in unconventional colors, a basket made from scraps fished out of the trash in a class, and much more.

Empty Bowls display at The Gathering.

But what really pegged my inspiration meter was all the ways people contribute to their communities. The island is blessed with quilters who make something warm and meaningful for every kid who graduates from their small school, every resident of a halfway house in Sturgeon Bay, plus many others distributed locally and around the world. And island quilters participate in the Quilts of Valor project. Papermaker Linda Hoppe, who is also a ceramic artist, shared her community’s Empty Bowls project. I even showed the sample for the aviation windsock project for the rural fire department that is so important to my own community.

Contributing to your community can be like overdyeing yarn: First you think, “Is this worth the effort?” And then something kind of wonderful happens. I’ve written about that on other occasions, but haven’t used the yarn analogy because this one is a new discovery.

Wool garage sale yarns and felt overdyed with Kool-Aid.

In 2012 at the Sievers Gathering, I bought a cake of mystery yarn. The burn test indicated wool. It felt like nice yarn, but it wasn’t a nice gray. So I held it back for an experiment before this demo. I wanted to see if I could leave out the steps of winding and tying the yarn into a skein and just dye the center-pull cake of yarn. So I wetted it thoroughly and popped it into a saucepan of water with two packages of grape Kool-Aid. At one point, I used a slotted spoon to flip the cake over, hoping it would dye more or less evenly. After cooling and draining, I was convinced that I had ruined the yarn by felting it with rough handling.

So I plugged the center with some waste yarn and shoved the cake into the toe of a nylon stocking. That went in the washer with a couple different loads of clothes, then into the dryer on high heat. When I took it out of the stocking, I expected a pin cushion. Instead, the plugs dropped out and the yarn pulls beautifully from the center. Only the outer layer is slightly felted. Inside, there’s enough to knit a kid-size hat, which I’ll donate to a local charity. If I were a kid, I’d want purple instead of gray.

In every community, there’s a need for volunteers. Or for makers who donate their work to those in need. Or those who donate their work to raise funds for good causes. When it keeps leftovers out of the waste stream, that’s even better.

There are many ways for us to put our talents to work for the good of others, and much joy and inspiration that come from connecting with others. So I’d love to hear: What do you make for community or charity?

A Windsock For Show And Tell

In grade school, my go-to items for show-and-tell were a perfume vial of my mother’s and a bonnet my dad brought back from Scotland when he was in the Army. This weekend, I’m taking something very different to Sievers for show-and-tell at the at the Gathering, which includes a new category this year — “Made for Charity or Community.” I’ll post pictures next week of the things other people bring. For now, though, I’ll tell you about the windsock sample I’m taking.

Wind sock for fire department.

Trust me, it doesn’t look this good, and this one is nothing to brag about construction-wise. I’m having trouble with thread tension on this slippery nylon, and in the future I’ll alter the assembly process suggested by the plans I found online. But the ugly sample I’m taking helped get our local volunteer fire department closer to a decent windsock to loft when setting up a landing zone for a medical helicopter.

Volunteer fire departments set up landing zones for medical helicopters.

There’s a helipad at the hospital in Antigo. But that can be a long way, especially for the volunteer ambulance crews to our east. The ball field in Langlade is a convenient spot for for transferring a critical patient to a medical flight crew. So when the pager goes off, members of our volunteer fire department head there, set up cones and lights (if it’s dark), and communicate with the pilot by radio about features and conditions in the landing zone, which include power lines on the north side.

Flagging tape on a pole as wind indicator.

For years, wind conditions have been measured by a piece of flagging tape tied to a post. A windsock would be much more visible from the air.

Assembling windsock for med evac landing zone.

So Firefighter Dave Worden soldered a copper tubing hoop, and I stitched up the fabric. My husband Bill (the Assistant Chief) installed the grommets and assembled the windsock on a threaded rod. The rod can be zip-tied to a post or vehicle — not just at the ball diamond but in a field or wherever else they set up a landing zone.

Landing zone set up in a field in rural northern Wisconsin.

I should be embarrassed to let anyone see the sample I made from fabric I scrounged from a pair of nylon wind pants (too small) and a hoop I bent myself (also too small). But our department’s windsock is stowed in the equipment van and it stays here. I hope they don’t need it while I’m gone, but they’ve been paged out to set up landing zones three times in the past month.


Instead, I’ll take the ugly almost-full-sized sample I made, and be proud of what it represents — a caring community.

If you’re heading to The Gathering this weekend, I can’t wait to see what you bring for show and tell. And you can be absolutely certain that your craftsmanship will shine in comparison!

New Life For Leftovers

When people know you do things with fabric or yarn, they become very generous with their leftovers. Sometimes there’s gold in other people’s passalongs and the stuff you haul home yourself from thrift stores and garage sales. And sometimes you wind up with stuff that’s too good to pass on but not quite right for anything you do. That’s why for The Gathering at Sievers this weekend I’m doing a demonstration called New Life For Leftovers.

Overdyed garage sale yarns.

These are some yarns I picked up at the garage sale at The Gathering in 2012 and and overdyed to give them the tonal quality I like in most projects.

Creative challenge from leftover fabric.

This beast is from one of my favorite creativity challenges — creating a 3-dimensional object from the odd shapes of fabric left over from cutting a garment.

Kool-Aid dye on wool.

On Saturday I’ll demonstrate fiber reactive dyes on cotton. For wool and silk leftovers I’ll show what I consider “gateway dyes” for getting people hooked on dyeing — tea and Kool-Aid.

Lime Kool-Aid on recycled wool.

That’s lemon-lime Kool-Aid on the leg of a pair of formerly white wool trousers my mom gave me, and a small lavender sachet made from the fabric.

Table mat woven on a potholder loom using overdyed recycled wool yarn.

At The Gathering, I always try to include things that people can see themselves doing with kids. Or kids with years of experience. Or anyone who enjoys quick, easy hacks that transform odds and ends of yarns and fabrics into materials they will enjoy using.

Sievers 2012 Gathering fiber art garage sale.

They might even use them to give new life to some of their Sievers garage sale treasures. This year, proceeds from the Sievers garage sale will be shared with the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands and the Washington Island Art and Nature Center. You can always feel good about buying at this garage sale!

My car is packed with demo supplies, and my own donations for the garage sale. By making a bit of room on my bookshelves, I can justify buying the books others donate, right?

Hope to see you at The Gathering!

Bits And Pieces Week

Quilters are masters of “bits and pieces” thinking. My favorite quilts are usually the ones made from scraps from other projects, pieced together to make something new and whole and wonderful. Sometimes it feels like I do the same with time — taking scraps of minutes here and there and piecing them together. This has been one of those weeks.

Show and tell at the Cut Ups quilt guild.

On Tuesday I did a low water immersion dye demonstration for the Cut Ups Quilt Guild, which meets on the opposite side of the county where I live. For me, it’s a rare treat to have a booking where the travel is so simple.

Hand-dyed fabrics and digital fabrics by Donna Kallner.

On Monday, I packed up materials, including a few pieces I dyed that day to let batch overnight so I could rinse and reveal during the demo. The car was warm from the sun when I loaded it, but it was late in the day and cooling off quickly. So I put the fabric in a small cooler with a jar of hot water and covered it all with towels. There was frost on the windshield the next morning, so the colors were maybe a tad less vibrant than they could have been if I had batched inside where it was warm and loaded in the morning.

Set up for dyeing demo for quilt guild.

After the program and a lovely potluck lunch, I poked my way home, stopping at some spots along the Wolf River that I don’t get to all that often. It was a glorious day for playing hooky.

Lower Post Lake Dam on the Wolf River.

I picked up some windfall leaves here and there to press for winter ecoprint projects.

Autumn leaves to press for winter ecodye projects.

When I got home, the pieces I had dyed in the demo were pretty chilly. I put them in a plastic bin and floated the bin in warm water in the laundry tub, covering the tub with old towels to hold in the warmth. The next day when I rinsed out the soda ash, the colors looked OK but again, maybe not as vibrant as they would have been if I had kept them warmer. After rinsing, I left them to soak in cold water while I collected and pressed more leaves.

Spayed, and back in the cone to keep from licking.

Thursday was Blue’s day to be spayed, so I took her to the vet and did my weekly errands in town, got things put away, and visited with a neighbor. Then I had just about an hour to do two hot water washes of that fabric before going back to town to bring home our poor pup, who is back in the cone to keep her from licking and on the leash to slow her down while she heals.

As soon as I can, I’ll get Bill to help shoot a short video of me using the wringer washer for the hot water washes on the quilting fabric I dye. It’s surprisingly easy to work an old-fashioned washer into my bits and pieces of time. It’s a bit harder to find time for Bill to shoot video, but that’s what we’ll have to do. There isn’t room to set up a tripod in the basement utility room, and my hands are pretty busy during the parts of the process you want to see. During the other parts (agitation), I’m doing filing and other not-exciting bits and pieces tasks in the other part of the basement. You definitely don’t want to see that.

In the meantime, the dog is healing quickly (and the vet did a lovely job of stitching her incision). And it’s a breezy fall day, so I’ll pick up more windfall leaves to press this afternoon after I finish a few more domestic chores. I hope you’ve pieced together some time to enjoy people you met, places you visited, and things you did this week!

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.