Peeling For White Willow

Finding white willow to cleave for an upcoming project was not as simple as it sounds. So I’ve had plenty of incentive to start peeling my own for future use. Bill shot this short video last week to help remind me of what I learned about peeling willow with a brake. That’s the tool in the video that looks like a giant bobby pin.

My best results came from when I made several passes through the brake of just the butt, then from mid-rod, and finally from the tip of the rod.

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Cleaving White Willow

In the U.S., it’s not easy to buy white willow (willow that has had the bark peeled off). You just about have to grow it and peel it yourself. This spring I’m doing just that for future needs. But for an upcoming project this spring, it’s been a scramble to find enough white willow. Joanna Schanz gave us some she had ordered from (I think) Belgium. And I was able to purchase some from Dunbar Gardens. After a day of soaking and mellowing overnight wrapped in a damp beach towel, the cleave went through that U.S.-grown willow like a hot knife through butter.

white willow split with a cleave.

A cleave is that egg-shaped wooden object in the photo. To use it, you make a couple of starter cuts in the butt end of a willow rod, then slip the sharp edges of the cleave into the starter cuts. Then you guide the rod toward the cleave, which acts sort of like a woodsplitting wedge. My cleave splits a rod into three pieces.
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An Old Tub For Soaking Willow

Having no close neighbors and an indulgent husband, I’m able to keep an old bathtub in the back yard. I don’t use it every year, but for soaking willow or retting bark it’s sure comes in handy. This time, I’m using it to soak some peeled willow I need to get split.


I use weights from an old barbell set to keep the willow submerged. Otherwise, the willow floats. Continue reading An Old Tub For Soaking Willow

Getting Loopy At Vesterheim

Earlier this month, Vesterheim was the site of a fun weekend gathering of nalbinders. The event was the brainchild of Kate Martinson, who teaches the looping technique and other fiber art workshops at the Norwegian-American museum in Decorah, Iowa.

Nalbinding rug at Vesterheim.

It was a great weekend for learning and connecting with other nalbinders, and another chance to visit the museum’s textile collection.

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Pitting Willow To Peel

There’s another willow experiment in the works at my place this spring. It’s called pitting, though I suspect most willow producers would call my jerry-rigged system optimistic.

imageI have freshly cut willow standing in a plastic tub filled with water. To keep it from falling over, I commandeered a heavy belt sander stand that wasn’t being used in Bill’s shop. It worked: We had an extra-blustery March day last week, and the tallest willow shifted but did not tip over.

These will stand in water until the buds break,  the rods send out root shoots, and the bark slips very easily. Then I will use a tool called a willow brake to peel the rods. There’s a great post on Lois Walpole’s blog about this process.

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A New Season Of Experiments

The more I learn, the more I want to know. So here is my latest willow bark natural dye experiment.

Willow bark alkaline extraction natural dye experiment.

Last year I wrote about the alkaline extraction method I’ve been using. This year, I want to see how shredding the bark changes the results I get.

Willow bark alkaline extract natural dye experiment -- broken versus shredded.

So this afternoon I started two jars. The jar on the left is filled with bark broken by hand the way I’ve been doing it. For the jar on the right, I took the added step of shredding the bark in the coffee grinder.

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A Gathering Of Nalbinders

Vesterheim is hosting a gathering of nalbinders in a few weeks, and I’ll be one of the presenters. If you can possibly get to Decorah, Iowa the first weekend in April, I hope you can join us!

Nalbinding at Vesterheim in Decorah, Iowa.

Details and registration are here, but here’s a peek at the program:


  • An evening of relaxed working time and sharing
  • Fulling station and advice for objects needing finishing
  • Advanced check-in for those coming to Decorah early — 3:00-5:00 p.m.


  • Doors open – 8:30 a.m.
  • Official Welcome
  • What’s Next? Embellishing Your Nålbinding Workshop with Sue Flanders and Janine Kosel
  • Swatch display and Show and Tell on display
  • Book signing with Sue Flanders, Janine Kosel, and Donna Kallner
  • New Age Looping Trunk Show–Donna Kallner
  • ABCs of Teaching Simple Looping–Donna Kallner
  • Tour of Vesterheim’s exhibition From Underwear to Everywhere: Norwegian Sweaters
  • Evening gathering for working on projects or new skills


  • Doors open – 8:30 a.m.
  • Cross-Knit Looping On The Edge—Donna Kallner
  • Door Prizes
  • Official ending 12:00 (Blue Heron Knittery – store in downtown Decorah open for shopping)

Special Program Descriptions

What’s Next? Embellishing Your Nålbinding
Explore ways to embellish your nålbinding project with a variety of techniques. Needle felting, embroidery and/or crochet are some of the wonderful ways to add color and texture to your completed piece. Bring a sample of fulled wool fabric to explore the possibilities of embellishment. Bring a needle felting needle, crochet hook (size to match your yarn), and/or a sharp big eye embroidery needle. We will have a variety of needle point yarn) and a sharp big-eye embroidery needle.

New Age Looping Trunk Show
Nålbinding belongs to a large and diverse family of techniques called looping. This living legacy from the Stone Age continues to evolve as today’s fiber artists give it their own spin. This session includes a lecture and Powerpoint program presenting artifacts from six of our seven continents, the living traditions of indigenous people, and the art and craft of contemporary looping. You’ll also get a hands-on tour through a suitcase full of samples showing a vast array of possibilities created with variations on this family of techniques.

ABCs of Teaching Simple Looping
Simple looping is a great gateway to nålbinding. This session presents a model for teaching the technique to adults and children, plus 25 other elements of successful teaching and learning experiences, including learning styles, teaching progressions, gender influences on learning, and much more.

Cross-Knit Looping On The Edge
Nålbinders call it Coptic Stitch and jewelry makers call it Viking knitting. It’s all the same structure though—cross-knit looping. This stitch variation has many uses, including reinforcing edges and joining panels of woven fabrics, felt, or knitting. In this session you’ll learn how to completely enclose a seam or edge. This is portable handwork you can do in fragments of time with just a tapestry needle and yarn.

In Praise Of The Undershirt

Where I live, this winter has been thoughtfully short on bitter, blustery weather. Even so, we keep our house pretty cool. So I’ve taken to wearing undershirts. Yep — just like Mom made us wear when we were kids.

Refashioned merino wool sweater into undershirt.

This one started life in someone else’s closet. When I found it in a thrift shop, it was a size too small for me, with a too-tight turtleneck and too-tight long sleeves.  But it was a nice, soft merino wool and it was a dollar, so I bought it. To refashion it, I cut off the turtleneck and sleeves and hand-stitched new stretchy seams at the neck and armholes. And it sure felt good on some of this year’s coldest days.

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Process Or Product?

What generally drives you — process or product? I tend to fall strongly in the process camp. Tweak this, vary that, see what happens: That never gets old for me. But sometimes at the end of the day you crave tangible evidence that you got something done. So here it is: a lecture, a class outline, and an experiment working Broden stitch nalbinding from a rosette start, trying to push it from round to lozenge-shaped, then cutting the spiral (yes, one row was lost but the rest held).

Nalbinding from a round start, cut sample.

I tend to work things out by making them. The same is true for my writing: I write to figure out what it is I have to say. This winter, with my dye studio on hiatus, I’ve been alternating my time between looping experiments and writing projects for the Daily Yonder, a blog from the Center for Rural Strategies. They just published one of the hardest things I’ve ever written — an article about surviving a crash caused by a drunk driver. The crash was 18 years ago, and it’s taken me a long time to work out what I was supposed to learn from it.

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Nalbinding Milk Strainer Video

This video from the Norsk Folkemuseum came to my attention last week via a 2015 post at I’ve added it to the unorganized collection on my Looping Links page, but had to call it to your attention. Strainers for milk and beer-making have fascinated me since I was first able to borrow Odd Nordland’s book Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting from interlibrary loan.

You’ll find spinning the hair fiber (I believe) at 6:00, stitching the strainer at 7:50, adding thread at 9:39, and then she pours milk through the strainer.

I’m so grateful for the filmmakers who captured these traditions, the folk museums who preserve them, and the generous souls share these findings!