As The Calendar Turns

There’s only a month left for me to finish a nalbinding hat for Bill’s birthday in March. It’s hard to keep this kind of gift a secret when I keep asking him to try it on.  But he bought into my family’s tradition of “gift amnesia” years ago and applies selective memory as needed.

Two-color nalbinding hat is a gift work-in-progress.

He might be a little surprised, though, after all the upheaval of recent weeks, if I actually get it done in time. But it’ll be tough for him to pretend he didn’t know: I have to use his head to block it on when I full the finished hat.

February kind of snuck up on me and I just got the calendar flipped today. But there’s a lot of great stuff on this page. For one thing, February is when registration opens for Sievers classes.

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The Willow Handout

Among the things that fell off my radar in the past few months is sharing this handout about willow that I made for the final project in the ethnobotany class I took last fall.

Willow for natural color grown in Wisconsin by Donna Kallner.

I didn’t elaborate on willow as a natural dye material in the handout. People in the class had already seen naturally dyed yarns I had taken for show and tell. And you’ve seen plenty of posts here on that topic.

The instructor for that ethnobotany course, Stephanie Aleman, will teach another continuing ed course in the spring. It’s called Appreciating the Ephemeral Flora of Wisconsin. It’s six sessions in April and early May, and will include field trips. I know where she was planning to take the class and would really, really like to see that wonderful place with her as a guide. But things are still too up in the air for me to put something else on my calendar. Yet.

But if you’re in central Wisconsin, you might check it out. It was well worth the 2-1/2 hour round trip drive every week last fall!


Plotting The 2016 Indigo Crop

Last year was my first effort at growing Japanese indigo in northern Wisconsin. That’s if you don’t count the year before, when I threw a few seeds at a small patch of bare dirt sometime in June. Nothing Jack And The Beanstalk-y happened then. But a little more effort produced magic in 2015. So it’s normal to want more in 2016, right?

Japanese indigo container-grown in northern Wisconsin.

Since the seed is a bit pricey, I was hoping to save seed from the plants I grew last summer. But they got a late start (are you sensing a theme here), and we have a short growing season.

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Regrouping For The New Year

“Make hay while the sun shines.” We actually did make hay when I was a kid, and I still live pretty well tuned to the season.  So back in mid-November, I was taking advantage of the lack of snow to gather material and do natural dyeing with fresh materials before winter set in. I thought the sun would shine, metaphorically, long enough for me to dye and get a bunch of new scarves photographed and listed in my Etsy shop for holiday sales before a short trip to visit my parents. Of course, you know what happens to a plan like that.

Wool yarn plant-dyed with mullein leaves.

Good thing I blogged about it so I knew what that yarn was dyed with when I found it again six weeks later.

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Tool Tips For Natural Dyeing

Lately, I’ve moved a few underused appliances out of the kitchen and into the studio. And I’m kicking myself for waiting this long.

Dehydrating willow leaves to grind.

The dehydrator won’t be missed in the kitchen. I just never got in the habit of using it there. But in the studio, it didn’t take long to decide it’s invaluable. I’ve been using it to dry willow leaves, which I then use an old coffee grinder to turn into a coarse powder. And that’s just the start. Continue reading Tool Tips For Natural Dyeing

Sievers Natural Dye Retreat

If there’s something even better than having a burner for everyone and a floor where spills don’t matter, it’s a big patch of dye materials right out the back door and great companions while harvesting, brewing and learning.

Students in Sievers 2015 Natural Dye Retreat with willow harvest.

Students in the Natural Dye Retreat at Sievers started their week by cutting material from the willow patch on campus. It’s beautiful material for dyeing as well as for basketmaking. I’ll write more about the specifics of willow dyeing soon (I haven’t forgotten, Frances!). But for now, here’s a picture of a wool-silk yarn dyed with willow leaves (salix alba vitellina) and modifiers from a demo I did while the fresh-leaf Japanese indigo pot was heating.

Yarn naturally dyed with willow leaves, and a modifier sample set.
From left: Dyed with leaves of Salix Alba Vitellina, baking soda modifier (no heat), copper liquor modifier (heated), willow/iron liquor modifier with COT (brief low heat), white pine bark alkaline extract modifier (no heat)

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On Invasives And Plant Dyes

At what point are invaders considered naturalized? That’s been a central topic in a class I’m taking this fall on the ethnobotany of Central Wisconsin. A recurring theme has been how one person’s weed is another’s food or medicinal plant — or natural dye.

Buckthorn -- invasive weed and natural dye plant.

It wasn’t on the syllabus, but buckthorn came into the discussion early in the class. We’ve all tried and failed to stop the spread of this European invader. Buckthorn leafs out early and holds its leaves late, often shading native plants. And it produces a huge amount of fruit, making it easy for birds that eat the fruit to disperse the seed where they poop, making more buckthorn. It has spread so widely now in our area that it seems likely here to stay. Which led to the question, “What will people think of it in 400 years?”

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At Last, Nalbinding

It’s taken almost 20 years, but I think I finally have a handle on one species of the looping genus known as nalbinding (or nalebinding, or naalbinding…).

My WIP in nalbinding class

Last weekend I traveled to Iowa to Vesterheim, the national Norwegian-American Museum, for a 3-day class in their Folk Art School with Kate Martinson, an Emeritus Professor of Art at Luther College in Decorah.

The first time someone showed me how to do a nalbinding stitch would have been about 1996. By that time, I had been looping for a while and was pretty comfortable with the basic structure and concepts. But it’s one thing to see someone stitch in nalbinding and another (at least as an adult) to translate watching into doing. Especially with nalbinding, where you work into both the back and the front of the piece

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Natural Dye Play: pH And Heat

Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing with some natural dye process variations. On Saturday, I took some of my experiments to show at a demo at our local farmers market. I love doing demos at the market, and thought this would be a perfect time to celebrate the color potential of what you can grow or gather in this area.

Natural dye demo at the farmers market.

For the demo, I took some of solar dyed yarns. After last year’s fermented dye experiments, I was a bit reluctant to venture back into the realm of reek. But I thought it was worth taking a chance to see if the addition of alum to a jar of solar extraction would give results worth the potential stink.

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