Going With The Flow

Sometimes you just have to let an idea evolve.

Shoal by Donna Kallner.

The exhibition piece I was working on in my last post was finished, but it was 20 below zero. About all we could do in those temperatures was drive around looking for suitable sites where it could be photographed.

Bridge in winter.

Deep snow, extreme cold and wind meant my original idea of hanging the elements from a bridge near my home was going to be more difficult than doable. Ditto Hanging Elements Plans B and C.

Work in progress by Donna Kallner.

So I played with the elements, and kept coming back to the idea that they looked like a shoal of fish. So we reassessed options and went with Plan D. But since that involved possibly standing in freezing water, it seemed prudent to wait until it got a bit warmer. Today, it was positively balmy with temperatures above 20 degrees. So Bill and I went to shoot the piece this afternoon after he got home.

Rural artist Donna Kallner positioning looping installation in water.

With air temperatures 30 degrees warmer than when we scouted, there was more open water and much more current. The water is only about a foot deep, but Bill’s felt-soled wading boots offered more secure footing than my tall rubber boot. So I went up on the bridge and my wonderful, generous, supportive husband stood in the water positioning the piece while I took photos standing on a ladder on the bridge.

Bill Kallner positioning artwork by Donna Kallner for photography.

It was a little late when we got started so we didn’t have quite enough daylight to get all the shots I wanted — especially since my battery got cold and I had to warm it up a couple of times. So we’ll probably shoot again in a couple of days. By the time we return, the ice will have changed and our plans may have to evolve a bit to suit the conditions we find then. We’ll go with the flow and see what happens then.

What You Can’t Fix, Feature

At least 20 years ago, I read something I remember as “the 4th rule of marketing — if you can’t fix it, feature it.” That advice has served me well. Instead of getting bogged down trying to make the impossible happen or playing that spirit-crushing game, “I can’t because I don’t have the money,” I try very hard to focus on what I can do.

Work in progress by Donna Kallner.

One of the things I’ve been unable to fix in my career as a fiber artist is the challenge of getting professional-quality images for exhibition juries. Other artists in rural areas manage, but I’m often too close to the deadline to send my work off for someone else to shoot. Or I just can’t scrape up the money for both the jury fee and professional photography. So I shoot my own images for my web site, class listings and most things I need. I get by, thanks to my friend Sarah McEneaney, who helped me jerry-rig my first in-house photo studio in the creepy, bat-infested basement of our old farmhouse.

Back then, juries and publishers all wanted slides. I really worked at improving my lighting and composition skills, and my photos got better. But my shots have always lacked the polish of a professional photographer. Finally, I just accepted that and gave myself permission to do the best I can with the skills and equipment I have and to pass on opportunities that require images I can’t produce myself.

Work in progress for NBO 2015 exhibition.

Mostly. This year, as an instructor at the 2015 National Basketry Organization biennial conference, I’ll have work included in the exhibition, for which there will be a full-color printed catalog. That’s not something I want to pass on.

The images are due February 1. As you might suspect, I’m still stitching, so there’s no chance I can send this out and have someone else shoot it. Every scheme I considered for photographing it myself as an indoor installation felt like something that would fall short. Since I can’t fix those circumstances, I came up with a “feature it” plan.

Ripple Effect for 20 for 20 exhibition at the Textile Center.

Last year I loved photographing Ripple Effect in the water before it went into the gallery at The Textile Center. All the water in my neighborhood is frozen right now, so I can’t float the elements and shoot them that way. But I can hang a temporary outdoor installation and photograph that.

Scouting sites for art installation photography.

I have a few locations in mind, including this bridge (photographed last October). I may have to enlist some helpers, including a few devoted to praying it’s not still 20 below zero when we shoot.

In the meantime, I’m stitching like a fiend, and dreaming of ways I’d like to shoot this. If only I could summon hoarfrost on my command.

The Gift Of Place — Natural Dye Table Runners

If you follow me on Instagram (I’m donnastitches), you probably know that where I live in Wisconsin’s Northwoods is spectacularly beautiful. This landscape spoke to my heart the first time I saw it. Bill and I have friends who feel the way we do. So we infused some of this year’s holiday gifts with a celebration of place.

Natural dye table runners by Donna Kallner.

In preparation, one weekday morning in September, we visited the homes or cabins of several friends, hoping we would not get caught and spoil the surprise.

Maple leaf on flagstones.

We gathered leaves from their yards to use in table runners made with the natural dye contact print process I’ve learned from the writings of Australian artist India Flint.

Windfall leaves for ecoprinting.

Because of my travel schedule, I couldn’t get the dyeing done right away. Besides, I didn’t have the raw silk table runners sewed yet.

Windfall leaves pressed for later ecoprinting.

So I pressed the leaves in old phone books until I was ready to dye.

Ecoprint table runners by Donna Kallner.

For a couple of the runners, I wasn’t able to use leaves from their yard. For those, I used leaves gathered at other places that we love. And for one, I boiled the bundle in an aluminum pot that had belonged to the recipient’s mother.

Ecoprint table runner boiled in aluminum pot.

As usual, in the rush to get holiday gifts made, wrapped and sent, I didn’t do a very good job of taking pictures of the work in progress. But I loved every minute of making these gifts — gathering, sewing, dyeing, and telling the story of how they reflect beloved places.

The last of the gifts was opened last night in a lovely celebration delayed until everyone was healthy enough to enjoy it. So now the holiday is truly over, and my thoughts turn to what I will make next. I have exhibition commitments coming up for which I need to photograph the work I will send. And what ran through my head as I lay in bed this morning was, “Wouldn’t itbe beautiful to see that along the river?” Which is where I first fell in love with this place.

Now I just need to figure out how to make it work.

Wishing you all a happy new year filled with wonderful challenges!

What A Bubbling Cauldron is VAT

VAT stands for Value Added Tax. It might as well stand for Very Aggravated & Ticked-off. On the whole, I’d much rather be tending an indigo vat than talking taxes right now. But on January 1, new rules go into effect in the European Union that effect me, an independent artist and writer in rural northern Wisconsin in the U.S. (Sorry — it’s hard to take a suitably serious selfie when my husband is making kissy noises.)

Donna & Bill Kallner celebrate winter in rural northern Wisconsin.

Starting January 1, people who sell digital products to buyers in the European Union are expected to collect and pay VAT based on and to the buyer’s country, not the seller’s. So even though I’m in the US, I’ll be liable for the VAT — which varies by EU member country — in each and every country of residence for buyers of the ebooks, PDFs and online classes I sell as digital downloads on Etsy. There is no threshold for reporting, so there’s no such thing as “too small” to file VAT. And the documentation requirements for proving the buyer’s location are onerous. Etsy say they’re working on this issue, but for now anyway I can’t count on them to make my compliance simple.
Etsy listings for New Age Looping online courses and ebooks.Etsy has been a great way for me to get found by a global group of people interested in looping, so I don’t want to leave the platform. And I don’t want to break the law, even though many people say it’s unenforceable. (If you want others to obey the laws in your country, you make every effort to obey the laws in theirs.) I could register with a VAT MOSS (mini one-stop shop) in an English-speaking EU country and just do quarterly reports there, to be dispersed to any of the 28 EU member nations to whom VAT is owed for that period. But since I’m not able to meet the data collection requirements, that seems pointless.

A lot of small ebook and pattern sellers are wondering whether to remove their products from the marketplace, break the law, or make do with alternative delivery methods. I decided to go with alternative delivery methods. The research I did indicates that as long as the services you offer have “more than minimal human involvement,” i.e. they are not primarily automated, they are not considered e-services so are exempt from VAT (at least for now). So I’ve added new Etsy listings for EU buyers of my ebooks and online courses. Those listings are now classified as “physical items” and will be delivered via email instead of as Etsy digital downloads. I’m hoping the file sizes are lean enough to deliver without headaches on either end of the transaction.
Looping online classes and ebooks for buyers in the European Union.I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my EU customers use the EU listings, and buyers in the rest of the world use the listings that let them get their purchases immediately as digital downloads via Etsy.Comply (or at least try) and move on: That’s my intention. All the new listings are now live on Etsy. And as the clock ticks down to the end of 2014, I hope my ducks are mostly in a row for now. At some point, I hope Etsy and/or the EU find some room for the realities of small sellers in regulations intended to keep large sellers (like Amazon) from evading taxes. So I’m viewing this as a work-in-progress and subject to change.

But in the meantime, I intend to start the new year with bubbling cauldrons of natural dye and do some stitching, which is always Very Agreeable Time.

Winter Willow Leaves For Natural Dye

There were still leaves clinging to my willow when wet, heavy snow knocked them off. That was more than a month ago, and those leaves have been on the ground under snow ever since.

Willow leaves for natural dye gathered during a brief thaw.

Over the weekend, we had a bit of a thaw and saw some bare ground. Some of it was littered with damp willow leaves.

Natural dye materials gathered during winter thaw.

I scooped up a basket full of those willow leaves. Some went into bundles, some went into a dyepot.

Willow leaf natural dye.

The results have to stay shrouded in mystery until after Christmas. But wow! I’m looking forward to cold brewed willow-leaf dye in the spring. But willow leaves picked up damp from snow are pretty sweet.

Cranesbill leaves gathered in December.

While I was out gathering, I checked the cranesbill in my front yard. Even after a month of snow cover, there were some green leaves. I gathered a few of those and some that were dried and brown, and got lovely prints off both. In the future, though, I might dunk those leaves in some water before using them. The leaf litter clinging to a couple left spots on the contact prints. Minor distractions, but one that would be easy to avoid.

We’ve had more snow again, and it might be months before we see the ground again. In the meantime, I have plenty of dried and frozen willow leaves, and lots of other materials. But if there’s another thaw, I might even rake.

Seasonal Effective Order

With the winter solstice still 12 days away (but who’s counting), the short hours of daylight are pretty precious. I get outside — to walk with the dogs, get the mail, grab stuff from my studio. But now that I’m working in the basement (I moved my studio for the winter to save on heating costs), I was concerned that I might start feeling like a root vegetable.

Basement studio for the winter.

So far, though, it’s working pretty well. With less space, I’m trying very hard to keep from starting piles. I’m getting some exercise going up and down the stairs to let the dogs in and out, and going out to my shop to find things that didn’t make the migration into the winter studio. But mostly I’m just getting work done.

There was one uncomfortable moment today, when I realized I had turned on the tap just to rinse off my gloves. That never happens out in my studio, where there’s no running water. I dunk my gloves in the same rinse water many times when each bucket is hauled in by hand, then eventually dump that water on the compost pile. When I realized what I was doing today, I grabbed a bucket and resolved to use water more conservatively.

Something else I don’t do while working in my regular studio is dovetail hands-on work with virtual work. Our WiFi router doesn’t reach the other building, so I have a perfect excuse for putting off certain online marketing tasks. Today, though, I managed to manage a dyepot and an email newsletter at the same time.

In short, it feels like I’m being effective during this season, and all is in order.

P.S. If you’re still shopping for holiday gifts, click the images below to go to products featured in today’s email newsletter.

Natural dye scarves by Donna Kallner.

Indigo scarves by Donna Kallner.

Hand-dyed fabric for quilter gifts from Donna Kallner.

Wringer Washer For Water Conservation

Automatic washing machines are a convenience I’m not anxious to give up. But for the quilting fabrics I dye to sell, the wringer washer does a great job of removing unfixed fiber reactive dye but with a reduced overall volume of water.

As you can see, there’s not a lot of space in our basement utility room (and no running water in my studio). The video is dark, but I figured if I waited until we got the lighting improved in there the video would never get done. “Perfect is the enemy of done.”

My grandmother did laundry in a wringer washer: First the whites, then the colors, then barn clothes (the dirtiest stuff) in the last load. I do lighter colors, then darker colors, and finally the old sheets I use to cover tables and rags I use for mopping up spills while dyeing.

We don’t get most of our clothes barn-dirty. So I could hold off on washing the dye table coverings and rags and do our whole household laundry in the same tub as the second wash of quilting fabric. That would really reduce the wastewater going into our septic system.

In the past, I’ve been cautious about dyeing during the winter, not wanting to flood our septic system — especially in the extreme cold like we had last winter, when the frost went so deep. A frozen septic is not a small problem. Now, with the wringer washer, I’m much more comfortable with the volume of water I use — and ready to dye year-round.



Stocking The Online Store

Messy dye processes seem more interesting to share than the business end of what I do. But I had a ton of new scarves to get added to my Etsy store, and the sooner the better since people might do a bit of online shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Natural dye scarves in Donna Kallner's etsy shop.

It seems to take almost as much time to tag, photograph, wrap, bin, describe and list things as it does to make them. But I was closing in on the last few yesterday.

Photographing scarves for listing in Donna Kallner's Etsy shop.

That’s when the volunteer fire department pager went off. By the time Bill and I got home, I had learned that my new car handles OK on wet, heavy snow and that the windshield defogger will not be rushed. I was cold and wet so I turned off the lights in my studio and called it a day.

This morning, other un-photogenic businessy things that had rolled over from yesterday had to be dealt with. Now it’s back to finish shooting scarves, so I can start dyeing more.

Mental Sorting

When Bill and I had our whitewater canoe and kayak business, we packed a lot of retail product into the building that is now my studio. We knew our whitewater customers really well, and counted on them for ideas about what products to sell.

Naturally dyed scarves by Donna Kallner.


Nowadays, we don’t have those daily face-to-face encounters with customers. So our annual studio sale, which was Saturday, and the farmers market are really, really important. We listen to what people ask and what they don’t say, and pay attention to what they buy and what they don’t buy.

Bill Kallner's rustic furniture and Donna Kallner's naturally dyed scarves.


We had a great turnout from our community on Saturday and were so busy I didn’t have a moment to snap any pictures once people started coming. The local paper ran an article about us, which was very kind and brought in some people we hadn’t met before.

Naturally dyed yarns by Donna Kallner.


It’s amazing how much impact a chance comment can have. At the farmers market last summer, someone asked me if my naturally dyed scarves were table runners. Duh! So I made some eco-dyed raw silk and wool table runners. Guess what sold on Saturday? Guess what I’ll make more of now?

Naturally dyed scarves by Donna Kallner on Etsy.


Customers are brilliant. This week as I photograph scarves to put in my Etsy shop, I’m mentally sorting out several ideas we got on Saturday.

Laundry drying rack transformed into scarf merchandising area.

Now that I’m taking stuff down from the weekend, the only place that looks tidy in my studio is the wall where I’m shooting pictures. Once I get pictures done, I’ll take down the laundry drying rack I hung to display scarves.

Big work table transformed into false wall.

Then I can get my big work table back in place. For the weekend, it was a room divider (actually, it was hiding the mess in the back of the studio).

For the winter, I’ll be moving from my studio into the basement in the house. The cost of heating a leaky building through the winter is too painful. The basement is a mess right now from all the stuff I piled there so it wouldn’t be in the way in the studio during the sale. And the basement lacks the charming-but-drafty windows in my studio. But it will work.

Basement studio for winter.

Bill just finished installing more lighting for me down there, so it will be much better than last winter, when the bitter cold and a propane shortage forced me down there without time to plan or prepare. This time, I’ve had a chance to mentally sort through what I want to get done this winter and what I’ll need to do it.

I need to put “mental sorting” on my to-do list more often.