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.

Studio Sale Preparation

Bill and I are at the point of cleaning where everything looks worse before it looks better. No way am I posting a picture of that, but here’s the card we sent out to folks in our community.

2014 holiday sale.

And this is pretty neat. I got a free card reader from Etsy. I can use it with my Android tablet and the Sell On Etsy app to swipe credit cards for in-person sales.
Etsy card reader for taking credit card sales in person.

When we were at Sievers for the willow harvest, my friends had to hear me rant about why we had just canceled the service we used to use to handle credit card sales. I feel much better now.

Once we get past the chaos phase of open house preparations, I’ll try to get pictures where everything looks lovely and effortless. In the meantime, I’ll keep posting some of the messy studio life snapshots on Instagram, where I’m donnastitches.

Scattered Thoughts and Half-Done Tasks

October was going to be my month to make lots of things for our annual studio open house and holiday sale, which is November 15. Then I was gone two weeks (it was all good), and things feel a bit hectic now. Since my plans are usually over-ambitious anyway, it always feels like I haven’t got enough done. My rational mind knows that’s not the case. But until everything is washed, ironed, folded, priced, tagged and ready to display, it’s not done done.

Work in progress for studio sale.

And I keep going off on tangents. I’m absolutely in love with the alkaline extraction method for barks that I learned from Jenny Dean’s book A Heritage of Colour. I’ve been moving too fast to photograph my haphazard sampling of applications, but I promise I will — later.

Alkaline extraction of willow bark for natural dye.

While I was in Iowa I found some windfall walnuts. They’re soaking now so I can start brewing more dye.

Cold-brewed willow leaf natural dye in November.

The four buckets of willow leaf cold-brew I started for spring dyeing thawed out enough this morning for me to get out the weights holding the leaves down.

Fresh willow leaves soaking for natural dye.

I also have a bucket of fresh willow leaves soaking inside. They may not look pretty, but I love that liquid for “cooking” ecoprint bundle silk scarves.

Willow-dyed wool-silk hand-knit scarf.

My intention was to also have a bunch of willow-dyed hand-knit scarves and cowls ready for the sale. I have two. And they’re not blocked yet. And that wool-silk yarn is so luscious I’m tempted to keep them for myself.

Naturally dyed fabric jewelry by Donna Kallner.

I’m hoping to finish more the jewelry pieces before the sale. That should be doable, since I can work on those in the evenings.

The big job before the sale is cleaning my studio, which will involve moving a bunch of things to the house for the winter. After last winter, I’ve decided I can work in the basement during the coldest months instead of paying higher propane bills. I love my studio, but it leaks like a sieve. We’ve done all we can afford to do to insulate it, but it’s an old building that was never intended to hold heat inside.

Siberian iris moved off between the willow beds.

The big job after the sale is the willow harvest. A wet, heavy snow last night knocked down most of the remaining leaves. I finished cutting the Siberian iris leaves I want to dry last weekend. Then while I was dithering about something else, Bill, bless his heart, mowed off the rest of the Siberians in between the willow beds. That will make willow harvest much easier.

But first, there are lots of things to get done done before the sale. I would say the clock is ticking, but I haven’t had time since the time to figure out how to change the clock in the new car. Does that give me an extra hour?


Siberian Iris Harvest

Right now, it’s impossible to walk through my studio without stepping on some kind of leaves. Part of the floor is covered with willow leaves from the Sievers harvest. In addition to the four buckets of cold-brew willow leaf natural dye sitting outside now, other leaves are drying for winter dyepots.

Siberian iris leaves drying in my studio.

The majority of floorspace, though, is covered with Siberian iris leaves. Last week we also cleaned off the flower bed by the Walter Studio. When these leaves are dry enough to bundle, I have a lot more here at home that need to be harvested.

Siberian iris grown between willow beds.

In case you missed it, this short video shows how I teach people to twist Siberian iris leaves into cordage friendship bracelets.

In case you try to find it again, the video lives on one of my Students resources pages, along with other videos about thready things you might find useful or interesting. There are more videos on the looping and dyeing pages.

Next on my to-do list is bundling Siberian leaves for storage and transferring dried willow leaves into paper bags. In the meantime, there will be no boy dogs in my studio.

Natural Materials Harvest Social

Think of harvest traditions where friends and family would come together to shuck corn, shock wheat, bale hay and visit while getting a job done. That’s what this week was like.

Willow harvest at Sievers.

On Sunday, I headed to Washington Island to meet some friends and get the willow bed cut at Sievers.

Cutting the willow bed at Sievers.

Being surrounded by the waters of Lake Michigan makes conditions on Washington Island generally milder than where I live (pretty much due west, but an hour inland). So the island’s first hard frost came just before we arrived, and there were still leaves on the willow. Normally, willow growers wait for leaves to fall before harvesting. But everyone knew I would be happy to have the leaves for natural dye.

At The Ridges on Washington Island, Wisconsin.

On Monday we got the patch cut and a good start on stripping leaves (and had a lovely soup supper with the rag rug weaving class). So on Tuesday, we spent a little time enjoying the island as well as processing the willow. We walked at The Ridges before we started working that day.

Lee's batik scarf made by Anne Landre.

At lunch we took some time to shop at Sievers. Lee bought a beautiful batik scarf made by my friend Anne Landre.

Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island, Wisconsin.

In the afternoon we quit early to visit Schoolhouse Beach and the Stavkirke.

The Stavkirke on Washington Island.

After burgers at Karly’s and a short stop at Nelsen’s Hall, we headed back to the studio to finish stripping leaves and sorting willow.

Willow leaf natural dye brewing in buckets outside my studio.

On Wednesday, I got home with plenty of material for the cold-brewed willow-leaf natural dye like I made last winter. It’s now in buckets outside my studio. Other leaves are drying inside.

Willow leaf cold-brewed natural dye on merino wool-silk yarn.

The merino wool-silk yarn in this knitting WIP was dyed with that willow leaf cold brew.

It was a whirlwind trip, but at the end it’s nice to see a job well done and to have had a chance to spend time working with friends at a special place like Sievers.





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!