Does Doodling Enhance Learning For You?

What do you do for 10 hours in an airport when one flight after another is canceled? Normally, I would pull out some stitching. But this week, weather-related travel delays gave me a block of time to study for an online course I’m taking. It helped that I found a relatively quiet spot, one private enough that I wasn’t too embarrassed to move my lips as I tried to make sense of what I was reading.

Urban Garden at O’Hare International Airport

For those who are following posts about the Coursera E-Learning & Digital Cultures class (tagged #EDCMOOC), the first lesson included Marc Prensky’s 2001 article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. I mostly got through it without moving my lips (not the case with the core reading). But what really helped was the visual reminder I got from studying in a seat beside the airport’s urban garden:

  • There are different ways to achieve a goal (i.e. with and without soil).
  • Ideas, like plants, need time, resources, and care if they are to grow and flourish.
  • When resources are limited, you have to choose what you will nurture.

The most helpful (to me) element of the course so far came from a post in a class forum by a student, which led me to this video on “visitors and residents” and online engagement.

So what does all this have to do with doodling?

I got to thinking about how being tethered to my laptop precludes movement, which I find beneficial for learning (at all ages). I’m probably not coordinated enough to watch videos and interact with the class community while walking with a cell phone in hand. But some type of movement might be possible.

So will you help me with an unscientific experiment that will take about 10 minutes? I know that’s a lot to ask, but you’ll get to see a video unit from my Cross-Knit Looping eCourse and further the cause of fiber arts education. Here’s what I’m asking:

1. Prepare to doodle using one of the following methods:


  • paper and pencil
  • air doodling with your finger
  • Or open a separate window in your browser to Pencil Madness, a free online sketching tool. (You can “deny” Adobe Flash permission to store information on your computer and still use the tool for this experiment.) If you’re using Pencil Madness, click one of the three tools at the far right of the menu bar below the canvas.


Pencil Madness
 2. Launch a video: Click this link to launch an 8-minute video on splicing wool yarn and winding center-pull balls, or view it in the embedded player at the bottom of this post.

3. Doodle while watching the video.

4. Answer a few questions. Click this link to open a short survey. The survey is anonymous. (Survey is closed now — thanks to all who participated!)

Even if you don’t watch the video or take part in the survey, I’d love to hear what you think: Does doodling enhance learning for you?

Cross-Knit Looping: How To Splice Wool Yarn & Wind Center-Pull Balls from Donna Kallner on Vimeo.

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Does This Revise Your To-Do List?

December is a month for impossible to-do lists that look something like this:

  • Select and/or make perfect gifts for everyone.
  • Wrap those perfect gifts creatively, beautifully, inspired-ly.
  • Decorate home (interior and exterior) perfectly so it accurately reflects a) love of family, b) love of season, and c) love of Martha.
  • Turn oven to preheat for perfect baking every time you enter the kitchen.
  • Spend time with family and friends making perfect memories.

We all know that’s impossible, don’t we? Does that stop us from trying to attain at least a few of those impossible goals — and work, too? Um, don’t answer that.

This year, I decided to post a Daily Doodle on my Facebook page every day in December. It was my commitment to myself to spend five minutes a day during the season of impossible goals to do something that’s doesn’t aspire to perfection — just a simple little doodle on a 3×5 index card. I missed one day, which I blame on the sugar coma induced by overconsumption of Christmas cookies. But on the whole it started off as a very do-able and enjoyable routine in a month where routine is turned on its head.

And then I did something insane: I thought, “Why not take this opportunity to practice doodling with the Wacom tablet I bought last summer and haven’t taken out of the box?”

On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed spending a few minutes a day away from Etsy selling and gift making and preparations for an upcoming eCourse — just starting to learn how to use this new tool. On the other hand, I find myself on a slippery slope that leads toward a midden pile of impossible goals: I seem to expect more perfection from something made using an unfamiliar device that has to be plugged in than from something made by my own hand in the few minutes it takes for the oven to preheat.

Over the weekend, I put away the tablet, went back to index cards, and got some perspective. I may still be insane, but I have some perspective on my craziness. In other words, I got my tongue unstuck from the frozen lamp post that pops up when I double dog dare myself to try something new in the presence of witnesses.

And then today, a holiday miracle arrived, via Liz Massey’s Creative Liberty: Liz shared The Done Manifesto by Bre Pettis and Kio Stark. Here are my favorite elements.

#6 — The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.

#10 – Failure counts as done. So do mistakes. And

#13 – Done is the engine of more.

It may be impossible to be perfectly at peace with imperfection and failure to achieve the impossible. I wouldn’t be able to diagram that sentence perfectly, but I’m OK with that, too.

Have you recently recovered from some impossible expectation? Hit the comments button below, or tell us on Facebook. I double dog dare you!

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Doodle Sweater

In about 30 seconds, I can transform any plain white garment into a patterned garment. One or two little drips of whatever I’m eating or working with in the studio is all it takes. So I wasn’t surprised that Bill laughed when he saw the plain white cotton sweater I found while thrifting.

It didn’t stay white long, but that was intentional. I dyed it a light blue, but that seemed too plain. So one night while watching TV, I started doodling on it with FabricMate markers.

These are pigment-based markers. Let them dry overnight and they’re permanent without heat setting. I doodled around the neckline on one side and on the bottoms of the sleeves. For a dollar’s worth of sweater that will probably get paint on it the first time I wear it teaching, that’s enough.

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Drill Press Doodles & Trivet Tricks

Last week I added a couple of new elements to my surface design toolbox. These wooden “stamps” worked pretty well for printing thickened dye on fabric.

The one on the left is from a challenge I gave myself to doodle without using a writing instrument, paper or fabric. Instead, I used Bill’s drill press to “doodle” on a scrap of wood. The large holes were made with Forstner bits, the smaller ones with regular spiral drill bits. After drilling the holes, I softened the edges of the board with a wood rasp.

Here’s some fabric I printed with the Drill Press Doodle stamp.

Drill Press Doodle stamp used with thickened MX dye

I was pretty slapdash about the way I painted thickened dye onto the stamp (using a foam brush). The sodium alginate thickener built up in the large holes on the stamp, but I like the dimension it adds.

The other stamp is one of the rejects from Christmas 2009, when Bill was in charge of making most of our holiday gifts. I think that’s the year the kids all got PVC marshmallow shooters. The adults got wooden trivets with kerfs running one way on one side and the opposite direction on the flip side. I got the one that had some tear-out, supposedly for the kitchen but now it lives in the studio.

Here’s some fabric, previously clamp-resist dyed in the indigo vat, that I printed with the trivet stamp and thickened Procion MX dye.

Trivet stamp used with thickened MX dye

You can see where the tear-out was on the stamp and the thickened dye goobered. Again, as a stamp, I like it better for its imperfection.

For some reason, I forgot to photograph this fabric where I stamped some of the trivet blocks twice, with the lines rotate 90 degrees. I’m sure you get the idea. I tried to make a case for sorting that fabric out and photographing it again and telling you about it in more detail. But even I can see that for what it is: stalling.

So it’s back to work for me. I have a lecture coming up and am working with a new application to create the digital presentation slides. It’s a different kind of challenge, and I’m having fun with it. But compared to making sawdust with the drill press or slapping dye on fabric, it’s… well, I’m stalling.

Do you have a favorite stall to share? Or a technique for overcoming the urge to stall? Please, please, share it in the comments. I love reading your comments, even when I’m not stalling.

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Tattoo Inspired

The other day, Bill asked if I was planning to get a tattoo. Like many marital conversations, it took me a minute to figure out what prompted that. It was the stack of books waiting to go back to the library.

To date, my interests in needle arts have been confined to the application of thread to fabric, not ink to skin. But I checked out a bunch of tattoo books to study the style of traditional tattoos. A couple of things had piqued my interest.

Don Ed Hardy

In the lunch line at the Missouri Art Education Conference in March, I talked to a woman who raved about a workshop on teaching kids to draw in the style of Don Ed Hardy. The iconic California tattoo artist’s licensed images now appear on clothing as well as birthday suits.

I’m teaching an altered images workshop at a textile camp for kids this summer. When they start sampling on the first day, I want to be sure I have some images that appeal to them until they have a chance to develop images of their own. Something like tattoo-style images.

I thought about asking my nephew, a very talented tattoo artist, to draw something for me. And I still might. But I really wanted to see if I could sketch in a style that’s tattoo-inspired but not tattoo-copied. It makes me uncomfortable to co-opt a culture without knowing enough to show respect and good judgment.

So my dollface doodles have been getting a makeover. I’ve been playing with biomorphic backgrounds, but don’t think I want that much detail for these elements. I need to clean up some sketches, see how they transfer, and do some beading and embroidery on them. We’ll see where this leads.

In the meantime, I’m planning to check out books on bonsai, motorcycle repair and animal husbandry. Just to keep my husband guessing.

Next time you’re at the library, why not visit a section that’s not on your normal path? Let me know what kind of unexpected inspiration you find.

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Doodling With Willow

TGIF. Picture me patting myself on the back (we’ll call that stretching), and knocking back a couple of aspirin. This week my to-do list got shorter and the pile of harvested and sorted willow got deeper. The reward for all this industry is giving myself some time to doodle with willow just for fun.

The material I use for doodling comes from the pile of branchy and really curvy stuff I keep off to the side as I sort the harvest. When I need a break from other tasks, I grab pieces from that pile and start bending simple frames that I secure with electrical cable ties and hang in the window to dry. With a dry frame, it’s easier to hold a shape and avoid kinks. This trick, along with most of what I know about willow, I learned from Jo Campbell-Amsler, who taught the first class I ever took at Sievers back in, I think, 1994. 

I’ll talk more about how I use the dry frames in my willow trellises in my next post. Today is about doodling.

In willow doodling, I’m not trying to make anything specific. I just pick up a branchy piece of willow and start going over/under/over/under. I may bind pieces together or spread things apart and add ribs to support more weaving. If things kink, no big deal: I’m using willow from the junk pile.

Sure, this looks like a leaf to you. But the way it landed when I tossed it on the table looked like a shapely leg. I’ll make another one later and play around with some ideas for the rest of the parts for a two-dimensional zaftig lady trellis. Think of this as Frankentrellising. It’s how I come up with things like the willow witch and her withie familiar who haunt my studio at Halloween.

Really, the process is no different that what an embroiderer does with a doodle cloth, or what a surface designer does with a scrap of fabric used for cleaning brushes, or what a quilter does with scraps cut off while squaring up… Shall I go on?

Willow isn’t my primary material. Hasn’t been for a long time. But I have enough fluency with the material and techniques that I can doodle without overthinking. There isn’t a “value” associated with what I make with willow. My trellises go outside. Birds sit on them, and what happens next is as good a cure for perfectionism as anything. What also happens is I start to see connections between my willow doodles and my other work. Really, couldn’t I translate that leaf/leg into needleweaving?

Creativity researchers call this divergent thinking. Having a label for it doesn’t make willow doodling any less fun.

So what’s your go-to fiber for doodling?

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