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.



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!

How To Prep Quilting Fabric For Ironing

Who remembers when ironing was a weekly (or more often) task? My husband loves it when I iron. It reminds him of how his house smelled when he got home from school. Frankly, he doesn’t smell it all that often. But this week, I’ve been ironing a lot, getting hand-dyed quilting fabric ready to sell at the farmers market on Saturday. And I pulled out a trick I learned from my mom back in the day.

Hand-dyed quilting fabric by Donna Kallner.

Mom always had a pop bottle with a rosette on it for sprinkling fabric. I’ve never had a rosette, so I poked holes in a plastic cap. I use that to sprinkle fabric with water to dampen it.

Holes poked in plastic cap for sprinkling fabric.

Then I roll up the dampened fabric and put it in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight to “mellow”.

Hand-dyed quilting fabric mellowed overnight in the fridge.

By the next morning, the moisture has dispersed evenly throughout the fabric, making it easier to get press out wrinkles.

Binding on baby quilt made with hand-dyed fabric.

This week I finally got fabric dyed and the binding on a whole-cloth baby quilt my sister-in-law quilted from two panels of my hand-dyed fabric. I’ll take it to the market Saturday.

Wall hanging made by Cindy Helmer from my hand-dyed fabrics.

And I’ll take this wall hanging my friend Cindy Helmer made for me, using my hand-dyed fabrics. But it’s not for sale 🙂

Now, back to ironing — this time, naturally dyed silk scarves. But that’s another story.


Yarn Radar

How do you explain to a non-fiber person the whiplash effect that happens when you walk into a room and your head snaps around because you caught a glimpse of yarn out of the corner of your eye?

Hand-dyed cotton theads for New Age Looping kits on Etsy. Yesterday, we had a visit from a former neighbor whose yarn radar pinged the second she crossed our threshold. These are cotton threads I dyed to use in looping material kits I’ll be posting in my Etsy shop. I hope to get them divided into sampler-size hanks this afternoon.

Before she crossed the threshold again on her way out the door, Barbara promised to start posting pictures of her knitting works in progress on Facebook. She always chooses interesting projects and beautiful materials, and I’ve always enjoyed a peek at what she’s working on. I’m counting on my own yarn radar to make sure I see those posts on Facebook.

What pings your fiber radar?

Down To Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, here’s a peek at some of the recycled materials in pieces I’m working on for Night Vision, a celebration of how sleep and dreams can bring transformation and renewal. So far, all the materials in this body of work except thread have come from my stash or my closet, or been purchased at garage sales or thrift shops. It’s surprisingly easy and very satisfying to transform fabric you have into fabric you use with a few surface design techniques.

Night Owl includes an old pillowcase simmered with bark and old chain, an old tablecloth altered with Procion MX dyes, and an indigo-dyed piece of muslin.

To work out ideas for the design, I used recycled magazine paper. At a later stage, I stabilized an edge with horsehair braid bought at a garage sale still attached to fabric. (Whoever shortened a bridesmaid or prom dress and saved the stiffener — thank you!)

Dreamcatcher includes another old pillowcase. My mother worked so hard when I was a kid to keep our sheets from turning orange from the iron in our water, and now I do it on purpose. I also used some silk scraps from my Black Hole, and flannel and cotton quilt blocks (given to me by a friend) that I overdyed with indigo.

The rust-colored piece above is the leg from a white wool suit handed down to me by my mom several years ago. After an introduction to some acid dye, it ended up in piece called AfterMath.

I can’t talk about this work without mentioning how much I loved the recycled feedsack PJs my grandma used to make for me when I was a kid. If only I could get my hands on some of those old feedsacks now…

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Project Runaway

The thought has crossed my mind that I should run away and join the circus. Surely I’ve been preparing for that type of career, or I would not have acquired quite so much bright coral clothing in my wardrobe.

Yes, much of it has been there since the early 90s. More was purchased at thrift stores, probably from people who edit their closets more often than I do. I love the color, but it does not flatter me.

There’s really no excuse for it, since it’s not like I don’t have plenty of dye on hand. So a couple of weeks ago I threw together two buckets and a washer load of dye and altered the lot of it. And that big bag in the background is stuff there was no point messing with. It’s going to the thrift shop tomorrow.

There were several times this past week when I wished I still had the Coral Collection so I could run off and join the circus. I’d rather have been under the Big Top or in my studio, but I spent the week staring at the computer. I can now produce screen capture videos, thank you very much. I think I’ve settled on a platform for e-courses I’m developing (thanks to my friend and tech guru, Tony). I made progress on a bunch of things that aren’t quite as satisfying as dyeing a whole bunch of clothes.

Then I rewarded myself by watching old episodes of Project Runway on DVDs from the library. I’m still waiting to see them get the Coral Challenge.

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Bark Soup

Last week I spent some time testing ways to speed up a process that is mindlessly simple when you don’t care how long it takes. For years, beautiful color and intriguing patterns have been a side benefit from using old dish towels to mellow bark for weaving. The longer you leave bark tightly rolled up in damp fabric, the better. After removing the bark from the fabric, the longer you leave it before washing, the better.

It’s a lazy way to do things and thus perfect for me. Nevertheless, I wanted to test the adage “heat = time” as it relates to bark + cotton.

The first step was to narrow down my choices. In a couple of minutes I gathered willow bark, cedar bark, birch bark, elm bark, spruce bark, white pine bark, cherry bark, black walnut shavings, and a couple of barks I can’t identify because, duh, I didn’t label them. It would probably have been smarter to test methodically and compare with known results from the slow-and-lazy approach. Of course it would. Instead, I chose the two I was most unfamiliar with — elm bark and black walnut shavings.

The night before my experiment, I put the elm bark in to soak in plain water.

At the same time, I put the black walnut shavings to soak in an old iron kettle, hoping to get enough mineral leach to darken the color. While I was at it, I wrapped up a couple of fabric bundles and let them soak overnight in the kettle.

The next day, I transferred the elm bark and soaking water to an enamel pot, threw a length of chain on top to weigh down the fabric and interact with the tannin to yield a darker color. After simmering for about an hour, I removed the fabric. I saved the elm bark soup in another container, then transferred the black walnut stew from the iron kettle (which won’t sit on my hot plate) into the enamel pot. Since the chain was already there and worked so well to hold the bundles down, it went back in.

While neither method produced results of heartstopping beauty, I didn’t really expect them to. But they produced a modest amount of color and pattern, and thoroughly tannin-infused fabrics that took mineral printing well. More on that next time, along with (I hope) shots of fabrics I overdyed in the indigo vat before I remembered to take pictures. That fabric is in the wash now.

I saved all the iron-rich bark soup in a plastic jug, and now I’m contemplating whether I should add a tiny bit of sugar and yeast to kick-start some fermentation. Any thoughts or advice before I try to explain this wild hair to my husband?

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Fairy Godmother Makes An Offer

Do you ever get those blinding moments of clarity that only come in the shower? Yesterday I had a mini ah-ha moment while rinsing more indigo-dyed fabric. I wasn’t looking for it. Truly, I was just wanting the water to run clear.

On Reflection by Donna Kallner

Water and its power to reflect has been much on my mind lately. Here’s what was in my head while I was working on a piece called On Reflection for a show called A Woman’s Perspective On The Elements:

Once upon a time, a girl might gaze into a pool of water to glimpse some bright possibility. Nowadays, girls are surrounded by mirrors that seem to reflect only flaws. No evil enchantment could lock them more completely into a shining lie. A fairy godmother might be able to reveal hidden beauty with the wave of a wand. Lacking that implement, I use another ancient tool of transformation: With my needle, I try to mend the world by stitching layers of fabric and praying that some girl will see magic trickling along a crease, puddled in a corner.

So yesterday while I was rinsing it hit me: I need a new wardrobe. Does this make me sound shallow? No, don’t answer that.

Last weekend I had a student coming for a studio weekend. On Friday afternoon, I went to put on my going-to-town jeans, which, besides my going-to-teach jeans are were the only ones I had without patches or stains. I’m hard on clothes, and hate to put much time or money into something that will soon be stained with dye or paint. But my wardrobe is used up. It’s time to be my own fairy godmother and transform myself into someone who doesn’t have to scramble at the last minute to find something decent to wear. I have a needle and I know how to use it. Heaven knows I have plenty of fabric on hand. This is feeling like the kind of “godfather” offer you can’t refuse.

So it’s time to put making a new wardrobe at the top of the list for a while. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

My Monday Morning Rinse & Revelation came about because I refreshed the indigo vat over the weekend. Judy has taken classes with me for more than 10 years. She was the only student for the weekend (having graciously changed dates to accommodate a private group), so we could do whatever we wanted. As I listed options, her eyes lit up on indigo and we had a plan.

On Friday night we painted fabric and made fiber phyllo to use on Saturday. On Saturday, she worked through the Constructed Vessels class.

On Sunday, we played with the indigo vat.

We also pulled out the Colorhue dyes and put color on silk in a very different way from what we did on Friday.

While the Colorhue dyes were out, I did some sampling on silk velvet.

On the left you see velvets with Colorhue dip-dyeing. Since the colors were already pretty dark (shown unaltered on the right), the results aren’t dramatic. But I like the possibilities.

Yesterday seemed like a good day for task that weren’t tasking. So I finally got a huge skein of cotton yarn I inherited rewound and ready for dyeing.

The last of a bunch of quilt blocks I inherited last summer got altered with indigo as well. Not that all of that stuff has been transformed, it’s time to work on transforming my wardrobe. Much of it, I suspect, will be blue.

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Acid Redux — Silk, Wool And Dye

Thanks to a great find of percale sheets at the local thrift store (and I went back to get the pillowcases — aka fat quarters), I ran out of room in mouseproof storage container space. Just thinking of mouse poop on hand-dyed fabric is enough to give anyone a seriously bad case of heartburn. I was able to empty one container I can use for fabric in Monday’s paperwork purge, but that’s not enough. So I started pulling stuff out of bins to figure this out, and found a lot of silk and wool begging for more color.

Some was fabric I had already dyed or painted but never got past the blah stage. Some was wool felt or fabric picked up at garage sales. Some was yardage — really good fabrics I “inherited” from my friend Di’s Aunt Mary. I know I’ll never make garments from them, so might as well play with them and see what happens.

All this was stashed in bins waiting for me to decide what to make with it and to apply color accordingly. Trouble is, that’s just not how I work most of the time. I’d much rather throw color around then step back and see what I find there. It’s sort of like watching the sky and finding clouds shaped like ships or animals or faces. My favorite kind of challenge is to scrunch/slosh/spatter color, say “now what can I do with this”, paint myself into a series of corners, and figure a way out from each one. That probably wouldn’t read well on an artist statement, so mum’s the word.

As long as the fabric was out, I started just dying the lot of it.

I presoak the wools and silks before dyeing (well, most of the time). That’s what you see in the Santa container and the pink tub on the left. Since the Nesco was still set up from steaming the Top Shelf Dyes Procion H stuff, I pulled out the big recycled cookie tins, crammed in the soaked fabric, sloshed on Dharma acid dye mixed with hot water, covered the works with foil, and put stuff in to steam.

After desecrating a navy blue plaid I’m much happier with it. It’s beautiful fabric, but do I look like a navy blue plaid person?

This fabric was from a hand-me-down white wool suit from my mother. Seriously: Me? White? Suit?

I have a bunch more silk to do yet, but made a start.

There’s still plenty of plain-Jane white fabric for when I do need a fresh start. That’s in two bins and a piece of repurposed luggage. But before long I may have to seriously reconsider how I manage these materials. I’m spending too much time digging through opaque containers looking for stuff. I would love to have things on open shelves sorted by color. The mice would love that, too, I’m sure, so it’s not gonna happen.

Would that I could blow soap bubbles to encapsulate colorful stacks of fabric, to float around my studio where I would swat them out of the way to reach a different colorway or type of fabric. That’s about as likely as buying all-new clear bins to replace the 20-year-old opaque ones that are still perfectly good.

Any suggestions?

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Top Shelf Dyes Part 2

In Part 1, I shared a snow dyeing project I did last week (Sherri in Texas said it almost made her wish for snow). It was part of an effort to use up some discontinued Procion H dye concentrate. This week, I’m starting a piece from one of the fabrics I altered by printing and painting with Procion H mixed with shaving cream.

Shaving cream is great for faux marbling, which I like to do with Dharma Pigment Dyes. I can’t remember where I read about mixing dye with shaving cream for screen printing, but I wanted to sample it.

So I mixed the Procion H concentrate with a little chemical water, added a bit of dissolved soda ash, then combined that mixture with shaving cream.

On half of a pre-dyed sheet (part of my 9 sheets for 5 bucks collection), I sampled two kinds of printing. First, I screened on a text element and one of my floral collage designs using Thermofax screens I made in a workshop with Stephanie Lewis Robertson at Sievers. Then I applied the shaving cream-dye mixture with a foam brush to a plastic tray (saved from one of my late mother-in-law’s craft containers) and used that to stamp the fabric.

Then I folded the other half of the sheet over what I had printed, and just stamped it. While I was at it, I stamped a stray piece of plain white fabric.

After steaming, rinsing and washing, here’s what the sheet looked like.

The sheet was slightly damp when I printed it, so the slight blurriness and color separation at the edges of the printing was what I expected. Most of the time, I prefer text that isn’t readable, so I’m quite happy with this slapdash print job. If I wanted crisper edges and finer detail, I could mix up sodium alginate and thicken the dye with that instead of the shaving cream mixture.

The plain white fabric was completely dry when I printed with the shaving cream mixture. Here’s how it looked after steaming, rinsing and washing.

Maybe I’m easily pleased, but I’m happy with the results here. Since it was so simple to print with the shaving cream mixture, I know I’ll do it again.

On another pre-dyed sheet, I printed with two different Thermofax screens and the shaving cream-dye mixture. The first screen is one I made from a graphite pencil rubbing of the electric range burner in the Walter Studio at Sievers. Prints from the second screen, from a photograph of a tile wall, blurred quite a bit (this sheet was also dampish when I printed). On this piece, I also applied some of the shaving cream-dye mixture by piping it like cake filling from the snipped corner of a plastic baggie. Here’s how it looked before steaming.

After steaming, rinsing and washing, it’s not my favorite fabric but there are areas of interest that I can definitely use.

My favorite piece of last week wasn’t one of the sheets. It was a piece of rayon from a long-ago ho-hum shibori attempt. Using the shaving cream-dye mixture on dry fabric, I sampled a slapdash Pellon stencil/screen idea. I won’t bore you with the details because that was a total flop.

In no time, the Pellon soaked up the dye mixture. Oh well, I figured I couldn’t mess it up worse than it was. So I started making marks with the shaving cream-dye mixture using the edge of a squeegee, then progressed to finger painting with it. Here’s what it looked like after steaming, rinsing and washing.

That’s the piece I’m going to work on this week. It has flaws, but I love it. So I’m going to make myself work fast and not get too invested in the piece. I need to just get back in the studio groove for the new year, and too-precious fabric is a hindrance rather than a help. At least, for me: Your mileage may vary.

Even with the extra steps to wrap and steam fabric printed with Procion H, I really do like the shaving cream-print method. I’ll do it again. But jeepers, I just made a dent in the collection on that top shelf.

Got any wild-hair suggestions on other techniques to sample with it?

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