Iron-Rich Dye-It

Bark Soup left me feeling tired, run-down, listless. Well, not really, but I can’t resist the Geritol references since I’m talking about iron and dye(it). Hmm. Now I’m wondering if I could print fabric with Geritol.

Anyway. My mom spent years trying to keep sheets and underwear from turning orange in the wash when we were on the farm, where the high iron content in our well water was pretty high. I seem to remember, too, a crisis caused by wet fabric left in the washer, where a chip in the enamel on the tub left a very permanent orange stain. We won’t be telling Mom I do this on purpose now.

One of the easiest ways to do mineral printing is to dampen fabric, wrap it around something that a) is rusty or b) will rust, and keep it from drying out while the color develops. That’s why the piece above is inserted in a plastic bag — to keep it from drying out. You can’t see in the picture, but the bag is not sealed. You want this to oxidize.

The photo above shows what that sample looked like after being left overnight and unwrapped the next day. The color on this piece was produced by rusty sheet metal and the chain I used to hold fabric bundles down in the simmering bark soup. The fabric is a cotton percale pillowcase from the thrift shop. My favorite part of this piece was the seam at the border.

The liquid you use to dampen the fabric can be plain water (takes longer), a mixture of vinegar and water (faster), plain vinegar (faster yet), or what I call Tannin Juice.

Tannin Juice is basically vinegar on steroids. In summer, I stuff fresh willow leaves or fresh staghorn sumac leaves into jugs of vinegar. That’s it. Put a cap on it, let it sit in a dark corner, and pull it out when you want a really fast, strong reaction. As always, you’ll want to sample this. Because the results may be unexpected.

I did a little experiment with Tannin Juice to test how I might use it for resist printing. The fabric here is some of the cotton that was soaked overnight in an iron kettle with elm bark then simmered in bark soup with an iron chain. You may not see any rusty orange on it, but this fabric is not only tannin-infused but also mineral-infused. I laid string I had used to tie up bundles on the fabric, then brushed over it all with Tannin Juice. This isn’t as black as I’ve gotten on other pieces (mostly silk), but it is pretty dramatic. I don’t like the hard lines I got from brushing on the tannin juice. Next time I’ll put the juice in a spray bottle.

I did another little experiment to sample how I might use the pickled sumac leaves from the Tannin Juice.

I laid the leaves on another piece of fabric from the bark soup collection, pulling them out of the jug with a pair of long forceps.

I wadded the fabric around the leaves, then poured on a bit of iron liquor, which I make by dissolving metal (steel wool works well) in vinegar.

The orange is from the iron liquor. The black is from the pickled sumac leaves.

I promised last time to show some of the Bark Soup fabric overdyed in the indigo vat. The vat is due for some attention, but two dips gave me a soft shift in the color that I really like.

I was thinking I would use this fabric in a wall piece, but now I’m wondering if I have enough to make another Crossover Top from the Kayla Kennington pattern.

It will have to wait a bit, though.I’m chained to the computer for a few more days until I complete another project. In the evenings I’ve been looping motifs for my freeform vest and making looped heart pins for Valentine’s Day.

Would you like a short tutorial on the hearts? Let me know in the comments.

Add your voice to the conversation at

Vested Interest

Along with the sewing I’ve been doing for my Wardrobe Reboot, I’m working on a vest in freeform looping. I’ll post progress on this project on the New Age Looping Study Group facebook page. Yesterday I posted a small album of past project photos to show looping variations I’m planning to incorporate in the vest motifs.

The yarn for this project was gleaned from the goodies I got from my husband’s sister’s best friend’s aunt’s stash last year. It included a ginormous skein of white cotton yarn (heavier than Sugar & Cream) variegated with pink, yellow and blue.

For looping, I’m not overly fond of space-dyed or variegated yarns. A dip in the indigo vat transformed the yarn into something that looked more like my jeans-and-boots self.

There was also a partial skein of plain white in the stash that I dyed a darker indigo. At this stage, I’m thinking the darker blue will be used only for the edging. I want to use the cross-knit looping edging I showed last fall on the vest, but as always, my plans are subject to change.

By the way, the dressmaker form I’m working on was bought for me by a friend a few years ago at the Textile Center’s annual Fiber Art Garage Sale (April 16 this year). Ten bucks. I have two of these beauties.

Brigitte is close enough to my size to work on for stuff like this, but would require more padding for more serious tailoring projects. If I ever develop tailoring skills, I’ll have to alter her or lose weight. In the meantime (which is probably forever), Brigitte encourages my basic impulse: Fudge to fit.

Her companion, Babette, is a size I haven’t been in many years. She earns her place in the studio by permitting me to dress her up in garage sale and thrift store finds like some full-size fashion doll. Je suis facilement amusés.

If you’re on Facebook, I hope you’ll Like the Looping Study Group and join in. There’s a Facebook badge now in the right-hand column of this page. If you’re not a Facebook user, you can still see the page. If you see Babette and Brigitte posting comments in French on Facebook, you can cabin fever has hit the Northwoods hard.

Add your voice to the conversation at

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.

Add your voice to the conversation at

Color Questions & Floral Fears

Need a moment’s distraction from the making, wrapping, trimming, baking, shipping and ho-ho-ho-ing of the holiday season? It always seems to give others a lift when I reveal my own fears and insecurities, so consider this my holiday gift to you: I’m nervous about some of the colors and patterns I’ve used in holiday gifts.

Bill and I try to alternate on who makes the bulk of our Christmas gifts, and this is my year. What I make will be compared to his PVC marshmallow shooters, so the pressure’s on. Money is tight, so I’m trying not to buy additional materials (my studio is well-stocked, thank you very much). On top of everything else, the kids (not ours, but we love them) are at that in-between age where it would be much easier to buy them ITunes gift cards. But yikes, those come in a choice of colors and patterns, too.

(At this point, I would insert a spoiler alert if I thought there was a remote chance any of the kids would be reading my blog. We rejoice that they have other interests.)

This year, most of the kids are getting quilted door knob-hanger pocket panels. I pray their mothers do not remark, “You won’t lose your charger cords if you keep them in those pockets” or some other exclamation that reveals these as the functional equivalent of gift-wrapped underwear.

In one piece, I made the pockets from patchwork blocks given to me after a friend cleaned out a relative’s estate. I overdyed them in the indigo vat to darken and unify the colors for a young man who has always loved to see how things fit together.

His brother got one of my Spoonflower fabric swatches combined with overdyed, recycled patchwork. This boy has always enjoyed helping in the garden, so it felt natural to pick patchwork that included simple floral fabrics. When his piece was done, I got nervous about the florals and used fabric markers to apply other patterns over them to make them a bit less flowery.

Seriously, what do you think? Are florals taboo for 12-year-old boys if they’re in patchwork? I still have time to make something else.

For the 11-year-old boy, I combined one of my Spoonflower fabrics overdyed to match some camouflage fabric. The camo was left over from when his big sister did her first sewing project — a drawstring “gun case” for the toy wooden shotgun Bill had made for him. I like the olive-overdyed Blue Hands fabric so well I might add that colorway to my Spoonflower collection.

For the youngest, a girl (third grade going on graduate school), I made pockets from one of my Spoonflower fabrics, a commercial batik, and a pigment-dyed muslin, to go on the indigo-dyed sheet quilt panel.

I’m half-way wishing now that I had done another version of my Red Handed fabric in a bright, clear pink/purple colorway in time for this gift. Tell me: At what age to boys start to carry wallets and girls get over pink?

Color is the hardest decision in most of the gifts I make. This year, I simplified by making most gifts from indigo-dyed fabric.

The one I’m most unsure of is for my sister. (It’s probably safe to carry on, as the dial-up connection where she’s visiting is not conducive to blog reading.) I used the colors of a place she loves — the green of the mountains and the blue of the ocean — in a soft silk-and-wool scarf to keep her warm where winter is neither green nor blue but gray and slushy. Now I’m nervous that those landscape colors look good on the fabric (and on the landscape) but won’t go with anything she actually wears in the winter.

With just a week to got before gifts are opened and fears put to rest one way or the other, I still have a few more gifts to finish over the weekend to get in the mail by Monday. I’m sure you have a list of your own to deal with, so I thank you for listening to my color questions and floral fears.

Would anyone care to remind that class that it’s the thought that counts, or share other words of wisdom?

Add your voice to the conversation at

The Office Party — Studio Style

Monday night we put a different spin on the holiday office party. Two years ago, my husband added a part-time job to his full-time work as a small manufacturer. He works with a great group of women, so we invited them over to dye silk scarves. Yup, they made their own Christmas gifts, and we didn’t have to wrap a thing.

We used the 8mm habotai silk scarf blanks from Dharma Trading Company. Before everyone arrived, I ran the scarves (two per person) through the rinse cycle in the washer to dampen them so they were ready for simple twist, tie and clamp resists.

Just before everyone arrived, I mixed up a selection of Colorhue dyes for their first scarf. Since these instant-set silk dyes don’t need to be steam-set, it was an easy choice for a casual party. Colorhue dyes are available from Ginny Eckley and also from Dharma.

We dipped their second scarves in the indigo dye vat I set up before Thanksgiving.

Both of these dye methods give almost-instant results and only need to be rinsed, not steamed. Since I don’t have running water in the studio, I took their scarves into the house to rinse while Bill distracted the girls with pizza.

Before dyeing, everyone wrote their initials on their scarves with Identipen fabric markers, so it was easy to sort out the scarves when people were ready to leave. Bill and I spent a few more minutes in the studio using up the rest of the Colorhue dyes and cleaning up. And he did the rinsing on our clean-up scarves and all the clamps. I don’t know how you wrap that, but it’s a great gift!

So that was our office party. Nobody had to buy a new outfit to wear or try to talk over loud music. I really enjoyed myself, and I hope they did, too!

Add your voice to the conversation at

Holiday Recycling — Curtains & PJs Edition

Spoiler Alert: Christmas presents discussed. Proceed with caution, or be prepared to develop gift amnesia (you know who you are!).

After this morning’s trip to town, I can mark four holiday gifts “done.” One trip down the hardware aisle at Fleet Farm, which carries washers in two colors, and the fold-up checkerboards are complete.

These gifts began with one set of recycled cafe curtains in a heavy cotton duck. After the fabric took a dip in the indigo dye vat, I cut each panel in two to make four checkerboards. The contrast fabric is from a box of goodies my sister-in-law’s bff gave me. I’m pretty sure these were pajamas at one time before they were cut up for quilting.

On the end of each board, I stitched pockets for storing the washers. And I added snap tape so the board can be folded up and secured with the washers in the pockets. Here’s how they fold:

I haven’t weighed them with the washers in place, but I think the weight and bulk will be just fine for canoe camping and cabin life. Since the snap tape was on a closeout, my total out-of-pocket expense for these four gifts was under $4. It will cost more to mail them than to make them, but not by much, since they’re so light.

Are you making holiday gifts with recycled elements? Hit the comment button to share your ideas: I’m still pulling a blank on what to make for a couple of people!

Add your voice to the conversation at

Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Two Bags Full Of Ideas

Here’s the update on the bag I introduced last week, and another recycling project.

The Indigo/Walnut Tote
Last week while I was giving the indigo vat a workout, I overdyed a tote bag I started last summer. I was cleaning up after a slapdash experiment to use a Rubbermaid bin as a solar oven for Mason jar dyeing. There was a bit of walnut dye left in the bottom of a jar. I think there might have been some vinegar or something else in there too (did I mention I didn’t take notes?). Anyway, I didn’t want to put that liquid back in the walnut dye container. So I scruched up a pre-made canvas tote bag and shoved it into the jar. No scouring or presoaking. You can see it didn’t dye evenly (just the way I like it). 

Walnut dye on canvas tote bag

I took it out of the jar a couple days later, hung it up to dry, and it’s been oxidizing since. As a lazy dyer, I’m a big fan of oxidizing — except when it happens to stains in my wardrobe because I didn’t wash them out right away.

Last week, I finally washed the bag. After rinsing it, I kept it damp. Then it went into the indigo vat. Here’s what it looked like after oxidizing this time (a quicker and more dramatic process with indigo).

Walnut dye then indigo after rinsing

My walnut dye has been “saddened” with a bit of iron, and I love the way it warms the indigo.

Over the weekend I added a couple of outside pockets to this bag.

Pocket fabric is my Doodle Leaf design from Spoonflower

Now I need some advice: Is this guy-ish enough for a college-age man who shops at the farmers market to appreciate as a Christmas gift?

The Doorknob Bag
While cleaning this fall, I ran across another natural dye experiment from a few years ago. This week, I used it to make a bag to hang on the doorknob in my studio. My fantasy intention is to tuck receipts, packing slips and other documents that need to go into the office here instead of scattering them amongst the debris on my work table.


The fabric is huck toweling I stained with tea and turmeric, then mineral printed with vinegar and nails. For the bag, I also used a woolen necktie I from the thrift shop and a swatch of my Spoonflower fabric.

The bag is a bit wide for a doorknob hanger because I wanted it to fit a notepad as well as receipts. So it doesn’t flop on the knob, I snipped the ends off a couple of electrical cable ties and threaded them into a casings at the rim.

I used the necktie for the hanger and edging and a flap over the top. As I was working on it, I wanted to keep the necktie-iness with that little tab at the lower left. Naturally, that break in the line is the first thing my eye goes to and it’s annoying me, but probably not enough to change it.

While working on this bag, I tried to remember why I never did any more dying on huck toweling. I love this stuff with or without traditional huck darning embroidery.

So now I’m thinking of other ways I might use huck toweling. Feel free to chime in!

Add your voice to the conversation at

Cyber Swoop But No Shopping Bag Story

There’s a dusting of snow on the ground, the Salvation Army bellringers are back in town, and I’m in a holiday mood. To share the joy, I’ve added a special bonus to orders of my book New Age Looping. Through December 17, each book order in my Etsy shop ships with 30 yards of hand-painted Irish waxed linen and coordinating beads. That $10 value is really priceless, because the painted thread adds such depth and richness to even a simple looping project.

If you’re hunting for other gifts online, here are a couple more places you might look: (Blogger is feeling fussy and I’m having trouble posting images, but you have a great imagination and links to click.)

  •  I added a Swoop Page to the blog recently to let you know when I have things for sale — like the two small art quilts I just placed in my Etsy shop.
  • I don’t know about you, but I have no trouble coming up with gift ideas for women but get stumped on some of the guys. Our neighbors Shawn and Stephanie can solve that problem for you. They use absolutely stunning, high-quality fabrics to create hammocks and messenger bags. Right now in-stock items are 33 percent off, and they’re offering free shipping. Here’s a peek at one of their messenger bags.
  •  Spoonflower is offering two-for-one pricing on fat quarter tea towels through Friday. There are a few I might have to add to my collection of vintage linen calendar towels bought at thrift stores!

I spent the weekend working on holiday gifts I’m making from fabric I dyed in the indigo vat last week. If you’re interested in indigo, I tagged a post from Japanese Textile Workshops in the Loose Ends box on this blog’s far right sidebar. I’ll post the tote bag story and picture I promised last time next time when Blogger is behaving better.

Add your voice to the conversation at

Mood Indigo

My treat this week was time to set up an indigo dye vat. While I was looking for something else on Sunday, I found some “instant” indigo I picked up a while back but hadn’t tried it yet. I had fabric I wanted to dye for holiday gifts, and it didn’t take long for me to decide that everyone would like blue. Hear that, everyone?

Indigo dye vat from recycled water jug

Of course, if I bought the sodium hydrosulfite I needed when I bought the indigo, I couldn’t find it. So I called Dharma for advice. They are lovely people, and always so helpful. The woman I spoke with suggested a substitute I might be able to find locally — Rit Color Remover.

She also told me that the Rit product is already mixed with soda ash — really good to know, so I didn’t add more. I did some advanced (for me) algebra to convert the proportions for a 5 gallon container to a 3 gallon container (that’s the 12,000 ml on the jug), and guessed on the quantity of Color Remover. Four packages of the stuff did the job, and I might have gotten away with less.

I mixed up the vat on Monday afternoon, and let it rest overnight. Monday night I scoured fabric and did some simple twisted and tied resists and one simple clamped resist.  Tuesday I was ready to dye.

Dyeing went really fast. At one point Bill came out to see how this works. I stuck a handful of pink crochet roses into the vat for about five seconds. When they came out, he got to see them go from green to blue in a matter of seconds.

Since I don’t have running water in my studio, I haul stuff to the house for rinsing and washing. I managed not to drip dye on the hardwood floor while heading to the laundry tub in the basement. Whew.

After a whole lot of rinsing, washing and ironing, here are the results.

In addition to a whole bunch of fabric, I also overdyed some crochet UFOs, quilt blocks and cotton yarn given to me last summer by a friend of my sister-in-law.

Today I found one more thing I meant to dye. Last summer, I had a bit of walnut dye left in the bottom of a mason jar after a solar dye experiment. I shoved a pre-made canvas tote bag into the jar (no scouring, no presoaking — just wadded and shoved). I think I remembered to take it out a couple days later, but it might have been sooner or later. Anyway, I hung it up to dry and haven’t done a thing to it since. Here’s what it looked like after the walnut dye but before overdying with indigo.

I’ll post a photo of the bag after the indigo overdye next time.

One last picture for today: My husband just made me a new rolling design “wall.” It’s like Christmas came early.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Add your voice to the conversation at