New Life For Old Yarns Video

When one of my online students mentioned her intent to use garage sale yarns, my first reaction was, “I can’t wait to see what she found.” Then I remembered: She has serious allergies. That doesn’t mean she should pass up great finds or give up recycling. It just means a few precautions are in order.

New Life For Old Yarns from Donna Kallner on Vimeo.

This short video gives a few tips on how to prepare old yarns for use. Most of the yarns in that box, bought at a garage sale last fall, will be awesome after I overdye them. But that’s for another video.

Recycling: The Camel Hair Coat Chronicles

There are only a few pieces left from the man’s camel hair coat I bought at Goodwill last fall. Students in a natural dye class last fall used most of the coat. I kept the parts that were gunky with fused interfacing.

Some of that got used in a project for the Cross-Knit Looping eCourse that started this week. Registration for XKL closes tomorrow, but you can still get into New Age Looping Basics, which begins February 5.

Students will see it in Lesson 2, which posts next Tuesday.

I love working with this camel hair fabric and wish I had more. But I’m not even tempted to contribute my own camel hair coat to the cause. It was my mom’s playground duty coat. When she retired from teaching, she gave it to me. It has to be 25 or 30 years old but it’s still my go-to coat for dressy occasions and any occasion when temps are sub-zero.

You may see a picture of it next week.

I guess it’s time to scour the thrift shops for another camel hair coat.

What kind of recycled materials are you on the hunt for? And what’s your best thrift store find?

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Fun Versus Functional

Where do you stand on the question of fun versus functional? I’m a big fan of fun. Big fan. But when you open a closet door and realize you haven’t worn something in, what, four, five, six years? Yep — time to turn it into something functional.

This is the remake — a bag, modeled by my friend Stephanie.

This is what the bag was made from — a vest, modeled by me. Long time ago.

Way back when, I wanted a vest that would be fun and floaty and make a dramatic entrance. I made this one by looping over a core of bias-cut fabric strips. That’s right — it’s entirely hand-stitched. It took many hours and a full spool of Irish waxed linen. But I didn’t spend a cent on the fabric: It was all upcycled from three boxes of goodies my friend Diane gave me after cleaning out her aunt’s estate.

This fall, I decided to remake the piece before someone has to clean out my estate. So I cut off all the floaty bits (don’t worry — I saved them), seamed the thing together on the sewing machine, and added a braided leather strap.

I can’t help but look at this vest now and wish I’d been able to wear it with the white vinyl lace-up granny boots I bought a really long time ago with a year’s worth of babysitting wages. Loved them. Couldn’t walk in them. If I still had them, I’d probably remake them into something else. Probably a bag.

So what would you remake if it was still in your closet? And what’s there now that might be on its way to another incarnation that’s both fun and functional?

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And I’d Like To Thank My Stylists…

Thank you to everyone who commented here and on my Facebook page for helping me decide what to wear to sell my willow-dyed silk scarves at a local show! Your advice helped me decide on this combination:

  • brown linen shirt — thrifted but restyled with different buttons and funky cuffs (sleeves are always too long for me).  Thanks, Amy and Kim — the brown instead of black had a nice glow in the lower light of evening. I was almost convinced there’s still more brown than gray in my hair.
  • black trousers
  • bigger earrings than I usually wear. I took apart a copper pendant I made a few years ago and converted it into earrings.

Of course, I didn’t think to take pictures at the show, where I had both dress forms gussied up in two layers of silk scarves. But I had Bill take these pictures to show the simple way I’ve been wearing the scarves.

I take two of the 8″ x 54″ scarves and knot one corner together on each end to make a continuous circle scarf. Then I just loop it over my head. On my frame, three loops works well. And it’s so easy to wear that last night when people asked how I tie my scarves I could pull it off and put it back on with no mirror. Easy — that’s my style.

Again, thank you to all my stylists! Bill drew a name for me this morning, and the winner of the free scarf is a commenter from Facebook. Congratulations, Victoria!

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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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My husband knows when I’ve been lying awake, trying to spot a glimmer of inspiration in the half-light of early morning. He waits to speak until he sees the change in my expression that passes for “Eureka” at that hour of the day. It dawns on me that the best idea I ever had was to make a life with him.

Dawning by Donna Kallner

Dawning is showing through June 29 at the Ed Gray Gallery in Calumet, Michigan. Here’s a peek at what went into creating this piece.

First I foraged for recycled cardboard in my husband’s shipping department. 

I used plain old white glue to to turn a bunch of pieces into a slab.

After gluing, I let the slab dry under a weight overnight.

After hacking on the cardboard with a knife long enough to demonstrate my intention to do it myself, I asked my husband to shape the cardboard laminate on the band saw. He even smoothed it on the belt sander for me.

I covered the mold with Saran to protect it from damp. Sorry — forgot to take pictures of the process. In brief, I dampened buckram and pinned it to the plastic-wrapped cardboard mold and let it dry in place. The image above shows the trimmed buckram off the mold, and batting being fitted on the mold.

The fabric is silk I painted with Dye-na-Flow, recycled from a class demonstration for Designing Quilters in Fargo last March. The silk is underlined with a recycled dish towel. Some of the thread I painted with Dye-na-Flow, and some I colored with fabric markers. Judy, Ruth and Rhonda — yes, I basted.

The looping on the inside is anchored to buttonhole stitch embroidery. I love to work this kind of freeform looping. It gives me time to think and reflect, which is what all the work in the Night Vision collection is about, really.

You can read about other pieces in show here, here and here. Next time I’ll show the backstory on another of the pieces. In the meantime, I hope something wonderful dawns on you tomorrow. Leave a sketch pad by the bed tonight!

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Within The Eye

When is the last time you lay on the grass to watch clouds and name their shapes? One of the pieces I made for my Night Vision collection started that way, sort of.

Within The Eye by Donna Kallner

This piece is showing through June 29 at the Ed Gray Gallery in Calumet, Michigan. I used a bit of recycled metal and some plant materials to create marks on fabric, then worked with what I “saw.”

Before cropping

It was more like seeing shapes in clouds than like the entoptic images painted on cave walls by some ancient shaman. But when I put down the needle and close my eyes for the night, I don’t see clouds. I’m in the cave, with the story of a journey to share.

I layered the printed piece (a recycled pillowcase) over some silk from another dye experiment, then cut away parts of the cotton to reveal the silk.

I finished the cut edges with buttonhole stitches, and used the same sewing thread to work the looped filling on the figure.

The piece is framed with a recycled tablecloth, which I dyed and liked just fine until the piece was 80 percent done. After altering the color with fabric paint, the color was warmer and more evocative of the cave painting atmosphere I wanted.

I hope you have some time today to watch clouds skitter across the sky and imagine.

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Dream Catcher

Are you sometimes afraid the great ideas that sail through your mind at night will drift away before you wake up, lost in the mist of dreams? Me too. This piece, showing through June 29 at the Ed Gray Gallery in Calumet, Michigan, is my Dream Catcher.

Dream Catcher by Donna Kallner

It began with the odd figure on the left, printed by metal on a recycled pillow case. Usually dreamcatchers are made of knotless netting worked in a circle on a round willow frame, to hang in the window and snag any bad dreams that might try to get in. But this made me think of a dream catcher whose job is to snag the good ideas that drift through my head when it’s on my pillow.

On the design wall

I pictured the Dream Catcher casting a net across the deck of a vessel that struggles like a fish.


 He picks the net as he hauls it in, throwing back what is too small for now, to catch it again another night.

The vessel in this piece was made from recycled quilt blocks given to me by my sister-in-law’s best friend, from her aunt’s estate. I overdyed them in the indigo vat.

The frame is made from flannel blocks from the same source, also overdyed, then turned to use the back side so the prints were more subtle.


Netting is a knotted form of looping, close cousin to the knotless netting (also looping) found in other dreamcatchers. This netting was worked with a shuttle and gauge and linen thread, which I dyed before netting and hand-painted with gesso after it was stitched on the piece.

Bill suggested the anchor when I was talking about feeling “unmoored.” When my lines get frayed and snap, setting me adrift, he’s the Dream Catcher who keeps me from losing it.

Next time, I’ll take you inside another of the pieces from the show. In the meantime, sweet dreams.

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Curtain Of Stars

Out here in the country, there’s little point in closing drapes in the bedroom. When sleep eludes me, I lie next to the window under a curtain of stars finer than any lace I might hang over the glass to keep the wonder out. For the Night Vision series, I wanted to do a Starry Night vessel, but lace curtains kept getting in the way in my mind’s eye. And then they seemed to belong there.

Curtain of Stars by Donna Kallner
Like other pieces in Night Vision, this vessel incorporated recycled materials. Under the silk skin, there’s a substrate of mystery fabric from a mineral dyeing experiment. The inside of the vessel is silk from a solar dye experiment. Layers of batting, army blanket and buckram were stitched on the machine to start building some structure.

Using a zipper foot, I added boning I bought at a garage sale.

After building the walls of the vessel, I traced around the bottom to make a pattern for the base.

The base includes an inner layer, an outer layer and a weighted layer to help counterbalance the height of the vessel. The weights are lead shot (look for shotgun reloading supplies). I sewed the shot into the foot of a pair of old tights, stitching baffles to keep the BBs from shifting. The stocking is basted to the outer layer of the base. Then the base layers were all stitched together. Then the base was stitched to the vessel.

The silk skin on the outside came from some acid dye sampling, a few scraps of solar dyed silk, and a piece from my Black Hole. Once I started hand-stitching I forgot to take pictures but it went like this: Drape, pin, baste, repin, rebaste, shift, ease, stitch, repeat.

For the looped sheath, I used 2-ply bleached linen thread I had left from a class years ago. I painted the thread with Dye-na-Flow.

The image on the inside of the vessel is from a photograph I took near my home a few years ago.  

This vessel is in a show at the Ed Gray Gallery in Calumet, Michigan through June 29. Next time, I’ll take you inside another of the pieces in that show.

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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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