Going With The Flow

Sometimes you just have to let an idea evolve.

Shoal by Donna Kallner.

The exhibition piece I was working on in my last post was finished, but it was 20 below zero. About all we could do in those temperatures was drive around looking for suitable sites where it could be photographed.

Bridge in winter.

Deep snow, extreme cold and wind meant my original idea of hanging the elements from a bridge near my home was going to be more difficult than doable. Ditto Hanging Elements Plans B and C.

Work in progress by Donna Kallner.

So I played with the elements, and kept coming back to the idea that they looked like a shoal of fish. So we reassessed options and went with Plan D. But since that involved possibly standing in freezing water, it seemed prudent to wait until it got a bit warmer. Today, it was positively balmy with temperatures above 20 degrees. So Bill and I went to shoot the piece this afternoon after he got home.

Rural artist Donna Kallner positioning looping installation in water.

With air temperatures 30 degrees warmer than when we scouted, there was more open water and much more current. The water is only about a foot deep, but Bill’s felt-soled wading boots offered more secure footing than my tall rubber boot. So I went up on the bridge and my wonderful, generous, supportive husband stood in the water positioning the piece while I took photos standing on a ladder on the bridge.

Bill Kallner positioning artwork by Donna Kallner for photography.

It was a little late when we got started so we didn’t have quite enough daylight to get all the shots I wanted — especially since my battery got cold and I had to warm it up a couple of times. So we’ll probably shoot again in a couple of days. By the time we return, the ice will have changed and our plans may have to evolve a bit to suit the conditions we find then. We’ll go with the flow and see what happens then.

What You Can’t Fix, Feature

At least 20 years ago, I read something I remember as “the 4th rule of marketing — if you can’t fix it, feature it.” That advice has served me well. Instead of getting bogged down trying to make the impossible happen or playing that spirit-crushing game, “I can’t because I don’t have the money,” I try very hard to focus on what I can do.

Work in progress by Donna Kallner.

One of the things I’ve been unable to fix in my career as a fiber artist is the challenge of getting professional-quality images for exhibition juries. Other artists in rural areas manage, but I’m often too close to the deadline to send my work off for someone else to shoot. Or I just can’t scrape up the money for both the jury fee and professional photography. So I shoot my own images for my web site, class listings and most things I need. I get by, thanks to my friend Sarah McEneaney, who helped me jerry-rig my first in-house photo studio in the creepy, bat-infested basement of our old farmhouse.

Back then, juries and publishers all wanted slides. I really worked at improving my lighting and composition skills, and my photos got better. But my shots have always lacked the polish of a professional photographer. Finally, I just accepted that and gave myself permission to do the best I can with the skills and equipment I have and to pass on opportunities that require images I can’t produce myself.

Work in progress for NBO 2015 exhibition.

Mostly. This year, as an instructor at the 2015 National Basketry Organization biennial conference, I’ll have work included in the exhibition, for which there will be a full-color printed catalog. That’s not something I want to pass on.

The images are due February 1. As you might suspect, I’m still stitching, so there’s no chance I can send this out and have someone else shoot it. Every scheme I considered for photographing it myself as an indoor installation felt like something that would fall short. Since I can’t fix those circumstances, I came up with a “feature it” plan.

Ripple Effect for 20 for 20 exhibition at the Textile Center.

Last year I loved photographing Ripple Effect in the water before it went into the gallery at The Textile Center. All the water in my neighborhood is frozen right now, so I can’t float the elements and shoot them that way. But I can hang a temporary outdoor installation and photograph that.

Scouting sites for art installation photography.

I have a few locations in mind, including this bridge (photographed last October). I may have to enlist some helpers, including a few devoted to praying it’s not still 20 below zero when we shoot.

In the meantime, I’m stitching like a fiend, and dreaming of ways I’d like to shoot this. If only I could summon hoarfrost on my command.

Seasonal Effective Order

With the winter solstice still 12 days away (but who’s counting), the short hours of daylight are pretty precious. I get outside — to walk with the dogs, get the mail, grab stuff from my studio. But now that I’m working in the basement (I moved my studio for the winter to save on heating costs), I was concerned that I might start feeling like a root vegetable.

Basement studio for the winter.

So far, though, it’s working pretty well. With less space, I’m trying very hard to keep from starting piles. I’m getting some exercise going up and down the stairs to let the dogs in and out, and going out to my shop to find things that didn’t make the migration into the winter studio. But mostly I’m just getting work done.

There was one uncomfortable moment today, when I realized I had turned on the tap just to rinse off my gloves. That never happens out in my studio, where there’s no running water. I dunk my gloves in the same rinse water many times when each bucket is hauled in by hand, then eventually dump that water on the compost pile. When I realized what I was doing today, I grabbed a bucket and resolved to use water more conservatively.

Something else I don’t do while working in my regular studio is dovetail hands-on work with virtual work. Our WiFi router doesn’t reach the other building, so I have a perfect excuse for putting off certain online marketing tasks. Today, though, I managed to manage a dyepot and an email newsletter at the same time.

In short, it feels like I’m being effective during this season, and all is in order.

P.S. If you’re still shopping for holiday gifts, click the images below to go to products featured in today’s email newsletter.

Natural dye scarves by Donna Kallner.

Indigo scarves by Donna Kallner.

Hand-dyed fabric for quilter gifts from Donna Kallner.

Stocking The Online Store

Messy dye processes seem more interesting to share than the business end of what I do. But I had a ton of new scarves to get added to my Etsy store, and the sooner the better since people might do a bit of online shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Natural dye scarves in Donna Kallner's etsy shop.

It seems to take almost as much time to tag, photograph, wrap, bin, describe and list things as it does to make them. But I was closing in on the last few yesterday.

Photographing scarves for listing in Donna Kallner's Etsy shop.

That’s when the volunteer fire department pager went off. By the time Bill and I got home, I had learned that my new car handles OK on wet, heavy snow and that the windshield defogger will not be rushed. I was cold and wet so I turned off the lights in my studio and called it a day.

This morning, other un-photogenic businessy things that had rolled over from yesterday had to be dealt with. Now it’s back to finish shooting scarves, so I can start dyeing more.

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.

Starting From Where You Are

Sometimes when it feels like you’re so far behind you’ll never catch up, all you can do is start where you are and redefine success as any forward progress whatsoever.

Dock for natural dye.

Fortunately, this time of year there’s plenty of natural dye material to gather, at least when it’s not raining.

Dock top dyebath for immersion dyeing wool yarn.

The dock tops dyebath I prepared looks promising on wool yarn.

Dock tops exhaust dyebath on bark bundles.

I used some of the dock dyebath to simmer bundles I made before leaving for a family reunion. This would be the family reunion that started with cousins driving through torrential rains and ended with our nephew taking his daughter to the emergency room after she fell while climbing a tree and us on our way to an emergency vet clinic. In the end, everyone survived but we’re pretty sure none of us will forget this reunion!

Bark bundles left to mellow.

Before leaving for the reunion, I wrapped briefly soaked dry willow bark and white pine bark in raw silk dampened in 50/50 water/vinegar, throwing a few dried Siberian iris leaves in one bundle. The bundles were tucked into a plastic bag while we were gone. When we got home, I simmered them with a rusty bottle cap in dock bath left over from dyeing the yarn..

The dock yarn and some recent scarves are now in a rinse soak. I’m about to head out to the studio now to unwrap those bark bundles. The puppy who met the emergency vet clinic staff  (she developed a scary abscess while we were away) is coming with me for a little change of scenery. Not that she can see much with the conehead on.

Blue with drain for abcess.

We’ll be taking things slow this week, and hoping for a boring Labor Day Weekend.

New Wringer Washer

Anyone who shares a home and a life with someone else will understand: Sometimes you make a decision that seems crazy to everyone else — one that’s impossible to explain rationally. I understand that it’s hard to understand why I wanted a wringer washer in our basement.

Wringer washer is now in the basement.

But I’m glad it’s there now. Thank you to the two strong young men who carried it down there for us while they were here for our family fishing camp!

I’ll post more about why I wanted it later. First, I have a few things to move…

Rites Of Spring

Outside, the birds are singing, and lettuce is up in one container despite eight inches of new snow last week. Inside, I’ve been plugging away at the New Age looping e-book, with breaks for one of my area’s rites of spring.


Our neighbors tap trees and cook the sap down into syrup. Bill and I show up to help collect the sap, pouring it from collecting bags into buckets then transferring buckets to barrels on a trailer that are then pumped into holding tanks until Mike fires up the cooker.


During sapping, the woods can be snowy or slushy, and slippery with ice and mud. But it’s fun to spend time with our neighbors, and satisfying to work at a task that produces measurable resultsMuch of the work I do takes weeks or months to complete. Sapping, on the other hand, takes a couple of hours. In the fresh air.

Hyperlinking illustratioins in New Age Looping e-book.

Yesterday, before sapping I finished bookmarking and hyperlink indexing the 66 illustrations in the new e-book. After that, it felt really good to get out in the woods.

Pulling taps at the end of sapping season.

It was the last sap pick-up for the year, so we helped the crew get started pulling taps, taking bags off the frames and getting stuff ready to put away until next spring. Meanwhile, Mike was back at the sap shack cooking syrup, which smelled heavenly.

I’m almost to the point with the new e-book where I can see the sweet, sweet end of the task. The next e-book I do will go faster, now that I sort of know what I’m doing. I’ll keep you posted on when this one is finished, and on what comes next. In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying your own rites of spring.

Risking The Digital Empire

Cleaning up formatting errors in my new e-book on New Age Looping basics doesn’t produce many pictures that make the life of a fiber artist seem glamorous and exciting. But after I spent yesterday changing all my passwords and checking everywhere for the Heartbleed bug, this old one came to mind:
Donna Kallner is a fiber artist, not a trained IT professional.

Fear is a funny thing. I have no problem making mistakes with fiber materials or recipe ingredients. Those are things I understand. Fear doesn’t stop me from doing lots of other things I really don’t understand — like building my own web site or formatting e-books. For the most part, I figure I’ll learn from my mistakes and clean up later.

Bugs like this, on the other hand, really scare me. So I dropped what I was doing and took what seemed to be prudent measures to protect my digital empire, with a break for shoveling snow (yes, more snow).


For those of you who are registered in an online course at tworedthreads.com, rest assured: I found no cause for concern there from the Heartbleed bug. I was afraid it would require a forced password change for everyone on the site, but it looks like that won’t be necessary. Even so, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to change your own password there, and on the other sites you frequent. Remember to make them a tricky mix of capitals, lower case, numbers and symbols. And don’t use the same password for all your sites.

I’m about to throw caution to the wind, though, and risk my entire digital empire because of the proverbial final straw. The prudent thing (or so I read) was to switch to the Chrome browser with the Chromebleed plug in, which is supposed to alert you if you land on an infected site. But in this (expletive deleted) browser, I can only see HTML mode for composing in WordPress. This has no impact on you, dear reader, but it’s making me want to curl up with a trashy novel and some dark chocolate and potato chips. I’ll never get that e-book done if I do that.

So I’m going back to my Firefox browser and taking my chances. Sorry, Chrome — it’s not you, it’s me.

Here’s hoping you and yours are safe from malicious code, that it isn’t snowing where you are, and that none of us runs out of dark chocolate.