Connecting The Dots

What kind of activity helps you when you need to connect the dots in your master plan? For me, preparing materials for upcoming workshops can do that. Sometimes. When I don’t have to count, or measure, or figure out some ingenious way to make an impossible amount fit into the space and weight allowed for checked luggage.

Materials prep for upcoming workshop.

When the tasks are simple and repetitive, I can let my mind wander. And with all the things floating around up there, it’s good to have some quiet time to connect some of the dots.

So while the class prep to-do list gets shorter, the master plan to-do list gets longer. And longer. But it’s exciting to contemplate those dots. Two more online courses to get going on. More e-books to do. Maybe even (do I dare?) a New Age Looping app for mobile devices.

In the meantime, I sipped tea and stuffed pincushions yesterday, and everything fell into place in my head. This morning, everything fell back out of place while I fought with a fussy browser. But those dots are all still there, just waiting to be re-connected.

And maybe soon we’ll have enough snow melted that I can work out some of these questions while walking the dogs. In the meantime, I might stuff some more pincushions I don’t really need.


Springing Forward

There’s still a deep blanket of snow all around us. But it’s warmed up enough for me to turn the heat back on in my studio. In anticipation of flooding from the snowmelt, I’ve moved the sewing machine pedal up, unplugged everything, and finished one job that requires the big work table before I start stacking other things on it.

Irish waxed linen hand-painted by Donna Kallner.

For workshops coming up later this month, I needed more painted waxed linen. Years ago, Bill built me this lovely reel, which screws onto the table. The video below shows how I do this in smaller quantities.


In the meantime, I’m making good progress on adapting my print book New Age Looping to make it compatible with e-readers. But how to picture the process of editing an e-book in a visually compelling way? I haven’t figured that out. Yet.


Studio Limbo

It’s been a month since we temporarily closed down my studio and toted all the stuff that shouldn’t freeze into the basement of the house.

Fabric surface design media.

All my fabric surface design media, art supplies, and jars of natural dye concoctions were boxed up, hauled downstairs, and piled near the table where I edit video for online classes and have my Etsy shop storage and shipping.

Studio winter of 2014.

It made good sense:  My studio is an old building that leaks heat like a sieve. With the extreme cold we’ve had this winter, the propane shortage and the price spike, we couldn’t afford to keep the heat on out there. So for the past month I’ve been running out there for a piece of felt, a bin of yarn, this book, that spool, a handful of selvedge strings… You get the idea. Now I have disorganized messes in two locations.

This week I had hoped to turn the heat back on and get started on a long list of tasks that require simmering or a sewing machine. But the forecast for Thursday night is 20 below zero again. So I’ll keep working in the house for another week before carrying stuff back out and getting it all put away. Maybe some of the ice on our porch steps will melt by then.

Icy steps to the porch.

If it warms up quickly this spring, there’s a very real chance my studio will flood. It’s been a while since that happened, but it’s kind of hard to forget. So I need to make sure I get things up off the floor — fabric on bolts, the sewing machine pedal, the old sewing machine stored in the back, boxes of natural dye materials, some other materials stored in cardboard instead of plastic bins. Not knowing when it might happen means… You guessed it: More moving, more mess, more studio limbo.

Winter drifts 2014.

So that’s enough whining from me. I actually do love winter, and this one has definitely been memorable.





Full Plate Syndrome

OK, show of hands: Who else finds that when you’re busiest, more always ends up on your plate? Thought so.  And it’s all good, even when you know it’s a bit too much.

Freeform looping online class example by Donna Kallner.

Right now,  I should be single-mindedly focused on finishing the videos and digital handouts for the new Freeform Looping online course I’ve promised to launch by February 11.  That’s in pretty good shape. But before making a planned trip to visit with my folks, who don’t have internet access, we moved up the planned purchase of an Android tablet. That will make it easier for me to work while traveling, but I had to learn to use it before we left. Might have been a little distracted and app-happier than necessary for a day or so.

A snow day that canceled flights out of Green Bay gave me an extra day to work, which was good. Then when we got back:

Scout meets Blue.

We’ve been looking for a puppy for a couple of years, and finally found just the one. She came home with us last Thursday, at 11 weeks old. Scout (the old dog) is getting used to Blue (the puppy).

Potty training in sub-zero temps.

We’re potty training in sub-zero temperatures, and she’s doing amazingly well. We’re learning her signals for when she has to do her business, and mostly getting her outside sooner rather than later. And she’s learning to get down to business quickly because the snow underfoot is cold.

Because of the cold, there’s a propane shortage in Wisconsin. So this afternoon we’re moving everything that can freeze out of my studio and shutting that building down until it warms up. We can heat the house with the wood stove if necessary, but then it gets pretty cold in the basement video studio. So I may be back to editing video upstairs.

Homebrew beer pails.

If so, I need to finish the last of the audio dubs downstairs. Bill started some homebrew last night and they’re really active today. I had to redub some audio last year when I realized I could hear that in the background. The bubbles rising in the airlocks sound like a dozen dripping faucets.

Which reminds me, Blue and I both should probably both go potty. Now!


Mindless Tasks For Brainless Days

After a productive fall, in mid-November I caught a cold and bronchitis that just keeps hanging on. For times like these, it’s good to have some mindless tasks on the to-do list.

Garage sale threads overdyed with indigo and fiber reactive dyes.

So yesterday I finished off some pre-mixed fiber reactive dyes and overdyed some threads. Then I  ran some other threads through the indigo vat. These were threads I picked up at garage sales and skeined another day when I needed a mindless activity, and threads that were skeined and butterflied for student sampling in a dye class that canceled at the last minute.

I’m running out of mindless tasks, and need to get my brain and my voice back before long. Before I can record audio for the Freeform Looping online class that launches in late January, I need to be able to talk without coughing. So in the meantime, I’m chipping away at other stuff. We completed our application for new health insurance through the health care exchange, which will make a huge difference in our lives. I did some work on a project I can’t talk about for a while yet but which taught me a lot. And I’ve had the best holiday sales season ever in my Etsy shop — probably because I’ve worked at it more deliberately than in previous years.

But mostly I’ve been making Etsy Treasuries (fantasy shopping for other people) and knitting — really simple, no-pattern, no-brainer garter stitch stuff. Which I’m, frankly, sick of.

There’s a whole bolt of raw silk in my studio, waiting for me to sew into scarves and dye. And a lot to do to finish the Freeform class, plus a lot of promotion to get it ready to launch.

But this afternoon I’m going to curl up with another cup of lemon ginger tea, make another Etsy Treasury, and hope some elves show up to sew those scarves.

What do you do to feel like you’re getting something done when all you’re fit for is mindless tasks?


Learning From Customers

It’s incredibly valuable to see and hear how people react to what you make — what they like, what they don’t even notice, how they interact with materials. So Saturday’s studio sale was a great day for us on many levels.

Open house and sale at Donna Kallner's studio.

Neighbors started arriving early and we were busy all day except for a short lull around 1 pm, when I finally got some pictures.

Holiday open house and sale at Donna Kallner's studio.

No, I didn’t take any pictures of the back of the studio, which looked like Fibber McGee’s closet.

Studio open house and sale.

We hide a lot of my stuff behind the rolling design wall and my big work table, which we stand up on edge, tie off to the ceiling, and cover with draping. There’s an open path to the back door, but the rest of the space behind the screen gets piled pretty deep. Before I start piling, I try to think of all the things I might need from back there. By the time I remembered the staple gun, it was waaay too late to reach it.

Open house and studio sale.

Saturday went by in a flash. And then it was Sunday. We took down the screen, started putting things back where they belong, and thought about what we could learn from the sale.

People asked great questions — not just about things that were for sale but also about things that were still tucked here and there: Strainers and colanders. A basket of things I never had a chance to get prettied up to sell. Tools and materials I hadn’t hidden in back. When someone reaches for something you hardly even notice any more, it’s good to pay attention.

So I have much to reflect on this week, and much to be thankful for. The people in our rural community came out to support us, to support handmade, to buy local, and to help us learn more about how what we do fits into their lives. Bill and I are grateful, and we’re learning.


Studio Sale Preparations

Do you find that nobody notices the things you drop from your to-do list? I know some of the stuff on my list won’t happen before Saturday’s open house and studio sale. As long as no one looks too closely at the corners, it’ll be fine.

Artists Bill & Donna Kallner prepare for studio sale.

But I have gotten a lot done. I’ve been dyeing lots of yarn for the sale. Today I need to hide some buckets and pots of plant dye materials I’ve been letting freeze and thaw outside my studio. There’s lots of general tidying up to do, along with labeling and pricing. And those windows definitely need to be washed.

Skeins of yarn dyed by Donna Kallner with natural dyes gathered in northern Wisconsin.

Even if the windows don’t get done, the quilting fabric I dyed for the sale is all washed, ironed, folded and ready to sell.

Hand-dyed quilting fabric by Donna Kallner.

This week I sent out an alert to my email newsletter readers to give them a chance to place orders on Etsy before Saturday. My Etsy shop will stay open, but I’ll deactivate items that are in the studio sale. After we close, I’ll inventory and start reactivating unsold items.

Eco-printed silk scarf by Donna Kallner.In the past two weeks, we lost a family member, went downstate for a funeral (best celebration of life ever), did two search and rescue trainings and a lost hunter search (found — all is well), shipped Etsy orders, and dealt with two different plumbing issues (only one of which is resolved).

We have a half-gallon of Death By Chocolate ice cream to get us through the weekend. Do you think that’s enough?


What Little Rewards Work For You?

One piece of chocolate? A nice soak in the tub? An episode of Project Runway? What kind of little rewards do you look forward to?
Naturally dyed silk scarves by Donna Kallner.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the computer doing stuff no one  will see for a while yet.  It’s good stuff, and I love the interactive features of the new platform I’m using for my online classes New Age Looping Basics and Cross-Knit Looping. But for now, I have to squint to see tangible results for a day’s labor. This is where one might turn to chocolate.

Instead, I’ve been adding one item every day to my Etsy shop — mostly naturally dyed silk scarves. Sorry, chocolate — no calories in silk. And when what you want is “tangible”, you can’t go wrong with rich, lustrous silk. So at the end of the day, my Etsy shop is the measure I’m using for the sense of accomplishment I crave.

And I love that some of the scarves I sell are used as little rewards for the people who buy them or give them as gifts.

So what do you do when you can’t see what you’ve got done?


What Do You Do At A Crossroads?

This week I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall of tech challenges. I couldn’t get through, go over, or sneak around that wall. So I’m giving magical thinking a shot: Maybe what feels like a brick wall is really a crossroads? And maybe I should make a turn?

Crossroads by Donna Kallner, pin-loom weaving and cross-knit looping.
Crossroads by Donna Kallner

Crossroads is also the name of a piece I shipped this week for the Teachers’ Exhibit at Midwest Weavers Conference in Emporia, Kansas.

Bringing together people from different places with different ways of doing things to trade ideas and resources: That’s the ancient tradition carried on by events like this conference. To celebrate that, I combined my own basswood fiber (harvested in northern Wisconsin and twisted into cordage) with handspun tassar silk and fique (a pineapple fiber) from Habu Textiles. The flat elements were woven on a simple pin loom I made myself. The pieces are joined at the edges and rimmed with cross-knit looping, a single-element construction technique that may be even older than loom weaving.

At lunch, I emailed our county’s economic development director to get recommendations on who to contact for help with my tech woes. She’s pretty good at bringing together resources. By this time next week, I’m hoping all the loose ends I’ve been struggling with are neatly joined together.

But there may still be some construction delays ahead.