Being The Boss Of Me

Swatch sampler — designs by Donna Kallner
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Technically, while I am self-employed I’m not really the boss of me: That would be a guy at the bank that holds the paper on our house, as Michael Perry says. On a day-to-day basis, though,  I’m the one making the do-do to-do list that keeps me on track. This week, all bets are off. It’s play time.

I’ve been a good girl this month, and got a bunch of non-studio stuff done. My web site needed work in a big way, and I would love to get your feedback on the makeover (hit the comment button below this post). It’s been workshop proposal time (I still have dates available, hint hint, but I’m caught up with those for now. My winter studio class series is scheduled. There are no yellow sticky notes on the bathroom mirror to herald impending deadlines.

So this week, I get to spend in the studio playing and possibly making some holiday gifts. I try to use gift projects to explore technique, sample products, and use up stuff I already have.

I’ll be using my Spoonflower swatch samplers to make some small projects. I need to get images posted on Spoonflower to show the fabric designs I have for sale “in action.” I don’t think it will spoil anyone’s Christmas surprise to get that done. Just in case, I invoke gift amnesia: My family knows what that means.

I already got started on a few things. For one project, I used Dharma pigment dye to alter a fat quarter of one of my black-and-white Spoonflower designs. I like to have neutral fabrics stashed so I can color them as needed for the project. Dharma’s pigment dye produces a mottled, stone-washed look I like and it couldn’t be easier to use.

Since the dye was already out, I mixed a bit more and used my gloved hand to brush it onto pre-quilted fabric left over from a play day with my sister-in-law last spring.

A while back I got a few gift bags made from the other stuff we painted that weekend.

And this week, I want to get some aprons made for the fire department auxiliary to wear at the community open house in a December. It’s a small department and an even smaller auxiliary. I got a design done this weekend for an image transfer, now just need to sew up three aprons to iron it onto.

While we’re being thankful for things this week, let’s give thanks for these people: 72 percent of firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers like my husband. He spent Sunday evening at a traffic accident and Saturday morning on a backcountry evacuation for a hunter who fell from his tree stand.

Hopefully, I won’t be seeing those guys this week when I get out my heat gun. I have an idea…

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Local Color On Washington Island

Last week was my 5-day Local Color workshop at Sievers School of Fiber Arts on Washington Island. A wonderful group of students worked hard in the studio, played hard on our field trips, and made me proud by sampling without being reminded. That’s my gang, spelling out “Washington Island” in sign language at Percy Johnson Park. As a student many years ago in a class with Jo Campbell-Amsler, I had a magical day at this beach weaving on a willow backpack, eating Lunchables, and enjoying the company of another great group of women.

This time, my class took digital photographs around the island, printed fabric, altered printed fabrics with surface design techniques and image transfers, did sun printing and solar dyeing, explored disperse dyes, and celebrated island traditions like Burger Night at Karly’s and Breakfast at Sunset. I even managed to finish a chocolate cone from the Albatross without decorating my white T-shirt with any drips (which I would have called “surface design”).

Whether I’m teaching or taking a workshop at Sievers, I always come home inspired and energized. I spent part of yesterday afternoon reflecting on the week and doing the same homework I assigned to my students, to help me clarify and prioritize what I want to explore next. I have more ideas than I have time (sound familiar?). So I have to choose which to pursue now. I’m also choosing which to pursue later, and which to pursue never. It’s strangely satisfying to say, “That’s interesting, but it’s not me” and move on.

So now it’s back to the studio and back to work. Picture me rubbing my hands together in glee. Or better yet, picture me working myself like a rented mule (my students will get the joke). I have a lot of sampling to do!

How about you? What techniques or ideas are you exploring this summer?

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Can’t Resist A Silly String Resist

Here’s another chapter in my quest to find ways to use party string in fiber art (hey, it’s my job). It’s a slapdash variation on snow dyeing, using Silly String as a resist element. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Prepare fabric. In true slapdash fashion, I grabbed an old but clean T-shirt (no softener or dryer sheets used when it was laundered).Since I only wanted to print a motif on the front, I put a plastic-covered hardback book inside and clipped the excess fabric out of the way on the back. You could mask areas you don’t want to print, if you want to spend more than a minute on preparation.
  2. Prepare dye. I mixed Dharma Pigment Dye with water in a small spray bottle.
  3. Prepare snow. I laid the shirt with the side to be printed down in the snow and pressed to make a small depression.
  4. Spritz. With the spray bottle, I spritzed pigment dye into the depression.
  5. Shoot. Shoot party string over the dye in the depression. Note to self: The string might work better if it weren’t so darn cold! I didn’t have time to check the thermometer and do the sample. Anyway, the party string froze pretty quickly, but I was able to pick some up and lay it where I wanted it. 
  6. Print. Lay the shirt down in the depression. A patient person would let it stay there for a while, but my hands were cold so I stood on it for a few seconds, picked it up, and took everything back inside. The party string stayed frozen in the snow.
  7. Oops. Had to go back outside right away to kick snow over the dye so the dog wouldn’t walk through it.
  8. Watch. With some snow sticking to the fabric, there was some migration of dye after I took it inside and the snow melted. Cool. Also, it appears that I bear more weight on my right foot than on my left foot while creating art when it’s cold. Also cool.
  9. Wait. Pigment dye needs to air cure 24 hours. After that, you can heat set if you want but it’s not necessary on cotton. After washing, you’ll get a nice, soft “stone-washed” effect.
  10. Wear.  Practice saying “Silly String Snow Painting” and “Thanks, I had a blast making it!”

I see Dharma has a special deal on some paint-splotched bottles of pigment dye. Here’s the link if you want to give this a try before winter ends.

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If You Can’t Fix It, Feature It

There’s no pretty way to put this: I’m messy. If there’s wet paint or dye or a similar substance of any kind within three blocks, I’ll brush up against it. If it can drip, I’ll have it on my shirt. If it can slosh, I’ll have it on my pants. If it can stain….Well, if it can stain, I call it surface design and take credit. Years ago I even did a lecture called “Luscious Laundry: The Dirty Secrets of Surface Design.”

It’s a good thing I have this enormous body of knowledge stacked up between my ears. Because the other day as I was folding laundry, I had trouble finding a long-sleeve T-shirt that didn’t have any stains. Time to apply my Cardinal Rule: If You Can’t Fix It, Feature It.

So here’s what I did to make one T-shirt more presentable. It will take longer to write this post than it took to do the shirt.

  1. Shoot. Shake a can of party string and shoot it at a shirt (or other fabric). The string will act as a resist for spray paint. Yes, I said spray paint.
  2. Mask. I laid four pieces of plastic to mask the design area. Didn’t tape it down or anything. Did I mention this was all happening on the floor of my studio?
  3. Spray. I grabbed a can of black spray paint (yes, stuff from the hardware store). I know from past experience that this is permanent when you get it on your clothes. So I applied a light mist of black spray paint over the Silly String. It doesn’t take much.
  4. Remove. Take off the plastic mask. Lift off the Silly String, which will have paint on it. Try not to get paint on your pants.
  5. Frame. The next day, I used a Tee Juice marker to add a frame around the image. And yes, I did put down masking tape first. That took longer than the first four steps. This marker needs to be heat set with an iron when dry.

That’s it. What’s next? Maybe a T-shirt with real spaghetti straps and a marinara medallion?

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Two Green Threads

This week in the studio I haven’t had much time for quiet stitching and contemplation. Instead, I’ve been doing all the prep work it takes to get me to that point — design work, materials selection, Plan B, stuff like that. For this piece, I needed to paint some fabric. While I was at it, I painted some 35/2 linen thread I need for looping to embellish this piece using the leftover fabric paint thinned with water.

To get two different, mottled thread colors, I leave one thread wrapped on the card and loosely wind another with my ball winder. Then I smush the thread into a Dixie cup and let it soak up the paint. The card takes up less paint, the ball more. Then I stick the card into a crack between floorboards to dry. The ball gets turned several times while drying so the top doesn’t get too dark.

I won’t heat-set this thread or wash it before I use it. Normally I would try to wait at least a couple of weeks for the paint to oxidize before using the thread, but there isn’t time. Past experience tells me I’ll have a little color come off on my hands, but it shouldn’t come off on the fabric.

I started painting my waxed linen for looping in 1998 after a workshop with Lissa Hunter. Now I paint all kinds of thread. Last year I even did an experiment with some acrylic yarn I inherited, soaking it with straight Dye-na-Flow and leaving the ball in a mesh bag to drip. Once the paint had cured, the hand of the yarn was more like hemp than acrylic.

Now that I know how quickly and easily I can paint thread, I keep more neutrals on hand (including stuff I pick up at thrift stores). Even if I’m not planning something specific for the thread, I’ll paint some with whatever fabric paint is left over. While it oxidizes, I have ideas incubating.

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Two Red Threads – 194 Years In The Making

Haven’t we met before? I’m Donna Kallner. I teach fiber art workshops around the country (and take workshops, too, when I can).

At these events, wonderful, interesting people begin fascinating conversations. And I’m the one who cuts in and breaks the thread of thought. When I’d like to say, “Tell us more!” I have to say, “Excuse me,” so I can do another demo, answer a question, or check on progress around the room.

This blog is a place to continue the conversation, untangle ideas, share stories, and reflect on what we learn by making fiber art. Thanks for coming by and joining in.

I’ll be posting a couple times a week (more some weeks, less others) about topics like looping, stitching, surface design, image transfer, digital fabric, mixed media textiles and vessels, stuff I’m sampling, books and blogs. I’ll post occasional tutorials, creativity exercises, prompts and challenges. And I’ll be asking readers to share work made in response to classes and challenges.

You can make sure you know what’s happening at Two Red Threads by subscribing, using the button in the sidebar.

So why is it called Two Red Threads? Stay tuned, and next time I’ll tell you about an unfinished project that should make you feel better about your own UFOs.

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