Packing Light

After Christmas I packed and sent off materials for workshops in Washington next week. I managed to fit materials for five workshops at the Northwest Basket Weaver’s winter retreat in two flat-rate Priority Mail boxes, with just enough room to slip in a few tea bags. Packing light is a skill developed through practice, and I’m always learning. 

It may take me a bit longer to set up for the netting class, since I decided not to ship the homebrewed tension jigs I like to use (heavy) or C-clamps (heavier). But students will be able to keep the cord I sent instead, and I’ll teach them how to tie a tension aid themselves (that trucker’s hitch is a useful knot). 

Continue reading Packing Light

Rethinking A Teaching Philosophy

For the 15 years I’ve been a traveling fiber arts instructor, I’ve tried to provide most of the materials for workshops I teach. As a student, my personal pet peeve is getting an extensive materials list for an event and not needing those things after I’ve carted them through connecting flights. And I know people appreciate materials and preparation that show respect for students’ time and money.

Handwoven fabric for Statement Seams workshop.

I’m almost packed for a two-week road trip that will take me to two conferences. The first is the Midwest Weavers Conference. I’ve been teaching at this biennial event since 2005, and it’s one of my favorites. This time I teach three different workshops — one full-day, two half-days. They’re topics I love, or I wouldn’t have proposed them. But they’re short teaching time frames.

Student samplers basted to stabilizer for fiber art workshop with Donna Kallner.

Short workshops often mean more instructor preparation. Like basting fabric to stabilizer and pressing seam allowances so 16 students can focus on stitching and possibilities in the three hours they have with me. As a student and as an instructor, I know the disadvantages of having prep work done for you. But I understand why short time frames are standard at many conferences in the United States.

Sorting and packing for fiber art conference workshops.

I had planned to remain the instructor with the short student materials list and the long instructor preparation to-do list for as long as I can manage it. Or at least, that’s the plan for events I can drive to and classes for which materials can reasonably be shipped. But I may rethink that on my way home from the second conference.

Eva Seidenfaden teaching at the Willow Gathering in Decorah, Iowa in 2014.

That’s the Willow Gathering at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. I’m not teaching there. My friends Jo Campbell-Amsler and Lee Zieke Lee organize the event, and I’m going to act as Conference Auntie. That way Jo and Lee can take workshops without the frequent interruptions that come when a bunch of people are living and learning in unfamiliar surroundings. And I can study other instructors’ teaching methodology. The Danish basketmakers I met there last year gave me much to think about.

But what about you? What do you see as the pros and cons of short workshops, longer workshops, instructor-supplied materials, student-supplied materials, different teaching models… Hit Comments and give me something to think about on the drive. I always appreciate your input!

Workshop Preparation: Local Color To Wear

It takes a lot more time to pack and prepare than it will to unpack and set up for the Local Color To Wear workshop when I get to Sievers on Saturday.

Packing for the Local Color workshop at Sievers.

Sievers is close to home — just over three hours plus a ferry ride. That’s so much simpler than packing and shipping materials to teach in an unfamiliar venue. And familiarity plays a huge role in designing a workshop like this.

Actually, this is a redesign, a melding of elements from three workshops I teach — a photography on fabric class with surface design elements, a digital fabric design class, and a natural dyeing class. It wasn’t an easy decision to combine them. I have no trouble saying no when people ask for things that don’t make sense or that I don’t think I can deliver. But students were asking for and when I thought about it, it did make sense. It will be a fun exploration of the local color on Washington Island, and I’m excited to see where students go as they express a sense of place in their work.

My students are coming with a broad range of goals for this class. And they’ll be working on a variety of devices and platforms — from digital cameras to iPhones, android tablets, and computers with operating systems that range from the latest Apple has to offer to the orphaned Windows XP. So before I even considered submitting this proposal last fall, I had to figure out how we would be able to print from all those devices. That was just the start.

Preparing handouts for fiber art workshop.

Since then, I’ve been sampling (and mostly ruling out) various apps and alternatives to GIMP (the image editing program I teach for digital fabric design), distilling concepts to what I think are essential skills, planning how to meet the varied learning styles of the group, plotting ways to work around any curves the weather throws our way, preparing to help troubleshoot problems on a variety of devices, and revising handouts.

It’s a huge help that I know what equipment I don’t have to pack because Sievers has it. Because I pack a lot of stuff for this workshop. That way, students get a very lean list of things they need to bring.

I know that for some students, sorting through and deciding what to bring with them to a class is joyful mental preparation. But over the years, I’ve seen many students bring vast quantities of materials from home, then spend a lot of time sorting and resorting through it to delay taking that next step into the unknown. Having done that myself, I know a stall tactic when I see it. So this class will have plenty of raw materials to work with, and plenty of options for making them into interesting things to transform into local color to wear.

So my laundry is on the line and I’m almost finished packing clothes as well as, well, a bunch of stuff. And I just remembered that when I woke up this morning I forgot to put spritzers on the list. Better do it right now before I forget again.

The Rule Of 500

A comment, an observation, a word of encouragement, an offer of resources: It’s amazing how much impact a chance conversation can have.

Mosaic bead looping work in progress.

The morning and afternoon workshop sessions at Wisconsin Spin-In were separated by a four-hour gap, giving me plenty of time to linger over lunch, shop the vendors and visit with some friends. Finally, though, I found the corner of a table where I could work on a small bead looping project. When the mold jumped out of my hands and flew at two women seated nearby, they took the interruption gracefully and folded me into their company. Before long, we had found common interests in adult education, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Moodle (the Learning Management System I use for my online courses), and more.

On the drive home, a story from years ago came to mind. Back when my husband and I still had our whitewater canoe and kayak school, we had a student who was the director of a camp program in northern Minnesota. He’s the one who told us about the Rule of 500.

You can make a profound and positive impact on another life at least once in every 500 contacts — and you never know when you’re at 499.

I’m still mulling ideas sparked during that conversation at Spin In. Where those ideas may lead, I’m not yet sure. But I do know I feel like someone’s #500, and grateful for the wonderful, generous people you meet at fiber events.

Has a chance encounter had a profound and positive impact on your life? I’d love to hear about it in the Comments.


Teacher Talk: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Years of canoeing and walking in the woods have taught me that some of the best sightings come when you stop to look back. New Year’s is a good time to look back as well as forward. And since this is the kind of reflection that often happens in the teacher’s cottage at Sievers, here’s a picture I took there last fall.

Deer browsing outside the teachers cottage at Sievers.

Sometimes things that seem elusive stick around a long time when you stay still.

One of the core elements of my classes is working to engage observation skills. I feel that helps students focus. When they’re focused, they’re less distracted by the inner voices telling them they don’t know what to do. Mindful observation is a huge step toward distilling a universe of possibilities (and where do I start?) into action. Instead of A-then-B-then-C, I want students to leave confident that on their own they’ll be able to observe the variables they encounter in materials’ characteristics and distill their body of knowledge into a starting point for them to keep working on their own.

I’m a huge believer that most people’s observation skills benefit from photography. The challenge of digital cameras, though, is that they record everything — everything. So in classes like Local Color, my job is to help students find ways to distill that information and concentrate on one element of a story at a time. For example, I usually have them sketch as well as photograph on field trips. Even when they say they can’t draw, sketching requires that they look closely at the subject. Stencil and screen printing is another great technique for helping people learn to distill what they’re seeing into essential elements.

Sievers Local Color class.
I’ve made some changes in the way I’ll teach Local Color at Sievers in 2014. The goal will still be to engage those observation skills and distill what students see into elements they can use to tell their story. But for the first time, I’ll be able to let them use their tablets and smart phones as well as digital cameras. In short, this class will be a mash-up of Natural Dyeing with Local Color field trips and photography a dash of Digital Fabric.


For example, as we gather material for eco dyeing, students will photograph where we’re gathering, then photograph the plant in great detail, then sketch the plant. As those materials are cooking in their eco dyed scarves, we’ll work with their photographs and sketches and with some utilities that help them alter, simplify and resize images. And from that unit, they may end up with a naturally dyed silk scarf, photographs of that naturally dyed silk fabric, images they can print directly onto inkjet fabric, and images they’ve manipulated or images taken from sketches that become Thermofax screens. We’ll be printing with those screens using thickened walnut dye concentrate, so that might be added to their eco-dyed silk scarves.

Thickened walnut dye screen printed on silk scarf by Donna Kallner.
And they’ll learn to print their images on inkjet heat transfer film. Resizing images to print at that scale is one of the things students are always eager to learn about. They really need the whole observation/distillation process, though, to work on the small canvas of jewelry.

Washington Island photos transformed into Local Color To Wear by Donna Kallner.
This class won’t teach them how to make the seamless repeat patterns for printing yardage like I taught in the Digital Fabric class. But so many people want to know how to work from their iPads and iPhones, and this will help them. It will give them less autonomy in their printing, though, since we won’t have a wireless router in the studio. But they’ll be able to send their images to me during the class, and print through my laptop. That, too, will encourage some distillation and editing in their design process.

2013 ends tonight with me looking back at all I’ve learned from my students over the years, looking forward to the next iteration of classes I love to teach, and knee-deep in production for a new online course. I’ll have a bit more information about the Freeform & Textural Looping eCourse soon. But for now, I’ll leave you with a wish for a healthy, happy and creative New Year.

Happy New Year 2014 from Donna Kallner.

Teaching Left-Handed When You’re Not

Teaching left-handed when you’re not is a great reminder of how students often feel — awkward, uncertain, maybe anxious, or a little embarrassed. Between the e-course I’m teaching and the e-course I’m taking, this week I’ve felt all that.

With years of practice, I’ve learned to give reasonably fluid demonstrations of left-handed looping techniques, even though that hand is not naturally adept at the fine motor skills of manipulating a needle. And from years of teaching workshops in person, I know most of my left-handed students are adept at translating righty into lefty. So once the basics are established, most offers to show variations left-handed are met with, “No, thanks, I think I’ve got it.”

Not this time. In my new cross-knit looping eCourse, I could tell from students’ comments and questions that I needed to add a left-handed cross-knit edging video. Sighs of relief echoed across the interwebs when I said I would add one next week. They waited patiently. I shot it. I reshot it. And reshot it again. And finally, after two weeks, it went up on the course site.

Ginger Rogers made dancing with Fred Astaire look effortless, and she did it backwards and in high heels. In my own little fantasy world, I work to create a Ginger-esque sense of seamless fluidity in the content I produce for my eCourses. Sometimes, when I stumble (and I do) I save that footage for a gag reel at the end of a course.

Out of frame outtake 1

 Not this time. I’ve emptied a digital trash bin full of left-handed looping video. Such poor modeling could only confuse students further.

Back of my hand video — not instructive.

Because I was so awkward, I kept moving the piece out of the camera’s frame and closer to my bifocals. I hit the lens with my needle at least once.

Out of frame outtake2

In the end, here’s what I had to do:

  • Practice. Unbelievably, I started shooting the first version without first warming up on a left-handed edging practice piece. Believably, it was painful to watch the playback of that footage. I deleted that stuff right away, then practiced before shooting Version 2.
  • Choose Easier Materials. I generally use different colors for right- and left-handed demonstrations to help me keep things straight in my head. Because I felt some time pressure on this video, initially I went with materials that were close at hand and “close enough.” That was a waste of time. In left-handed demos, my most awkward moments (and this is saying something) are threading a needle and piercing anything with a needle (in this case, felt). Eventually, I got different felt. And I allowed myself to bury the tail (that piercing thing), with my right hand.
  • Alter The Progression. The most confusing part of this edging technique is the base row. It took me seven tries to record an acceptable left-handed base row. But I didn’t begin with it in the edited video. Instead, I began in the middle, where my hand movements are smoother. With an audio dub, I explained: 

My left-handed demonstration skills are not as fluid as would like, so I’m going to start by showing how the stitching looks once you get going on an edging. Then we’ll go back to how to begin and end.

In some ways, I think I’d like to alter the progression of the Massive Open Online Course I’m taking, too. And as an academic exercise, I can understand why the course is structured the way it is. But for much of the first two weeks I’ve felt like a lab rat in someone’s Massive Open Online Research Project. It’s not that I lack the wit or the will to operate in a self-directed learning environment. Frankly, I’ve done just that for years while cobbling together bits and pieces of references on a relatively obscure specialty. For me, that kind of learning generally produces excitement, anticipation, the thrill of discovery — not the awkward, uncertain, anxiety I’ve felt in the #EDCMOOC.

In other words, I’ve felt like a right-handed stitcher demonstrating left-handed.

If I could alter the progression of the course, I would take some of the energy put into the first week’s live chat session (recorded here), and put it into producing video introductions to aspects of the material by individual members of the instructional team. Yes, some students might hate the “sage on a stage” model. And they could ignore those course elements. As for me, I would appreciate some talking heads. Their absence feels too much like the reluctance of lab assistants to interact or influence their subjects.

In a class of 40,000 students, I don’t really expect my comments or questions to result in an addition to the curriculum while the course is under way. But I do suspect the instructional team is feeling their share of anxiety about how this is going.

Unless they’re too busy writing up lab notes about my behavior 🙂

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Kitchen Table Wisdom, And Show And Tell

Do you find that the greatest revelations occur when you’re seated at your kitchen table talking with friends?

Jean and Connie

Two friends from my state’s Surface Design Association came up Saturday for a play date in my studio.

We played with surface design media on inkjet fabric while we talked. Then we migrated from the studio table to the kitchen table, and talked some more. These two talented and generous practicing studio artists are also retired art teachers. I told them about my experience and frustrations with the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I’m taking now (E-learning and Digital Cultures). They asked questions, made observations, asked more questions. I nearly fell off my chair when, with their gentle guidance, I realized:

Duh. I’ve given students in the eCourses I teach instruction on how to post comments, questions and photos on the course site. But I’ve given them very little guidance on how to use reflective writing as a tool for learning and why they would want to do so.

As soon as I finish posting this bit of reflective writing, I’ll email that observation and a couple more to the Gang of Four that hangs out at a virtual kitchen table built of four email accounts. They’re fiber arts instructors who agreed to join me in this MOOC. (Becka calls them “conscripts.” It’s not inaccurate). 

We four are a tiny subset of the 42,000 people in the online class. Collectively, I’m sure that hive-mind could solve the problems of the universe, except that the answer would be lost in the babble. The Gang of Four, on the other hand, gets to the point. And I trust them (more than myself, to tell the truth) to sniff out B.S. dressed up in academic jargon and call it what it is. 

We’re in the second week of the class we’re taking, and even one more head-thumping revelation at either kitchen table will make the effort surpass “worthwhile.” 

I have one more bit of kitchen table wisdom to share with you. Imagine I’m using my best Mom voice here: Always take something for show-and-tell. It’s so interesting to see what others are learning and doing and what excites them. You never know how one thing you show can inspire someone else, or what will inspire you.

Connie, who was here this weekend, just returned from a Shino glaze pottery workshop, and it was fascinating to hear her talk about the variables that effect color when pieces are fired. I know absolutely nothing about pottery, but I could see all kinds of connections between her samples and things I do with natural dyes on fabrics, and constructed vessels of the textile sort.

Jean, a felter, showed samples from a workshop she took with Lisa Klakulak of Strongfelt and two of the genius tools she bought from Lisa. I’ve used “no running water in my studio” as an excuse long enough. Now I want to explore some of my constructed vessel techniques using felt instead of fabric laminates. I’m putting that on the calender to make time for it this fall.

Jean also brought some of her looping explorations worked in a beautiful spun flax using a variation I’ve heard called Danish Stitch. It’s been a few years since I did much with this variation, and I’ve never really sampled it with a variety of materials. Add that to the calendar, too.

What’s happening at your kitchen table? And what will you take for show and tell?

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What Helps You Learn?

Would you help me with an experiment? I’m looking for feedback on some digital teaching tools. I’ve tried to make it worth your while with a free video and two screencasts on digital fabric design. But since I changed to Blogger’s Dynamic Views, you’ll have to click on the header for this post to see the whole story and the links.

Here’s the backstory. Twenty-five years of training and experience in adult education have convinced me: Students benefit from having an idea of what the “big picture” looks like. Then, when you break down a technique or design concept into do-able parts, they have a better idea how the parts fit into the whole.

So I’ve been sampling different teaching tools and delivery methods for helping students glimpse the big picture and setting the stage for learning before a workshop or e-course.

To begin, I produced an 8-minute video that follows the transformation of a digital photograph into the seamless repeat pattern pictured at the top of this post. One short video won’t make anyone an expert on Gimp, an open-source software alternative to Photoshop that you can download for free. But the video shows exactly what I did to turn a snapshot of a sumac leaf into a design I could print on Spoonflower, a print-on-demand fabric company that can turn your ideas into yardage.

The screencasts show how that design can be altered after it’s on Spoonflower. The first uses the Picnik imaging utility, which can be accessed directly from Spoonflower. The second shows the Color Change utility within Spoonflower.

I’d like to get your impression of the content, and your help with testing the technology on a wide variety of platforms — for example, Windows vs. Mac, operating systems of different generations (XP to Windows 7, for example), desktop vs. iPad vs. smart phone, that type of stuff. I need to know if you experience any delays in the buffering or problems playing the video or screencasts, the type of internet connection you were using when you viewed them, and sound quality you experience on different players.

In other words, I need feedback that tells me several things that I think you really need to be kept private.

So here’s my plan. I’ve password-protected the video. If you’d like to view it, use this link to email me with your email address. I promise I will not fill up your inbox with spam. What I will do is add your email to the “approved” list for viewing the video, and send you the password. You’re under no obligation of any kind, but you will have my email so you can answer my nosy questions as privately as one can, I suppose, in the digital age.

The two five-minute screencasts that follow up on the video’s content are here:

Fall Color Fabric With Picnik
Fall Fabric with Spoonflower Color Changer

You’re free to download or share those. In fact, I’m happy to share the password-protected video to any friend of yours who contacts me by email. But I would appreciate it if you not publish my email address in any form readable by the bots that troll the web looking for vulnerable email accounts. You can print my email as donnastitches [at] gmail [dot] com and advise your friends to remove the bot inhibitors, if that helps.

I really appreciate all the help I can get in this digital sampling session. And as always, thank you for your comments and feedback here on Two Red Threads, on Facebook and wherever else we connect!

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Say Cheese

Maybe this should be called the Light Bulb Lesson instead of “Cheese Wiz”. I saw what sure looked like light bulbs go on over students’ heads this morning during a triple-duty creativity warm-up / fabric printing session / teaching moment. I love when that happens.

The lesson involves using American cheese singles as a small-scale alternative to gelatin plates for monoprinting.

Cutting the slices and rearranging the parts gives a hands-on, cause-and-effect understanding of how wraparound repeats are made.

Students photographed elements during the process. Those images can be used in digital fabric designs.

The very cool sample fabrics they printed were photographed to include in the design libraries students have been building this week.

And they’ll be able to use the printed fabric in projects as well.

That was just the first half hour or so of class.

We spent the morning working on pattern repeat concepts. Just before lunch, we visited the other studio, where Connie Westbrook’s students are making rag rug tote bags with inkle-woven handles.

Later in the afternoon, Connie’s class came to visit our studio. My students showed them the source materials they’ve been using for inspiration and designs they’ve developed from those sources.

More thermofax screens were burned after class during evening studio play time. By then, though, I completely forgot about taking pictures. Carolyn Foss from Sievers posted some photos she took on the Sievers blog, but I have to remember tomorrow to take photos of some of the prints students made from their screens.

More show and tell tomorrow morning as we wrap up the class.

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Sunset And Clean Hands

Tonight was one of those magical evenings on Washington Island, with a beautiful sunset in one direction and an enormous moon rising in the other. I was driving back from dinner so didn’t get a shot of the moon (then got distracted — you know how it is). But here’s the view of the west harbor.

My Digital Fabric class at Sievers started this afternoon. The students are all off dreaming sweet dreams and getting rested for tomorrow. We’ve started working with Gimp, done some surface design sampling, and taken our first class photo.

Look at those clean hands! Can you tell this is before they got into the fabric paints?

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