Natural Woman

My Natural Woman series is like postcards from an inward journey — the kind where you make room in your luggage for new stuff by leaving your old underwear behind.

Handpainted silk and digitally printed silk, applique, handpainted linen used to create the netting and Burundi looping at the base by Donna Kallner.
Catch by Donna Kallner

For an exhibition in 2010, I used looping in paired pieces that addressed a common theme in two different ways — one two-dimensional, the other three-dimensional. In Catch, I wanted to address the slippery nature of ideas, and my desire for an efficient tool (like a net) for capturing them. That piece led to this one.

Handpainted silk, raw edge applique, embroidery, quilting and looping by Donna Kallner.
Full Of Ideas by Donna Kallner

I do feel, much of the time, that my mind is a big open vessel swirling with ideas that could jump out at any moment. I used to want to capture them all, lest I never have another. Now, I’m more inclined to think of some ideas as “catch and release.” There are always more spawning.


Handpainted and dyed silk, raw edge appliques, embroidery, quilting and looping by Donna Kallner.
Plotting by Donna Kallner

I was working on a kiaha-inspired looped burden basket at about the same time. This was at the time of year when our mail box fills with seed catalogs. As I stitched, I was plotting in my head where to plant my own squash and beans, and fantasizing about purple pac choi and five kinds of kale.

Handpainted and dyed silk, raw edge appliques, embroidery, quilting and looping by Donna Kallner.
Plotting, detail by Donna Kallner

So many choices, and I want to do it all. But there’s only so much space and time available. Plotting celebrates how ideas sprout in the most unexpected places, but you have to keep thinning them.

Siberian iris leaSiberian iris leaves, Irish waxed linen, coiling, looping, by Donna Kallner.
Natural Woman by Donna Kallner

The sexy coiled bustier I had in mind when I sketched this piece evolved quickly into a sports bra. And despite the strength and confidence evident in this Natural Woman’s proud posture, how do you shake the problem that seems to plague so many of us who grew up with “fashion dolls”? We can mock the proportions that would make a real-life BarbieĀ® unable to walk upright, but deep down inside we think we want those big boobs. As it turned out, it didn’t matter whether my model was “Victoria’s Secret” or “Moving Comfort”. The story of this inward journey wasn’t about underwear, it was about unrealistic expectations.

Siberian iris leaves stitched with Irish waxed linen, looping, by Donna Kallner.
Grass Slipper by Donna Kallner

Reading Hisako Sekijima’s book Basketry: Projects from Baskets to Grass Slippers,Ā I was fascinated by her reflections on rice straw slippers. She wrote,

“They wore out fast, and when they were part of everyday wear, even children had to make pair after pair. Cultures that depend or have depended on perishable materials like grass, rice straw or wood instead of longer-lasting materials are likely to develop different values, especially those concerning labor and possessions.”

Rice straw slippers are not a part of my cultural heritage. Instead, I grew up in a time and place where ladies wore high heeled shoes with narrow toes. And oh, how lovely they made your legs look! But the shoes outlasted the feet in our culture, and left a legacy of hammer toes, calluses, bunions and fallen arches. ‘Grass Slipper’ is the marriage of ideas about two different cultures, and a tribute to the Prince Charming who found the real me hidden in hiking boots with custom orthotics.