Fall Color & Natural Dye

My natural dye workshop at Llama Adventures in Arena, Wisconsin was last weekend — the perfect time to be downstate where there were still leaves on trees and the colors were spectacular.

The colors were great in the workshop, too!

This was a sampling workshop, and the group did an amazing job with the fast pace on Saturday.

On Sunday, they had more time to explore their own interests.

It’s always fun to watch people who generally prefer exact measurements and predictable results embrace uncertainty….

…and those who generally roll the other way get into controlled-variable sampling mode.

From time to time “the girls” looked in on what was happening in the studio.

We ended the workshop with a short field trip to look at a stand of wild willow that, I suspect, will be used in dyepots ere long.

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

Harvesting Color — Bracken

Bracken dye brewed with iron, on cotton rug warp

Bracken fern grows in abundance in my neck of the woods. In September, I brewed up a big batch of bracken dye before I headed off to teach in Denver.

Bracken (left) and staghorn sumac leaves (right)

I find that giving a stained dyebath some extra time to sit in an aluminum pot can help brighten colors. I also find that I should tape a label to the pot lid, because my loose notes got mixed up and I can’t swear to what kind of dyebath I used for a couple of things. The one at the top I know is the second simmer of a bracken bath in which I added some rusty nails to get that dark gray.

Merino top in bracken (?) dyebath

I’m only 90 percent certain this was the first dyebath extracted from that bracken. Oops.

Natural dye sampler workshop at Sievers’ Gathering

Anyway. There’s a good stand of bracken outside one of the studios at Sievers, so I cut enough to brew a pot for a short natural dye workshop I taught as part of the biennial Gathering the last weekend in September. The school is on Washington Island, and being surrounded by Lake Michigan has a huge influence on their weather. While the bracken at home was showing definite signs of frost and freeze, there was fresher stuff at Sievers.

Naturally dyed silk scarves

 In a 4-hour sampling workshop, there’s not much time to take pictures. But trust me, students did some beautiful silk scarves, some of which were dyed with that bracken brew.

Unwrapping cold-bundled silk samples

They also unwrapped some silk I cold-bundled before I left for Denver so these students could swap swatches.

Students’ sample cards for cold-bundled hops, bracken, Virginia creeper and willow leaves

 The second column from the left in this photo includes bracken leaves. I’m 90 percent sure the brew I basted some of the bundles with was bracken, too. The students got the idea, and probably learned to keep better records than I do!

Frozen bracken for winter dyeing

 In September, I “put up” enough bracken in the freezer to make several dyebaths. I’ll try to do a better job of recording and photographing bracken when I brew those. Where did I put that tape?

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

Rocky Mountain Looping Adventure

Why do I leave my camera in the bag in the back of the vehicle? The weather in Denver last weekend couldn’t have been more perfect, and I don’t have a single photo of the gorgeous mountain range at sunset to show you. But there were smiles as big as the Colorado sky on the faces of my lovely host and the program committee person for the Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild.

The guild had invited me to do a lecture on looping and a couple of short workshops last weekend. After the lecture, I spoke briefly with Jean Scorgie, who, back in the early 1990’s, wrote an article on cross-knit looping for Piecework. It was a pleasure to tell her how much help her needleknit finger puppets article was to me in my quest for looping knowledge. No photo, of course — I was too busy talking.

I did manage to get some quick shots of my students’ work before everyone scattered. The afternoon after the lecture, we did skipped stitch looping using wool yarn over bars of soap. With use, the wool will felt and their projects will evolve into lacy little felt bags.

During Sunday’s Burundi looping class, the chorus of ideas I heard for how students planned to use their new skills was music to my ears.

The lecture and workshops were held at TACtile, which had the Studio Art Quilt Associates Regional Members’ Showcase on exhibit.

TACtile is located above the JHB Button Museum, so I had a few minutes to indulge my love of buttons, thimbles and vintage stitching paraphernalia.

One of my students graciously checked out three books from the guild library so I could look at them overnight. I could hardly keep my eyes open, but read enough to know I need to be looking for copies of these Anne Bliss titles for my personal library.

That’s a logical place to break and come back next time with more on natural dyeing. But first, I just have to say how much I enjoy the people I meet on these little adventures. This time, I met someone with an adult child in circus school in Australia (her own world adventures as part of a handbell choir were fascinating in their own right). I’ve met people who have visited the South Pole, danced on American Bandstand, worked for Barbie (THE Barbie), and had all kinds of fascinating experiences.

Monday evening I got home tired and happy. My husband was vacuuming and had sheets on the bed for a visit from his brother and sister-in-law, who arrived shortly after I did. We had a lovely couple of days with our company, and I’m just now starting to share with him the stories from Denver. I must remember to tell him about the snow bike.

Seriously — next time, back to natural dyeing!

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

When It’s Not A Race

Over the weekend, I found myself this close to the finish line on a big task. Then my bobbin thread ran out. After a moment of frustration, I thought how silly that was compared to the Olympic triathletes who had to change bicycle tires during their race. I love the Olympics. Puts things in perspective.

I’ve been sewing the proofing swatches of my Spoonflower fabric designs into sample collections, both for my own reference and to make it easier to illustrate concepts in my Digital Fabric workshops. I teach that again this week for Michigan League of Handweavers. And I have plenty of samples. So I didn’t refill the bobbin and kick for the finish line. Instead, I got wash off the clothesline, went for a walk with Bill and Scout, and watched the Olympics again.

Sometimes it feels like the clock is always ticking and the to-do list never gets shorter. It’s August and unpulled weeds have set seeds. I haven’t started the deck project. And my ambitious summer dyeing plans? Those withered on the vine.

But I did get a staghorn sumac dyebath brewed from Bill’s leftovers. We gathered last week for a batch of wine. Bill scraped the fuzzy berries for wine, and I got the staghorn stalks and leaves for dyeing. After a couple days of soaking in Mom’s aluminum jelly kettle, I put the kettle on the stove to barely simmer for an hour or so. Yesterday I strained the liquid, but I haven’t dyed with it yet. It looked like there’s color left, so I put the solids into bags in the freezer to deal with later. Maybe when I’m back from Michigan.

Probably not. I need to do the things its been too hot and busy to do before it gets too cold.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching the Olympics and celebrating the achievements of all the athletes who made it there, whether they get to stand on a podium or not. 

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

Quixote Coiling At Decorah

Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time carefully watching hands. Hands of students. Hands of instructors. Hands of friends. Jo Campbell-Amsler was my first basketry teacher. I’ve been watching her hands for almost 20 years. And I’ve known her mother nearly that long.

But until last week, when her mom was in my coiling class at the Willow Gathering in Decorah, I never saw how much alike their hands are. The way they hold and control their materials, their gestures — beautiful!

Coilers are such a delightful group. It’s a slow, deliberate process. It takes time for things to build and then Shazaam — something wonderful happens.

Quixote Coiling is my name for a class that uses whole-rod willow as the core element in vessels made with the basketmaker’s buttonhole stitch. There’s a knot on each stitch, which makes this an incredibly secure structure, great for sculptural work. And students learned a cool crown knot they used to start the base and as a surface embellishment.

Their hands were definitely tired at the end of the class. Willow is lively material. But it’s so worth the effort.

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

Willow Workshops Of The Hybrid Sort

In one of the workshops I taught at last week’s Willow Gathering in Decorah, Iowa, students dyed silk fabrics with willow leaves, twigs and bark.

Then they modeled and designed constructed vessels…

…that used those naturally dyed fabrics.

After a busy day of dyeing, we started the second day of the workshop by making simple vessels from the leaves of cupplants growing near the building.

Then my students jumped into modeling for constructed vessels. As usual, I got busy and didn’t manage to take pictures of them with their models and fiber phyllo vessels. 

Willow has a reputation as a plant that crosses easily, which sometimes makes it hard to identify the exact species. I guess that applies to me, too: Many ideas have crossed in my head and hybridized.

You could practically see ideas flitting around the room cross-pollinating each other. I certainly came home with notions to nurture until it’s time to thin them out.

Luckily for the Canadian contingent, it’s easier to carry living ideas across the border than fresh plant materials.

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

Burundi Looping, Learning And Laughter

There’s a special kind of magic that happens when guild members get together to learn something new. An alchemist might be able to produce a similar effect (like turning lead into gold) from a recipe that combines lovely people, love of learning, and intention to make time for guild activities. When you factor in laughter, show and tell, yummy treats, and good lighting, the result is definitely magical.

The Flambeau Area Fiber Artists invited me to Ladysmith, Wisconsin, to teach Burundi looping last weekend. Eight people signed up for the class, which is a considerable leap of faith for a guild whose members are so geographically dispersed — especially considering nobody really knew what Burundi looping was!

So here’s the short version: “Burundi looping” is the name I use to identify a particular complex looping variation in which each stitch intersects with multiple previous rows. I learned it from Peter Collingwood’s book, The Maker’s Hand. Peter’s example was a bag he collected in the African nation of Burundi. In looping, there’s a strong tradition of identifying stitch variations with the places where they’re used (or found). So for years, I’ve called this variation Burundi looping.

This structure is much less elastic than simple looping. And at a glance, it would be tough to identify it as single-element construction, let alone as first cousin to the most basic form of knotless netting. It looks more like a woven twill.

This is a workshop I love to teach. It includes a lot of technique, but the progression makes perfect sense and the combination of skills can be applied a lot of different ways, once you know them, and with many different materials.

The most disappointing thing about the workshop was that, once again, I didn’t think to take more pictures. Right now, I’m really wishing I could show you a photo of Nancy and the double-weave pick-up coaster fabric she brought for show and tell. She wove as an “in between” project, for Pete’s sake!

That’s the kind of passion I see all the time in guild members. That’s the kind of passion that inspires me.

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

Extreme Sampling With Illinois Prairie Weavers

In my view, sampling workshops are right up there with dark chocolate and salty snacks: I love them! As a student, I appreciate the opportunity to try things I might not wrangle together on my own. As a teacher, watching ideas start to flow when students discover new techniques is so much fun I forget all about dark chocolate and salty snacks.

This week, I got to play the Illinois Prairie Weavers. First, the whole group heard my spiel on sharing stories through textiles (a.k.a. my Complete Fabrication lecture).

They’d already done a bang-up job of telling their stories during their show-and-tell before the lecture. That’s the line-up of people ready to share their beautiful work with the group.

And this is show-and-tell work spread out for a closer look after the program.

My lovely host wore a formerly white handwoven silk vest she had overdyed with pink acid dye. When I left her house, that vest was soaking in the sink ready to go into the indigo vat for its next incarnation. She’s planning to keep adding surface design alterations each month to wear to guild meetings. I’m hoping to see pictures of the vests evolution.

As usual, I was too busy to take a single picture once I started teaching the dry techniques part of the workshop that afternoon. But here’s what the kit looked like before I packed up and left home. In a whirlwind of sampling, the group got an introduction to the possibilities of some pigment-dye products and disperse dyes (with a side of inkjet heat transfers and inkjet fabrics).

The wet workshop was held the next day in my host’s garage, where running water was just a few steps away (a luxury compared to my own studio). As usual, the day was almost over before I thought to reach for my camera. By that time we had set up a vat of pre-reduced indigo, steamed acid dye samples, dipped a lot of samples in blue dye, and discovered one leaky glove!

While Inkodye samples were developing I did get a few shots. This may be my favorite student photo ever: Four classes of dyes, 38 samples over two days — and they’re still smiling!

When I left, the students were planning the extreme sampling show-and-tell they’ll do at their next guild meeting, and how they might use techniques they had learned. That put a smile on my face that stayed there through the drive home and the unpacking.

Now I’m off to build a thread-winding jig inspired by two my host has made, neither of which I took pictures of. Really, why is it so hard to remember to take three seconds to take a snapshot?

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart