Interesting things happen at the intersection of real and pretend. There is a shift, scale becomes playful and there is instant magic, instant enchantment. Nothing is certain and anything is possible.
That intersection is always on my mind when I’m making something, especially the little birds. I love to photograph them in the park or a forest. It is still one of my favorite things to do.
The forest casts its own spell, offers its mystery and magic. And the camera adds to it, it drops a glass dome over the moment and crystallizes the atmosphere.
It creates a world where if you just look a little closer, a little sharper, you might catch a glimpse of little birds exploring or tiny bunnies in joyful procession. Maybe they’ve been there all along and you just never noticed before.
About those bunnies.
My sister made them from the very nice mice pattern (just add long ears) a couple years ago and took the photo. I love their expressions. And it’s bunny season and almost spring, make some bunnies and take a photo! I’d love to see.
I still make birds! And they still like to dress up like pirates (find the sewing pattern to make your own here). I’m particular about eye patch placement and I also like to make sure they stay in place, the little string especially. The patch is made from black card stock with glitter because they are those sort of pirates, the glittery eyepatch sort. I use embroidery thread for the string and I sew it in place before gluing on the patch.
Start at the back and leave an end hanging. Make a tiny stitch at the back of the head.
Make another anchoring stitch at the temple and again where you will place the patch.
Finally come around to the back and knot again where you started. Glue the patch on and wrap floral tape around to hold it firmly place while the glue dries.
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I like pigeons. I like the city beasts. And I have an affinity for the less loved creatures, ants bats, rats, mosquitos etc. Pigeons fit right in. What I love best about them is that they manage to be imperious and goofy – all at the same time.
So I want to make a pigeon. I stalled in the muslin draft phase. Stalled real good. The universe keeps sending me excellent pigeon fabric though. Maybe that’s why I got stuck – couldn’t choose. There is also a little anxiety about when to move out of prototyping – and all the freedom and experimenting that affords – into trying one in beautiful pigeony fabric.
I ended up deciding to combine a mix of collections in a way I don’t very often. I used Fortuny for the body and will use it for the feet also, an Edwardian pinafore and other garment scraps will be feathers and some beautiful teal from Sri Threads for the head.
The teal is what finally got me to take a shot at turning out a finished bird. It arrived lately with some other magnificent pieces and I couldn’t resist trying it. I’m happy with the shape and I’ll move into details this weekend and start a couple more too – using more of the exquisite things from Sri.
A condescending yet vacant pigeon or two should be forth coming.
After working on something small, detailed and intense I like to give my focus and brain a vacation. One of my favorite ways to do that is something I call recreational patchwork. I started a Fortuny patchwork piece today. I have lots of very small swatches and some longish strips – drapery scraps. It is good daydreamy work. It requires just the right amount of my attention for letting ideas percolate. It’s a peaceful, gentle state.
I work quickly – making strips and then sewing them together – log-cabin-ish I guess. Nothing is planned – I just grab pieces randomly. Nothing is measured, corners aren’t square and seams are less than straight. I bounce between the machine and the ironing board. I love the energy of it, I love the result and it’s such fun to do – to not think or plan and see what turns up – embrace the happenstance, appreciate the happy accidents.
It was a welcome shift after working on a trio of 18th century songbirds for one million years. Songbirds are very slow, very focused, detailed, difficult and fussy work. Lots of ripping out and doing again. Lots of stabbing myself with very tiny, very sharp needles. I want something particular from each of them and I can’t stop until I get it. The prize at the end is I get to photograph them – and that is such fun.
These three birds will be in the shop tomorrow (March 3rd) – you’ll get an email notification if you are on the artwork email list (if you’re not sure if you are just email me – happy to help).
And speaking of the shop – starting on Saturday – 3/4 – I’ll be adding at least one new thing to the shop everyday. There will be ships and boats, mischievous cats, owls, goats, rag dolls (some will be quite nude) maybe paintings – experiments – all sorts of things. The time will vary – and I’ll do it for at least a week – longer if it works out well.
P.S. Checkout some incredible raw edge Fortuny patchwork from Valentino here.
In 1978, Soviet geologists discovered a family of six, in the vast and wild Siberian forest. They had been living there, in a cobbled together shack by a stream in complete isolations for 40 years. They missed World War 2. Geologist Galina Pismenskaya recalled her first encounter with the family:
“The low door creaked, and the figure of a very old man emerged into the light of day, straight out of a fairy tale. Barefoot. Wearing a patched and re-patched shirt made of sacking. He wore trousers of the same material, also in patches”
I wanted to share the story with you because the details of their life and survival are astounding – you can find the article here. And the image of the old man’s clothing grabbed me – I guess you could call it extreme mending. Mending is fascinating and I think so often beautiful.
My policy on possessions is have good things you love, not too many, and keep them for a long time. I almost never buy clothes. There are a just a couple exceptions – every once in a while I buy a smock dress from Cal Patch and wear it relentlessly. First there was this one and then last summer this one. It’s my uniform – I like having a uniform. Most of what I have was given to me and much of it I’ve had for a long time. I mend things, make do, re-use and repurpose. I like the practicality – economy and the aesthetics.
The blue jacket was given to me 15 years ago I think – I wore the sleeve edges ragged and I’m patching them with lovely old cloth from Sri Threads.
The green jacket above I’ve had for about 20 years – it has lot’s of issues but not enough to let it go – I’m patching it with gorgeous Fortuny scraps. I’m partial to flannel shirts and the red plaid above is a favorite – besides the ragged sleeves (I’m hard on sleeves) It had a big hole under one arm. Nothing says success like an underarm hole. I patched it with a 19th century dress maker’s scrap.
And the dress above – also a hand me down – is one of my most adventurous mends. The bottom of the skirt had a big section with glue or something spilled on it. I cut it out and sewed in a section from a cotton camisole. There was a little button loop and I left it at the bottom and added a button to the seam so I could pull the hem up. Pretty fancy.
And Moose – there has to be a photo of Moose and she sort of agreed to participate. She visited here all week – such a good kitten.
In other sewing news – I finished the victorian bird! 9 years after starting – but still – so good to get it done.
I’ve been wanting to tell you about this for ages. I began working with Anthopologie last fall on a couple projects for this holiday season – paper mache teacups and bundled up little fabric birds.
They are both items that are near and dear to me and I have a particularly long history with the little birds – it began more than ten years ago. I walked into Anthropologie on Fifth Avenue today and there they were – lots and lots of familiar little birds looking back at me. It was a little disorienting and it’s kind of a funny thing to think about – how many little birds and teacups there are in the world now. I am not someone who thinks in quantity. I think its a good thing though – a good thing that there is a place in the bigness and busyness of the world for paper mache teacups and earnest little fabric birds.
There are two birds and two teacups – one a souvenir of Paris and the other New York City. The insides have festive stripes and dots and are sparkly.
I had fun making them – loved painting the illustrations for the cups. You can find the birds and teacups online and in stores – you can find Anthro’s entire ornament assortment for this year here (there is lots of fun stuff – including an oyster by Tamar Mogendorff).
Or if you like you can make your own. Find the pattern for the teacups here and the little bird sewing pattern here.
update 12/17 :
Thanks so much for your wonderful imaginations – so many good captions! And there was – by unanimous decision – a tie – so 2 birds will be awarded. And the winners are:
Debra : “Four calling birds, three acorn caps, two spools of thread, and a pincushion filled with many needle sharps!”.
And Bach Hanes : Everyone ready? Let’s get the flock out of here.
Thanks again to everybody who came up with a caption.
I sure do like to make a little bird, put an acorn hat on it and take its picture. I love the photos in part because everyday things are transformed into little bird world things – I imagine their perspective and peek into their world and wonder what they are up to…
What do you think they are up to? Make up a caption for the photo above and leave it in the comments of this post. An esteemed panel of judges will choose a winner who get’s their very own bundled up bird. Everyone is welcome to participate.
And gift tags! A little yellow house in the forest – print them on card stock, fold at the roof and add a little glitter and a string or ribbon. Click here to download the little house tags.
A couple notes:
* The red ribbon in the photo above is 4 mm silk ribbon – I love it – you can get it here.
* The pattern for the little birds is here.
* And the little birds in the photo are in the shop now and I restocked a couple bunnies and squirrels too.
I sew in a little house in the Adirondacks as much as possible in the warmer months. And every year (so far) Eastern Phoebes build a nest under the roof overhang and have little Phoebes – sometimes two broods in a season. I love watching them. This year I got a chance to examine a nest up close for the first time. It is a beautiful, delicate, thoughtfully made thing – one little bit at a time (Phoebe’s are pretty small).
I don’t notice the thread or wool stuffing that floats away while I’m working but apparently they do and there it was, woven into the nest- the soft wooly stuff right on top for warm comfortable babies. And below that there was another nest ( each brood gets a fresh nest) with a bit of tulle from a 19th century gown and Japanese indigo threads. I’m so pleased they found it useful!
I also wanted to share a couple photos from a walk I took in a part of the forest I hadn’t explored before, a long walk off the path and through the wild stuff. The smells were incredible and I saw things I had not encountered before – like this strange pinkish thing – I discovered later it’s coral fungi.
And I ran into a newt – a lovely little red eft who graciously let me take his picture.
For the last week or so I’ve had lots of happy, sweet, festive things to work on. It is a lovely thing that I hear from women who had my caketopper birds for their wedding and would like a little bird for their child and so I’ve been making special birds for little girls. Two were for a birthday cake and had fancy party hats.
I had so much fun making the hats. I love mini and I love crepe paper – it is magic stuff. I’m working on a little girl size version of the paper feather crown and I’ll share the instructions for that soon – everybody needs a feather crown.
I still enjoy bundling up a couple little birds and taking them out for a photo in Prospect Park. 9 years in, I still enjoy it. Even on a day as frigid as it was – I think they enjoy getting out…..
* Find the sewing pattern to make your own bundled up bird here.
So far it has been a pretty wintery winter and this feels like the depths of it. I’m having persistent fantasies of warmer days and the smell of the forest. I took the photo below in the Adirondacks and it’s one of my favorites. It’s an enchanted spot – I would not be surprised at all to see a fairy or an elf or a gnome appear on the mossy little path.
I’ve collected a few images of birds made from my pattern to share- people have made wonderful, imaginative birds and taken fabulous photos:
from Becky – “the stand off”
from Christina – Daisy Chain Creations
from Amanda – Hanging by a Thread – A snow scene!
In Dots – by Irene (love the tags)
from Karen- these are so sweet- checkout the satchel on the bird in the center
and a thoughtful little bird in the garden by Abby Glassenberg!
The little bird sewing pattern is finally here! My goodness- it was an epic effort – this first pattern. I hope you enjoy it! You can purchase it here.
Little Birds includes a link to the free video tutorial “how to make a perfect bird leg” – useful with this pattern and for all your bird leg needs as well as a link to a video on sewing the bird body that you will receive within the PDF when you purchase the pattern. I hope you make birds! If you do I’d love to see – you can post photos here if you like. And if you’d like to be notified when more patterns are available (there is a ship on the horizon…..) you can sign up here.
*This is a long post and there are a lot of birds in it.
I’ve been working on a pattern for my little birds and as I’m reaching the end of that long process of drafting and adjusting the pattern, shooting the steps, writing the instructions, testing the pattern, compiling the files and materials and resource lists etc., etc. I’ve been thinking a lot about my long history with these funny little fabric birds. Releasing this pattern feels like a big step in that history and involves some letting go.
The things I make are a large part of my identity and that is maybe even a little more true of these earnest little birds. They came about sort of accidentally – it’s funny how one thing leads to another and strange things you could not invent occur.
How I came to Make Thousands and Thousands of Little Fabric Birds
In the fall 2005 I happened into a ruined Edwardian gown. I wish I had a photo. It was in pieces and all of it too delicate and too fragile to even display. At the same time I was designing a holiday window for a shop on Orchard Street. The gown was shimmery and twinkly and I wanted to incorporate it. The featheriness of the fraying fabric suggested birds and I began to experiment with sewing a bird shape. I counted – I made 60 failures before I came to a shape that sort of worked. The first birds were fancy: miss haversham on the left and bertha whimsy emerson on the right.
I hadn’t intended to sell them but people wanted to buy them so I did and then I made more.
And more. And more.
I also photographed them. They went to summer camp,
put on plays,
Spring really fires me up and I’m having a super busy and super productive month. Besides all the air and freshness the extra daylight in the evening makes such a difference.
I find I work best early in the morning to mid afternoon and then I usually get a significant creative second wind between 5 and 8 PM – how about you? Other people’s creative practices are always interesting to me.
A couple progress photos for you:
A dark, crow-ish sort of bird and and sails for several new ships. I’ve been saving that antique embroidered cuff on the lower right for 6 years- waiting for just the right ship. I’m finishing the first full sized, multi sailed extravaganza sort of ship that I’ve made in a long time tonight and I’m excited to photograph it tomorrow – excited enough to get up extra early.
I’m working on some new owls – a new smaller owl shape for me with some new details. I’ll finish these tonight and photograph them in the morning . They are part of my “new creatures” update tomorrow ( friday 3/28 ) evening.
And onother new shape – a hummingbird – a bit larger than a real hummingbird but still quite small, she fits in the palm of your hand. The bird and owls are made mostly from Sri textiles – I love this muted palette.
Another new creature Laurent ( all my rats are french) and a blue owl.
He’s big and blue and bad, and has some junk in the trunk.