songbird laboratory

It came to me all of a sudden while I was in the bathtub. I wasn’t even thinking about making songbirds, it just popped into my head, a better way to make the feet and legs. I had been thinking (obsessing) about it a couple days earlier. I’ve been thinking about the songbirds a lot and revisiting every aspect of their design and construction. It is interesting to take something I’ve been making for a long time back to the laboratory.

hand stitched songbirds on my worktable

This is the second songbird do-over. The first was because I misplaced the pattern. So painful. I reconstructed it  from memory as well as reverse engineering from my photos. I made a couple changes and improvements in that round. I’m revisiting this time to get ready for the workshop and eventual sewing pattern. I want it to be fabulous so I am testing and testing and testing again, searching for anything that can be easier or more efficient and more consistent without sacrificing any elegance or birdness.

It was a hard thing to start. There is lots of resistance in my thinking when I’ve been doing something the same way for a long time. It took a while to get into a truly experimental spirit and find my curiosity.

“ The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”
John Maynard Keynes


It is also a daunting amount of very slow work with lots of failures. I only change one aspect of the design at a time. Sometimes there are several time consuming iterations of a change before I know if it is successful. I was stuck on the legs for a while, stuck on how to make  them teachable and more efficient while retaining the expressiveness. There was also one problematic point in the construction where someone could potentially lose an eye.  So awkward. A simple solution for all of it just floated into my mind. In the tub.

hand stitched songbird shape

I’m also examining the body construction and balance. There have been huge improvements in both. Part of this process is digitalizing the pattern (in adobe illustrator) and while I was doing that I saw some possibilities. I simplified the construction a little and the shape is subtly improved and comes together beautifully. And I’ve changed how the legs are inserted and the bird is balanced. The balance, the body language, is so important to the birdness of the finished thing.

textile songbirds on my worktable

And I’m not done. I’m scrutinizing the details the same way now. It is all a massive amount of work but I’m deeply involved in the very best way, the time disappears way. I’m spending the whole weekend with the birds and I’ll show you what I make next week.




  1. “There is lots of resistance in my thinking when I’ve been doing something the same way for a long time. ”

    There is! It’s very hard to get back to beginner’s mind. That’s why I can’t teach certain subjects. I have chunked so much together, I can’t unpack it enough to teach a beginner. To teach beginners, you have to see what they see. Not what you see.

    I wish I could go to Squam. I would love to take one of your courses.

  2. I “totally” agree with all the previous comments. George Lucas (Star Wars) admitted that he does his best thinking in the shower. Let the force be with you… continue to make art.

  3. Seriously, some of my best ideas and most life-changing epiphanies have come to me in the shower! I think it has something to do with the watery warmth. I love hearing about your process, Ann! Be patient with and kind to yourself…you are creating (or improving upon) things of beauty, and that takes time. As always, thanks for sharing with us.

  4. Evelyn McElroy

    Sounds like you must frequently experience that “flow”, the total absorption in a process that consumes ones attention. Lucky! Quite a benefit, a reward for your dedication and honing of your talent and skills.

  5. The only way we really grow our imaginations is by continually going over our process. In the bathtub is perfect!
    I really like birdies and have made some pretty ones for friends, and for both of my daughters wedding cake toppers
    I love the collection of fabric bits

  6. When I’m stuck and can’t find a solution I go under the shower, I solve all my problems there! I am really looking forward to seeing your birds – I already love your old ones but this sounds highly interesting!

  7. I too love what you do, and how you write about it. I too cannot wait to buy the pattern – and ‘ potentially lose an eye’ – too funny (except in actuality :-)).


  8. I’m so excited for the pattern!

    I love the how/when the breakthrough ideas come me into our consciousness. So powerful.

    Thank you!

  9. Yes, I totally get the need to let an idea percolate for a while! Sometimes I have an idea but no inclination how to bring it into being. It needs to sit in my brain for a while and percolate. Then all of a sudden it comes together!
    Last summer my sisters and I made some wonderful paper mache boats and ships from your patterns. We all love them so much! Mine are now on the Bach porch enjoying the breezes. Thank you!

  10. michele cederquist

    Oh my goodness I can’t stand the suspense of waiting! Your work is amazing and I love your blog.

  11. Suzanne Lee

    I’m dying for the songbird pattern! I spent my whole Christmas doing mushrooms, which I really enjoyed and with wonderful results with your pattern. Hurry please……

  12. Such a beautiful plumpish bird, I am looking forward to seeing the finished product and making one from the pattern.

  13. Lori Houldsworth

    It is not possible for me to attend your workshop, but so want to make a songbird. Will you consider a pdf file, or an on-line course…. please!!!!!

  14. Hi Ann,
    I’ve been such a fan of your early works and I’m so happy I decided to go down handmade memory lane with the likes of your blog and that you are still doing it. Some who were the same time as you, have long gone and others still do it but into different mediums of art which is also about evolving one’s own craft. I too used to make and sell handmade things and now that I’ve resigned working professionally, I started hand-sewing again…and your blog has been such an inspiration again for me. Thank you for all that you do and your generosity in sharing your journey with us.

  15. *gasp* You’ll be releasing a pattern for your beautiful songbirds? Eeeek SO excited! I can’t wait!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *