Lockdown Diary: Bird Sculptures

A Beautiful, Empty Cage

When I lived in China a long time ago, it was very common for elderly men to carry pet birds in beautiful wooden cages. I never liked the idea of caged birds, but it was touching to see how tender these men were towards their feathered companions. Over time, I grew quite fond of the cages themselves… Shortly before I had to return home, I went to a cage market an purchased one. I took it with me on a long plane ride, to my parents’ house a world away. Since I didn’t yet have a permanent home of my own, I ended up leaving it there. And the decades passed. A few years ago, after visiting my parents, I carried it on another long plane ride, to yet another continent, where I put it unceremoniously in my sewing room.

I was planning to make a textile bird to live in my cage. I bought ¬†Abigail Patner Glassenberg’s The Artful Bird book, and made a feeble attempt at a songbird. It didn’t turn out quite the way I was hoping, though, and I never found the time to try again. Later, I purchased Ann Wood’s Songbird pattern, but never got to that, either. The fabric bird project joined many others on my long to-do list.

When You Shelter In Place, The Wildlife Comes to You

A few weeks ago, when I was working on my owls, a very persistent bird kept knocking on my sewing room window. It came and went for about two weeks, knocking, leaving, returning and knocking again for hours each day.

I was working on Ann Wood’s owl pattern, and the bird reminded me that I have the Songbird pattern as well. And so, once I finished the owls, I shook the dust off the songbird pattern and set to work.

Making Textile Bird Sculptures

I used leftovers from my purple owl to make a purple songbird.

It was fun, but the finished bird was smaller than what I had in mind.

I also wasn’t quite satisfied with the way the wings looked. So I decided to play with the pattern a bit, the way I did with the owl pattern, to make it closer to what I wanted. I made three bigger birds, and am quite happy with how they turned out:

I tried putting the purple bird into the cage, but even a fabric bird looked too sad and trapped inside. So I decided to put it next to the cage instead, leaving the cage door open. It seems much happier now.

As for wildlife, I’ve never been a bird watcher, but since the beginning of the lockdown I’ve been spending long hours in my garden. I never knew it hosted so many different kinds of birds! Although I don’t know what most of them are, I’m very much enjoying their company, not to mention their songs! I even bought a bird feeder to attract more of them over…

If you, too, are interested in watching birds at this time, you might find this article helpful ūüôā

As for my little textile flock, they are now ready for adoption in my shop.

Lockdown Diary: Soft Owl Sculptures

My daughters got upset with me the other day because they decided that my Instagram feed was too messy. They’re probably right. I can’t ever stick to a specific color palette, or have a consistent theme. That’s partly because messiness is intertwined with my work. My head is exploding with ideas, you see. The world around me keeps providing endless inspiration. I want to try new things, experiment with different techniques, learn new skills. Even in normal times, I always work on several projects simultaneously. I start new pieces before I finish old ones. My UFO pile is huge. My sewing room is a mess.

To make things worse, the Covid Lockdown put my creativity on steroids. I usually sew mostly in autumn and winter, and much less so in spring, when end-of-school activities pick up. I hardly ever sew in summer. Not this year. Sheltering in Place with my family, now going onto week nine(!), has put me under a new routine. I divide my days between gardening and sewing (oh, and a few other domestic chores…). There are the bad days, of course, when I hardly do anything at all. But then there are the days on which I start several new projects all at once. Someone suggested this might be stress-related, and maybe it is. Better than a few other stress-relieving habits, I suppose. Still, the result is messy.¬†

That’s why I don’t often show my work in real time. Instead, I’m trying to show it in more organized batches. Like when I shared all my insects together, and all the Textile Poems, even though some were created around the same time and out of order.¬†

Soft Owl Sculptures

First Try

A short while after the pandemic hit, I decided this was a great opportunity to try new things. One of the projects that have been on my to-do list for years was making Ann Wood Handmade’s dastardly owls. I’ve been a great admirer of Ann’s soft owl sculptures for years. I loved their scruffy air and spunky attitude. I bought the pattern shortly after she published it, some two or three years ago, but despite great intentions, never found the time to try it. Not until now, that is.

A few weeks ago I pulled it out of my pile and shook the dust off of it.

I then dove into my scrap pile, and started working.

So far, with the exception of bags and other functional pieces, I’ve mostly made two-dimensional art. Oh, and the one troll, of course. But I have little experience creating three dimensional dolls. That might explain why, on my first try, I ended up with two tails instead of one. One was on the back, where it should have been, and the other … on the front… Or perhaps I should just blame it on Corona stress… Either way, I did manage to fix it, somehow, luckily.

Here is my first try. I’m quite happy with how he turned out.

My son adopted him less than five minutes after I put in the last stitch, by the way, so I consider him a success.

Second Try

Of course, I had to try again, to figure out what went wrong the first time and correct my initial mistake (the one with the tails, that is). This time I chose my favorite color, because what can be better than a purple owl??? I paid closer attention to the instructions, and ended up with a single, perfect tail. 

Introducing Sherlock Wallace!

I am keeping him for myself.

Here’s what I learned about making soft owl sculptures:

  • They take much longer to make than you’d expect (several days each!).
  • Owls are composed of LOTS of pieces.
  • They require a ton of hand stitching.
  • Even a small body swallows unbelievable volumes of filling (I was really shocked by how much filling went in, and I didn’t even stuff them as much as I could!).
  • Making the tealons is an involved process in itself, and adds lots of extra time to the making process.
  • It seems that I don’t really like working with wire that much. Making wire legs, for me, is a chore that I want to keep postponing…

Putting My Own Spin on Faux Taxidermy Owls

I liked my first two owls, but one thing disappointed me about them. When I saw pictures of Ann Wood’s owls in the past, always photographed on their own, they seemed quite large-ish. But the pattern made for rather small beauties (about 8.5″ tall). Unsatisfactorily small.

So, for my third try, I had to make a few changes. I enlarged the pattern considerably, and put a little boro spin on it (if you look carefully, you might even recognize some of the fabrics). I used unusual vintage buttons I once took from my parents’ stash. The result? 12″-tall Yoshihito, Shogun of the woods. A benevolent fella who could be quite fierce when crossed!

Yoshihito is available for adoption right here on my website, and also in my Etsy store. 

Lockdown Diary: Writing Poems in Textile

Our seventh (!) week of lockdown is coming to an end. Like many of you, I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions… Some days were good. The weather was nice, I enjoyed having my family around, I felt productive. Other days were tolerable, and I managed to do some things. Then there were the hard days, on which I just couldn’t ignore the news. Close friends started losing loved ones to Covid 19. I missed seeing family and friends in person. I wanted to go places and couldn’t. Foods or products we needed/wanted were unavailable. I started realizing that the normal life we knew will not return any time soon. That this will be long. That the world, in fact, might never be the same again… On those days little things irritated me. I felt sad, despaired, frightened. I couldn’t get myself to do much at all…

So I’ve been taking it one day at a time. Doing as much as I could on the good days. Trying to be kind to myself on the not-so-good. I found that spending time in my garden helps a lot. Once the weather improved, I’ve been going outside daily, doing some garden work or just sipping coffee among my plants. Spring is still happening, and nature is beautiful. The flowers are blooming, the pollinators are working diligently. One morning we even had ducks visit our backyard.

Art, as always, continued to be a lifesaver, though I still don’t have patience for hand stitching. And then there’s yoga.

Those of you who practice yoga know that Child’s Pose is a pose that allows rest and recharging. In the last few weeks I started to realize that abstract is my artistic equivalent of Child’s pose. I find myself going back to it in-between other projects, and it helps me stay creative and centered.

Textile Poems

After I finished working on textile insects, I felt the need to return to abstract. I started a series of small fabric collages, 8″ x 11″ in size. Improvised and intuitive, they allowed me to keep playing with colors and textures. Some came together quickly. Others took days or even weeks. They are each composed of many fragments, and the placement of each of those had to feel “right.” Sometimes getting the fragments to where they should be took a lot of trial and error, moving around and looking at the piece with fresh eyes, over and over again.

From the very beginning I thought of these pieces as textile poems. They combine slices of fabric instead of words, but each captures a moment in time, a mood. They reflect the weather, my garden, my fluctuating emotions.

The green ones are the colors of fresh plants and blue sky. The blue poems are the colors of rainy days and sadness.

The warm-colored ones reflect the colors of spring flowers and content. Of happiness, even.

Most of these poems don’t have names yet. Except for this one, which I call “Silver Lining.” It’s as dark and gray as the times we live in. But it has some hope, too. Because even the worst of situations has a silver lining.

For me, right now, slowing down and getting to spend more time with my family is a silver lining. What is yours?

Lockdown Diary: Textile Insects

My husband says that he’ll be really worried if one day I won’t have something to worry about. I’m a worrier, there’s no denying. I worry about things small and big. In the last few years more and more big worries have occupied my mind. Climate change. The insect apocalypse. The great current mass extinction. The accumulation of plastics and people’s indifference to the massive amount of garbage we’re creating. Fast fashion and its effect on the ecology and the lives of people in third-world countries. Our steady destruction of the planet we live in. Things like that.

Numerous pessimistic thoughts filled my mind regarding the future of humans and the earth. But a pandemic that will shut the world down and send all of humanity home? That one I didn’t see coming. Not in my wildest dreams.

But here we are.

Art Under Quarantine

The second week of Social Distancing (or is it the third? I lost track…) is coming to an end. Like everyone else, I had to change and adapt. The first few days were disorienting. I kept thinking this was a dream I will soon wake up from. It wasn’t. Since then I’ve been spending way too much time online, reading news obsessively and browsing social media. This isn’t great for my emotional well being, but I can’t seem to stop. Like many other people, I’ve had bouts of anxiety and sadness. It’s really easy, under such circumstances, to stop creating. But from Day One, I forced myself to make some art, a little every day.

Over the years, art has been many things to me. When I was a kid, it was a way to pass time and ward boredom off. In my teenage years, at an arts high school, it was a means of self expression and a way to be different and “cool.” Now, as an adult, I see it as an instrument to convey ideas. My art is an adventure: an exploration of existing materials, colors, and textures, and also a way to explore the world around me as well as my inner world. In the last few years it’s also been a small effort to help the planet by upcycling and reducing waste.

Last year, after my father passed away, art took on a new role. It became healing soul medicine, helping me deal with bottomless grief. Now, amidst the first quarantine of my life, it is becoming something new altogether. Corona Art is a way to insert the illusion of control back into my life. It helps me stick to a routine. It keeps the news away for a short time each day, and helps me keep sane in a seemingly crazy world.

Art to Honor Spring and Highlight the Plight of Insects

Before the Shelter in Place order, I started to do a bit of spring gardening in my backyard. I worked for several days, and was startled by the lack of insects where they should have been buzzing. In the many hours I spent in my garden, I saw a few spiders, a few rolly-pollies, and one scissor bug. That’s it.

When the quarantine started, the weather turned appropriately gloomy and wet. I felt a strong need to bring spring into my studio. I wanted to make happy things to take my mind off everything else. At the same time, I also wanted to increase awareness to the plight of insects. People often see insects as a neaucense, and think nothing of killing them. The recent collapse of the insect population has mostly gone unnoticed, and is easily forgotten amidst a crisis like the one we’re currently facing. But the Insect Apocalypse is as big a threat to humanity as the other bug we all fear. Insects are at the bottom of the food chain. Without them, we won’t have fruits, vegetables or any of the other foods we eat. Our very survival depends on the survival of insects, and therefore we really should care.

Textile Butterflies

I had trouble concentrating during those first few days of Sheltering in Place. My entire family was home. Housework was accumulating. There was more cooking, cleaning, dishes, mess. And there was always the news! I needed to work on small projects that I could start and finish in one morning. This was not the time for big art quilts. Surprisingly, the hand stitching that helped me tremendously after my father’s passing wasn’t appealing now, either. I simply didn’t have the patience it required. So I started my sewing quarantine with making textile butterflies. I haven’t sewn butterflies for a few years, since finishing my Dare! art quilt in 2017. They seemed like the perfect project now. A butterfly (or two) a day to keep the doctor away, or at least the shrink.

Textile Beetles

On the first official week of spring, I decided to highlight insects on my Facebook Page. I shared (mostly upcycled) insect art, as well as my own butterflies. That week I looked at a lot of pictures of insects, and was struck by how beautiful they were. Beetles, especially, captivated me. Beetles are very interesting visually. They have complex, symmetrical shapes with lots of compelling details. Beautiful colors, too. Enlarged, they look like sophisticated pieces of art.

After I finished making ten butterflies, I was ready to move on to something else. By then our family established a kind of quarantine-routine. The kids had Zoom classes in the mornings, and Zoom after-school activities in the afternoons. I was able to get a bit more studio time while they were busy, leaving the majority of the housework for the afternoons. It was time to move on to more involved projects.

This week I embarked on a series of four 8.5″ x 11″ beetle textile pictures. For these, I relied on pictures of actual beetles for the shape, but took full artistic liberty with the colors. These pictures are meant to be framed and hung on a wall.

Although this series is finished, I don’t think I’m quite done with beetles yet. I’m pretty sure they will come up in some of my future work.

This worldwide quarantine will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects on anyone living through it. Once it is over, I hope we humans learn some lessons. Taking care of each other is important and worthy, but we must also take care of the creatures that share this earth with us, and of the planet itself. If we don’t, worse trouble than the coronavirus will await us in the very near future.

Art is helping me plow through this unsettling time. Gardening, cooking and baking help, as well. Now, if I could only be as disciplined about exercising daily as I am about creating…

What are you doing to stay anchored?

Stay safe and healthy, everyone! Remember that spring is still happening outside, so make sure to go out every now and then and smell the flowers!