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.