Perhaps because of my poetic namesake (Emily Dickinson’s thing with feathers), I have always had a thing for birds, starting with my Fisher Price bluebird music box. I started making cloth birds about a year ago, inspired by my sister’s version of this bird mobile on Spool. These were smaller pieces of fabric than I’d ever sewn with a machine before, but eventually I got the hang of it.
Next, I came across a book called Little Birds: 26 Handmade Projects to Sew, Stitch, Quilt, and Love (C&T Publishing’s Design Collective). It’s chock full of all kinds of projects, but the first one I tackled was a wall hanging that would require me to learn how to applique. I made a it for my friend Lisa Wheeler’s laundry room in her new house.
Since I hadn’t done any machine quilting yet, either, that was a challenge. Lesson # 1: the batting and back piece need to be several inches larger than the front piece to account for fabric creep! Also: hand binding takes forever but looks infinitely prettier than when I try to machine-bind small projects! The book also has several adorable stuffed bird projects, but I wasn’t quite brave enough to attempt them yet.
Then I came across The Artful Bird by Abigal Patner Glassenberg. These stuffed bird projects were even prettier and looked pretty challenging, but I couldn’t resist the book. I read it over and over and picked out fat quarters for various bird species. And one day, I finally dared to try it. The directions are very detailed, but it still took me a while to wrap my brain around them. I’m someone who learns by doing. I tried twice to make a basic wren body but my seams were consistently off. As with writing, sometimes a work break helps my underbrain sort out problems. So I found some simpler stuffed bird projects online (see below). As simple as they were, they were tricky because the pieces of fabric were so tiny! However, I had a bag full of adorable vintage fabric scraps that I got for a song (!)at the Kiwanis sale and I was determined. Finally, success!
My first clutch was a belated birthday gift for my friend Janie Bynum, who is also a birdophile. I also made these little chicks a nest out of vintage thread as described in The Artful Bird. As an added bonus, I got a story idea for a picture book starring one of these lovely little creatures. I made more little birds, and I worked up my nerve, and I finally got back to my Artful Bird projects. By now I had pieces for two different wrens in various states of development. I realized that I couldn’t do the piecing work at night without making mistakes, but stuffing and doing the legs was a great late-night TV watching task. They’re not perfect, but I am pretty proud of how much better they got once I learned a little patience and ripped out all the seams I needed to re-do. Meet Eddie and Irene. She’s already flown the coop, but I expect to make many more of these. I’ll keep you posted!
Here are a few simpler stuffed bird projects if you’re interested in something like The Artful Bird. I recommend starting with something like these or the Spool mobile above to get the hang of working with the tiny pieces of fabric and how the seams work together. I adapted various patterns to make one I liked, you can find umpty-million options on the interwebs.