I come from bird people. My grandmother in rural Oklahoma would show me the cardinals in the woods, we’d walk down the lane to spot bobwhites and scissor-tail flycatchers, and then we’d listen to the owls at night. My city grandma had shrubbery that attracted hummingbirds and a “special house” for blue jays. My aunt introduced me to bird feeders, and my uncle led me to the lake with a bag of bread as soon as we heard ducks quack. I’d get bird feeders for birthday presents, and decorate bird houses at camp. Today I sit with my cats, pressed up against the window, watching the orioles, bluebirds, goldfinches, red-headed woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, wrens and other species that grace our garden. Life-list accompli: I’ve even seen the stunning Indigo Bunting in the wild.
So it is no surprise that at a recent needlework tradeshow, my eye caught sight of bird designs galore. In fact, I’d even call it a trend: humorous birds, primitive birds, silhouette birds, and highly stylized, detailed birds are available on quilting fabrics, needlepoint canvases, cross stitch charts, and home decor designs. One popular social media platform has a bird in its logo (I’m @kreinikgirl on Twitter), and video game Angry Birds is a merchandising phenom that could put Donald Duck to shame. I’m not even going to get into Duck Dynasty. We are surrounded by bird themes.
Nature has influenced art since the dawn of art, it transcends languages, and it has always been a popular theme in textiles. Cross stitch, needlepoint, and embroidery are art forms that speak in threads and stitches. So in this month’s column I want to showcase stitched birds, with three observations on how to achieve some of their visual effects in your own projects.
1. Threads. First, threads will help you interpret birds’ coloring. Birds come in shades of brown, black, white and tan. They also come in shades of pink, red, blue, purple, yellow, green, holographic and more. Nature put every color under the sun in the bird world, and thread companies (like Kreinik) make every color you need for a realistic or fantasy stitched version.
Second, the variety of threads available to needleworkers today will help you create texture in your bird design. There are fuzzy threads that look like the down of a baby bird and there are metallic threads that replicate the iridescence of wings. Don’t be afraid to use an out-of-the-ordinary thread (ie, something other than cotton floss) to add effects to your design.
2. Stitches. Notice the variety of stitches used in the photos here, and how they make the birds look more interesting. Even using the same stitch in alternating directions can create interesting visual effects. There are many stitch encyclopedias online; I recommend browsing through them and making a doodle swatch of interesting selections.
3. Feathers. Real birds have feathers, so why can’t your stitched birds have feathers? Buy them at outdoor/fishing stores, craft stores (ahem, you may even have a feather boa in your closet…), and attach with tacking stitches or even glue. No better way to make a stitched bird look eye-catching, and show a little attitude, than with actual feathers. One step beyond: add other ephemera like wire or beads.
So the next time you see a needlepoint canvas bird design, a sampler with bird motifs, embroidery patterns or a cross-stitch chart of a bird, think about creatively using threads, stitches and other materials to make your design come to life. Have fun. (I’d love to see photos of your stitched birds. Let’s meet up on Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter.)