Sunday, 4 February 2018

Quicker prototypes

Prototype of a pied wagtail,
markings drawn on before sewing
Over the last while I have devised a quick and reliable way to test my bird shapes. I make a prototype in fabric, either drawing the markings on plain fabric or foundation piecing them before sewing by machine. The eye beads are added inside before stuffing and the beak is sewn on afterwards. 

Pied wagtail weaving form with weaving started
Once I know the design is right, I use the shapes to make a weaving form pattern with all the construction marks and feather markings. I trace all this onto thin fusible interfacing which I fuse onto the heavy interfacing and begin construction.
Finished pied wagtail

Sparrow pattern used for Christmas gifts
As a side benefit, the patchwork birds are lovely things in themselves and make good gifts. I usually make a batch of at least 4 for efficiency.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Finishing the latest sparrow

I wove the sparrow's breast up to the opening where the legs are inserted, weaving from the outside edge to the centre line. This wool is very springy and tends to spread out. So before I wove from the other side to close the gap I temporarily whip stitched the woven edge with a contrasting thread to hold it in place. This gave me a firm border to weave up to. 

I inserted the finished legs into the pocket and wove between them.

I chose a suitable piece of driftwood for the base and drilled two small holes straight down to hold the leg wires. All that was needed was to adjust the toes a little bit to look natural.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

More weaving and a jig for sparrow legs

The whole weaving form showing the tail section
 and green holding stitches still in place
The tail section of the weaving form is temporary and has the warp attached by holding stitches on the underside. There is a row of holding stitches along each side of the body that keep the warp threads in position on the curved surface.

I finished weaving the tail and removed the holding stitches and snipped off that part of the weaving form. Next I will insert the ends of the tail wire into the pocket along the back of the bird and attache the wire to the edge of the woven tail with more wool of the same colour. Once I had woven down the sides as far as the green stitches I was able to remove these stitches. The new woven fabric is now holding the warp threads in the correct position.  
Meanwhile I have been making sparrows' legs with my new jig. I wrap the leg wires onto the jig, position extra lengths of wire for toes, hold them with temporary clips so that I can wrap the permanent wire around the ankles. Once the legs are off the jig, I bend the four toes outward. Thin strips of white florists' tape hold the toes in position and build up the thickened knobbly shapes of the toes and legs. I bend the claws down and clip them to the right length and finally paint the legs with acrylic paint. The wire extending downwards from the bottom of the feet will be what holds the bird onto its wooden perch. The triangle of wire at the top of the legs will be inserted into the specially made pocket on the underside of the bird and be held in place by the weaving.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Warping and beginning to weave the sparrow

After the whole form has been assembled, I begin to add the warp threads. On the head I stitch the warp threads into the buttonhole stitches around the eyes and beak. 

Once the warp is all in place, I begin to weave at the top of the head, stitching the wool into the stitches around the eyes and beak.

I use the coloured markings as a guide for the placing the coloured wool as I work along the back and wings.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Four sparrows later ...

Sparrow number four completed
Over the last few months I have evolved the processes for building my tapestry birds. Now the eyes and beak are integral to the weaving form. Pockets for inserting the tail wire and the legs are included as the form is built. The shape of the bird is much closer to what I want and I have figured out how to do the final weaving with no seams at all.
The pieces of sparrow number five ready to assemble

I realized two basic principles for building the weaving form. One, put the seams in places away from the most detailed parts. Two, work on as much of the detail as possible while the pieces are still flat. The form is made of four pieces of heavy interfacing. Two of these form the head. Another folds around to form the back, tail and sides and the last is the under side of the bird. Once the pieces are all marked and cut out, I start by adding the details to the pieces: beak covering, eye stitches and beads, holding stitches for the warp, darts, and pockets for the legs and tail wires. 

Sparrow number five taking shape
A tiny square of fine dyed silk covers each beak section. I use a row of buttonhole stitches where the beak meets the head and fold the extra fabric to the inside of the beak. More buttonhole stitches applied using a shisha method (an embroidery method used for fastening little round mirrors onto the surface of cloth) fit snugly over the eye bead. Once the details are done, I begin to assemble and stuff the bird starting with the head. 

This is as far as I have got on sparrow number five. As soon as it is completely assembled, I can string the warp threads and then begin weaving.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Sparrow finished

To stiffen the tail I made a loop of wire the same shape as the perimeter of the tail feathers. I laid it on the underside of the tail and anchored the ends on the last few stitches of the plastic "spine" inside the back. I attached the wire by completely covering it with whip stitches using the light coloured wool.

For the beak I made a little cardboard cone covered with a few layers of gummed brown paper tape. I streaked it lightly with coloured pencil and coated it with a few coats of white glue (pva) for strength and sheen. I poked three holes with a sharp needle (one on either side and one center bottom) and used wool to stitched it to the inside of the sparrow's mouth opening.

The final assembly (stuffing, attaching the wire legs and stitching up) went quickly and I forgot to take step-by-step photos until the sparrow was done and perching on the edge of my work basket. Now my mind is racing trying to come up with ways to make the beak, eyes and legs more convincing and integral, and ways to avoid more of the seams by weaving in the round.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Sparrow weaving off the loom

To finish the lower edges of the wings I did a row of soumack stitch. Then I wove the tail and finally the plain light colour. I reinforced the edges with a soumack stitch over the last strand of weft. With contrasting thread I carefully marked some strategic matching points on the edges of the two pieces. 

Then I turned the weaving over and clipped the holding threads. 

I gently released the weaving from the backing and pulled the ends to the inside. I am really pleased with the shaping of the top of the head: smooth and round with no seam. I stitched the black beads firmly against the inside of the eye holes which makes the bird start to come alive. 

I joined the short neck seam using the weft thread with stitches that blend into the weaving. The next stage will be adding stiffening wire to the tail and applying the paper beak. These will both take a little bit of figuring out.