A Gift of Nature in Fabric and Embroidery – Quilting Daily


I am so enjoying my new role as Quilting Arts Magazine editor and am excited to be joining the Quilting Daily team. There are so many tips, tricks, and techniques I’m looking forward to sharing with you, and I hope you’ll share back on my blog.

I thought I’d start off today with a technique that’s one of my favorites: capturing birds in fabric and free-motion machine embroidery.

Although we’ve been experiencing a rather mild winter so far here in New England, I know the snow and cold are coming.

Quilted and free-motion stitched bird portraits, featured in Quilting Arts Gifts 2009/10.

Gray skies and bare branches can look bleak, but fortunately in these parts songbirds are plentiful in every season, and I frequently get to experience the thrill of spotting a bright red cardinal perched on a snowy branch or a chickadee flitting by the window.

The more closely I watch these beautiful birds, the more fascinated I have become with trying to capture their colors and textures using fabric and thread.

I have developed a technique to “capture the moment” in cloth and free-motion machine embroidery.

I wrote up my technique for the 2009/2010 issue of Quilting Arts Gifts and I also demonstrated it on Episode 801 of “Quilting Arts TV.”

Here is the basic overview.

1. Use the pattern provided in the tutorial or a simple drawing (I like to use ones found in coloring books) and trace it onto tracing paper.

2. Trace each individual piece of the cardinal separately onto the dull side of freezer paper.

3. Roughly cut out your pattern pieces and iron them onto the right side of your chosen fabrics.

4. Cut out each pattern piece on the marked line.

5. Carefully peel the pattern pieces from the fabrics. Place each fabric piece onto the traced pattern.

6. Glue the bird together, beginning with the body and wing.

7. While the bird is drying, make your background; cut, glue, and stitch it in place.

8. Place the bird on the background exactly where you want it. Attach with a bit of glue and iron. Then machine stitch. Free-motion machine embroidery adds depth and detail to your bird. You could also add details with hand embroidery. I sometimes use hand embroidery techniques to sketch in the bird’s features and add texture to branches and feathers.

9. Embellish with beads, etc., as desired.

denegre cardinal
Plaid fabric and machine embroidery add interest and depth.

Fabric Selection Tips

There are many considerations in choosing fabrics for small compositions. Keep the following in mind:

Loosely-woven fabrics are more likely to fray and should be avoided.

Textures and geometric designs in fabrics often add interest and suggest movement when used appropriately.

Your composition will be examined closely-give the viewer something interesting and unexpected.

Scraps are your friends. Look at large- and small-scale fabric prints for transitions of color, shading, and feather pattern.

You can find the full directions and the pattern for this project on the Quilting Daily community under ‘QATV’ Patterns, Projects and Tips.

But did you also know you can download the entire Quilting Arts Gifts issue to your computer? Most of our back issues, WorkshopTM videos, and special issues are available for download, so you can get instructions and get creating-quick as a bird.

Happy bird watching!


P.S. Do you use bird motifs in your fiber art? What’s your favorite avian subject? Leave a comment below.

Other topics you may enjoy:

Leave a Reply