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banana birds – blanket stitching & inside-out seams

Sunday afternoons should look like this: a glass of red wine, a relaxing craft project and dinner in the slow cooker, steaming up the windows and making the neighbours drool at the smell winding through the building.

Sadly, the view from the couch where I sit with my glass of wine and crafting looks awfully white, and not because of a nice snowfall. Our horribly vast, blank walls are still horribly vast and blank, despite my determination when we moved here back in June to deal with this problem straight away. We didn’t even put many Christmas decorations up, which would have combatted the whiteness somewhat. Since we were away for the holidays, a tree seemed unnecessary, and when I went to get out the other decorations, I discovered that the mice who invaded our old place just before we moved thought boxes of Christmas ornaments were a nice place to set up house. Meaning poo in. They also ate all but one of my straw stars from Germany. I didn’t have time to deal with clearing out rodent latrines before we left for the holidays, so most of the decorations didn’t go up.

Now that I’m preparing to take down the one decoration I put up (a quilted Christmas tree wall hanging crafted by my mother), I’m seeing all over again this terrifying expanse of blank white wall, and looking for any splashes of colour to throw around the room to add a little pizzaz. I’ve begun a project specifically to cover some of the walls (more on that in a future post), but in the meantime just some colourful ornaments will help. I’m not interested in going for an early Valentine’s Day theme and strewing little hearts all over the place, and there aren’t any other holidays looming. So I’ve decided on birds. A few little birds in the window seem a good way to brighten up dull January days. Appropriate as Christmas tree ornaments, these fellows can stay out once baby Jesus and his retinue of nutcracker soldiers, jolly reindeer and glittery pink flamingoes (thanks, Great Aunt Gertrude*) have been packed away.

*I do not actually have a Great Aunt Gertrude, but I feel it’s worthwhile to invent an outside, uncontrollable force to name and blame for one’s own demented impulse purchases.

As a little technical bonus, this tutorial will also introduce you to a great plushie-making technique, where everything is stitched by hand, and the seams are on the outside. It’s a great soft-sculpture-making style. I find it much more straightforward to make patterns for creatures sewn this way because the pattern pieces keep their original look and shape much more, so you spend much less time worrying about how each piece will “translate” once it’s been sewn to another piece and turned right side out, which can cause its shape to change quite a bit. It also helps you to achieve sharper angles. Below are examples of other, more complicated pieces I’ve made using this technique.

Thanks to my boyfriend, Jeremy, for the term “banana birds.” He started calling them that while he watched me make flocks of these guys to give away at Christmas, saying that their curving shape was reminiscent of a banana.

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What you’ll need

materials:

  • felt in two colours of your choice
  • thread to match one or both of your felt colours (and yellow and black thread if you are using felt for the eyes and beak)
  • polyfil or other stuffing material
  • 8 – 12 inches of upholstery thread, cord or embroidery thread
  • [optional] clear nail polish
  • banana birds pattern – number 9. under “Sewing patterns”
  • wool rovings in yellow and black (for the eyes and beak)

OR

  • a very small piece of yellow felt
  • small beads for the eyes
tools:
  • straight pins
  • fabric scissors
  • small sewing needle
  • large sewing needle
  • chopstick
  • felting needle and a block of thick foam (if you’re using rovings for the eyes and beak)

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Putting it all together

1) Print and cut out the pattern pieces. Pin the pieces to the appropriate colours of felt (head and body pieces to one colour, tummy piece to the second colour) and cut them out.

2) Start with one of the body pieces and the head piece. Pin one edge of the head piece to one edge of the top of the body piece. It’s going to be a little bumpy, and that’s ok.

3) Thread your needle (with thread that matches the felt you’re using) and knot the thread. Insert the needle at the front of the bird’s head. You want to insert the needle by putting it between the two pieces of felt, and through one piece to the outside of the bird, so that the knot will be hidden inside the bird.

4) You’re going to sew the two pieces of felt together using a small blanket stitch. If you are unfamiliar with blanket stitching, or if you need a refresher, just follow the instructions below. Otherwise, go on to step 5.

a) First, of course, you’ve inserted your needle between the two layers of fabric, hiding the knot, as instructed in step 3. Now, in the same place, insert your needle again, but this time go through both layers of fabric. 

c) Pull the thread almost but not quite all the way through, so there’s a loop of thread left.

d) Insert the needle through this loop of thread, then pull it tight. (The first stitch may look slightly off. That’s quite normal and often difficult to avoid. Just keep going.)

e) Repeat the process a short distance along from the first stitch, inserting the needle through both layers of fabric, leaving a loop, putting the needle through the loop and pulling the thread tight. After a few stitches, you should have even stitches going off to either side of the line where the two fabrics meet, and a line of thread riding right on top of the edge where the two fabrics meet.

5) Stitch all the way along this edge, connecting the side of the head piece to the top of the body piece. Once you’ve finished that side, take the second body piece and match it up to the first. Pin the two pieces together along the back to keep the new one in place. Then pin the unsewn side of the head piece to the top of the second body piece.

6) At the back of the head, put one stitch through the top of the two body pieces, connecting them. Then continue stitch back to the front of the bird, sewing the head piece to the top of the second body piece.

7) When you get back to the front of the bird, so the head piece is entirely sewn in place, put one stitch through the two body pieces, connecting them. Then knot the thread and cut it.

To knot thread (in any hand sewing circumstance), you actually do pretty much the same thing. Insert the needle underneath a previous stitch, leave a loop, put the needle through the loop and pull tight. Repeat this two or three times in the same spot, then cut the leftover thread.

At this point, your bird should look about like this:

8) Pin one side of the stomach piece to one of the body pieces, starting right underneath where the body and head pieces connect. 

9) Using a blanket stitch, sew the stomach and body piece together. 

10) When you come to the end of the stomach piece (you’ll still be about 1/4 inch away from the end of the body piece), match up the two body pieces again, and put one stitch through them, connecting them at the base of the stomach. Then pin the other side of the stomach to the other body piece, and stitch back up the stomach to the top of the bird again. Knot the thread and cut it.

At this point, you should have a definite bird form, with a head and stomach, and an opening all along its back.

11) Now pin the two body pieces together, along that opening at the back of the bird. Start stitching at the base of the bird’s stomach, closing that gap left between the two body pieces on the underside of the bird. Then continue stitching along the bird’s back, connecting the two sides of the body. STOP about halfway along the back.

12) Let the needle and thread dangle, and stuff the bird. You can use a chopstick or the tip of your scissors (carefully) to poke stuffing into all the corners, particularly the head area and the tail.

13) Once the bird is stuffed, finish stitching up the back, then knot and cut your thread. The whole bird should be closed up at this point.

14) For the eyes and beak, there are a couple of options. You can needle felt them, or do a felt beak and beads for eyes.

To needle felt the beak:

a) Roll a small amount of yellow wool roving into a ball and needle felt it enough that it keeps its shape. 

b) Needle felt it onto the bird (where the four pieces – body, body, head and stomach – meet), shaping with your needle as you go to give it a pointed beak shape.

To needle felt the eyes:

a) Take a tiny amount of black wool roving, roll and squish it into a little ball with your fingers, then felt it into place with your needle. Here, here and here are some tutorials with further details on how to needle felt (including how to do tiny things like this).

To make a felt beak:

a) Cut out the beak shape from an appropriate colour of felt. Thread your needle with a matching colour of thread.

b) Insert the needle at the tip of the triangular beak shape. 

c) Fold the triangle in half, hiding the knot of thread, and use a tiny blanket stitch to sew the sides opposite the folded edge together. 

d) Let the thread dangle, and use the tip of a chopstick to push a tiny amount of stuffing into the beak.

e) Position and pin the beak in place (where the four pieces – body, body, head and stomach – meet), then use small stitches all around the base of the beak to secure it to the bird.

To use beads for eyes:

a) You’ll want a slightly longer needle for this. Thread the needle (with a thread that matches the beads you’re using as eyes). Insert the needle where you want one eye to be, and push the needle right through the bird’s head and out at the place where you want the other eye to be.

b) String a bead onto the needle. Then insert the needle back through the bird, at exactly the same places it went through the first time.

c) String another bead onto the needle, and go back through again, in exactly the same place, coming out in the center of the other bead. Go back and forth a couple times till the beads are securely in place, then knot and cut your thread.

15) Now you just need a cord to hang the bird up with. Thread a large needle with upholstery or embroidery thread, or thin cord. Do not knot the thread. Insert the needle at the back of the bird’s head, up and out the top of its head towards the back. Leave some thread dangling.

16) Insert the needle back down and out the back of the bird’s head, opposite where the first insertion was made. Leave a loop of thread coming out the top of the bird’s head.

17) Knot the thread together behind the bird’s head. If you want, you can secure the knot by dabbing on a bit of clear nail polish. Pull the loop of thread taught so the knot is right up against the back of the bird’s head.

18) Display!

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31 Comments

  1. Shandi

     /  January 16, 2012

    I think these birds are Québecois! The pieces look so much like a pretty fleur de lis.

    Reply
  2. admin

     /  January 16, 2012

    I had the same thought when I laid the pattern pieces out to take that picture! :) They’d make a lovely decoration on a card or something.

    Reply
  3. These are so lovely and you have gone into so much detail in your tutorial…I will be making some! I also pinned them here Pinterest

    Reply
  4. Whoops messed up the link! I pinned them on Pinterest

    Reply
  5. admin

     /  January 24, 2012

    Thanks Zoe, glad you like them! If you make some birds of your own, feel free to send photos for the Crafter’s Gallery – http://nheilke.com/blog/?page_id=5346. I love seeing what other people make!

    Reply
  6. Tina

     /  January 26, 2012

    I could not get the link for your banana bird pattern to work. They are sooo cute and I am a wild bird lover and amateur watcher and would love to make them but couldnt get the link to work..:(. I only want it for personal use. Thank you so much for the very helpful tutorial and I hope its just me doing something wrong….lol.

    Reply
  7. admin

     /  January 26, 2012

    Hi Tina,

    I’ve checked out the link, and I’m not having any problem with it myself. If you click on the banana birds pattern link in the materials list at the top of this post, it should take you to my Patterns page. Scroll down that page to “Sewing Patterns,” and the banana bird pattern is fourth from the bottom of that list. Just click on that link and you should get the pattern.

    If you’re still having trouble with it, please let me know!

    And meanwhile, I will perhaps look into some numbered organization of those Patterns Page lists, as they are getting a bit long and hard to find things in now…

    Reply
  8. Liz

     /  January 26, 2012

    These are addictive! I started yesterday morning, and now I have five: two large and three little. Each time I finish one, I start thinking what colors to make the next. I’m making them in tones of red and pink for valentine’s day. I’m considering making several more to string together as a garland.
    I changed the beak some. I just cut out an uneven diamond shape and stitch it to the face, down the middle, so the two triangles of the diamond become an upper and lower beak. It’s quicker, and I like the expression it gives them.

    Reply
  9. admin

     /  January 27, 2012

    Liz, that’s awesome! Pictures…? :) I love seeing other people’s pictures.

    Your beak change sounds good, and very simple! I used something that sounds like what you’re describing for my needle felted birds tutorial http://nheilke.com/blog/?p=5137 but for some reason I didn’t even think of doing it on this one. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Reply
  10. Liz

     /  January 28, 2012

    Hopefully this will show up ok, it’s my birds dangling inside my curio cabinet
    http://a3.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc7/328043_3207043338429_1336554326_33377037_996999005_o.jpg

    Reply
  11. Tina

     /  January 28, 2012

    Thank you so much for replying so quickly. I’m happy to say that I finally got the pattern…lol. I’m not sure what I was doing the first time but I had no issues today. Thank you again so much. Off to craft some birds of my own now…lol. Soo excited.

    Reply
  12. Fiona

     /  January 31, 2012

    Wow amazing and so cute
    Thank you x

    Reply
  13. Fiona

     /  January 31, 2012

    Wow amazing, awsome and so cute
    Thank you x

    Reply
  14. Wow!! These are very cute..
    I am going to make these for sure!!

    Reply
  15. Ladybug Travis

     /  February 19, 2012

    These are adorable. Your tutorial is awesome. I would love to make a bunch of these to hang in the window.

    Reply
  16. Elizabeth

     /  February 21, 2012

    I haven’t sewn anything before in my life. Is this a “beginner” type project?

    Reply
  17. Tally

     /  February 21, 2012

    @Elizabeth: It’s a pretty simple and straightforward project, but if you’ve never sewn before I’d suggest starting with something like these two sided monsters http://nheilke.com/blog/2010/08/monsters-of-cuteness/, to practice making even stitches and get a feel for the process. Once you’re comfortable with that, I’d say you’ll be set to give the birds a try. I’d love to hear how it turns out for you!

    Reply
  18. Theresa

     /  March 19, 2012

    I think your blog is amazing, the time and effort spent on your many tutorials really shows through. Your instructions are easy to follow, your patterns are perfect, and all of your projects are great! These banana birds are so far my favorite, but the others are great also. Thank you for sharing all of your hard work with all of us!

    Reply
    • Tally

       /  April 2, 2012

      Theresa, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad you’re enjoying the site, and relieved to hear that my instructions make sense – they make sense to ME of course, but it’s good to hear that they’re working for other people to. I sometimes worry. :)

      I hope you will continue to find projects here and elsewhere that keep you happily crafting and inspired.

      Reply
  19. First, I share your sorrow at having the mice get into your decorations. It happened to us too a few years back. Secondly, these are so sweet. I’m going to attempt one or two, but I also see a small flock in the near future for a friend’s birthday. Thanks for sharing the pattern and wonderful pictures.

    Reply
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