I really love collecting animal things. I have a small shrine in my craft room of tiny quirky animals items: a small set of glass sheep, a wooden giraffe, a very Bollywood set of two gaudy golden elephants, and lots more fabulous things I've picked up throughout life. They are whimsical, fun, and they just make me happy to look at (especially now, in the middle of winter).
One designer whose animal-themed work I really enjoy is Abby Glassenberg. She makes soft sculptures and assemblages of birds that I think are totally amazing. I discovered Abby's work a couple of years ago while picking items for the Wishlist section of our second issue of Stitch. One of Abby's birds was included in that issue, and now Abby has a new book full of fabulous soft sculptures projects called The Artful Bird. Each of the birds has a unique personality (I especially love the lark, owl, and flamingo), and Abby's projects are the perfect pick-me-up when you're fighting the winter blahs. I recently caught up with Abby to ask her a few questions about her sewing life, her inspiration, and her new book.
S: How and when did you learn to sew?
A: I learned to sew on the machine in my eighth grade Home Economics class. We were assigned to sew a pair of Bermuda shorts. The seams on my shorts were totally crooked and I got a C-! But I loved sewing, and I knew I wanted to keep trying. I bought my sewing machine, a Bernette 330, a few months later with gift money from my Bat Mitzvah and I still sew on the same machine.
S: Walk us through the steps when you're making a project. Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you translate that into a finished piece?
A: I usually begin with an idea of a particular bird that I'd like to try to make. I might be attracted by its coloration or its shape or just the challenge of trying something new. First I do some research. I look at birding books and nature guides, and I look online to learn about the bird, its size and coloration, its beak and wing shape, and its stance. Then I start sketching. I try to get a clean profile drawing in my sketchbook, and I base the sewing pattern off of that. I draft my pattern on freezer paper and then I make a prototype in muslin. I stuff it and then look at it to see where it might need to be edited. Then I try again. Usually after two tries I have a sewing pattern that works. Then I make the final bird.
S: What is it that you like about the medium of soft sculpture? What changes do you have to make when designing a three-dimensional piece instead of something flat?
A: The challenge of creating a form in three-dimensions is what draws me to sewing soft sculpture. I love the process of turning a sketch into a life-like finished piece. And I love that soft sculptures are like stuffed animals for grown-ups. My birds are fun little pieces to have around your house, sitting on a bookshelf or on your mantle, keeping you company.
When you design in three dimensions you need to figure out how to make something round. This is primarily accomplished by inserting gussets and darts. Drafting a pattern with gussets and darts can be challenging because you really have to imagine where a form needs to widen and where it needs to taper. There is a certain amount of trial and error involved, but there is also an intuitive part of it. The more three-dimensional work you do, the more you get a feel for how something will look when it is stuffed and standing.
S: You recently released a book called The Artful Bird. Do you have a favorite project from the book?
A: The patterns for the birds in The Artful Bird took me nearly three years to develop. There is a large variety of types of birds in the book, everything from a flamingo to a peacock to a gull. I would have to say that the penguin (above) might be my favorite, though. I think the pattern for the penguin is very clever, and I am really pleased with his expression and stance. It's a great project! I want to encourage people to draft their own original patterns for birds after they make a few of the projects in The Artful Bird. Almost all of the birds are made with the same basic pattern pieces-two side bodies, an underbody, and a head gusset. By changing the shapes of these pieces a great variety of birds can be created. I hope that after working with my book for a while people will be able to sew their very own unique bird patterns!
Abby's techniques are really easy to follow. I think my other animals will have a new bird friend soon!