For the Birds

During lockdown I became more aware of the sweet sound of birdsong and believed that more birds had come to roost in our garden and chorus from the trees at dawn. So I made a quilt to celebrate this.

BirdTree (156 x 114 cm)

And now for the story behind the quilt. The weekend before 27 March 2020, the day South Africa went into hibernation, we were at a supper party where one of the guests was wearing a beautiful shirt. The fabric caught my eye and I rudely asked where he had got the shirt. I learned that it had been lovingly hand made by his wife and so of course the next question was “Where did you get the fabric?” To my surprise and delight she told me that she had bought it out our local fabric store.

I live in a small town and the said fabric store specialises in Shwe Shwe and utility fabrics, so I could not believe my luck when I heard that there was a range of quilting fabrics along the back wall and that the fabric with bright parrots nestling in foliage, which she had used to make the shirt, was among the range. I held my breath until Monday morning and was relieved to find there was still yardage on the roll.

Not being sure of how to use it, but knowing that I wanted to make a tree full of birds, I started piecing the background while I thought about it. By now we were in lockdown and so I used my stash of greens (along with the plain bright green I had bought on that day of the lucky shopping spree) to make pinwheels. Here is a snap of the completed background:

And while I stitched I mulled over how to make the tree. I got stuck on the idea of cutting out the parrots and appliqueing them onto a golden tree. I pinned up some gold Thai silk in the rough shape of a tree, but it didn’t look right. Then, early morning as I was surfacing from sleep and listening to the birds the idea came to me to cut the tree from the fabric, so that the birds were embedded in the tree.

This bright idea spurred me on to finish machine quilting the background. I then constructed the tree shape and hand appliqued and then quilted it in place . The branches looked bare, so I machine appliqued a flock of parrots onto the tree top and also machine stitched around the edge of the tree trunk and branches to contain the fraying. To my surprise my open toed foot glided smoothly over the surface and did not pucker the quilt.

There was not enough yardage of the plain green for the back of the quilt and, because the shops were shut, I had to make-do with the fabric I had to hand and pieced the backing from the leftovers.

The back view of BirdTree

To end off this post, some musing on whether the birds are in fact flocking to the town and singing their hearts out during this time of decreased human activity and movement. A bit of research, via Google, has shown that my ears have been deceiving me. It seems that I have been hearing more birdsong because there is less mechanical noise.

According to British ornithologist Sue Anne Zollinger it isn’t true that the birdsong has increased. In an article published on NPR this ornithologist from Manchester Metropolitan University explains that because there is less noise pollution during lockdown, the birds have less noise to compete with and are, in fact, singing more quietly than they used to. Zollinger said: “We know from some earlier studies in the city of Berlin that birds sing quieter on the weekend mornings during the time that’s normally rush hour than they do during rush hour during the week because the noise levels are lower,” she added. “And that’s probably what’s happening now.”

Another article in the Irish Times states that people are asking if the lockdown has produced more birds. “The answer is no,” says Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland. “The number of birds is the same as it has always been. It is just people are more aware of them than they have normally been.”

People are not only noticing the birdsong, but are also watching them. The New York Times reports an increase in the number of birdwatchers in a beautifully illustrated article. Closer to my home I know of two friends who have formed bird watching groups and who are watching online talks on birds.

17 thoughts on “For the Birds

  1. What a fun quilt, and a great story to go with it. Our daughter is a scientist who specializes in birds – shorebirds, specifically. We’ve been a bird-oriented family since she was little, so I’m always drawn to birders and birding stories. Love the quilt, and I can imagine asking those same questions at a dinner party – LOL.

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  2. All aspects of this makes me happy – from the lime greens to the birds to the different ways you stitched them and brought a flock together to the bird stories and facts…
    Thanks, happy is good.

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  3. A lovely quilt celebrating birds. Btw, in addition to the factors you mention making birds more apparent, we find each year that more birds come to our garden (and birdbaths) during autumn and into winter. I gather that some species of birds do migrate to lower altitudes in the colder months of the year but I have not figured out if this is a factor here, or if more localized conditions that have an effect on food and other resources might be influences. Anyway its nice to have many species such as thrushes foraging more obviously in the garden again.

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  4. Wow, this is incredible! I love that you added extra birds to your flock on the tree by sewing them on individually, and that green background is stunning. It’s so lucky you went on that shopping trip when you did! I’ve been enjoying listening to the birds outside my window these past few weeks too, especially in the mornings 😊

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  5. During lockdown I too became more aware of birdsong. I even made a little video of a beautiful bird singing its heart out, likely draw a mate.
    The piece is spectacular! The green is so pleasing to the eye. I enjoyed the story about the inspiration for the fabric. I imagined you wandering about the dinner party eyeing everyone’s attire for art quilt inspiration 🙂 (just teasing).
    Interesting – I thought there were more birds now too, no I guess we have learned to appreciate them more!

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    1. Thanks for your enthusiastic response to BirdTree. I have hung it in our bedroom and so it is the first thing I see when I open my eyes.
      I bet you also notice interesting fabrics in people’s clothes and furnishings. It’s an occupational hazard of being a quilter.

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