The Artful Bird: Creating a Swan from a Shirt


I hope you bought in the new year in good spirits and high hopes and plans for 2014. This is going to be a good year, I can feel it 🙂

As part of my holiday project a day, I decided to tackle something different than hand sewing felt. Santa was kind enough to being me The Artful Bird by Abby Glassenberg (who writes an awesome blog by the way) and since I didn’t have any wire for legs, I decided my first foray into creative birdie making would be the sitting swan.


My sister runs a fashion clothing shop and is often passing me on things she doesn’t wear anymore. Quite often I don’t end up wearing them either, but if they have some creative potential they may end up in my fabric stash. This top was one such example, and it definitely said “Swan” to me when I saw it!

The shirt before my fabric scissors got to it!

The shirt before my scissors got to it!

To get the pattern I had to trace from the book and then enlarge the swan body on the computer, which I found very frustrating to get it to print the enlarged image size correctly, but (somehow) managed it in the end. I am new to reading patterns and sewing gussets and got muddled on where to gusset actually went, and it was only after I had sewn the body parts together that I realised my mistake – off to the scrap heap for attempt number one!

Second attempt came out much better now I had a firmer grasp on the technique, and sewing up the swan body was pretty easy. It calls for a rock to inserted in the belly for stability and we have masses of river stones in our front yard, so it should have been a quick nip out and back… except my neighbour spotted me for a chat, during which I had to try to inconspicuously hide the fact I wasnot wearing a bra (it was holidays and it was hot!) while she filled me in on the Christmas goss.

It was fun to not worry so much about a perfect finish when sewing the details.

It was fun to not worry so much about a perfect finish when sewing the details.

Sewing the body was the basic bit, making the wings and features was the fun bit! The original swan was a bit … lacey for my tastes, so I went for a more rustic feel of roughly cut fabric strips intertwined with some of the fancier bits of the original top. I sewed pipe-cleaners into the top of each wing to give it some structure, but I think I should have gone all the way around to make it really stand on its own. I added the beak and face as per the book, but I think looking at it now I think I would have preferred the whole sculpture to be in the cream to give it a more classic look.

What a lovely swannie, the only downside was seeing the seam allowance through the fabric (see pic 3)

What a lovely swannie, the only downside was seeing the seam allowance through the fabric (see pic 3)


The swan was a really fun craft project and I enjoyed wizzing around on the sewing machine for a change. I am pretty happy with the end result for a first go, and now that I have the gusset idea in my head, I am excited about how I can apply this to other birds (Curlews and Kookaburras on the top of the list!)

My version of a swan from Abby Glassenberg's book The Artful Bird

My version of a swan from Abby Glassenberg’s book The Artful Bird


1. I was disappointed I could see the seam allowance through the material once I had stuffed the swan. I need to look into what other fabric types I can use that won’t be so transparent.

2. Working on the sewing machine really helped in the getting the project completed quickly. It was very satisfying to see it all come together in a matter of hours, I like the idea of sewing up the basic form and then spending the time enjoying working out and adding the embellishments. Something to look into more…

3. Gussets – YAY! So many times I see how things are done, but I just need to have a go to wrap my head around it. This pattern really helped me understand how to design a 3D soft sculpture, a style I definitely want to pursue in the future.

4. I am glad I tweaked a pattern to make it more ‘me’ and went for a look a bit different from the one in the book, I am not sure what I would do with a frilly swan! It also lead to a bit more experimentation and adapting to work with what supplies I had.

I am definitely going to buy some florist wire so I can have a go at some birds with legs and I will be on the look out for other materials I could use in future birdie creations.

What ‘a-ha’ moment have you had while working with a new pattern?

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