Imagine me in a Serengeti campsite, taking this picture. Behind the camera, my mom and I have just washed our clothes in a shared fountain and wait for them to dry over rocks. As we sit and talk, we admire the birds. The blue ones are superb starlings (Lamprotornis superbus). I don't know what the smaller, brown ones are, nor what to call the bossy-looking fellow with legs like a Clydesdale horse! In fact, it's the bossy one that prompts me to take the picture, because we've never seen him before. However, the superb starlings are the ones which stick in my memory a decade later. They are native to East Africa, where they gather everywhere in big groups. The Xeno-Canto website collects their calls, so you can hear them sing!
For a new quilt I am planning (Memories of Africa, which I'll post about soon), I want to represent the superb starling, so I go shopping for Foundation Paper Piecing (FPP) patterns. Erin Sherman, of the Etsy shop PaperPiecingByErin, has many birds, including a starling, but nothing as superb as what I need! So I look for the bird whose shape is closest, and buy her robin pattern. Both birds have an upright carriage and different colored wings/breasts. I will need to modify the pattern a bit to make a Superb Starling, but I think it's doable!
Click here to see Erin Sherman's Robin on Etsy, maybe buy it yourself!
Click here to see Dick Daniels' Superb Starling on Wikimedia Commons, with all its licensing information.
The biggest changes will be the beak (more of a frown than a smile), the head (divided between black and blue, with the eye a bit lower), and the breast (blue with white necklace dipping down). Then I can make it with Superb Starling colors!
My fabric choices come from stash, except the red and dark blue, which I buy as fat eighths from Pioneer Quilts. I love these saturated, crayon-y colors! They remind me of my favorite kind of children's book illustrations! Also look in the upper left corner for a dragon-print scrap I have; I intent to use its scales to represent texture in the starling's legs and beak.
ALTERING THE PATTERN
I don't take pictures of my pattern changes... but they are not too hard. Basically, I print the finished pattern overview (the whole bird, with all the seam lines), and draw the changes I want lightly in pencil. Then, working with only straight lines and visualizing the order I'll put things down and which seams will cross which, I draw new seamlines. Finally, I trace the updated pattern pieces to new paper, so the old seamlines won't confuse me.
This is my first attempt at FPP, but the string piecing which constituted my whole Acid Trip quilt, as well as the rings of my Scrappy Double Wedding Ring, is a transferable skill. The biggest difference is that FPP requires a pattern, and you have to make sure the new piece you're sewing on is properly oriented and big enough to cover its allotted space plus seam allowances! Another difference is stitch length: I sew this bird with a short stitch (1.5 on my machine) to make more holes in the paper, so it's easier to tear it away at the end.
Since FPP uses only straight lines, the best way to represent a curve is with lots of tightly angled seams; however, since more seams mean more bulk, it can get very dense. In the end, my bird's eye has sharp edges which I don't like. I use black all-purpose thread to fill in the corners until it looks round. Then I sew a pupil.
When the bird is finished, I trim the block to 10.5" square. Beautiful!
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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