Did you know that today, January 5th, is National Bird Day? The holiday was created by avian conservationists to celebrate the flying and the flightless. In honor of our fine feathered friends, we’re featuring 3 bird quilts from the Q.S.O.S. collection.

First, Roberta Williams of Milwaukee shares a story about her quest to find a peacock in Wisconsin to model for her quilt, ‘But Can He Sing’:

“Well, the peacock is just a funny story, because first I wanted to get a nice picture of a peacock. And, I drove about forty five minutes from Milwaukee because I understood there were peacocks in the nursery in Waukesha. We got there and they couldn’t find a peacock. And, so, I drove all the way back home, so that was one afternoon. And then I thought, well I will go to the zoo. I mean, they’ve got peacocks out there. So we went out to the zoo, and also happened to be Senior Day, which we didn’t know this was going to be there, and so I’m snapping pictures of all the events that were going on for Senior Day. They had kids from Wisconsin and they had some other groups, and I thought this is really going to be fun because I had friends at home that would like to know about these things. So we finally found the peacock, and I have a digital camera and my battery was dead. So, now I have no picture of a peacock after two attempts. [laughs.] So, then I didn’t know what I was going to do. I went to a friend of mine, to a bookstore that a friend of mine owns, and she said there are peacocks at the restaurant just north of here. So I went up there about 8:00 at night and could not find a single peacock, and went down to the river and the river, along the river, the restaurant is on the river, and they had a pen down there, no top on it, but there were peacocks in there. So, I stood there and took about fifteen, twenty pictures and that is how I got pictures for my peacock. I designed them from the pictures. I did not find him with his tail fully opened, which is what I really wanted. So, I just, I used my colors in the body and I gave my own tail just from other pictures of peacocks around. The peacock was fun to design, and then I had to break it down into parts and figure out how to do it.”

The bird on Barbara Barrett’s quilt ‘Sing a New Song’ was born by chance from the pieces of an unfinished project:

“I call this quilt ‘Sing a New Song’. It features a large bird in the center that happened by accident. A few years ago, I thought I wanted to make a New York beauty quilt. I got started on all of the arcs that takes and soon decided that I really didn’t want to finish that. They sat around for a while on the table and one day they started to look like feathers to me. I put them up on the design wall and a bird came out. I decided he was pretty enough to pretty much stand on his own with a few friends and a little suggestion of nature. The border is interesting. It’s made of scraps from a weaver from Taos, New Mexico. She makes garments and sells her scrap bags here at festival. I picked up a couple last year and turned them into a fringed border. It’s one of my favorite parts […] It kind of represents the way my quilting is changing since I began. My quilting is getting to be more free in design. I think the quilt represents a joy in nature. We’ve recently moved to the country, so I have nature all around me. I’m more aware of it. I like that it used old things and repurposed them. That made it special for me. It also represents freedom. The bird is having a good time flying in the beautiful batik sky.”

The birds on Ted Storm van Weelden’s quilt draw inspiration from the local–a little-known artistic tradition from Holland–and the personal: her own family.

“[T]he quilt is made in a period of 4 years. I started it in September in 1997 and by that time I was not fit. I had a problem with my hands and doctors couldn’t find what the problem was and as I was teaching stress was the diagnose. So I was very upset that I wasn’t able to do anything, almost anything, but teaching, sitting and talking to students, but no stitches. And then I–well a design in my head showed I had to make something in black. And as I live in Holland very close to Delft I went to that company and I found some black Delft. Black Delft is the least known Delft tradition. The blue Delft is more known. And then I also heard that because it is less known it’s not sold a lot and yet it’s one of their oldest designs. They want to end that line of black Delft. It used to be called the wonder of Delft, because it’s exclusively made by that particular company, that black, like lacquer ware from the East was produced in ceramics so its influence from the East is visible in the design… So the design is Dutch based. And the–well, not fit at all I worked over a period of 4 years and finally I was diagnosed having a neck hernia. It was taken care of and then I healed. So when I started I was depressed, I was sick, I wasn’t fit. It was black and the mirrors represent the tears. So while I had surgery done and I healed, I realized how lucky I was, because the surgery went fine. I could do stitches again and the colors I chose and everything in the quilt you see it’s vivid and it’s alive and the mirrors for me no longer are tears now, but sparkles of joy.

You see two birds on top of it. And the birds are a bit like, well, representing my husband. My husband is the one in the middle center. He is always home-based, doesn’t like to travel. And I’m the one that’s on the go almost ready to leave. The flowers around it are very similar to Delft, typical Delft flowers. It’s just a fantasy. There is not a real flower you can compare to.”

These quilts aren’t the only quilts in the Q.S.O.S. archive featuring feathers: here are a few more! You can read more quilt stories–with and without birds!–on the Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories page on the Quilt Alliance website.


Posted by Emma Parker
Project Manager,  Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories