Barnie – part 1

Barnie – part 1

In May, our textile group held a workshop to create a bird portrait using either machine or hand embroidery. Our tutor was the talented artist, Helen Walsh who creates bird pictures using applique and free motion stitching.

These days, I like to be prepared or might that be….‘forewarned!’ So, having researched her website I set about choosing a suitable bird….but, I love Barn owls….therefore, no decision required on that front! The only choosing needed was simply one of finding the right pose, particularly as I only wanted a part of the bird (I’d already realised that for me to complete the entire bird would be extremely time consuming)….Pinterest, Google & Flickr to the rescue.


I loved the curious owl on the right with his tilted head


The background snowy grass scene caught my attention

I created many photomontages of owls at rest, paying particular attention to the details of feathers and face. Two images stood out. One that I felt I could crop but still give me some simple background interest, the second was the angle of head. Some computer fiddling and….Taadaa

Cropped image is on the left
The cropped image now has a tilted head!















Once at the workshop, Helen showed us many samples taking us through the process and gave us many hints, tips & tricks to bring our birds to life.

Our first task was to create a tracing of our bird so that we could cut out suitable fabric pieces and commence our applique/stitching work.

I was so absorbed throughout the day that I totally forgot to take any production photos!


You will notice that the original photo owl’s face was a bit sad looking and his beak somewhat indeterminate. However, luck was totally on my side….literally. My friend, village neighbour and sewing buddy, sitting right next to me, had brought last year’s calendar of wild birds with her – October offered the most beautiful barn owl face. Just perfect.

By the time I remembered to take photos I was well underway having machine stitched all my Bondaweb-backed fabric in place onto a subtle fawn/grey linen, using sheers for the distant pieces of grass, overlapped with more substantive fabric for the foreground. I had already started hand stitching (fly) on top of the FME feather details (with rows of blanket stitch around the head) and was attempting to apply Barnie’s face….Yes, he had now been named!



The end of a busy workshop, but I wasn’t happy with Barnie’s face.  It was all too symmetrical with his wing feathers and just didn’t have the correct all-important inquisitive tilt I wanted, so I had to pull off his beak and one of his eyes….ouch!

At home I was able to reassess the whole face and consider how I could make it more alive. Conclusion – sorry, but Barnie lost his other eye too….ouch, again! This did however allow me to add more feathery details (fly stitch) unhindered.

Aren’t heat-reactive pens wonderful – his face now mostly clean!

From the October owl I traced the face then manipulated it size-wise to fit, finally drawing it onto OHP acetate to ensure the ‘perfect’ placement of Barnie’s new wide eyes.

I hope I have left you sufficiently intrigued as to how he acquires his remaining features….

22 thoughts on “Barnie – part 1

  1. Helen’s birds are gorgeous – what a great tutor for a workshop!

    Barnie is coming along well and you did right to be brave to alter his face. A little tweak when needed makes all the difference.
    Would really love to see how Barnie progresses!

    1. Yes, Helen is a great, informative, tutor who happily answers any questions and spends time with everyone. We recently had a group textile show and the finished ‘bird’ pictures were amazing.

      As Barnie’s face was to be the main feature it needed to be right. Part 2 is on the way!

  2. Love how Barrie is progressing, Antje. All your thoughtful preparation is clearly paying off. The snowy grasses make a lovely background and you’ve represented them beautifully. I think your decision to re-do the face was absolutely right: the fly stitch works very well.

    Look forward to seeing Part 2.

    1. Thanks Lindsay. These days I’m finding homework allows me to be more comfortable & gives me a clearer head in terms of where I might be going. It also allowed me to be comfortable with my fabric choices. Fortunately, it is a colour palette I like, so, I had lots in my variously sized (tiny snippets, small, medium etc) stashes!

      I have a few favourite stitches, fly being one, and it just seemed to fit the bill here.

      I hope you keep reading as Barnie does evolve significantly, moving much further away from Helen’s approach.

  3. Barnie’s coming along beautifully. It’s understandable that you are so engrossed in what you are doing that you forget to take pictures.

    I love owls, and particularly barn owls and it’s nice to know that their numbers seem to be increasing again.

    I always remember my father telling me, when I was a little girl, about the time he was riding his pushbike to work in the early morning. He noticed a movement out of the corner of one eye, and when he looked left, there was a barn owl flying along beside him. It looked him in the eye for many seconds before it flew on its way.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing how you get on with Barnie – keep the camera handy!

  4. Wow, what a lovely story Ann….your dad must have been thrilled. I’m glad others have the same fondness of owls as us.

    At home, the intensity of the workshop is (for me) totally non existent, so, starting & stopping did remind me to take WIP photos. More considerations to come….

  5. What a great workshop and a lovely collection of research images. You were so right to take the time and effort to alter the position of his head. I can’t wait to see how he finished up!

  6. Very inspiring,I now want to make one as well ,so it going on my long list of things to make a

    1. Veronica, I think we all have the same long ‘want to do’ lists.

      I hope you do create a stitched bird – then you can share it with us.

  7. Looks like a great workshop. I am glad you were brave and changed the things you didn’t like. Its hard to do but usually best I like the new stitching around his face. I can’t wait to see how he turns out.

    1. I’m pleased I changed his face Ann & part 2 will show you the results. You might like the further stitching on his face too.

  8. As a HUGE barn owl fan myself (I’ve one tattooed on my thigh) I can’t wait to see this finished. More, please!

    Also, big kudos to you for stripping the poor bird of eyes and beak as you saw that your original ensemble wasn’t going to work. It takes courage and the ability to imagine how it *could* be once changed, and that’s a huge thing when crafting.

    1. Leonor….yet another thing we share. We’ll have to compare notes, although not thighs 🤪

      Yes, I’m very pleased to have changed his face, but It was not comfortable removing his eyes, when I’d already named him!

  9. Bernie is so lovely, I think you have his face just right, and I am sure you must be so happy with how he looks now.

  10. Thank you. Although not complete above, Barnie is now finished & I feel he has his own character. I hope you will see him in part 2.

  11. Lovely owl so far Antje. Faces are hard to recreate to get the expression that you want. It’s great that you were able to make changes without having to start over. I look forward to part two!

  12. Thanks Ruth.
    Having the lovely October owl photo was a stroke of luck & hugely important for creating Barnie’s face. Pt 2 on it’s way!

  13. I love reading about your process Antje. I could certainly learn a lot from you – in fact your research is putting me to shame.

    Barnie is gorgeous! The little shift in his head is so ‘owly’ and cute. Your interpretation is superb. Looking forward to Part 2.

    Incidentally I tagged your tutor Helen in the Instagram post and she has responded favourably.

    1. Thanks Helene, if only we were a bit closer think of all the activities we’d get up to & share!

      So pleased you like Barnie’s tilt!

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