‘I Spy’ – Peregrine


The Peregrine is a skilful and adaptable predator but it nearly disappeared from the UK.  Its success as a killer was nearly its downfall and historically it has faced many threats from humans.

Raptors have been routinely killed where they pose a threat to game birds, this same situation is playing out currently with the Hen harriers.  During WWII hundreds of peregrines were shot or their nests destroyed to reduce their numbers in the attempt to avoid them attacking homing pidgeons carrying RAF messages from pilots shot down.

Being high up the food chain the Peregrine has been a victim of the use of Organochlorine pesticides such as DDT.  This attacked them directly as poison but also caused them to lay eggs with very thin shells which broke before they could hatch.  These factors caused their numbers in the early 60’s to plummet to half their 1939 level.

The good news is their numbers have recovered and these birds have adapted to city life, where there are high numbers of pigeons. Tall buildings have become suitable substitutes for cliffs allowing them to catch their prey.


The female lays a clutch of 3-4 eggs in March/April.  Both birds share the incubation which takes 29-32 days.  The birds fledge between 35-42 days.  During this time the parents will teach them to hunt and handle prey in flight.  Less than a third reach maturity.  On average in the wild they live 5-6 years.

Once prey is spotted, it begins its stoop, folding back the tail and wings, with feet tucked. Prey is typically struck and captured in mid-air; the peregrine falcon strikes its prey with a clenched foot, stunning or killing it with the impact, then turns to catch it in mid-air. To catch its prey it reaches speeds of 180kph, making it the fastest bird in the world.


Selecting fabrics – I played a little with the colours I used on this piece, using many dark blues rather than slate greys.


Above, adding the details with heat removable pen ready to start stitching.

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Bird pieced and cottons chosen. Despite choosing many deep blue fabrics I over stitched using many grey threads, some with pink hues from the Oliver Twist range.


Seeing the picture build from the back.



Once the bird was completed I started to quilt the backing, I experimented on some spare fabric first to decide the best pattern to use.


Drawing the outline ready to quilt.



The finished piece, I’m really pleased I was braver with my fabric choice this time, I think the dark blue on the wing really lifts the piece.  Im really looking forward to creating another Hawk or Falcon soon.

 A limited edition Giclee print of ‘I Spy’ is available from my Website shop , please          click here to view.

AK007 I Spy.jpg



‘Out of the Blue’

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) has a magical quality that has fascinated me since I first saw one as a young child, it glided silently through the air with an almost ghost like quality.


Owls have such fascinating faces, so varied in shape, colouring and expression.  There are believed to be 216 species of owls in the world.  Of these 18 belong to the Barn Owl family (Tytonidae) and 198 belong to the typical owl family(Strigidae).

Having tried a small, delicate bird last time, (a Goldfinch) I decided to try and capture some of the strength of a Bird of Prey or Raptor.

An ideal opportunity arise when the lovely Claire Passmore, who I had met through Twitter told me of a Readers Challenge in the Quilting Arts Magazine.  The challenge was called ‘Birds of a Feather’.

This was the perfect opportunity to embrace another bigger challenge and see where it took me.

So, with this challenge in mind I started selecting appropriate fabrics to build my Barn Owl.


A simple sketch started the process.  I decided that I would like to ‘frame’ my subject in a quirky, off-centre position giving the background fabric a large proportion of the finished piece.  The blue, slightly sparkly fabric seemed ideal and was an easy choice.


The fabric shown above was the perfect Barn Owl material.  I had used it once before in a modern take of an owl and  couldn’t wait for an excuse to use it again.  The whole piece, including the background used only five pieces of fabric.  Simplicity at this stage definitely made the final piece stronger.

I had learnt lessons from the earlier Goldfinch and thus avoided using small fragments of fabric.  I concentrated on larger blocks adding details with stitch instead.


Building up the blocks.


Adding details ready for stitching with heat removable pen.


Stitching circular details onto the fabric on the top of the head.


Back detail


By adding the reflections to the eyes the bird starts to come alive. I had not consciously thought of the order I was quilting this piece in but will, in future always start with the eyes – a piece can be won or lost at this stage.  If the reflections or outlines are wrong the piece is definitely lost…


A detailed close up of the face, using seven different coloured thread.


I decided that I did not want a strong quilting pattern in the background sky, so I made a small test piece to find a thread that did not show.  I tested out a few quilting patterns and selected the one below.



Following a recommendation I tried using a pair of quilting gloves.  These really helped me manoeuvre the piece in a controlled way and also eased a certain amount of aching I can experience when working solidly for a few hours on a piece.

Referring back to the Readers challenge requirements I cut the quilt to a 9″x9″ square and zig-zag stitching around the piece 2-3 times using the same thread as the background.


The final piece called ‘Out of the Blue’

A limited edition Giclee print of ‘out of the Blue’ is available from my Website shop , please click here to view.


I was not unfortunately one of the 11 selected for the Readers challenge from over 200 entries.

That said, as in previous challenges the opportunity has sent me off on a new path and with new skills.

I look forward to sharing another piece with you soon.

Thanks for reading.


A Little Finch

One of the ‘Gang’ of birds visiting our garden most frequently are the Goldfinchs.  These fickle little chaps are faithful to us when we provide Nyger seed and don’t want to know us if anything else is offered as a substitute.


I’m in the habit now of looking up my chosen bird in my favourite new book  A Year of Britain’s Birds ‘Tweet of the Day’ by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss.  This fabulous book gives a little snippet of all our British Birds, their life and the problems they have faced over time, so….

The Goldfinch

  1. The red detail around their bill is said to be a result of the bird taking pity on the crucified Christ and them pulling the thorns from his crown.
  2. A flock of Goldfinches are often called a ‘charm’
  3. Their striking appearance almost led to their downfall in Victorian times as it was a popular cage-bird.  By the 1890’s it was an endangered species.  The RSPB made the species a priority and it is now thankfully a fairly common bird.

Because they are such a daily sight from my kitchen window I decided it was about time to base a piece on them.  I wanted this image to be more realistic than the previous pieces so decided that I should have the bird on a single piece of backing fabric so that the bird was THE focus….. Bit scary because if the bird was rubbish as there would be no hiding place (I have a Bullfinch who has met his end from this problem – poor thing!)

Anyway, lets not linger at this point, on the failure of a piece….

I looked at loads of images of Goldfinches and found the one above with a teasel.  I was interested in the bird having a solid base of sorts and thought the teasel would be fun to quilt.

This piece has taught me many things, mostly what not to do on future pieces, I’ll share these along the way.

I started by sketching the bird stationary as above but settled on the image below as it had a good feeling of motion, as if he was struggling in the breeze or his weight was too much for the plant to support.


From the initial sketch I then take a tracing paper copy (holding the tracing paper over the original against a window), simplifying the image into distinct colour block areas (I wasn’t organised enough to take a picture of the next process).  I then wrote on the blocks the colour and retraced for example, all the black areas onto the non-paper side (raised) of a piece of BondaWeb.  This ensures the pieces, when ironed onto a piece of cloth are facing the same way.  I draw them all close together so that when it is ironed onto my correct colour fabric there is minimal wastage.  Lesson 1 – copy the traced line over onto the paper side of the BondaWeb as when ironing onto dark or busy fabric you will not see your original pencil line!


The image below illustrates the image building up.  However lesson 2 – I would recommend having the bird cut out as a complete silhouette in one colour of fabric, ideally the main colour.  In this instance white would have been a good choice.  This avoids areas being left out.  If you look carefully in the image after next you can see backing fabric where I clearly had not carefully ensured all areas where redrawn onto BondaWeb.  I was fortunate that I used a sympathetic backing and that this was lost in the threading.  However it would have been much more sensible to have one base colour.  I’ve done this on future pieces and its been a much smoother process.


Below all the main colours except the yellow have been added.  I would recommend before ironing the BondaWeb into place popping your tracing paper outline over the top of the fabric layers to ensure they are all in position


Choosing such a small study (and variety of bird) was tricky for a first attempt.  You can see in the pictures how much the black fabric wanted to fray.  The very small pieces also had a habit of turing or overlapping as the sewing machine foot went over them.  In hindsight, lesson 3 would be stitch the highlights like the yellow details rather than cutting, sticking and stitching.  They were far too small and troublesome!


The next lesson (number 4) learnt on this piece was that I should always stitch the eye first.  You can make or break a piece if the reflection in the eye is poor.  I stitched the complete bird before adding the glint to his eye and had I messed it up there is no unpicking in such a small area of heavy stitching.  I would far rather abandon a piece at the beginning than the end when the piece had really worked except for that eye!!!!

I’m not known in life for my preparation!  But, in an attempt to be profesional I decided to do a small test piece for the teasel.  I loved the piece of fabric I chose (not that you can see it at all after all my stitching) and BondaWebbed it to the same backing ready to start sewing.


The King-Tut threads were ideal for this job as they change colour so subtly and made it look far more life like than it would have done with single coloured threads.



I conveniently forgot about his legs and feet as I was unsure how to tackle them, anyway once I noticed they were not there I couldn’t stop seeing how he appeared to be balancing precariously!  I popped the image onto Twitter and asked for advice.  The overwhelming feedback was that although it may not have been instantly obvious they thought he deserved legs!!


Below is the final piece (plus legs) ready to mount onto board for framing.

 Quilters and people who may be interested in buying a piece of Textile Art have very strong feelings about whether they should be framed or not.  I’ll talk about the pros and cons in another blog and why I have chosen to go down the framed route.


A limited edition Giclee print of ‘Golden Breeze’ is available from my Website shop , please click here to view.

AK002 Golden Breeze