Bird Pincushion & Needle-Keep a.k.a. “Just Leave It”

This past Wednesday, my M.I.L. and I got together for a sewing party.  She had a project she had been saving up to work on that was recommended by her dear friend, Robin, who is amazing quilter and sewist.  [Aside: Robin made Mark and I a beautiful quilt for our wedding that combines so many unusual fabrics.  For color ideas, she looked at our registry, and used her genius to create this beauty:

Quilt by Robin - via The Thinking Closet

It’s one of our most treasured wedding gifts.]

Anyway, Robin recommended this bird pincushion and needle-keep as an easy and fun project.  Well, I can attest, though we had fun and laughed a lot, it was anything but “easy” for us.  I felt like I went from Sewing 101 with my denim skirt to Sewing 505.  But you have to admit, even though it took me from 9a – 9p to complete two birds, they are rather adorable:

Bird Pincushion & Needle Keep via The Thinking Closet

Bird Pincushion & Needle Keep via The Thinking Closet

Needles stored beneath the wing for safe keeping.

The best part: choosing your fabrics.  Robin had shared a big stack of her fabric remnants with us to use, and I loved trying to find coordinating yet contrasting fabrics.  Here are some fabrics I pulled for my next bird.

Bird Pincushion & Needle Keep via The Thinking Closet

Each bird requires five different kinds of fabric remnants.

The toughest part: where to begin…?  I think getting the three different seams to all line up without puckering or overlapping or underlapping (yes, I invented a word).

Bird Pincushion & Needle Keep via The Thinking Closet

I called this section “The Bermuda Triangle.”

The most time-consuming part: all of the hand-stitching, which you have to do on five different sections.  By the end, my hand-stitching was looking a little sloppy, I’m not gonna lie.

Bird Pincushion & Needle Keep via The Thinking Closet

Hand-stitching to secure the wing to the body.

We fondly nicknamed this project “Just Leave It.”  Let me use some dialogue to demonstrate why:

M: “Uh oh.  My bird looks like it has a hunchback.”

L:  “Let me see.”  Pause.  “I think it’s fine.  Just leave it.


L:  “I’m having neck issues again.  His little neck looks pinched.”

M:  “Hmmmm.”  Pause.  “Nah.  I’d just leave it.

Now I know Michelangelo didn’t say “just leave it,” when sculpting the David and da Vinci didn’t say “just leave it,” when painting the Mona Lisa; however, when you go from T-ball to the Major Leagues in a matter of a few days, “Just leave it,” is perfectly acceptable in my mind.  Our birds may not have noses that sit straight or wings that perfectly match up, but I’d like to think that that adds to their charm.

Here are a few tips if you decide to tackle this project:

  1. Use an iron to press your pieces throughout your project.
  2. Use the back of a paintbrush to poke the nose and wing edges through.
  3. When stuffing your bird with walnut litter, use a funnel and REALLY stuff it well.  Use your finger to stuff the head and tail to the point where the litter is almost overflowing.  In order to help you hand-stitch the opening shut, use a layer of saran wrap (brilliant idea by my F.I.L.) to help keep the exposed litter inside.  You’ll sew that saran wrap inside.
  4. When notching, don’t make your notches too long.  1/8th inch or so should do it.  Also, don’t be afraid to add notches on your wings.  I think mine could have used them to help ease up those tight curves.
  5. Sew both button eyes on at the same time by sewing through the head.  You can even pull your thread tight to draw your eyes together a bit.
  6. Your second bird will be MUCH easier than the first, so don’t give up if it’s too challenging.  I was definitely encouraged after completing bird #2.
  7. Name your bird…Chirpy, Hunchback, whatever name suits it best.  It will help you keep a sense of humor about your “just leave it” moments.

And speaking of humor, we were both pretty slap-happy by the end, giggling at about anything.  Here was our attempt at a timed photo, right after I had accidentally sat on Maggie-the-Dog’s tail.

Bird Pincushion & Needle Keep via The Thinking Closet

Timed photo fail.

Our second attempt.  Not much better than the first!

Bird Pincushion & Needle-Keep via The Thinking Closet

Can you see the tired in our eyes?

And here are all of our completed birds lined up for the bird parade (including one of Robin’s!).

Bird Pincushion & Needle-Keep via The Thinking Closet

We’re not proud at all, are we?

So, if you’re enticed to make your own, here’s a link to the pattern that we used by Susan Maw.  And if you want to download a similar pattern by Joel Dewberry for free, I found this video tutorial and pattern on The DIY Dish.  (This design is missing the separate top-piece, though it appears easier to create.)

And remember, if you’re feeling overwhelmed about your bird being lopsided, “just leave it.”  This is not the David.

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Lovely comments so far...

  1. Pop pop, Mor mor & Ana says

    Mor mor and I thoroughly enjoyed your bird pincushion episode! We laughed along with you and Rachel. But we’ve both decided we won’t try it – we’ll “just leave it.”

  2. mark says

    This was a very entertaining “episode” as pop-pop said. I thought you were going to play on MJ’s “just beat it”, but you didn’t and now I can’t read your post without the rhythm… just LEAVE it….dudududu-dudu-du… that is a good idea though, thanks to your writing I feel more free to try stuff now that I might not be good at. Thanks!

  3. Gianna says

    They look better than just leave it to me! If I was doing it, I would have ended up making a hot dog and just left it! Looking great :-) I love all your projects and I do wish we were closer so I could hang out with you while you make all of them!

  4. Marmie says

    What a wonderful way to spend the day….not only did you end up with something so pretty and practical, but you gave yourselves the gift of laughter and imperfection!! Let’s hear some tweets from the birds!!

  5. says

    These are so neat – I’m going to forward this to a sewing friend! Crafting with friends and family is fun…as long as you can laugh! :) Found you on the Eye Heart blog hop!

      • says

        Did you get a giant bag of that walnut litter for this project? I went to Petco today and they only had one size. I would have enough walnut litter in one package to make 400 birds! any other suggestions?

        • says

          First of all, I’m SO glad you’re actually trying this! To answer your question, my M.I.L. picked up a pretty big bag at her local pet shop. We made five birds and still had plenty left, which sounds like your dilemma.

          Some ideas: 1) You could seize this opportunity to have a bird pincushion party with the whole neighborhood. 2) You could put out a call on facebook to see if any friends already have a bag of walnut litter for their bird and borrow some. 3) You could bite the bullet and buy the big bag, trusting that new opportunities to use the material will arise. (In my internet research, walnut litter was most favored among sewists for pin-cushion stuffing.) 4) Or try an alternative stuffing: white rice, fine sand, or steel wool. Let me know how it goes!

          And if anyone else has ideas, please chime in. :-)

          • says

            Thanks for the ideas. I put the word out on FB and craigslist in my area, hopefully I don’t have to meet some weirdo in a parking lot for bird bedding and hopefully I don’t have to buy the giant bag either. I did find a man on craigslist that uses it for sandblasting and wants me to buy ALL of it for $800. That’s a lot of pincushions. In the end, I have a strong feeling I will be using the brown rice I bought ages ago when I was in a mood to eat healthy (and then wasn’t). If I can sift out the cat poo, I may consider raiding my kids’ sandbox as well, haha.

  6. says

    Adorable!! I’ve always used a boring old round one. Your little bird pin cushions are so darn cute!! I love it when I laugh at everything and nothing. Glad you had lots of fun. :)

  7. says

    A very lovely bird parade! Loving the bird pin cushions so cute. I am a big sewer so can appreciate the time and tired eyes you put into them! Thanks for sharing your inspiration with Sunday’s Best – you helped make the party a success!

  8. says

    Thank you so much for linking up to Tell me tuesday!!
    I love these!! I Want one so bad, they are soooo dang cute!! AWESOME job!! thanks for the tips although im sure mine wold be not even close to cute haha

  9. Sarah says

    These are “sew” cute!! So, my question…have you attempted any more & is it getting easier? Thanks for sharing this cute idea (stocking stuffers for those who sew!).

    • says

      Good question! I have a few other projects that are in the works, so I haven’t created any more yet, but my M.I.L. has and she says it just gets easier and easier. She even worked on two at the same time and said she felt more productive. I’m definitely planning on making a few more before the holidays – – sewist stocking stuffers, indeed!

  10. says

    I love this post! Some things that stood out to me–“just leave it,” of course. And after reading some of the comment section, it seems like I’m not alone in that! :) Also, I like that the pins go under the wings–so creative and safe at the same time. Last, I think I’m most inspired by your perseverance. It’s so tempting to give up and move onto other things when a project doesn’t come easily. Thanks for modeling a steadfast perseverance for us!

  11. says

    Lauren, I love your pincushion bird and it looks fabulous just the way you left it! lol. I’ll be sharing it tomorrow night (Monday) at the Highlight Party. Thank you so much for sharing it at Project Queen’s Link Party.


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