How to make a Red Cardinal with movable Wings

I am fortunate to be able to watch birds from my desk and seeing a cardinal is always quite special! There’s something quite unique about these little creatures so I wanted to capture that magic. Perhaps you’ll join me as I share how to make a Red Cardinal Bird.

What is so special about this Cardinal?

How can anyone resist a bright red bird that tends to hang around in those cold months when most of the colours are gone?! The northern red cardinal has a very large habitat area and they are not migratory so I am able to enjoy them all year. My first post ‘It’s All for the Birds’ has been crazy popular so I think there are many more bird-lovers than I thought!

I hear the Cardinal’s characteristic sharp high-pitched chirp and beautiful songs between both genders. My grandson already knows his bird songs and points the Cardinal out to me, so how I could I resist making some of these amazing birds?!

What fabric can you use to make a Cardinal?

In my case this project/tutorial all started with the discovery of a wonderful bright red vintage wool blanket at a thrift-shop. I am sure it is decades old and was very well loved. You can use almost any fabric that you wish but if you also want to make the feathers you will have to look at the weave of the fibres. Since this is a pretty coarse fabric the threads/wool is quite a large size and makes feathers easily.

The Bird Pattern:

When I designed my pattern I wanted it to be like no other pattern & have unique wings that can open and close. I might be that odd person who tends to get fascinated by certain things in nature; like the way wings seem to work. As a technical illustrator I tend to do many concept drawings in the design stage.

Easy Printable Patterns:

The size of bird pattern is about life size to the species I see here in Canada. The great thing about printable patterns is that they can be printed at different sizes. When you print from a desktop printer you can choose to print larger than the paper size. When you choose that option most print software allows you to ‘Tile’ the pages. That means that the large image will be printed in a few pages that can then be taped together to make a larger page (pattern pieces) since most home printers only print on letter or legal size paper.

It really is not that complicated and the software will also show you lines where the pages can overlap if you choose that option. It is a perfect way to shop for online patterns. My Custom Dress form was printed in many pages and taped together, so I did not have to find it in a store.

My eBook: How to Make Birds – Full sewing pattern is available here (instant printable download) and includes 27 pages of patterns and instructions. There are few variations (bluejay, sparrow, hummingbird, or whatever other markings you’d like to use) that can allow you to make a variety of birds. I also share how to make a nest with fabric.

The instructions include how to make birds who’s wings can fold away on their back. I also made a set that is painted and had leather feet so that they could be played with by a child.

Cutting the Pieces:

Since this 100% wool fabric is heavier than a cotton sheeting I decided to make the birds a bit larger. Working on a very small bird with coarse fabric is more difficult. I enlarged the pattern page to 130%. Yes, the seam allowance will also be larger but that is fine. I cut the simple pieces and sewed them together quickly.

How to make Birds Feathers:

I have a secret; I am already working on the next project; another feathered-friend pattern! It’s a bit more involved and has quite the character! (stay tuned) Since I have feather-making ‘on the brain’ I am always looking at fabrics! As you see here some fabrics have different thread colours and can also look fuzzier. I like to find ones that will hold their shape after thread pulling. If they are silky that’s a bonus.

Sew a tight stitch line in the centre of long strips that are cut along the fabric grain. To make it quicker I sew long strips and then cut as I need the individual feathers for the bird wings.

Making Bendable Feathers:

I also experimented with using a thin floral wire zig-zagged over as the middle line. This then allows the feather to bend quite easily. It worked well but after trimming the ends the wire can be a bit sharp and poke you at the ends. You can be the judge if you like this.

Pulling the threads out of the sides (use a pin or needle) of the feathers is a bit tedious but does give the best effect. Shape after pulling and iron if you want them to lay more flat.

Before you know it you will have a bunch of feathers. They attach easily to the top and bottom of the wing pieces. Depending on the fabric hot glue or fabric glue can be used to attach them.

Making the Cardinal Bird body:

Sewing the cap to body sides and adding the bottom chest/belly piece goes quickly. After trimming the mouth area as tight as possible use a chop stick to force the stuffing well into the pointed face.

Leather Beaks:

I chose a strong glue (Weldbond) to attach the beak parts together, let dry and then attach to the bird face. The elastics keep it in place until dried.

Little Bird Claws:

Details often make the difference for believability. After looking at birds feet I did notice that the shape has rounded toes and quite curved claws.

Wrap the wire feet with florist tape quite simply (see video). Florist tape can also be bought in brown colour. Other options include yarn, ribbon or string to give the thickness, colour can be added later. Brushing during wrapping will also hold it in place.

To make the feet look real adding a bit of brown paint will keep everything in place permanently.

Trick to add details on the face:

With the discovery of needle felting (when I did the needle felted pet portrait & first needle felting project ) I have used it to add the black section of the Cardinal face. Needle felting is quite simple and uses hardly any amount of the roving. If you do not have any roving but have some wool yarn you can unravel some and use it! The key is having a felting needle that has the tiny barbs on the shaft that push the fibres into the fabric with repeated ‘stabbing’ & poking. (see video)

I like the way needle felting looks more integrated into the fabric. Needle felting opens a lot of possibilities. In this case the black markings do not look like glued pieces. Use some glass beads and another bit of white needle felting to make the eye stand out.

Adding the Comb on the head:

I glued a diamond shape to stand up on top of head since the fabric was quite thick. If needed add extra layers inside.

After adding the wings and legs (whichever order you like) you can also add whatever embellishments speak to you… Please feel free to add whatever character you like to your’s! Please share what you make @madebybarb.

Christmas may be simplified this year! How lovely red Cardinals look in lighted birch trees! If you are inclined to also be a designer; please check out my post the bird design process

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  1. Hi, Barb,
    Merry (almost) Christmas. I hope you and all of your family are well. Bless you all. I will be spending my Christmas season having cataract surgery so there may not be much painting going on. There wouldn’t be any without it, Can’t wait to be back at work, again.

    Sweet little birdies.

    I had a thought. I know that they wouldn’t be as special as your hand-crafted clothing but you are a gifted designer, with or without hand-crafted materials. Your denim items are unusual. Any manufacture could make a bundle selling your designs instead of the boring items they have been marketing. You might even find some enterprising young star who would be eager to wear your designs and partner with you in a line of clothing so different that everybody would have to wear at least one. And they are so collectible. If they buy a special jacket, it will be needing a pair of jeans just as special to go with it, maybe a skirt a blouse and a bag, too. Winter is coming; she will need some warm mittens and a hat, or a scarf. What you design has a lot of unexpected features. The lines are flattering and flirty. You have excellent color sense, nice contrasts and scale. Your products have “a look”. that is recognizable. Of course, they could always order the real thing from you, an up-scale, limited edition version, personalized (at a real price) maybe something to wear down the red carpet? You would need an entire crew of makers making the inserts unless you designed the parts most easily printed by traditional methods. .You are not a factory, but you are a teacher and you know how to hire, train, and supervise someone who could pass on those skills so you can continue to dream up new, fun stuff. Just let a factory be the factory while you take care of designing and quality control. Some of the fabric would have to be printed to fit the shape of the insert but the rest could be random so that no two items on the rack would be identical – so they would have a more hand-crafted look – without the perfectly hand-crafted printing, but without all that expensive time in production, either. It would not cheapen your design. You would not be an employee of the company. You would still have control of the process, but it would make it possible for thousands of people to afford something similar, even if they do not have the skills of a maker – and without working you to death. I know people would buy them. They would be delighted. You are, already, selling patterns one at a time, to lucky people who have time to make their own fabric. You could sell your patterns to a lot more people in the same stores, and tell your story on your product’s price tags.. And it would bring many more people to your website where they would purchase even more of your products – all kinds. You might know of potential challenges or changes that might need to be made, but I think it is a good idea. Just think it over. Don’t let my wild enthusiasm scare you off.. You might get by without the red carpet, but, hey, your designs are worth it. nv

  2. Thanks for so generously sharing your many talents with us, these are soooo cute!
    Have a very Merry Christmas Barb

  3. I really enjoy your creativity. Some time ago I purchased a PDF of how to make a gourd out of cloth. I always have to ask my family for help when it comes to printing a PDF. I have since lost my connection to this purchase. Does this kind of problem afflict other people? Is there a way to find what I punched before?

    1. I think you meant to say ‘purchased’? If you are referring to Etsy, it should be in your account. Or, you can download it until you are ready to print it, or view online. Just remember where you put it…