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Make It : Children's Bird Wings with Lynn Russell

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I'd like to introduce my long-time "internet friend" Lynn Russell, the very talented artist and letterpress printer at Satsuma Press. We met on Etsy years ago - Lynn discovered we were mutual "favorites" and reached out to me, and she has been a cherished pen pal ever since.

A bit about Lynn: She works and makes her home in Corvallis, Oregon with her husband, Ben, and their seven-year-old son, Liam. Liam has a rare neuromuscular disorder called Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2. I've gotten to know Liam through Lynn and he is, of course, much more than his diagnosis – charming, smart, mischievous ... and imaginative. When Lynn showed me these bird wings -- envisioned and custom-ordered by Liam -- I had to ask her to share them on The Crafts Dept. blog. She was generous enough to agree. Enjoy her how-to (and gorgeous photography) below, and please don't forget to visit her online letterpress shop.

Liam's Bird Wings

On the last day of 2011, I spent the afternoon making a pair of bird wings for Liam. He had requested them and I was very happy to oblige. November and December are crazy busy months for me, so it was a luxury to spend my time in such a truly lovely way. Liam LOVED the wings, and so do I. This takes a bit of time, a couple hours start to finish, but it's well worth it.

MATERIALS

  • 8 -10 packages of small feathers measuring 3-6 inches from end to end in assorted colors (I used .25 oz packages from Michaels, which came in a really pretty assortment of colors – bright but not gaudy, more jewel-toned. For Liam's pair, I also included red, white and black feathers. Avoid fluffy feathers or ones that are longer than 6 inches; they will not lay correctly on the wing base.)
  • Thin cardboard or heavy cover stock, long enough reach from child's shoulder to 2 inches before elbow
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Elastic band, 1/2 inch width

wing shape

WING BASE

Measure the length from your child's shoulder to 2 inches before his/her elbow. Draw a wing shape roughly this length, similar to what's shown in the photo, onto the cardboard and cut it out. Place the first shape on top of your second piece of cardboard and cut out the same shape. Mark these as left and right accordingly (just flip one over to mark the other side). Don't worry too much about the shape of the wings; the feathers will define the actual wing shape.

Arm Band

ARM BANDS

Cut two rectangles out of another piece of cardboard that roughly mimic the length and width of your child's arm from two inches above the elbow to three inches below the shoulder. Cut a length of elastic so that it will grip your child's arm firmly but not too tightly. Using the hot glue gun, attach the elastic arm bands to the tops and bottoms of the rectangles.

Arm bands on wings

Then attach the entire rectangle, with arm bands now secured, to the back of each wing by applying a border of hot glue. Make sure you are doing this on the correct side for the left and right wing!

Feathers Step 1

FEATHERS

Starting at the bottom of the wing (toward the elbow), lay down feathers, varying color as you go. Use a small amount of hot glue along the quill to attach each to the cardboard. I placed each feather so its natural curve went downward rather than upward. If necessary, bend the quill first so that it will lay properly. For this first layer of feathers, glue the quill so that the main part of the feather extends past the edge of the cardboard template as shown in the photo above. You'll want to do the same around all the edges of the wing. Vary the way that the feathers are pointing just a little as you go, to create a sense of movement.

Feathers Step 2

Layer the feathers, like shingles, so that you don't see the quill. It is helpful to place a feather before you glue it down, just to be sure that you like the way it looks. For Liam's wings, I didn't really want to have a repetitive pattern color, but I was sure to use colors that I liked and that went well together. As you build up the layers of feathers, it will come together beautifully.

Feathers Step 3

Depending on your child's age, he can help you with this – either operating the hot glue gun or handing over feathers as you need them.

Feathers Step 4

When you reach the top of the wing (shoulder), you'll want to arrange the quills in a tidy pattern as these ends will be visible.

When the whole wing is covered, you can go back and add feathers here and there to fill it out. For those, just dab a bit of hot glue on the quill of the feather and then work it into the space. This allows you to fix patchy parts or to add a specific color, if you like.

Completed wing

Thanks so much, Lynn! You can be friends with Lynn too - check out her online journals for Satsuma Press and for Liam.

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