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It's Not Too Late for Ornaments (to Keep Kids Busy)!

December 22, 2013

Ahhhhh, the holidays. The house is full of cheery decor, and the kids are out of school. OK, I'm not a parent, but I'm pretty sure the second half of that last sentence caused a needle-scratching-on-the-record sound for some of you. While I don't have kids of my own, I'm certainly related to a lot of them, and I WAS one (and in many ways still am), and I am all too familiar with the challenges of keeping youngsters busy during their downtime from school.

I was a busy bee of a child, and I perpetually drove my parents crazy trying to "help" with holiday prep. Until one day, my mom had a genius idea: She told me what we REALLY needed were some felt animal ornaments for the tree. (We didn't, but I had no idea -- I was super jazzed to be trusted with this VERY IMPORTANT task.) And then it kind of became a tradition; each year, new ornaments made their way to the branches of the Christmas tree. It wasn't until years later that I found out these little doo-dads had been called "busy birds" by my adult family -- because they kept me busy and not underfoot.

So, if you have a kid in your family who is ready for this important responsibility, here's how I made mine. You can always come up with a totally different animal -- it's a great way to not just keep a kid busy, but also to foster creative thinking and designing. These are perfect for kids that are comfy with a needle and thread, but they don't require crazy levels of skill. And felt is super forgiving.

I just sketch out a two-piece pattern, consisting of a basic bird body and an insert that will add some additional shape. I cut two of the body piece and only one of the inset piece. If you want a shorter, chubbier bird, just adjust the proportions to your liking.


To start stitching, I first attach the inset piece to one of the body pieces, starting about an inch from the tail end. I just use a small whipstitch for all of the sewing.


Here's the inset completely attached to the body. After this, I attach the second side of the bird.


As I'm nearing the mid-back of the bird with my stitching, I take two to three slightly longer stitches -- later, we'll be using the extra bit of gap to insert feathers.

4-busy-birds.jpgI start stuffing with poly fill as I go -- it's easier for me than waiting until I'm almost done stitching. A chopstick works great for poking the filling into the head and tail points.

4a-busy-birds.jpgThis is what the underside looks like as I close it up. You can see how the inset gives the bird a rounded belly.

5-busy-birds.jpgNext, I use two seed beads to give the bird its eyes. (That tail of thread you see is me holding my needle and thread to the back for the photo -- I don't take a stitch over the head.)

6-busy-birds.jpgAnd then, I poke some feathers through those longer stitches at the back to give the bird a tail. You can dip the points of the feathers into a little glue before carefully inserting them into the stitching in the back.

7-busy-birds.jpgIf you'd like to also add some feathers for the wings, poke a small hole in each side of the body with an awl, and then insert glue-tipped feathers.

8-busy-birds.jpgTo make the bird tree-ready, I glue a ribbon-covered metal hair clip to the base so it can perch on a branch. (If you want to see the process of gluing the ribbon to the clip, there's a photo series in this post.)


You can see the gap in my wider stitches more clearly in this photo, circled in black:


If you want to add a little sparkle to your bird, you can always tip the edges of your feathers with a little glitter nail polish.


12-busy-birds.jpgAnd that's it! It's a basic enough project to not be daunting, but it's time- and concentraion-consuming enough to keep helpers occupied for a little while so you can get cooking, wrapping and other holiday tasks done. While my two samples are fairly basic, you can really keep kids occupied if you let them add paint and other trims to their birds. And while my focus has been on keeping kids busy, every parent I know cherishes hand-made ornaments their children have produced. They become a beautiful way to commemorate each year.

I hope your holidays are joyous and peaceful, and filled with creativity!


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This page contains a single entry by Holly Frey published on December 22, 2013 8:56 PM.

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