Saturday, May 26, 2012

A few observations about birdhouses from someone whose yard is filled with them

I now share with you photos of birdhouses that have been in my yard for up to nine years, along with some snippets of bird wisdom we have learned along the way.

This one (left) is one of my favorites, a thatched roof birdhouse patterned after English farmhouses of a bygone era.  (Keep in mind, please, that this one is old and has been outdoors for years.  The ones we sell online look much better than this.)  What I love about this one is the stucco walls adorned with Tudor styling, paned "windows" and tiny logs stacked near the doorway.

Our love of birdhouses came to fruition when we formed Life's an Expedition in 2003.  My husband had always wanted to build them, so birdhouses became one of the mainstays of our craft show circuit.  He designed them, cut the wood and assembled them with galvanized screws, clean-out panels and drainage gaps to let the rain out. He read up on National Audubon Society guidelines and learned that only certain types of birds will nest in a birdhouse, while others prefer hollows of trees or marshy grasslands.   A sparrow or chickadee will favor a specific size of entry hole that other birds will not.  A perch outside the hole is not safe for the birds because it allows easier access for predators. 

And you should never, ever make or buy a birdhouse with a metal roof or sides--e.g.: some are made from old license plates.  No matter how clever it looks to you, please don't put one outdoors.  A bird may choose to build a nest in there on a chilly spring day.  But when the summer sun heats up the metal, the baby birds could be cooked to death.

However, you can put all sorts of "accoutrements," as we call them, on the front of the house and the birds will generally be safe.   I favored the very rustic, natural looking houses, but customers always gravitated to the ones with decorations, such as this one (left) with the cat fishing next to an over-turned rowboat.  The cat didn't deter the birds in the least.  Birds are also not deterred or fooled by artificial berries and will not try to eat them.  They certainly don't care if the front of the house shows Christmas decorations year-round.  So my husband and I got into the habit of looking for little figures and decorations to use as ornamentation.  I found this giant bug (right) a little creepy, but it does draw attention.  I came up with a painting technique that looked weathered and intriguingly colorful for this series.

One day, we saw an old barn being torn down near our home in the Chicago suburbs.  Upon inquiry, we were thrilled to learn that we could have some of the wood with its charming peeling paint.   The barn had been built shortly after the Civil War, so the birdhouses we made from it are very rustic.    We felt exhilarated knowing that we were preserving a little part of Illinois history.  The rustic barn wood series include my absolute favorites, although customers favored the modern ones with "accoutrements."  So we made more modern ones for our online shop and pulled the barn woods from inventory to put in our yard. I love their irregular weathered roofs and random twigs and they do complement our old cottage-style house.

Thanks for caring enough to read this far.  Sometime I should photograph the gardens surrounding the birdhouses.  We have more garden than lawn...literally.

We have just a few birdhouses in stock at Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

dj runnels

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Here's what I've been working on today and as I tore up the silk fabric to make this, I suddenly remembered a concerned customer asking me, well...isn't this scarf going to shed?  Or leave lint?  Or (I can't believe she said this) fall apart?

Ah, no.  How do I know this?  Because   I wear black.  Nearly every day, I have on black/dark jeans or black capris--depending on the weather--so that's what I wear when I work on my scarves.   If they were going to create a lint storm, I'd have the evidence on my lap.

Fortunately, my customer was open-minded enough to just go ahead and wear the scarf she bought from me.   She was pleased that (1) it did indeed hold up and (2) it generates many compliments.

The reason I thought of this while working on this particular scarf is because I used a type of silk I have not used before and I cut it in a way I have not cut silk fabric before.  It did leave lint on my cutting board.  I had to shake the fabric out in my front yard before I could continue.  Then I made the scarf and it was fine.  Another thready crisis averted.

I guess the next time I get a concerned customer, I will direct her to this blog post.  But what about the people who drool over my scarves, eye the threadiness cautiously, then don't buy without asking me for reassurance? I suppose that sort of thing happens a lot to any seller.

< Silk Bamboo is the name of this scarf.  There's no bamboo in it.  That's just the name.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy.
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