an open source architectural beadwork project from Kate McKinnon and a worldwide team of innovators

Thread as Ancestral Fiber 2

The Tailor Bird uses balls of fluffy plant fiber (like the loose fiber bundles called roving) to sew leaves together to make its nest. By cleverly using its beak as a needle, it draws the bundle along through each hole it pokes, leaving a woven thread behind.

I love the way it tugs the thread snug, but not too tight.

I marvel at our kinship, and I would love to share with the bird some of the things my people have done with needle and thread to see if it has interest in collaborating.

I realize that most existential and practical human questions are essentially pointless; the natural world does not care if we solve or accurately measure it, or if we can write our own DNA on a chalkboard or name our creator. But colour and pattern, ways of stitching, those are important and I think the birds would enjoy new ideas if their lifespan, time and safety permitted curiosity.

When I spoke to Sam Norgard on the phone the other day, out of the blue she mentioned one of her colleagues who collaborated with a long-lived African parrot; they are equals when making work and both are deeply enriched by the collaboration.

I think of crows that use mayonnaise lids to ski down rooflines, ride on the backs of boars, know which day is trash day on what street, steal trinkets and then give them as gifts to others who impress them.

I expect that male Bowerbirds would enjoy our beadwork, because they are primarily focused on original beauty; this flower, that nut. They can see which fig is most delicately rounded, which blossoms are most intensely coloured, most deeply curved… they collect in series and arrange their exhibits with care and deliberation in the hope of seducing a mate. Each Bowerboy is an individual artist and builder.

Surely at some point a Bowerbird has slipped things with holes onto sticks, or threaded them onto string. They have probably woven little sweaters out of flowers still on stem and we just didn’t catch them doing it. Excuse the small bit of bird sex here at the end of this one (but also, the feather star, wow!)

There are many different kinds of Bowerbirds with so many different looks; a search of YouTube will entertain endlessly.

About katemckinnon

Kate McKinnon has devoted herself to the study of how things are done, and how they could be done better. Find her at or on some city street, walking fast, smiling at strangers.

One comment on “Thread as Ancestral Fiber 2

  1. Cath
    January 3, 2021

    Wonderful! I am so impressed by birds, but this, this floors me. That the Bowerbird works YEARS on his “barn” just to be the chosen one whereas the barn is not even used for anything else but parade is incredible. Oh and apart from their dances, songs and skills, I also love to see birds making life. Here the camera must have been held or guided by a very good ornithologist.

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This entry was posted on January 3, 2021 by .


January 2021
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