When I recently got the bug for embroidery, I got out my box of embroidery supplies, eager to do something with thread. Most of my past projects have been kits or patterns, giving me instructions to follow and taking all the decision-making out of the process. This time, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to experiment and decided it was time to wing it.

Square embroidery of a male American kestrel sitting on a log with branches and berries. Embroidery by Kit Dunsmore inspired by Janet Haas photo.
American kestrel embroidery by Kit Dunsmore. Inspired by a photo taken by Janet Haas.

Digging through my box, I only found two unfinished projects: a mermaid kit and what I originally planned to be an improvised cross-stitch of an American kestrel. Because of the videos I’ve been watching, I was attracted to the kestrel. Sure, I’d intended it to be a cross-stitch, but I could include more detail and a more realistic look if I used a variety of stitches.

Because the design is my interpretation of a photo by Janet Haas, I was free to use any stitches I wanted to. I ignored the counted cross-stitch cloth I had already started on, embroidering right over the existing work. I did take advantage of the cloth for the patterned background, so it wasn’t a total waste of the special cloth.

Close up of embroidered male American kestrel by Kit Dunsmore.
Close up of American kestrel by Kit Dunsmore.

I did all the work freehand, referring constantly to the photo and changing a lot of the details to better fit the square format. While I enjoyed the process, I’m also happy with the results. Many of my attempts to just wing things don’t work, especially when it comes to quilts. My success with this probably stems from the fact that it was like painting with thread.

Close up of embroidered log, twigs and berries with green straight stitch background by Kit Dunsmore.
Close up of embroidery by Kit Dunsmore.

This little baby kept me busy for hours. I got great satisfaction out of stitching, the sound of it, but also the tactile details and the color. Layering the embroidery floss to get different effects was especially fun. But the greatest pleasure came from making it up as I went along. I can’t wait to try this again.

Do you plan or improvise your needlework? Which method works best for you?

8 thoughts on “Winging It: Embroidering a Kestrel”

  1. Hi Kit,
    Your kestrel is so beautiful! Congratulations on ‘winging it’ and having a wonderful piece of embroidery in the end.

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