How on earth do these huge birds balance on those long, skinny legs? More importantly, how do I reproduce them? Continue reading to find out.
It took me a long time to figure out how to make realistic legs for my large birds. The legs needed to be long, slender and graceful, yet sturdy enough to balance and support large, awkwardly shaped bird bodies without collapsing.
I spent a lot of time searching the web for instructions on making legs for stuffed birds. I didn't find much -- just a few tutorials suitable for tiny birds with short, flimsy legs made of pipe cleaners or thin wires. There was no way these fragile limbs would support a 2-pound stuffed crane or flamingo.
So after much trial and error, here's what I came up with. I hope it helps you with your own projects.
I start with 16-gauge wire, which I cut into eight 12-inch lengths.
Next I cut two 4-inch-long pieces of 7/32" brass tubing, and two 3-inch pieces of 1/4" tubing. I put the 1/4" pieces aside for now, and thread four wires through each of the other tubes, leaving 1.5 inches of wire exposed on one end.
Using small pliers, I bend the wires into toes.
The claws are made of polymer clay. I knead a small amount of clay and roll it into a long cord, which I cut into eight roughly equal pieces. I shape the pieces into claws, and push them onto the toes.
I bake the clay according to the directions on the package, and then let it cool. After baking, the claws are quite hard, but they slide off the wires easily, so I glue them in place with gel Super Glue, and then stand the legs upside down in a tall glass for 24 hours to let the glue cure.
The next day, I clamp the toes into position and squeeze some glue into the tube. This will help keep the wires from shifting around.
To create the leg joint, I thread a large-hole bead over the wires and glue it in place. Then I add the 1/4" brass tubes on top of the bead, and glue again.
While the glue is drying on the upper legs, I paint the claws with nail enamel, and then put the legs back into the glass to dry. After the enamel dries, I add another coat, followed by a coat of glitter polish, and then a clear top coat. Between each coat, I let the legs dry upside down in the glass.
The next day I coat the legs and toes with Mod Podge, and then wrap them with floral tape. The toes need to be wrapped in multiple layers to make them stronger. I add more Mod Podge between each layer. When finished, I let it dry overnight. The next day, I paint the wrapped legs and toes with acrylic paint, and let dry. Then I add a second coat of paint, and let dry again.
To add texture, I like to wrap the legs with colored string, yarn, fabric strips and/or embroidery floss. To do this, I coat the legs and feet with Mod Podge, and then take a piece of string and wrap it around the leg from the top of the leg down to the bottom, then out and back on each toe, and then back up the leg. Then I add more Mod Podge, and wrap again with a different color string. When done wrapping, I paint the entire leg with Mod Podge, and hang to dry overnight.
The next day, I touch up the claws with a final coat of clear nail enamel, and let dry. And that’s it! The legs are finally finished and ready to be attached to the body. But I’ll save that for another blog.
You may have noticed that this process requires a lot of drying time. It can take a whole week to finish a single pair of legs. I find it helps to make several legs at a time, so that while the tape is drying on one leg, I can be painting another, and so on.
Here you can see three pairs of legs in various stages of construction. From left: Wires encased in brass tubing; Wrapped with white floral tape; Painted with painted with metallic bronze acrylic.
And here are the same three legs, all finished and ready to be attached to bodies. But that’s for another blog post.
More on making the crowned crane
Crowned crane, getting started
Crowned crane, Part 1: Making legs
Crowned crane, Part 2: Building the body
Crowned crane, Part 3: Feathers
Crowned crane, Part 4: Neck and shoulders
Crowned crane, Part 5: The dreaded crown
Crowned crane, Part 6: Finishing touches
Welcome to my fantasy world
I'm a textile artist in Reno, Nevada, USA, specializing in three-dimensional fabric sculpture. I use this blog page to record my journey and to share some of my successes and failures, in hopes that it might help you with your own creative endeavors.