Even 40,000 years ago it appears that humans liked to “put a bird on it,” as they say in Portlandia. A rock image of an extinct bird from that era was found in 2010 in an Australian cave, meaning the interior design (ha ha) in the Outback was ahead of the famous Chauvet Cave in France by a full seven years.
But even the Chauvet included an owl! They, too, put a bird on it!
It seems people have been captivated by the beauty, grace, and design potential of fowl since we could first pay homage to the world around us through making images.
Graceful as a Swan, Proud as a Peacock
Steeped in mystery and symbolism, birds and their flight represent to people magical travelers and messengers to the spirit world and back. With their richly detailed plumage, evocative and imitative voices, elaborate mating rituals, charming little preening habits, and home-building skills, there are so many reasons we find birds so engaging.
It was only natural, then, that the ancient cultures of India, Egypt, China, Greece, and elsewhere would place the bird at the center of art, including decorative home and personal textiles.
And we still love it today!
Those Indienne and Chinoiserie fabrics we all love so much feature bird motifs almost as often as florals — and usually together with florals.
Clearly artisans and designers throughout the ages would be attracted to the opportunity to render birds in their colorful regalia and unique markings in order to suggest the many stories and symbols that birds might represent.
There are owls, crows, and ravens to suggest the mysteries of the night. Doves coo their brilliant white into our hearts as signifiers of the most holy. The bluebird of happiness. Peacocks to strut their elegant elan. Cardinals to signal bright life against the pure cold of winter.
And this just scratches the surface!
A Bird in the Hand
For native and indigenous cultures worldwide birds are sacred and revered, or feared and dreaded as ominous signs, depending on what they mean in each different group.
To one culture the crow is wise; to another he’s a harbinger of bad news. The cocky rooster may mean a bright new day on the farm but a hassle to the one who wishes to sleep in.
The chicken is loaded with symbolism as the prancing mother marching her attentive babes about, while her eggs and chicks themselves symbolize the potential of sweet new life in the Spring.
Birds show up in profusion on fabric, especially as complexly layered color and shape in the works of some of the greatest fabric houses worldwide like Scalamandré, Brunschwig & Fils, or Colefax & Fowler (no name pun intended).
At Lady Virginia we’re certain you love bird fabrics because they consistently remain among our very best sellers.
I just thought we’d celebrate their beauty and enduring design appeal today, along with the suggestive symbolic meanings they bring to us as we travel the world with our nearly otherworldly flying companions.
Here’s a little gallery of some of our current in-stock vintage bird pieces. And rest assured that we’re always adding new bird pieces — who could resist! Find them in our Etsy shop today.
— Lindsay Curren, Lady Virginia Vintage Fabrics