|4 feathers with curled barbs|
I think the three most important things to getting great looking feathers are:
- buying the best quality feathers you can afford
- curling the fronds or barbs of the feather (aka the fluffy part!)
- and MOST important: LAYERING the feathers. Depending on the feather type and the effect you want you should have anywhere from 2-5 feathers layered on top of each other to create the appearance of one with the fluff of 5!
My preferred ostrich feather dealer is ostrich.com. They sell many other kinds of feathers but their specialty is ostrich. If you get on their mailing list you can get emails as to when they have sales and that, my friend, is the time to buy! Nearly all my hats' plumes are ones I got at an ostrich.com sale. If you click the link above to ostrich.com you'll see a listing of all the ostrich feathers they currently have in stock and you'll probably notice a vast price difference between these: from 4 cents for $41- EACH! Quality, length and color can greatly vary the price. Male bird wing feathers are highly prized for their fluffiness, length and beauty and are priced accordingly. Femina or female wings (which, like most birds, are not as flamboyant as their male counterparts) are cheaper. Most of the large plumes I use are femina wings, usually second quality that I got on sale! For smaller plumes you can use drabs, which are even cheaper.
|Red curled, blue uncurled|
But to me the most important step to great vintage-looking feathers is layering. I've bought a lot of vintage ostrich plumes over the years and NONE of them is only one feather. In fact none of the ones I own are even just two feathers. Most are 3 or more feathers sewn together to look like one plume, often with additional plumes sewn to the last 1/3 of the feather to give it more weight and fluff.
Here's a rather beat up old plume that nevertheless looks far fuller and fluffier than the red and blue feathers above. Because it's beat up I had no problem prying it apart a bit at the shaft so you could see what I mean. It's not one plume at all but three good quality plumes sewn together!
Before sewing the plumes into one, you want to make sure your feathers are the same length and that you layer them to show off the best feathers. I always put the fluffiest, fullest plume on top and the skimpier ones underneath. Color is a consideration too since feathers are rarely uniform in how they are dyed or naturally colored. Once you've decided the order of the feathers you need to attach them together. You can see the stitching on the underside of this vintage feather. Incidentally I counted SIX feathers at the very tip of this plume although there are only two shafts visible at the end.
I don't know if my sewing method is exactly what they used, it's hard to see all the details of the stitches amid all the fluff of the period plumes! But this is the method that I use - it's easy and it works.
You will need:
- needle and thread in the color of your feather
I used white thread below so you could see it against the black feathers. This is a group of four drabs with curled barbs sewn into one plume.
Bring the needle up 1-1.5 inches from the first stitch and wrap it around the shafts again, continue on up the feather wrapping around the shaft every 1-1.5 inches until about 2-3 inches from the end, then thread the needle back through it's own thread and tie a knot. If any of the barbs get stuck under the thread use the needle to gently pull them free.
When you're done the feather should look like this:
I hope this helps you get the full and fluffy feathers you've dreamed of!