Not all feathers are created equal. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. You go to the craft store, looking to feather your cap with some amazing, lush plumage, and you find yourself confronted with an array of vacuum sealed ostrich plumes straight out of Flatland. So, what can you do?
Here’s a really amazingly crap feather. It came from a pound of ostrich drab seconds that I bought from Ostriches Online years ago.
Here’s another feather… It also came from the exact same order of feathers. (Ever ordered a pound of slightly defective feathers? There’s a lot of feathers in a pound. There’s the occasional gem, but mostly what you’ve got is there because it wasn’t prime enough quality to be used as a single, standout feather. They’re meant to be used in bulk.)
So how do you make a really crap feather look like pretty great? Well….
When you look at your crap feather, you’ll see that the bottom-most feathery bits are very short. High quality, lush feathers have longer feathery bits. You can strip these off, basically by grabbing and pulling them. It really is that simple. Likewise, high quality feathers done have weird stringy bits at the ends. They are a nice spade-like shape from top top to bottom,
Now, this is a much better looking feather. I’ve cut off the stringy bits, and it’s had the same effect as a god hair cut on a human head – suddenly, what’s left looks fuller and oddly more natural. The feathery-bits (fronds?) look full from the spine to the end, the shape is nice, and the ends aren’t short and frizzy.
You should be aware that I’m ultimately using these feathers in showgirl headdresses for Chicago (the original stage musical version, not like the movie precisely). So they need to be tarted up. If you similarly need to tart up a feather, start by really accenting the spine…
If you’re really trying to tart them up, add some glue on rhinestones…. I love that trick. Now, it’s time to really focus on the Flatland aspect of the feather.
I’ve used a 1/2″ bore curling iron on this feather. This isn’t a fancy, specialized piece of equipment – I got at at a Walgreens for 7.99$. It’s meant for human hair. I use the “high” setting for feathers. I tried low, but the feathers weren’t impressed. The curling iron can also be used to curl the tip of the feather spine back smoothly. If you’re working with a feather or two, and you don’t want to fuss with a curling iron, you can zip the bits of the feather over your thumb nail much as if you were working with curling ribbon. If you’re working with a bulk of feathers (and I have 6 headdresses, with 6 large feathers each) the iron is faster. Also, repeated use of the curling ribbon trick tends to thin out the feather as stressed bits fall off.
To make a proper, “so heavy with feathery-ness I’m droopy” feather, you need to bend the feather’s spine a bit. I normally use both thumb nails for this, but that’s very hard to take photos of when you don’t have the official beautiful assistant. Here’s the important thing to understand: The spine, or quill, of a feather is hollow. You’re not trying to break the spine, just to compress it slightly. If you hear a dry crack, you’ve gone too far. Ideally, if you bend the feather backwards over your twi thumb nails (back to back) and press the spine down with both index fingers, you’ll feel it bend and give in an elastic sort of way as if there’s a little “squish” involved. You can also use a butter knife, if your thumbnails are pretty beaten down. (Even if I gave you a video of this one, it’s a completely tactile sensation so the video wouldn’t help. Trust me: if you feel the spine compress, stop. You’re good, and you should stop there. If you go farther, the spine will snap and you’ll hear a noise. The feather will be fine for a while, but eventually it will break.
Here’s several of my crap feathers, used in a headdress for the musical I’m working on. These have been hair sprayed (so they’ll keep their culr). still not the perfect, lush 12$-a-pop feathers that I’d really like, don’t get me wrong…. But they’re far closer than they started off.