Introduction: How to Make/dye Your Own Feather Hair Extensions in Almost Any Vibrant Color


To begin, let me preface this by stating a few things to clear up some confusion that may happen.

1-I am not a hair-dresser of any sort and know hardly anything about how feathers and crimp beads can affect your hair. I simply know about feathers and their specific properties.

2- People will wonder why I am telling people how to get this good of results when feathers are in such high demand in the hair industry. Why don't I just keep this to myself and let people buy them from me exclusively? My answer? The feathers themselves are in high demand, if you have suitable feathers, I want to help you get the most out of them. I have built up a large supply of feathers from fly-tying and do sell locally, but overall, I want to spread the DIY spirit to everyone and SHOW you how to do it rather than sell the product.

3- There are several factors in the feather dyeing process and if you don't get very good results, it may not be the method, but rather, the materials. Leave a comment and I can help you troubleshoot the problem.

This Instructable will show you how to dye feathers for feather hair extensions like a professional. The results I get from this process are very good, and I expect the same for you. This is the easiest method I have used to get vibrant colors to permanently stay in the feather. See the picture for a poorly photographed example of the colors I get by dyeing the feathers this way.

Dyeing the feathers this way, they can still be washed, curled, straightened, and remain durable.

The required materials are minimal, but, care must be taken to do the steps correctly.

Any confusion you have at this point will be cleared up in the following steps. A few key points are bolded for ease of finding them. Not all of them are, but, most of them.

Shall we begin?

Step 1: Choosing the Right Feathers


In order to get a perfect color, you must start with the perfect feather. See my pictures for suitable feather choices.

Personally, I use three criteria to pick out feathers for dyeing and selling. They are:

1-Use--Do you want long slender feathers or shorter, more visible "bang" feathers?
2-Comaptibility--Will these feathers work with this process? Oily feathers will need extra steps. How much time do you want to spend?
3-Appearance--Is the feather naturally undyed and free from visual defects? One has to remember that feathers come from an animal and like the stripes on a Zebra, everyone is different. If you are using a barred grizzly pattern, is it consistent?


I almost exclusively dye Natural Grizzly feathers. This is not a brand, but the term used in the fly tying community to denote that the feather is barred, typically black and white, that NATURALLY occurs on the feather. If you looked at the bird they came from, they would look the same. Only previously undyed feathers will yield optimal results. Also, the lighter and more neutral the feather color is, the better it will dye. For example, white and black grizzly means that the white bars (as seen in the picture) will take the color, and the black bars will remain black. This will be true regardless of the final color. I find that pattern to be the most desired of colors I show people. Also, light brown feathers will take a color but, standard color blending/combination rules apply.

I absolutely do not recommend craft store feathers. These are sub par quality and have almost always been previously dyed. I would use only high quality feathers marketed for fly tyers and fishermen, not art projects.

Once you have picked your feathers (making sure they have been removed from the cape or saddle skin patch if they came like that, it is time to prep the other materials needed.

Step 2: Dyeing Supplies


There are only five basic supplies needed to dye feathers this way. They are:

A Pyrex dish -any size will work but I use an 11"x7" dish. Make sure that it is microwave safe and holds your feathers in addition to about 1/2"-1" of liquid.

A microwave - this is key to helping the chemical changes that take place and get the feathers to absorb color

Kool-Aid - This is the dyeing agent. Hard to believe, but, it works better than any other method (in my opinion). Pick the flavor of Kool-Aid that is closest to the final color of feathers that you want. Blue, Purple, Green, Orange, Red, and a few others give me great colors that are very bright and defined.

White Vinegar - This is almost as important as the dye itself. This helps the Kool-Aid react with the feathers and permanently transfer the dyeing agent.

A bowl filled with water and a drop of dish soap- pick a bowl that will hold your feathers comfortably. You MUST use dish soap. It will de-grease the feathers and help to remove naturally occurring oils in the feathers that hinder the dyeing process.

Now, let's dye some feathers...

Step 3: Prep the Feathers

Put your feathers (I recommend maybe 25 at most at a time) in the bowl with soap and water . Agitate the mixture and ensure that all of the feathers are soaked. You can tell when because they will look very streamlined and slick. Let the feathers sit in this water until you have the next steps done.

Step 4: Prepare the Dyeing Solution


Fill the Pyrex dish about 1/3 full (if you used an 11"x7" dish). If not, fill the dish with about 4 cups of water.

Add 2 (recommended) or 1 (still OK) packs of Kool-Aid to the Pyrex dish and stir. One pack will require longer resting periods but get the same results as two packs, with the exception of lighter colors.

Add a "generous splash" of vinegar to the Pyrex WITH the Kool-Aid. How much is a splash? Maybe 2-3 TBsp. Generally, the mix should smell of both Kool-Aid AND vinegar. If it only smells like one component, add some of the other.

Put this dish near a sink for use in the next step.

Step 5: Put the Feathers in the Dye Solution

WAIT!!! Don't put them directly in. We have to do something first.

Turn the sink on a low flow level. Pick up the feathers from the soapy mix (should be at least 5 minutes from when you first added them to it) and pinch them in your hand so that the length of the feathers are in your palm, but, you have a good grip of all feathers with your fingers. Try not to bend the feathers more than 75deg if you can help it and DON'T run your fingers on the feathers opposite the grain. By grain, I mean you can pinch a feather with both hands and only one hand can move down the length of the feather without ruffling the individual barbs.

If you need to do this in two batches, that's OK.

Once you have a firm grip on the feathers, put your hand (the one with the feathers) under the running water and rinse the soap of of them. You can agitate the feathers if you'd like.

Put the rinsed feathers in the Pyrex with the dye and agitate. The less the feathers are touching each other, the better.

Now, you are ready for the heat application

Step 6: Apply Heat (carefully)


Now, we will heat up the dye solution. To do this, we place the Pyrex with the dye solution AND the feathers in the microwave. Not the most common way to make Kool-Aid but its how you dye feathers this way.

You want to heat the solution so that it is cool enough you can put your finger in the solution, but, not hot enough that you wouldn't keep your finger immersed for more than a few seconds. On average, I would say 2-2.5 minutes on HIGH.

Now, when the microwave dings, do nothing. Wait about 3 minutes before opening the door. This helps retain heat and the resting period is a part of the process.

After that time has elapsed, feel free to check the feathers and make sure that they are taking color. They WILL look darker than they will look dry. That is normal and to be expected.

Step 7: Apply Heat (again)

Stir the feathers in the dye a little bit.

Now, repeat the microwave process . Another 2-2.5 minutes, followed by 3 more minutes of resting.

Once that time is up, you may just be done.

Step 8: Color Adjustments

If you're satisfied with the final color at this point, congratulations. You are ready to dry all of them and put them in your hair, earrings, etc. If not, here are a few hints.

Like cooking, you can always add but you can't easily take away. Always dye lighter if you aren't sure because feathers dyed with this method can be re-dyed using the same process to make them darker.

For a lighter color, say a light pink, use a red color of Kool-Aid and microwave the solution without the feathers. Then, add the feathers and pull one out every 20 seconds or so and see if it is light/dark enough for your taste
. I highly recommend a test run if you do it this way with only a few feathers. Feathers are a valuable product and there is no need to waste them.

Use a different feather to start with if you don't like that color tone . I have had good results with white base colors, but, equally as well of results with light brown. Sometimes, you can find a combination of feathers and dye to make truly unique tones. It's all experimentation.

Step 9: Conclusion


Now, EVERYONE should be done.

If you liked this Instructable, rate it, vote it, comment it, share it, whatever.

PLEASE, let me know how well your feathers came out. I always like feedback on my tutorials.

If you have a problem, leave a comment and I will look into possible causes for you, as a courtesy from one Instructables member to another.

If you would like me to fix anything on this Instructable, let me know and I will be happy to do it.

Thanks again for looking, and, good luck!

Comments

author
MaxN1 (author)2014-08-24

Hi! Thanks for a great read. My girlfriend has been looking for a guide like this for a while. Do you have any tips on where to order good undyed grizzly feathers? As we live in Sweden we would need to order them from probably the US.

author
bachi285 (author)2013-10-29

thanks for the tips :D ...but........... do you know what would be classed as 'kool aid' in Australia? im new to all this myself and want to experiment and try and do my own rather than pay excessive overseas prices and postage fees. Thankyou!

author
unonomehaha (author)bachi2852013-10-29

Glad you enjoyed the tips! And no, I don't know what Kool-Aid would be called in Australia, sorry! Maybe someone from Australia could provide some insight here?

author
SilentAngel (author)2012-12-19

Question: when you are done, do you rinse the feathers? let them dry on a paper towel? hang them to drip-dry over something you don't mind getting stained? I haven't dyed feathers before so I have no background for this.

Also, I recommend wearing rubber gloves for the dying parts - never mind that its only koolaid, my fingers are now a vibrant red-orange from agitating the feathers and pulling them out of the dye. :)

author
unonomehaha (author)SilentAngel2013-03-30

Sorry for the late response, I'll do better in the future!

Good question. I usually rinse off the feathers with tap water and let them dry on a paper towel. They will fluff out when dry so don't worry about it. You can use a hair dryer on low if you are in a big hurry, but I don't advise doing that all the time.

And yes, gloves are a good idea... I usually find that so long as I remember to not touch the solution for too long and then rinse off my hands that there isn't much color left.

author
PixelstoLife (author)2012-05-17

Hi,

I'm just about to dye my 3rd lot of feathers after following your instructions.

I think I've got the processed nailed, but I struggle to get the colours which other people seem to get with their. For example, I would like a really bright Fusica Pink and use the Pink Lemonade Kool Aid, but this tends to come out a bit 'wishy washy' more like a faint Coral Pink. Other colours like Purple and Blue are also quite faint compared to the deeper, more vibrant colours I've seen people get.

Is this down to the colour / flavour of Kool Aid I'm using, or more to do with the concentration of the solution?

I'm going to experiment with this new batch, but wondered if you can shed some light on the situation please?

Regards

author
unonomehaha (author)PixelstoLife2012-06-20

Sorry for the late reply,

Color has a lot to do with it; you could try mixing two colors of Kool-Aid, but I haven't gotten around to trying that... But the chemistry behind it says it may work... Test it on a few first.

You can also put it through the microwave another time or two if you want, this helps with the darker colors like blue and purple.

Anymore questions, let me know!

author
PixelstoLife (author)2012-02-21

Hi,

Thanks for a great instructable, this method works a treat and means I no longer have to week 2-3 weeks for shipment of coloured feathers from the US.

Just one question, is the solution reusable after dying the feathers? I go through quite a lot of feathers and thought to save time and some money, I could keep the solution in a sealed container to keep until I next need to dye some feathers.

Is this practical or does the solution perish after use?

Thank you in anticipation.

Kind Regards

Nathan

author
unonomehaha (author)PixelstoLife2012-02-22

Hi,

I suppose you could save it, but, remember that with each dyeing cycle, some of the color is transferred to the feathers. That means the color concentration of the solution goes down use after use. Also, The dye would probably settle down and reactions may or may not occur with the vinegar sitting for a while.

Personally, I do not save and reuse the solution. With the relative inexpensiveness of Kool-Aid (at least here in the US; maybe $.68 a packet), and the guaranteed "freshness" of the solution (so that I know the dye is still very strong), I make a new batch every time. When I used to sell feathers dyed this way, I found the most time consuming aspect of the process was "de-oiling" the feathers, and that the extra few minutes to make the solution was trivial in the grand scheme of things. I just factored in $1.20 to my cost per 50 feathers and was always able to provide consistent colors to my customers.

Hope this helps, and, good luck in your feather dyeing endeavors

author
PixelstoLife (author)unonomehaha2012-02-23

Thanks for your quick response.

I've bottled up some of the last batch I mixed, just to see if it will last. The only reason being is Kool Aid is not as readily available here in the UK as it is in the US. The whole point of me dying my own feathers was to avoid the 2-3 weeks lead time they have been taking to date.

If I can establish a regular and reliable supplier of Kool Aid here, then I'll happily mix on demand.

Thanks once again for all your help. I'll send you some pics once I've made up a substantial batch of feathers.

Have a nice day :)

author
throttlehog (author)2012-01-04

I have just begun making feather jewelry, and being such a stickler for quality work, I was very happy when I ran across your 'ible. I only wish I had seen it before picking up craft store feathers, because I was immediately disappointed by their quality upon opening the package. Anyhow, there were a couple of lines in your 'ible that I'd like more clarification on.

"...they can still be washed, curled, straightened, and remain durable."

"...making sure they have been removed from the cape or saddle skin patch if they came like that..."

The first quote hinted at what can be done (alteration?) to a feather and the second quote assumes I know more about feathers than I actually do.
What exactly is the cape or saddle skin patch? I imagine that my craft store feathers (pheasant & cock tail) don't have these parts anymore, but my next purchases will be from the hunting/fishing superstore, so I'll need to know this eventually.
Could you expand a little more on working with feathers, i.e. curl, straighten, etc.? Although I could probably google "fly tying" to find that kind of information, couldn't I?
And more thing - any helpful hints or suggestions on working with found feathers?

author
unonomehaha (author)throttlehog2012-01-11

The "cape" is essentially the neck portion of feathers. The cape feathers are shorter than saddle feathers typically. "Saddle" feathers come from the back of the bird and are much longer. If you look at a picture of a standing chicken for example, the feathers on its neck are the cape; and the ones on its back that hang down towards the ground are the saddle.

In regards to any alterations to a feather, there are two simple rules:
--Don't apply too much heat or they will be come brittle (curling and straightening can be done briefly; but avoid drying them with a hair dryer too directly. The quill can and will become brittle and break if overheated.)
--Cut carefully, and never from the tapered tip. Cutting sides is tricky, as each feather has a unique taper and is hard to re-size and duplicate. It can be done however. Fly tyers like myself learn how to cut feathers to correct sizes, tapers, and widths; but it takes time. Just be sure to always start cutting on the thick end of the feather (the side that has almost fluffy barbs)

You asked for other tips, and I thought of one I may have forgotten to mention in the 'ible. Buy ROOSTER capes and saddles for longer, more slender feathers like I used. Buy HEN capes and saddles if you want shorter, broader feathers.

Let me know if I can help in any other way,

author
throttlehog (author)unonomehaha2012-01-12

Well, as a matter of fact, I do have another question: How would you clean up found feathers? I've read that putting them in the freezer for an hour or so will kill any mites or other nasties, which seems reasonable enough; however, I'm not sure freezing would take care of something like the parvovirus. Also, it wouldn't do much for dirty feathers either. So, I'm curious to hear what your thoughts are...

author
unonomehaha (author)throttlehog2012-01-14

To be specific, what bird did the feathers come off of?

If it is chicken or guinea fowl; or some other bird whose feathers do not have a sort of fibrous material connecting each individual barb to the next, you should be able to use a solution of warm water and dish soap to de-oil and clean the feathers. Swish them around in the solution and let them air dry, preferably in a single layer on a paper towel.

As far as the viruses and such, you may be able to soak the feathers in a weak solution of isopropyl alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. I have not tried this but I don't foresee any issues with it.

Just be sure to test it first on a sub-par feather.

Hope this helps,

author
cjraabe (author)2011-12-25

Very fun Instructable. Lots of good information. I haven't tried it but want to, soon, because my pre-teen nieces want some. What do you know about other feathers that maybe are more available? Turkey, pheasant, etc. The issues may be curling, etc.

Also, using Kool Aid is a great idea. I've done some painting with Rit Dye and suspect I could get brighter colors with Kool Aid. Another idea to try.

Thanks for this.

author
unonomehaha (author)cjraabe2012-01-11

The main issue with pheasant and turkey feathers are the barbs. On those species, the feather barbs are almost "connected" to one another. When pulled apart, they will never go back to looking as smooth as they were originally, much unlike chicken and some fowl feathers. Peacock tail eyes as well will not work well.

Also, in regards to curling, the pheasant and turkey quills are way too thick. Unfortunately, they would crimp before they bend into a curl.

Let me know if you have other questions,

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