WHEW! Opulent Mobility is up and over. The exhibit turned out beautifully and I'm in such awe at the work people submitted. Thanks to everyone who took part. If you'd like to see what the show looked like, take a virtual walk-through of Opulent Mobility. Check out the peacock themed section in the back!
In this tutorial I'll show you how I made the peacock's crest. We're so close to the finished project! There's maybe 3 more instructables to go.
If you want to follow the project from start to finish, check out my other instructables. Making the peacock feather "eye" was part 1. I formed the "spine" and "ribcage" of the feather in part 2, uncovered hidden golden trim in part 3, sewed down the velvet with gold in the 4th, brought in some blue in the 5th, fully fronded the feather in the 6th, quilted the eyes in part 7 and quilted the fronds in part 8. In part 9, I stabilized all that quilting and backed the fan in velvet, finished the peacock fan and seat cushion in part 10 and made lumbar supports in part 11. Part 12 was all about combining the seating. In part, 13 I reinforced the fan, slipcovered the scooter and made a little change in direction. Part 14 was the peacock head and body. This is part 15- the peacock's crest.
Here are the tools I used:
Sharp plain scissors
Pinking shears (the scissors that cut a zig-zag pattern)
Scraps of donated blue silk velvet remnants
Millinery hand needles
Navy pre-cut waxed thread (also called polymide thread)
Black heavy-duty thread
Sewing machine with #12 universal machine needle
Black polyester machine thread
A lint roller
A cardboard box
Black cable ties
A flat-headed screwdriver
Step 1: Crest Research and Cutting
I started out by doing a little research. The top feathers (or crest) on a peacock sprout off the top of the bird's head. The feathers are bare at the base, then fan out at the top. They aren't nearly as complicated as the tail feathers, which was good news.
When I make a really elaborate piece, there's at least one point in the process where I'm sick to death of the work. This usually it happens after most of the major pieces are finished and it's time to think about assembling. Any unfinished business (like the peacock crest) is annoying. Luckily, each step has its own problems to solve, and I get excited by figuring them out!
I cut fan shapes out of the scraps of silk velvet left over from dressing up the peacock body and head. I knew I wanted a feathery texture at the tops of each little fan, so I planned on fraying the edges of the fabric. Velvet frays a lot, though, and I didn't want the fans to fall apart. So I re-cut the top and side edges with pinking shears. The zig-zag cuts you get with pinking shears help keep fabric edges from fraying too quickly.
After cutting, I took out my needle and thread and sewed a gathering stitch at the bottom of a silk velvet fan. Then I pulled the thread tight and knotted it off. This controlled the gathers until I could take the little fan to the sewing machine. I machine sewed the gathered edge back and forth a couple of times, then snipped off the excess threads. Voila! A wee velvet fan! Then I gathered and sewed 11 more of them.
Step 2: Top Feather Rigging
Once my velvet fans were sewn securely, I frayed out the top and side edges on each fan. I laid out a broken down priority mail box to protect my work table and used the awl to gently pull out lines of velvety bits from the pinked edges.
"Pinked edge" is the technical term for the zig-zag cut edge left after cutting fabric with pinking shears.
I only frayed the edges a little bit, about to the base of the little zig-zag cuts. Then I cleaned up all the little bits of velvet from the work surface with the lint roller and started to pair up the fans. I wanted to make both sides of each top feather velvety, so I used 2 fans for every top feather. Then it was time to search the house and figure out what to use for the feathers' spines!
The plan for Opulent Mobility was to make at least 2 pieces tactile (meaning that viewers could touch them). This was partly so we could make the exhibit more accessible to people who don't see very well or at all. It was also because I thought it would be cool. I always wanted to touch things in museum exhibits! The thing is, making pieces tactile means that they need to be extra durable, especially if little kids are doing some of the touching. I'm used to making costumes that really have to last and actually like it better if people interact with my work, so I planned to offer the Peacock and another soft piece (Nebula Enthroned) for the tactile display.
All well and good. How was I going to make the top feathers sturdy and flexible, though? That was going to be the first thing people would want to touch! Wire kinks and breaks if it's bent too much and metal or wood spikes are too stiff and might hurt somebody. I looked around, dismissed a lot of choices and then found the black cable ties in my kit. Perfect.
I made a couple of stitches at the base of each fan to get started, then sewed the fans to the holes in the cable ties. After finishing one side, I dotted the threads with white glue to seal the stitches. After the glue dried, I sewed a second fan (velvet side out) to each feather and repeated the process.
Once everything was sewn and the glue dried, I did a test crest on the peacock's head by holding the top feathers up and fanning them out. I figured out how long I wanted each feather to be, poked a couple of holes into each cable tie at that length, and cut the ties about 1 1/2" longer. That extra length would go inside the peacock's head to help hold each feather in place.
Step 3: Surgery and Added Frills
Attaching the feathers to the peacock's head was a challenge. I poked holes into the top of the head with my awl, but that didn't give me enough room to shove the feathers in.The bird was stuffed tightly with pillow batting and the cable tie ends wouldn't go through. I used my scissors to cut slits, pulled out some of the batting with tweezers and shoved each feather into its hole, using a flat-headed screwdriver to help guide the cable ends into place. Once the first feather was in, I used heavy duty thread to sew through the holes I poked into the tie and secure it to the head fabric all the way around its base.
Then I repeated the process for the remaining 5 head feathers. Once they were all secure, I took out the navy silamide thread and carefully stitched the top knots around each feather to disguise the mess I'd made by sewing the feathers in. Voila! The crest was in place!
It looked a little skimpy, though. The individual feathers I made were spread a little too far apart to make the effect I wanted. The shape was good, but it wanted some filling in. Back to the silk velvet scraps!
I cut out a long strip of velvet with the pinking shears, about twice as wide as the area I wanted to cover and 1/2" taller than the little feather fans. I cut out a second piece of velvet to the same shape and sewed them together on the sewing machine, using a narrow zig-zag stitch. I sewed them together using a 1/2" seam allowance. Then I took out the cardboard and the awl and got to fraying the velvet. I wanted a good, feathery looking edge at the top and bottom, so I frayed to just above the zig-zagging.
Once I cleaned up all the velvety mess, I used the sewing machine to make a gathering stitch at the bottom edge. Instead of using a straight stitch, I zig-zagged over a piece of heavy duty thread. This let me make a nice, tight gather without having my thread break halfway through. Then I knotted off the threads, trimmed the excess and got ready to attach the frill to the head feathers.
Step 4: Final Frill
I took out the quilting pins and pinned the velvet frill to the back of the top feathers. I pinned it so the frayed edge on top extended past the tops of the little feather fans in front. The frill covered most of the back of the feather fans, but that was fine. The crest looked nice and full now!
I used the navy silamide and a milliner's needle and sewed the frill to the bottom edge of the feather fans and around the sides. I left the top edge mostly free, but tacked it in a few places so the frill wouldn't collapse when people petted the peacock's head. I snipped off all the excess threads and checked it out.
Voila! The crest was nicely covered in velvet and the cable ties were both sturdy and sproingy. (If that isn't a technical term, it should be.) I tugged on the feathers and pulled them back and forth a few times. They not only held up but bounced right back into position. The peacock was ready to be added to the assembly pile.
Thanks for checking in on the peacock's progress! Next time, I'll show you how I made the quilted scales and skirt.
PS: After getting mostly gentle and some aggressive handling at the exhibit, the Peacock made it through with only minor injuries! I didn't think about how hard people would tug on the button eyes and one got pulled off. But I was prepared and sewed it right back on.