Introduction: Selective Peacock Quilting

Hi! I'm A. Laura Brody and today I'm adding a selective quilted texture to my peacock feathers.

The faux peacock feathers will re-upholster a Jazzy Power Scooter. I'm showing you the process step by step. Making the peacock feather "eye" was the first step. I formed the "spine" and "ribcage" of the feather in step 2, uncovered hidden golden trim in step 3, sewed down the velvet with gold in the 4th, brought in some blue in step 5 and fully fronded the feather in step 6.

This is step #7, the time for selective quilting.

For this step I used:

A sewing machine with a size 14 universal needle, threaded with black.

A hand needle. I like milliner's needles because my hands are big. Use the needles you like best.

Polymide pre-waxed strands of hand sewing thread.

Polyester batting from a gutted thrift store pillow. I used the golden trim on the pillow for feathery trim accents and am now using the innards for stuffing.

Sharp scissors

An iron and ironing board

The peacock feather base from the past 6 steps

And several more of the peacock feathers. There are 9 of them in this feather fan and many more to come!

If you want to know why I'm re-upholstering a Jazzy Power Scooter, check out my mobility art at Dreams by Machine. If you want to submit YOUR mobility art and inventions to Opulent Mobility check out the call for submissions. The deadline is June 30th, 5 PM PST.

Step 1: Prepping the Feathery Fan

First off, I ironed the backs of all my feathers to make them smooth and ready to assemble.

D'oh! I forgot to take pictures of piecing the feather fan together. Luckily you can get the idea from the pictures of the sewn-together feather fan. I laid out the feathers on a table and decided which ones should go where, pinned them all into place and stitched them together. I stitched everything together from the top instead of flipping to the back side, because it was a lot easier to keep the feathers in position and to see what I was doing.

Many of my feathers were sewn onto velvet, which can be tricky to sew. The little tufts that make velvet so rich and lustrous-looking will also slide over itself in spots, stick to each other in other spots and generally make me cranky. Velvet makes a beautiful backdrop, though, so I was willing to deal with the hassle of pinning A LOT. Pinning every inch is about right. Just take out the pins as you sew.

Once all the pieces were sewn together, I trimmed down my seams on the back side of my feather fan to about 3/8". The seams don't have to be perfectly even, but trimming them down will make them lay flatter. The fabric fan was not flat, of course. I wanted to add texture from behind, so I needed extra material in each feathery section. That will later be filled in with bits of selective quilting.

I kept the fabric on its back side to prep for quilting. Then I tore off little bits of batting from my disemboweled pillow, laid them out over each of the "eyes" of the feathers and pinned the batting into place. All that stitching through the interfacing really comes in handy at quilting time. I can easily see where the eyes are from the back of the fabric. It's not a lot of padding- just enough to add a little pouf to each eye.

In the last picture, you can see the back side with the trimmed seams and the little tufts of batting at each peacock feather "eye" ready for catch stitching.

Step 2: Catch Stitching the Poufs

The stitch I used for attaching my poufs is called a catch stitch or a cross stitch. Traditionally it's used for hemming (see the first picture). The idea is to stitch in a backwards motion, holding down the edges of the padding and making only a tiny stitch through to the outside of the fabric. This stitch allows for some back and forth motion on the back side of the feather fan, which will come in handy later on when I quilt everything down securely.

After I've selective quilted all of my feathers, I will back this entire feather fan with a sturdy fabric and quilt all the way through to that backing. So it doesn't matter if there's big thread areas on the inside. They will have no chance to escape!

To catch stitch down my padding, I use a single thread and a hand needle. Pre-waxed polymide thread is really handy for this sort of work. It's a little bit more expensive than ordinary spools of thread, but it's worth it to me in time saving because they don't knot up or tangle and the strands are pre-cut into useful hand sewing lengths. If you prefer to use regular thread, invest in a lump of beeswax. Thread your needle and run the thread across the beeswax before you start sewing. It keeps the thread's fibers together and makes them much less likely to create knots and tangles.

I thread my needle and start stitching, catching a tiny bit of the feather's backing and taking a bigger stitch through the padding. I stitch again over that same area and then knot the end of my thread together. The drawback to waxed threads is that the wax keeps the knots a little slippery, so it's worth the time to knot twice before sewing in earnest.

I then continue all the way around my padded puff, catching a little bit of the fabric backing as I go. The thread I'm using is dark, so it won't show up much on the outside even if my stitches are a little too deep. I tug a little bit on the thread as I go so the fabric follows the curve of my padding. This added texture will give the peacock eyes some "pop". Once I've sewn all the way around, I knot off my thread and move on to the next eye. I finish them all off and voila! Padded peacock eyes!

FAIR WARNING: the next step is a total textile geek moment. If you want to know about selective quilting techniques and proper names, go to step 3. Otherwise, we're done. Next time I'll add texture to the spine, ribs and fronds of the feathers.

Step 3: But Is It Trapunto?

This is a total textile geek moment on quilting.

Now, I don't care WHAT technique I use so long as it works. I'm a little mercenary that way. I am interested in the history and styles of making, though. If you are too, come along for the ride! (And please correct me if I've screwed up my definitions.)

Trapunto is from the Italian, meaning "to quilt". It's a decorative technique that uses at least 2 layers of fabric, inserting padding from slits in the under layer to raise up the top layer in select areas. Sometimes that was done with wadding or bits of old cloth and sometimes that was done with cording or yarn. At any rate, the technique is OLD. The first picture shows an example from the Tristan Quilt from the late 13th century. The outside has worn off a little, so you can see the wadding underneath. The second picture shows a more modern example. Check out the Trapunto on Wikipedia article for some details.

Sometimes trapunto is confused with techniques used on Provencal quilts from the 17th century onwards. Matelassage is more like the traditional quilts we usually see today, where wadding or batting is put in between 2 pieces of fabric and sewn on top through all the layers. Piqure de Marseille uses cording to raise the areas instead of batting. Boutis quilts use extra puffy padding to emphasize the raised areas.

If you want some details from period re-enactors who really care about their stitching techniques, check out the West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild site. It's informative and can give you some great ideas for methods to try out.

Technically the method I'm using is none of the above. Instead of shoving in padding through a backing or stitching through a layer of batting, I'm very selectively choosing the areas to pad and sewing them in from the back BEFORE backing my feather fan. I tried to do it differently and just didn't get the effect I wanted. My method is based on medieval techniques with a modern twist, an eye towards re-use and plain old stubbornness.

Any technique in a storm, so long as it works!Next time, I'll use this unnamed technique on the rest of the feathery bits.

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Bio: I re*make mobility devices and materials and give them new lives. I re*use often. And sometimes I staple drape.
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