Introduction: Backing Up the Peacock Fan

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

Hi! I'm A. Laura Brody and today I'm quilting a backing onto my faux peacock feather fan.This project will eventually help turn a Jazzy Power Scooter into a Jazzy Peacock Scooter.

I'm showing you the process in parts. Making the peacock feather's "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. This is part 9, where I stabilize all that quilting and give the fan a lovely velvet backing.

Here are the tools:

Size 14 universal sewing needles. Fair warning: I went through 3 needles on this step. Be prepared to sacrifice a few.

Black and blue-grey polyester thread

A sewing machine (my trusty Bernina 1020)

Milliner's hand needle (a long, thin hand needle traditionally used for hat making)

Heavy duty white thread (also called button/carpet thread)

A thrift store blue velvet skirt (well-washed)

Sharp scissors

Quilting pins (the long kind)

And the peacock feather fan from steps 1-8.

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

Step 1: Prepping and Pinning the Velvet Backing

I found an ideal blue velvet skirt at one of my favorite thrift stores, American Way Thrift in Burbank, CA. These are genuine thrift stores, not "vintage" places, and they support Helping Hands for the Blind and the Cancer Federation. I like to support thrift stores that do some real good, instead of places like Goodwill that hire people for less than the minimum wage.

But I digress.

First off, I washed the skirt and then ripped open one of the side seams so it could lay out flat. Then I spread my feather fan on top of the velvet to find out where it would fit best. The goal was to cover the entire back of the feather fan with the velvet. When I figured out my placement, I turned the velvet fuzzy side down on my work table and smoothed it out. I then laid out half of the feather fan on top, right side up. I continued to smooth out the velvet while I rolled the rest of the feather fan down.

Then I started pinning the fan to the backing, one feather section at a time. The idea is to pin the flat areas down in between all the quilted fronds, eyes and seams. I pinned one feather into place, rolled the fan back up to expose the velvet and smoothed the backing out before moving on to the next section. This is a fussy and slow process, but velvet is slippery and moves around a lot. By alternating pinning and smoothing I was able to keep the velvet pretty even across the entire fan.

I pinned this out on an old Ikea coffee table, so I didn't care if I scratched the finish with my pins. If you care about scratching up your work surface, break apart a cardboard box and lay it flat on the surface before getting started. Your pins will only catch the cardboard and your table will be undamaged.

Step 2: Basting Into Place

And now it's time for basting!

No, this is not like basting a turkey. Basting also means hand sewing things together with a large stitch that can be pulled out later. It holds everything in place temporarily. All those pins I used in the last step are helpful, but I'm going to be stitching a large area. Pins can unpin when I don't mean them to, and their points are guaranteed to snag my fingers and my arms when I get down to serious machine sewing. Basting won't scar my arms.

The stitch I used is really a big, loose pad stitch (see the above diagram). A traditional pad stitch is used for tailoring collars and lapels- it holds the outer fabric to the interfacing. That's much too fussy for this project. I want big stitches that I can see easily and pull out when I get to the machine sewing step. So I use heavy duty white thread to first baste down all the seams in between each feather section. Then I baste down the edges all around the feather fan. I don't knot my thread, because that will only make it hard to pull out later.

While I baste/pad stitch, I regularly turn the fan over to make sure the velvet backing hasn't bunched up or moved around on me. Velvet is sneaky and will move around on you at the slightest provocation. Basting helps keep it in its place!

Fair warning: sewing can be serious manual labor. I definitely get a workout when I create large projects- and this project is a big one. If I'm not careful I hunch my shoulders and my fingers, arms and neck will cramp up and ache. So I alternate between sitting (on the table, on a yoga ball or on a chair), standing and kneeling on a mat while I work. It's not perfect, but I am doing better than I used to and my posture thanks me for it. Keeping myself in good shape while working makes sure that

1. I like what I'm doing more

2. I don't resent my art as much for giving me pains

3. I will hopefully be able to keep on making for a very long time.

It's good to have goals.

Step 3: Machining the Backing

After I've basted the feather fan to the backing, it's time for some serious machine sewing.

I take it one feather section at a time. I use a straight stitch to sew in between each frond and around each peacock feather "eye" in the flat spaces. I'm using black thread on the black feather sections and blue-grey on the grey velvet sections. Both of these threads blend in pretty well to the blue velvet backing. Since the threads are a good match, it's a little hard to tell what's going on in the pictures. But if you look closely, you can see the quilted effect on the velvet backing.

From the top side you can't see the stitching at all. A

This is a long and slow process. I back stitch at the beginning and end of each little flat section, pull the threads loose after sewing and move to the next section. It's a little bit faster if I wait to trim off the thread ends until after I finish each feather section. I've kept pins in some of the frond sections, so I pull them out as I go and try to avoid snagging my arm on them as I move around the feather fan. It's stupidly easy to forget about the pins, and I've got a lot of scratches to prove it!

Since there's a lot of raised areas and the quilting is thick in places, it's pretty easy to go too far in each section and break a needle. I went through 3 for this fan. Breaking the needle is an excellent sign that it's time to take a break. It also means it's a good idea to sew slowly. This is a long project, and it doesn't have to be a race.

I try to keep the velvet backing from bunching up while I sew, but I can't always help it. No matter how much I pin and baste, the velvet still has wiggle room. It's okay. Some folding and bunching will add texture to a plain blue velvet backing. If it bunches up too much, though, I need to take out my pins and basting and redo them so the velvet will still cover the entire fan. I had to baste the outside edges of my fan a couple of times over and redo a lot of pinning, but eventually it all worked out.

When all the interior areas are stitched down to the backing, I sew around the edges of the feather fan. I echo the shapes of the fronds, but don't try to follow every single strand and frond. That would make me crazy. I stitch about 1/4- 1/2" outside each feather's edge. After everything's sewn in place, I trim off the fabric just outside my stitching lines and voila! It's a nearly finished faux feather fan!

Next time I'll finish off the edges.

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