Introduction: Making Faux Feathers for Costumes and Props

About: Untidy, disorganised and a bit silly. I am a photographer, artist, body artist, sculptor, prosthetic maker, model engineer, and general idiot who likes making stuff and messing about. I give hands on workshops…

I had two or three projects on the drawing board that required feathers. Mostly large black flight feathers.
After nearly a year trying to find the size I needed in the colour I needed and at the price I wanted to pay - I was ready to give up.

Then a rather ingenious art teacher friend of mine, Carrie Hoyle, showed me a basic technique for making paper feathers. I've refined her technique a little to add some extra robustness and realism. This technique can be adapted to make a variety of feather types, but it allows you to make feathers up to about 20" or 40cms long for costumes and props.

They look reasonably convincing from anything over about 3ft or 1 meter away.

Step 1: Materials

To make these the most important material is the paper or card. Normal everyday paper is too thin, cereal carton card is too thick.

In the UK and Europe you are looking for a paper or card with a weight of between 120 gsm and 160 gsm. I am not sure what this equates to in the U.S. or other countries.

You will need a ruler and a pencil or pen.
You will also need some thicker card to cut the templates from. Cereal carton card is ideal for this.

You will need some sharp scissors and (or) a sharp craft knife or scalpel.
You will need a pack of those thin bamboo kebab skewers (available at most large supermarkets).

A 'hot glue' gun and glue sticks. Possibly some paint or make up powders for colour.

Step 2: Making the Templates

Using your pencil or pen, mark out the shape(s) of the feather(s) you want to create on the cereal card.

Using your scissors or scalpel, carefully cut out the template(s). You can now use these to draw around on your feather paper ensuring that you can get repeatable feather shapes for you project.

here are the first 5 templates I made to give you an idea.

Step 3: Marking Out and Cutting

Using one of your templates transfer the shape on to your feather paper. I'm using a black paper of 160 gsm here so I used a pencil so I could see the lines.

Using your scissors or scalpel cut out the shape. Next get one of your thin kebab skewers and cut it to about 1/3 the length of your feather and set it aside for later.

Step 4: Folding and Cutting

Once you have your basic feather shape we need to make two folds along it's length to form the spine of the quill.

I find it easiest to use a ruler to guide the folds. Start by making a fold just slightly off centre by about 1/16" or 1.5mm, then turn the feather over and make a second fold in the reverse direction off centre by about the same amount as the first. This will give you a 'Z' shaped set of folds along the length of the feather. This will add rigidity and give the impression of the spine of the quill.

Now take your sharp scissors or scalpel / craft knife and make a series of cuts from the edge of the feather towards the quill at regular spaces about 1/8 or 3mm apart. remember to cut only deep enough to leave a 1/8" or 3mm gap between the cut and the fold of the spine. You want to end up with about 1/4" or 6mm of the spine / quill uncut as this will form the strength of the feather.

Repeat this process on both sides of the feather.

Step 5: Refinements

According to Carries method the feather is complete, and indeed for a 'quick and dirty' method these feathers will work for a simple design. If you only want them for a single piece that you are only going to use once these would probably do the trick. However i wanted something a little more realistic and robust ... so

Take your feather and lay it flat on a surface. Now run a single continuous bead of hot glue down the entire length of the fold. While the glue is still liquid place the cut piece of bamboo from earlier into it leaving 1/2" or 15mm of bamboo protruding from the end of the feather. Allow to cool.

This will create the impression of the real quill, and give more strength and longevity to your feather. once cool, use a little acrylic paint or ink to colour the bamboo / glue bead so that it looks like part of the feather.

Your feather is now completed. You can choose to paint them, or in my case since they were black anyway - I used a little mica make up powder (shimmer green and shimmer blue) to create the effect of the reflective oil patters found in black flight feathers.

Step 6: Finishing Off

You can use these feathers to embellish costumes, make masks, headpieces etc.

I used the first lot to create a headpiece for a forthcoming body painting. The small protruding bamboo quill can be hot glued on, or inserted into corrugated card - the list is endless.

Anyway, here's the finished head gear to give you an idea.