Introduction: Peacock Spines

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

And now I shall make a spine and ribcage for the faux peacock feather!

Technically speaking, the "spine" of a feather is called the quill, rachis or stem and the feathery bits are flues. But who needs to be technical? This step builds a basic structure for my feather, just like bones do in our bodies.

If this is your first time visiting, I'm making faux peacock feathers to re-upholster a Jazzy Power Scooter and showing you the process step by step. The first step was making the peacock feather's "eye". This is step #2. If you want to know why I'm re-upholstering a Jazzy Power Scooter, check out my mobility art at Dreams by Machine.

To make the spine of this feather, I used:
The peacock “eye” from the last session

Frog green satin ribbon (a remnant from one of my TV day gigs)

Scrap dark green velvet (part of a fabric donation)

Black twill fabric (another TV day gig remnant)

and thread.

I also used a sewing machine, a flat pinning surface, sharp scissors and a whole lot of straight pins.

Typically, when I’m making parts of a new piece, I dig through my materials and sort by color and texture. These were the bits I found this time. I had a larger piece of black twill, so I used that for the feather's background fabric. This technique looks great on a dark background.

Choose your materials and let's get started!

Step 1: Laying in the Spine

I'm using green satin ribbon as the "spine" for this feather. It's a great color, but it's too wide for me. So my first step is to cut the ribbon in half lengthwise. If your ribbon frays after you cut it in half, pick off the extra threads and fuzzy bits. Mine frayed a LOT.

Next I place the peacock feather "eye" on top of the black twill backing fabric and pin it down. I picked the far right hand corner of my fabric. Put your eye where you will. It's good to give yourself enough room to make a decent sized feather.

After that, I start laying in the ribbon "spine". I overlapped the "eye" a little bit (just past the dark green velvet in the center) and cut the ribbon off at an angle. Then I lay out the rest of the spine and pin it. I think it looks better when I curve the spine gently. Straight lines are fine, but they don’t look natural.

This is a good general rule: if you want a natural look, keep things a little uneven. Evenness, like straight lines, makes your work look artificial. True symmetry is not found in nature. And making something look natural takes a lot more work than you think.

Once everything's pinned in place, I take the fabric to the sewing machine and sew the ribbon "spine" and the peacock feather "eye". I use a zig-zag stitch to keep the ribbon from fraying any more and stitch both sides down. The eye is already pretty secure, so I just stitch around its outside edges.

When everything is sewn and set, I take it to the ironing board and press it out gently. I say gently, because it's really hard to know what kind of fibers are in donated and re-purposed fabrics. If I use a super hot iron, it's really easy to melt the fabrics. Cleaning off melted bits of nylon and polyester off hot iron surfaces is not fun for irons, feathers or creators.

Step 2: Green Velvet Bias Fronds

I’m using green velvet scraps for some of the feather strands. I cut them into a bunch of uneven bias strips, which make lovely curves. Any leftover velvet bits will be used for later feather construction.

Velvet is made up of a woven material, with a lengthwise and crosswise grain that's tufted with wee fluffy bits to make that velvety texture. It also absorbs light, which makes for a rich, deep color. Velvet is our fuzzy friend.

Bias grain is the diagonal between the lengthwise grain (up and down the fabric) and the crosswise grain (across the fabric) of any woven material. When you cut fabric on the straight grain (usually meaning up and down the fabric), the fibers want to stay straight. This is great if you want strength and stability, but not so good for nice peacock feather shapes.

When you cut a woven fabric on the diagonal, the lengthwise and crosswise grains are able to gently spread apart. The threads are free to slide against each other and stretch a little. “Bias cut” clothing and draperies have a gentle stretch and drape beautifully around curves. Cutting something on the bias is not as strong as cutting along the straight of grain, but it’s extra pretty. Using the bias means that your little strips of velvet will curve nicely. The lengthwise grain and the crosswise grain will stretch and compress so you can pin them in any shape you want. They also will fray really well!

Step 3: Put in the Ribs

Now that I have a lot of velvety bias strips, I lay out my velvet feather strands on the spine. The idea is to create smooth curves around the eye.

As I place each velvet strand, I trim off the excess and pin them into place. I’m using the velvet to create the feather’s structure. These strands will guide the rest of my stitching. It looks great when I cut off the outer edge of each piece of velvet into a point. This will make a good feathery edge. The edges closest to the spine are cut so they butt up against the spine.

Keep on pinning until you reach the end of your feather. Peacock feathers get a little skimpy towards the base, so I'm making my fronds smaller and less frequent at the end. I'm also staggering the placement of the velvet bits a little so my feather doesn't look too even.

Total symmetry does not look natural. Look at yourself in the mirror. Nothing is really symmetrical. If it was, we'd look like creepy robots.

Voila! We're ready for the next step in the process- bringing in some gold.