Introduction: Quilting in the Fronds

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 peacock feather fronds.These faux peacock feathers will turn a Jazzy Power Scooter into a Jazzy Peacock.

These pictures show the "before" (with only the eyes quilted) and the "after" (with quilted fronds).

I'm showing you the process in parts. 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 and quilted the eyes in part 7. This is part 8. Welcome!

I used:

A milliner's hand needle. These are long and thin needles traditionally used in hat making.

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

Quilting pins (the long kind)

And the peacock feather fan from step 7.

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 so there's still time!

Step 1: Puffing Up the Spines

I'm using the pillow stuffing to add texture and depth to the "spines" of each feather.

This feather wasn't backed with fusible interfacing, like most of the other ones are. It was one of my first attempts and I didn't have the technique down yet. That's okay. It's easier to tell what I'm doing this way. White batting on a white fusible background is hard to see!

First I tear off thin chunks of the pillow stuffing (also called batting) that I can twist into strips. This isn't an exact science. I tear off what I think I'll need. If the chunks are too big, I tear them into thinner pieces. If they're too skimpy, I add more batting. The goal is to build up the spine first, since it's the most solid part of the feather. Then I can move on to the fronds.

I lay down my first bit of batting at the base of the eye, slightly overlapping the eye padding. This will give me a smooth transition from the eye to the spine. I pin down the batting across the spine, catching a tiny bit of the black backing fabric on each side. I'll pull the fabric with my stitching so it will cup gently around the batting, creating a raised spine.

As I move down the spine, I twist the batting a little. This keeps the batting from squishing around to the sides. I don't twist too tightly, though, since I want the spine to have a natural appearance. Once most of the padding is pinned in place, I take out the needle and thread.

I use the same stitch from step 7, the catch stitch (or cross stitch). I pick up a little bit of the backing fabric on either side of the base of the eye with my needle, pull the thread across to the other side and do the same, then knot the thread. I make my stitches wide at the base of the eye so I can cover all the padding. Then I continue with a narrower cross stitch all the way down the spine, pulling the black backing fabric in slightly over the padding as I go. I try not to pull too tightly for this step. More padding will be added later and it's good to leave myself a little wiggle room.

Once the first spine is done, I move on to the next spine... and the next and the next and the next. Why did I make so many feathers?!?

Step 2: Stop and Take a Look (and a Break)

When I feel like I've made too many feathers and my hands are tired and I can't imagine why I got started on this project in the first place, it's time to take a break and then take a look at what I'm doing. It helps.

This is pretty new for me. I work in the entertainment industry, where time is of the essence ALL THE TIME. Most of my day gigs are all about "make it happen now". The mobility artwork forces me to work in a new way. It takes a lot of time and thought, and it's better if I do it in stages. When I take small steps at a time, my work becomes more thoughtful and intricate and peaceful. I'm less hurried and anxious, and I can take the time to discover what I might want to happen next. In a way, it becomes more spontaneous when I take the time to plan.

But enough zen. Back to design decisions!

After I'm done with the spines I turn the feather fan over and see what effect the padding has. The first picture shows the raised spine and eye. So far I've added dimension, but the feather fronds need some depth and life too. The second picture shows how much extra fabric there is in between each feather. Selectively padding the fronds will help take up that excess fabric. Now is a good time to figure out which fronds I want to emphasize! I'm mostly choosing the ones with golden trim, since they'll catch the light so nicely. But I don't want to puff up the gold exclusively because the feathers will look too even.

As I've said before, even is not natural.

I make some decisions about which fronds to pad, turn the feather fan back over and get ready to quilt again... one feather at a time.

Step 3: Frond Fluffing

Once I've decided on which fronds to quilt, I tear off even smaller chunks of padding and twist them a little before laying the pieces out. I want the tips of the fronds come to a point, so I pre-twist the ends of the batting to from those points.

I then lay out the batting bits over each frond, stopping the point just below where the stitching ends. I pin the padding into place over my first frond just like I did for the spine, arcing smoothly over the frond. The stitching lines act as my guide for placement. Sometimes the batting will cover 2 or three fronds. That's fine! I pull off any extra batting from the ends of my pieces and flatten them out so they transition pretty smoothly into the padded spine.

I work in sections, padding out the most prominent fronds first and then cross stitching them down. Then I make even smaller pieces of batting, lay those out in between the bigger fronds and stitch them down. Quilting this way helps me keep track of how much excess fabric needs to be taken up in each feather segment. It also keeps me from getting too even with my frond fluffing.

I like to think of this process as letting the fabric tell me what it wants to do. Of course the fabric doesn't really talk to me or I would be worried. But each time I've quilted a section, the extra fabric bubbles up in different areas to help show me where the next piece of padding should go. I work to make each feather section reasonably smooth, with most of the excess fabric in each segment taken out by my quilting.

Once the fronds are done it's time to take another look at the spines.

Step 4: Filling to Finish the Spines and Seams

Fabulous! All the fronds are quilted and my feather sections are pretty smooth. So I turn the feather fan back over and check out my work from the front.

Unfortunately, the ends of those padded fronds didn't all make smooth transitions to the spines. My spines have bumps and potholes and the seams attaching the feather sections to each other are kind of lumpy. I've got plenty of padding left, though, so this is a simple fix.

I fill in each spine wherever there are divots and lumps with long twists of batting. Sometimes it's easiest to fill in the spine a second time and sometimes I only need to fill in small areas. I pin the batting in place on each spine and cross stitch it down, then move on to the next area. I turn the feather fan over periodically to check my progress and see what other holes need to be filled.

The seams are quilted in about the same way as the spines. I tear off long thin strips of batting and lay them in place at each seam. I then pin the seam allowance over the batting and cross stitch it down. Some seams are extra baggy and need to be padded on both sides, but most of them are perfectly puffy with one twist of batting each.

Voila! I turn the feather fan over and now I've got a lovely, textural peacock feather array.

Next time I'll back everything up.

Fair warning: my first feather fan took me about 3 months to get to this step. Mind you, I made all the feathers first. I sewed in between other gigs, when on down time, over a family trip, on weekends and while on hiatus from the TV shoot schedule. My second one took about a month. Eventually I will get even faster.

Don't let me scare you, though! You can do this. Just take the time you need.

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